Student Success Stories: Julianne Winter
I have a wonderful interview with Julianne Winter to share with you today. If you've been following Storyteller Academy for awhile, you might remember Julianne from some of Arree's earliest workshops or from this video interview with Arree in 2018. Julianne also participated in our Closing Ceremony last Saturday.
I'm giving away a copy of Julianne's author/illustrator debut at the end of this post, so let's get started!
Myrna: What is your background?
Julianne: I was a library clerk for many years back in California, where I’m from. That was where my love of books really flourished, with every new release at my fingertips. My love of art/illustration, however, has been there from day one. I’ve taken many art classes through the years, exploring various mediums, but it wasn’t until recently with Wishweaver that I decided to try my hand at digital art.
With writing, I’d always wondered what it would be like to write stories, but never thought I had a story to tell. When my first story idea came to me, my husband encouraged me to write it down, and the rest of the story broke free. That first book opened the door to many stories that would find their way into my mind, waiting to be written.
Myrna: What made you want to start writing children’s books?
Julianne: I loved reading middle grade stories like Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, Beetle Boy, by M.G. Leonard, A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, and Blackbringer, by Laini Taylor. Having kids of my own brought my focus down to picture books and the art of telling stories in so few words but with beautiful illustrations to accompany them. For an artist like me, it seemed like a perfect match!
Books like Swatch the Girl who Loved Color, by Julia Denos, and I Took the Moon for a Walk, by Carolyn Curtis, showed me just how whimsical a tale could be weaved. When I read Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball, by Laura Ellen Anderson, and of course the array of books by Roald Dahl, I saw that chapter books could be longer than I’d originally imagined with illustrations on every spread.
It was a genre that fascinated me. One for a slightly younger crowd than middle grade. It was for those kids being introduced to books with a chapter structure yet still full of illustrations to keep their attention. It was precisely what I wanted for Whimsy.
Myrna: When and why did you take Arree Chung’s Making Picture Book Stories and Dummies?
Julianne: If memory serves, I took the class in the Spring of 2017. I took it because I was fascinated by picture books, had written my first one, but wanted to perfect it before sending it out to literary agents.
Mine was one of the first picture books to be critiqued by Arree, and boy was it not ready to send. That book, The Bookworm and the Butterfly, is one I’m still planning to get back to because I know from Arree’s teachings that the book needs more simplifying. I will get it there though. Benny and Beatrice are waiting.
Myrna: How did taking Arree’s class change the way you approach picture books?
Julianne: It taught me about the importance of book dummying out the story and how crucial page turns are in building up the tension of a story. He also taught me there needs to be one central problem, and if there are more, the story needs to be simplified. I do have a tendency to try to cram too much into 500 words or less, but I’m working on that. For Whimsy, she was insistent she get more, and in fact an entire series to boot!
Myrna: You're not alone! A lot of us have that problem.
Tell us about the book you have coming out. How did your story go from being a picture book to a chapter book?
Julianne: The book I have coming out on September 1 is called Wishweaver. It is book one of the Tales of Whimsy series about an orb spider named Whimsy, who goes on a journey to find out what happened to the Wishweaver (a spider with the magic to grant wishes). Whimsy is a curious orb weaver spider who has lots of questions, like why those in Weyburn are continuing on with the Wishweaver traditions when there is no Wishweaver? Seems pretty pointless to her. So, she goes with her milkweed wisp friend, Flit, to find the Wishweaver Oak to figure out what happened. Along the way, she’ll discover pieces to the puzzle, face challenges, and ultimately face her fears and self-doubt with them.
As a picture book, I was taking the story in one direction. Whimsy felt older though, more parental, and much less relatable to kids. Through Arree’s direction, I decided I needed to go back further in time for the chapter book. To share Whimsy’s journey of growing up, making friends, discovering what makes her unique and different. She gets to experience things that kids struggle with every day and overcome them. The story came so much more naturally when I made the switch.
Myrna: I'm pretty sure that I'm going to love your story, Julianne. Do you have any advice for our readers?
Julianne: Never give up. I know it sounds cliché but after having picture books that go through 12+ dummies, then switching to entirely different genres, I believe that you just have to keep trying. Find the story within the story.
When querying too, it is so easy to get the rejections (and you will, everyone does) and want to give up, to toss the story aside and start another, or even just give up the dream of being a published author completely. If you love your characters, though, you won’t give up on them. You’ll find a way to tell their story, and others will be grateful you did.
Myrna: That's great advice! Thank you.
You said that you learned Procreate to illustrate your book. We have a lot of students who’ve just started playing with Procreate. Do you have any advice for them?
Julianne: Watch videos! Take classes! Practice. And when all else fails two-finger tap the screen and try again. That’s the beauty of digital art. You can erase with ease and start fresh without having to start an entire painting from scratch. It is so liberating to have that kind of control over your art!
Myrna: Could you tell us about your marketing plan for your book? You have some magazines that will be helping you with promotion, and I think our readers would find that story interesting.
Julianne: My plan is to try to get a bulk of my current audience (crocheters) to get excited about the book. To do this, I crocheted Whimsy and Flit from the story with plans to release the patterns for free to help support and gain traction for the book. There is even a page at the front and back of the book leading people to my blog where they’ll find the pattern upon the book’s release. I teach how to crochet on Ink & Stitches YouTube. And there, I’ll even have videos making the pattern from start to finish (assembly included). I want to get new people interested in the craft, and I’m happy working through my patterns with my followers every step of the way!
Myrna: These are so cute!
Julianne: My publisher saw the crochet characters and said, “Aren’t there crochet magazines you could reach out to, to see if they’d publish the pattern and promote the book?” I’d never even thought about that! So, I searched for the crochet magazines that include amigurumi patterns in their lists. I reached out to a handful of them (many in the UK), and two UK magazines were excited to help!
Simply Crochet is featuring the book and pictures of the crocheted Whimsy + Flit in their Hooked section later this month (July 2020). Crochet Now! will have the full pattern, an interview, and a book review in their August issue. It’s been wonderful to get on the radar of some of the top crochet magazines after building that side of my platform now for over four years.
Julianne: Another thing I’ve worked on during my journey to publication is building friendships/connections with other authors and creatives. I helped them whenever/however I could by being a beta reader, sharing in making the crafts they created, promoting their work, etc. Now that my book is coming out, building these relationships has made reaching out to them a lot easier and more organic. Now I have six different authors, several well-known, one even a New York Times Bestseller, who are reading my book now and giving me blurbs for the back cover.
Myrna: I love that!
Julianne: With the strike of COVID, things and plans have changed. At the very least, they’ve been postponed. My plan was to reach out to libraries and have book signings and host a paper craft project with the kids where they can make their very own Flit. I wanted to have a book signing at the Starbucks where I wrote the book. And I'd already gotten the excited approval to do so long ago from the management staff.
I like to think these things are just postponed. Hopefully life will go back to normal where we can pick up again on the in-person side of book marketing. For now, all my efforts will remain online: blog interviews, podcasts, contacting libraries to purchase the book, enlisting followers to help spread the word, and continuing to offer unique content on my own blog and YouTube channel to build trust from the creative groups of people who follow me, hoping that the incentive to support my publishing journey will also come organically.
Myrna: I think your strategy is smart, and I love that magazines are featuring your adorable characters!
What’s next for you?
Julianne: Besides all the marketing for Wishweaver, I am also editing book two of the Tales of Whimsy. Then, it’s on to illustrating the second book! Our hope is to keep up the series momentum by releasing two books a year, the next book coming out in Spring 2021. I have lots of other stories that I want to get back to as well, but right now it’s Whimsy’s turn in the spotlight. She deserves her time to shine.
Myrna: Where can we find you on the Internet?
Myrna: Where can we order your book?
Myrna: Thanks so much, Julianne!
Book Giveaway Details
I'm giving away a copy of Julianne's illustrated chapter book. To enter, let me know something that you've learned from Julianne in the comments by midnight on July 25. You don’t have to buy anything or be a student to enter.
Please share this post on social media for extra entries, and paste the link to wherever you shared as a reply to your original comment. You may also have an extra entry if you follow Julianne's Goodreads link and mark her book as “Want to Read.” Just let me know in the comments.
Thank you for reading!
Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems.
Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award.
Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.