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.): https://the100dayproject.org/

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!

Myrna Foster
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.

69 thoughts on “Student Success Stories: Katy Tanis”

  1. I really love the idea of having an accountability partner, to get some work done and THEN work with a CG. Can’t wait to see yoga in the jungle.

  2. Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson

    “Make a lot of bad work” is such good advice that I need to follow more in order to take pressure off myself. Love in the Wild looks like a beautiful book!

  3. Oooooooo! Katy worked with, Betsy! Johnson! I LOVED her work! I have about 8 of her watches. Super exciting and happy that Katy got to experience Betsy’s work/style up close. And, Katies work is gorgeous too. I’d love any of her work. Great interview, Myrna.

  4. Your artwork is stunning, Katy! I appreciate your advice too, especially the part about creating a lot of bad work. So much of the time I feel pressured to get it right 100% from the gate that it’s almost debilitating to even start, continue, finish. I also love that Submission Ready is structured for an ADHD creative – I too need accountability, calendars, deadlines, goals, star charts – you name it, I need it. Thank you for sharing your stories with us!

  5. I love these illustrations! So colorful, bold, and bright! Love in the wild would be my preference, but both books are on my “I want to read” list on Goodreads! I learned that she suggested to make a lot of bad work, writing and illustrating. I think I’m doing that! lol 😉

  6. Wow, working for Betsey Johnson! I can see that influence in your work, Katy! Congrats on your books and those to come!!!

  7. Katy, your artwork really speaks to me. And you have reminded me to read more…off to the library I go! I would love to win a copy of her beautiful board book. Thanks for a great interview Myrna!

  8. This was such a great interview, Myrna and Katy! I loved what Katy said about prioritizing square footage over quality of the work you produce when you’re learning. What a wonderful gift from her teacher! I have been trying to embrace the idea of making a lot of work, regardless of quality. I so often get stuck in overthinking things and trying to overwork them in my head. And then days later I realize that I haven’t actually made anything. So I’m trying to just dump out all the ideas and find the balance in that process. I’d be thrilled to have a copy of I am the Jungle!

  9. I’m lucky to be in one of Katys crit groups and she gives really good critiques. I love how she shows up on social media and makes it work for her. I hope to put more work into that too. Id be ok with either book. Love them both.

  10. What a great article – thank you both! I loved what Katy shared about her college class on just creating a lot of work. I easily get caught up in perfecting one thing, but just writing a lot for the joy of writing is something I need to do more of. And maybe try painting a lot of bad stuff just for fun 🙂

  11. Thank you so much for your newsletter Myrna. I am enjoying Storytellers Academy so much ~ each of you are so relatable and your sessions have given me the push I needed to write my book.

    1. Hi! Linda,
      I am a new member of Storyteller Academy. I can relate to your reaction, ” …the push needed to write my book.” I’d like to touch base with you on where you’re at in the writing process. Perhaps, I can learn from your experience, as I am a fledgling. Thanks for your time. -Myrna

  12. Wow! These illustrations are absolutely gorgeous!
    The two key notes I took from Katy’s tips were to write a lot of bad stories, and to find a good critique group.
    As someone with ADHD, I also relate with the struggle to sit down and get the work done. Having some kind of accountability or deadline definitely helps me.
    I would love a copy of I Am The Jungle. The colors are so vibrant!

  13. I totally love this advice. And I wish I had that professor….

    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.

    There is something intimidating about painting on a large blank canvas or paper. In fact, the biggest sketchbook I own is only 8×11. The next time I’m ready to by some more art materials, I’m going to challenge myself to buy a bigger book and fill all the whitespace!

  14. Ever since I can remember I’ve been drawing as a kid in school sometimes getting in trouble for it. I never had direction for art or writing until after I married at eighteen had my two sons, opened three businesses, and then moved to Florida after my husband retired. I turned a room into an art room studio, perpetrared a start up art group for seniors in the community where we lived. During that time my writing and art complemented each other. Whimsically speaking I write from an impression I see from nature or an idea about life. I did take a children’s writing course completing 10 stories but never took it further. There’s something that stirs in me seeing stories written, colors and ideas produce joy in me. I wish I would have pursued this adventurous journey when I was younger and had the energy. But I am happy to see those who are involved and fulfilling their desire. I did partake in the storyteller academy week of on line lessons and was very satisfied to share in that. Thank you for offering such encouragement to would be’s and wanna be’s, and achievers in our own way. Write on!

  15. Lots of great advice from an extremely talented author and illustrator. I loved the idea of the accountability groups as well as the idea of setting deadlies for yourself. Excellent tips!

  16. It’s great to hear the struggles and then see the encouraging words from authors/illustrators. Every time I read, I learn something new! I would love a copy of Love in the Jungle. It looks beautiful!

  17. Karen Conley Chun

    I love the professor who had you paint, paint, and paint some more. Wow, simple but powerful advice. Thanks for sharing!

  18. I love the advice to make lots of bad work! It’s so important! These both look like lovely books with quality illustration and ideas! I would love to win either of them!

  19. Mary Catherine Amadu

    I think the bit about making lots of bad writing and bad art is key. Or, at least, making lots of writing and art period, knowing it’s not all going to be a magnum opus. I need to schedule regular time for that for myself. Thanks for the tips and congrats. Books look beautiful!

  20. The books are beautiful. I am going to have to get into SCBWI. I am just starting out, and did not want to spend the money, but after reading this it sounds that it might be helpful. I would lile Love in the Wild. Thanks for sharing.

  21. I loved the concept that the teacher had you do, create bad work in order to get started and relieve pressure to do well. I so struggle with this! If I win I would like Katy’s board book.

  22. “Make a lot of bad work.” Probably the most important piece I’ve learned. Even though making “bad” work seems counter-intuitive. If you dont want to create because you think making “bad” art will discourage you, you’ll miss the part where “bad” art actually teaches and helps you work out better ideas.

  23. I love the idea of just creating for a set length of time, and not worrying about the “quality” of the work. I’d love to have “I Am the Jungle”. I’m a technical assistant in the children’s department of our local public library, and am longing for the day when we can do story times in person again. I’d love to share this with some littles. 🙂

  24. Jennifer L Hansen

    Stunning. I like the use of bold colors and simple shapes along with the comic book styled sections in Animal Olympics. Can’t wait to add to our library collection.

  25. So inspiring! What a great interview. Love the idea of having an accountability date to just virtually hang out and do the work. Can’t wait to check out these books – the themes look so soul-nurturing and humanizing, and the illustration style is so enlivening. I have been telling myself for about 20 years “it would be fun to write/illustrate children’s books,” and with some inspiration from Storyteller Academy, am finally trying to actually work on an idea. Katy, your story, your tactics, and your style are all wonderful encouragement. And “Daughter Earth” is such a beautiful name and idea! Thank you for featuring her, Myrna!

  26. “I am the Jungle” would be perfect for my 4 grandkids who all love animals and the outdoors! I enjoyed the interview a lot and especially liked her comment about using the library. That’s a great way to explore books and save some money. Thanks for the chance to win!

  27. I agree with many others about the “make lots of bad art!” being great advice that I believe in but I need to listen to! I also like the advice about the library. I need to plug into more sources to find out about new books! My kids and I would love her “I am the Jungle” book!

  28. I love this: Make bad work. It works on so many levels. I carved out 32 hours over the past 10 days to write. And some of it was bad work. But the good work was good and I’m that much closer to my goals.
    Thanks and Congratulations, Katy. Your work is beautiful!

  29. I love the fact that they reached out to you after your #100 pictures were done. They are amazing. I really like the book I am the Jungle. My brother is a yoga instructor and would love to read it.

  30. The colors are my favorite. They are so accessible, by young and older alike. Congratulations on your magnificent achievements.

  31. I love the colors as well as the story line. I always love to learn the details on how a person becomes a writer/illustrator. If I am the recipient of Love in the Wild, I will donate it to an organization in Virginia my son is involved it: Casa BruMar.

  32. Thank you Katy for sharing your experiences. Your artwork is so vibrant and beautiful. I like the idea of writing lots of stories just as you made many paintings. It is freeing and some good stuff gets written in the process. I would love to receive Melissa Hurt’s book with your gorgeous illustrations.

  33. I love the clarity and richness of color in Katy’s work. The art is bold and confident. I appreciate the research that goes into every piece Katy creates. While on the surface, her art is accessible to everyone, there is so much research/ scientific content/ and thoughtful concepts behind Katy’s choices. I wish her book and her career continued success because Katy deserves the recognition and the world deserves to enjoy her stories and art.

  34. Melanie Johnston

    This was a great article and so much information. I liked the 100 day challenge. Both of the books are wonderful and love her color choices 🙂 Thanks

  35. I appreciate Katy’s words where she talks about being willing to write a lot of “bad work”. I think the important thing is to keep writing even when someone’s last attempt at writing was a disaster. Don’t give up and keep writing. I’d like to win/receive “I am the Jungle, A Yoga Adventure.

  36. Best Tip: “Make a lot of bad work”. My daughter and I were just talking about this last night. We’re often hesitant to start new projects because we’re pretty certain the finished project is not going to live up to our vision. We realize we’ll never get better unless we keep practicing, but sometimes it’s so hard to get motivated.
    The illustrations of both books are so beautiful. I can’t wait to read both. I’d love to win a copy of I am the Jungle.

  37. When you chatted about critique groups, I realized that mine is not good enough. Nobody ever gives me any “this sounds bad, try changing it” advice. They just say “good job”. They don’t even really urge me to write more! (I’m an author). It’s been driving me batty for months, so it’s very helpful to know that there are people out there that will actually make a good critique group! I just have to find them, now. Thanks!

  38. “Make lots of bad work.” I always get to a point where I just don’t like what I’m writing. This is a reminder to keep going, and, as someone else once said, “Don’t give up before the Magic strikes!” I would really love to get a copy of Love in the Wild. Thanks so much for your inspiration!

  39. I think one of the most important things I’m taking from this interview is to not be afraid to write many less than stellar stories as I continue to learn to strengthen my writing skills. “Making lots of bad work” allows me to become more comfortable with identifying my own writing style and creating the voice that will influence my writing for years to come.

    As for prize selection, that is very hard because both books speak to me for different reasons. Love In The Wild has beautiful, vibrant colors that make me smile…like a virtual hug whenever I see the cover. I am the Jungle have deeper, richer, more subtle colors but connect me with nature in a deeper way. I guess if I HAD to pick one, it would be I am the Jungle…;-)

    Great interview!

  40. These illustrations are captivating. I will show my four-year-old son. I think it DOES help to be surrounded by children’s books because one can see the various media used and how the illustrations change as the age of the audience changes. Good luck on your next 3 manuscripts!

  41. Wow all these books look amazing! And those illustrations, what a beautiful work!
    I practice yoga, and my 4 year old, loves to do it with me. So any book would be amazing but “I’m the Jungle, a Yoga Adventure” would be extra especial

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