New Voices Award Winners: “How I Started Writing”

New Voices Award sealThis year marks our 14th annual New Voices Award writing contest. Every year, LEE & LOW BOOKS gives the New Voices Award to a debut author of color Guest Bloggerfor a picture book manuscript.

Did you know that last year, children’s books written by authors of color made up less than seven percent of the total number of books published? As a multicultural publisher, we’re dedicated to increasing those numbers. The New Voices Award is one way we can help new authors of color break into publishing.

In this new blog series, we thought it’d be fun to bring together some past New Voices Award winners on the blog to see how they got their start as authors, what inspires them, and where they are now.

Q: How did you start writing picture books?

Author Linda BoydenLinda Boyden, The Blue Roses

(our first New Voices Award winner)

Truthfully, I started writing picture books when I was a child. I was alone a lot so I immersed myself in library books, delighted to fall into their stories. As an adult, first as a teacher then as a mother, I must have read a million picture books and each one tugged me to try, but the timing was wrong. When my husband’s new job took me away from teaching, I saw it as the opportunity it was.  I wrote the first draft of The Blue Roses, then another draft and another. It received its fair share of rejections but I believed in it. When Lee and Low Books posted about the New Voices Award, I submitted.  When I won, I thought it was one of my adult kids tricking me! Still today, I have to pinch myself.

Author Paula YooPaula Yoo, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds

I started writing picture books 15 years ago when I joined the Society of Children Book Writers & Illustrators. I devoured as many picture books as I could and took picture book writing classes at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Having also been a journalist for many years, I was confident that writing short, to-the-point picture books would come naturally to me. However, my first few attempts at picture book writing were terrible. They bordered on being a bit too “precious” and even pretentious! One day, while surfing the Internet, I stumbled upon an article about Olympic Gold Medalist Dr. Sammy Lee. The article talked about how he overcame racial discrimination to win two Gold Medals at the Olympics in diving. I found his story to be very inspirational. I was surprised to see there were no children’s books on him. So I combined my journalism background with my new knowledge of picture book writing to write Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story which won the 2003 Lee & Low “New Voices” Award. I finally found my niche as a picture book writer, combining my journalism experience with my love of story. Most importantly, I found my voice.

Glenda Armand, Love Twelve Miles Long  Author Glenda Armand

I started writing picture books because I loved them so much as a child.

-I loved reading them to my children and to my students.

-Picture books can pique the interest of the reader or listener to learn more.

-Writing picture books gives me structure and discipline because I have to tell my story in as few words as possible.

-Picture books are reader-friendly because they can be read and enjoyed in one sitting.

Don Tate, It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw Author Don Tate

Until just a few years ago, I didn’t consider myself a word person, so writing was out. I had no confidence in my ability to string together a legible sentence, much less to correctly punctuate it. To gain confidence, I started a blog. I wrote something and posted there everyday. I learned to write in the public eye (which I don’t suggest). The positive feedback I received in the form of comments boosted my confidence. Writer friends began to suggest that I invest less time on the blog and more on a picture book manuscript. It Jes’ Happened became that manuscript. I also took an online picture book course with Anastasia Suen. The course required me to read about 300+ picture books. I immersed myself in the craft.

Thanks, authors! And if you’re thinking of writing a picture book yourself:

Here’s how to submit your manuscript to the New Voices Award writing contest

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the contest