Student Success Stories: Katy Tanis

I've had critique groups on the brain lately, so I'm excited that Katy Tanis wanted to talk about them as part of her interview today. 

This interview also features a double book giveaway. Katy's giving away a copy of I am the Jungle, a picture book she illustrated that was written by Melissa Hurt. And I'm giving away a copy of her new board book, Love in the Wild, which just released last week. Giveaway details can be found at the end of this interview, so let's dive in!

Myrna: What is your background? Your profession?

Katy: My first job out of college was in fashion, designing fabric prints and graphics for Betsey Johnson. It was a fun, exciting job to start in. I got to work on runway shows at NY Fashion Week and work directly with a fashion icon! After that I moved to San Francisco and worked at Tea Collection, a globally inspired children’s clothing company for 10 years. The research and storytelling were the favorite aspects of my job at Tea. I had been working on children’s books, learning the craft, taking classes, workshops, and attending conferences while I was still working there full-time. I left that job four years ago and have been building my children’s book and freelance illustration business since. While I have gotten the opportunity to work on many exciting projects these last four years, it can be challenging to maintain a steady salary with freelance illustration work. I love working with other illustrators, so I’ve started looking into art director roles.

Interior Spread From LOVE IN THE WILD

Myrna: Exciting! What made you want to start writing children’s books?

Katy: I made my first book on a whim. After I thought that book was finished, I signed up for a course via City College of San Francisco to try to figure out how to get it published. As I learned more about children’s book writing and illustrating, it felt like the perfect fit for my skills and interests. I learned about SCBWI during that class and started attending conferences and meeting other authors and illustrators. I continue to be amazed and inspired by the people who work in children’s books.

Myrna: When and why did you take Ariel Richardson’s and Melissa Manlove’s Submission Ready Course?

Katy: I took Ariel & Melissa’s Course in 2019. What I am looking for from most classes is structure and accountability, so I actually finish my projects. I think many creatives can relate to this, but it might be even more extreme for creatives with ADHD. I really struggle with finishing my projects, and getting story submissions ready. However, I am beginning to realize that most classes can’t really do that for you.

The most valuable part for me was when Ariel and Melissa would share their enthusiasm for a book. It gave me insight on how you might hook an editor–what takes them from liking a manuscript to being in love with it!

Interior Spread From ANIMAL OLYMPICS

Myrna: Do you have any advice for our readers?

Katy: Yes, I do.

1. Make a lot of bad work. This applies to both writing and illustrating. One semester in college my painting professor, Clayton Merrell, decided he was only going to grade us on the square footage of paintings created, not the quality of our work. This was so freeing. We had to show up and do the work. We had to paint. A lot! But it took away the pressure we put on ourselves when we create work. I made many bad paintings that semester, but I also made all the best artwork in all 4 years of art school. (I still only got a B. Whoops!) This was probably the most valuable thing I learned in college.

2. Use your library!!! As soon as I see a children’s book that seems interesting, I put in a request at my library. I usually drop off and pick up books 1-2 times per week. If you want to write good books for children, you need to be reading good books for children.

3. Find a good critique group. I also like having accountability partners, which may or may not be the same group of people. I recently started having 3-hour, weekly painting dates with one of my accountability partners. It makes sure we both show up and start working.

Myrna: Oh, I love that! How did you find your critique group(s)? How do you work together?

Katy: Finding the right critique group can be a challenge especially during Covid, but I haven’t minded the switch to virtual critique groups, and it opens you up to a wider group of people to find good matches. I had an in-person critique group I loved in San Francisco. We initially connected via an SCBWI email blast. It started with nearly 15 people and was more of an accountability group, but over the years it whittled down to 4 people and has become a mix of an accountability and critique group. We have such a good vibe and wanted to keep working together when I moved to NJ, so we switched to a Zoom group. I also have a newish critique group I connected with via Storyteller Academy that is specifically for author-illustrators, which I am really enjoying. When you are starting out with a new critique group it’s important to KEEP showing up. It takes a while to settle in and figure out the best ways to work together. That said, some critique groups just aren’t a good match, and it is okay to move on if that is the case. But make sure you give it time first and put in the effort.

Myrna: I agree 100%! Could you tell us about your book deal, please?

Katy: My book deal with Mudpuppy came about a little differently than most traditional book deals. I had already worked with Mudpuppy on some puzzles. They saw the 100DayProject & corresponding art show I posted on instagram: #100daysof❤️intheanimalkingdom. They reached out and asked if I’d be interested in developing it into a board book!

Tip: The #100DayProject starts January 31st this year if anyone is interested in giving it a go. (Writers can use it too.):

Katy's Project for 100DayProject
Interior Spread From I AM THE JUNGLE

Myrna: What’s next for you?

Katy: I have a nonfiction picture book on submission. I also have three other manuscripts/dummies I am trying to get ready to submit this year. And I am currently working on a quilting fabric collection for Free Spirit Fabrics.

Myrna: That all sounds fabulous! Thank you so much, Katy, for sharing your experience with us, and for giving away a copy of I AM THE JUNGLE.

Book Giveaway!

I'm giving away a copy of Katy's new board book, Love in the Wild, and Katy is giving away a copy of I am the Jungle. To enter, let me know something that you've learned from Katy (and which book you'd like to win) in the comments by midnight on February 17. 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 extra entries for adding any of Katy's books to your reading list on Goodreads. Again, just let me know in the comments.

Thank you for reading!

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Myrna Foster

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.

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