Student Success Stories: Lily LaMotte

Today, I'm spotlighting Lily LaMotte. If you've been a Storyteller Academy student, you might already know Lily. She has been an active student for years. I really got to know her when we ended up in the same mentored critique group with Jim Averbeck last year, and I'm so excited to introduce her to all of you.

For all of my fellow graphic novel lovers, I'm giving away a signed copy of Lily's MEASURING UP at the end of this interview. 

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

Lily: I always loved reading. When my kids were born, I started reading first picture books and then chapter books and middle grade books to them. I discovered the joy of picture books, the humor of chapter books, and the excitement of middle grade books. I was especially inspired by the Harry Potter series. As each new book came out, my daughter and I re-read the previous books before reading the new one. I loved the world building and the characters. They were so much fun that I thought someday I’d like to create a fun book, too. It was many years before I got the chance to pursue writing.

Myrna: How and when did you sign with your literary agent? 

Lily: I found my wonderful agent, Laura Rennert, almost two years ago. It happened in a roundabout way through a manuscript critique with Jennifer Laughran, who is also an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Jennifer liked the pages I sent her for critique, so she asked for the full manuscript. I remember that I saw her email the morning of my Hamline MFA alumni weekend. I'd persuaded my husband to come with me and get the lecture passes so we could do the whole residency together. After getting that email, I had a very hard time concentrating on the lectures!

Myrna: I can imagine!

Lily: I wanted to make sure that I sent Jennifer the very best version of my manuscript, so I revised and revised and revised again. I had a process where I took my pages to my Imagineers critique group (shoutout to Rob Land, Renée McCormick, Suma Subramaniam, Bobbie Peyton, and Anne Cunningham), and then I would revise them and take the revisions to my EmGees critique group (shoutout to Julie Artz, Kristin Thorsness, Berit Kristoffersen, and Renée McCormick). Both critique groups meet weekly, so I was able to get feedback quickly. I kept on revising.

Myrna: Critique groups are the best, aren't they?

Lily: Eventually, Jennifer nudged me to ask if I’d sent in my manuscript to her. I think I said something like, oh, she’s serious! Things quickly fell into place after that. I sent her my manuscript. She got back to me that another agent was interested in my manuscript and asked if I’d like to be put in contact with this other agent. I might have jumped and screamed at that point. Laura and I had a lovely conversation on the phone about working together. I felt that we both saw our relationship as a partnership which is very important to me. When she offered to be my agent, I was absolutely thrilled. I didn’t jump and scream right then, but I might have after we hung up.

Myrna: Could you tell us about your book deal, please? 

Lily: You know when your agent calls you on the phone that that means there’s good news. My mom had always wanted to go see the Northern Lights, so I was on a family vacation in Fairbanks, AK when I got that call. Laura said that there was interest from several editors. We quickly arranged phone calls to speak to the various editors. I had lovely talks with them, but my editor Clarissa Wong at HarperCollins won me over with her heartfelt letter, her pre-empt, to be part of the initial books in their new imprint HarperAlley, and that we had a shared common vision for MEASURING UP. So, the vacation turned out to be the vacation of a lifetime.

Myrna: That sounds AMAZING. Do you have any advice for our students who want to write graphic novels?

Lily: When I started working on the script for MEASURING UP, publishers only acquired author/illustrator manuscripts. Despite that, I wanted to write a graphic novel and to work with Gene Luen Yang who is on the faculty of Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. By the time I finished my script and started revising, the world of publishing had changed and editors were acquiring author only scripts. So my advice is to write the project that speaks to you.

Also, read Scott McCloud’s UNDERSTANDING COMICS and MAKING COMICS. I particularly like UNDERSTANDING COMICS for its discussion about comics on a more global level.

There is no standard graphic novel script format. Gene requires his students to use the Dark Horse format so that’s what I use. You can’t go wrong with using Gene’s recommendation.

And all those classes I took on writing picture books came in very handy in working out page turns and visualizing how an artist might illustrate the page. Except unlike picture books, in graphic novels, you have to write extensive art notes. No agonizing whether an art note can go in.

Lastly, if you are at all interested in trying out the graphic novel form, I say go for it. It is a very fun form.

One more last point: Arree will be offering a graphic novel class in the new year. I plan on taking it!

Myrna: Yes! Ken Lamug is teaching the class, and I know he recommends Scott McClouds's books and the Dark Horse format as well. When did you start taking Storyteller Academy classes?

Lily: I am one of the original members of Storyteller Academy. I was writing picture books for my coursework at Hamline and thought that the Storyteller Academy classes would be a nice addition to my learning. I also had a very small ambition to learn to draw. I loved Arree’s first few lessons when all we had to do was draw circles and lines. He immediately made me feel like learning to draw could be a possibility. I also loved his lesson on mental models. I’d never heard of that before.

Arree is building Storyteller Academy to be more than just a place to learn the craft of writing and illustrating. When I realized I needed to build my author website, I took Ken Lamug’s Building an Author Website. On one half of my screen, I put up his class, and on the other half, my brand new blank WordPress site. I went step-by-step through his class. I clicked on this button and that button and followed Ken’s detailed instructions. By the end, I had my author website up and running. Thank you, Ken!

Myrna: Thank you for sharing that! We were in Jim Averbeck’s mentored critique group last year. What is the best/most beneficial thing about joining a mentored critique group?

Lily: It was great to join a mentored critique group and get Jim’s feedback live. I really appreciated that it was a small group which gave each person a nice chunk of time to get feedback from both the group and from Jim. He gives very thoughtful critiques so when I needed that last little bit of feedback on a picture book manuscript for a revise and resubmit, I knew that Jim was the one to consult. I set up a one-on-one critique with him. We talked through my story, my vision for it, and possible solutions to the last problem I was trying to solve. It worked! When I turned in the revise and resubmit, my editor said it was ready to go to acquisitions. I can’t give any more details right now except to say that I’m going to be a debut picture book author!! Thank you, Jim!

Myrna: Do you have any advice for our readers?

Lily: Keep learning by taking classes and webinars. Go to critique groups. Keep writing. It took me many years to get here with much persistence and even more baby steps. It happened for me, and it will happen for your readers if they keep learning and persisting.

Myrna: Agreed. It is a lot of work. What’s next for you?

Lily: My second middle grade graphic novel is in copyedits. I’m very busy getting ready for my book launch on October 27, which is also my pub date. I’ve also been brainstorming ideas for my next middle grade graphic novel.

Myrna: Exciting! Where can we find you on the Internet?

Lily: You can find me on my website. I also made a cooking video that you can watch on HarperCollins’s YouTube channel Shelf Stuff and a reading of Chapter One in partnership with Studio East.

On social media at:

FB: @LilyLamotteWrites

IG: @lilylamottewrites

Twitter: @lilylamotte

Linkedin: @lilylamotte

Myrna: Where can we buy your book?

Lily: I’m signing copies of MEASURING UP through Brick and Mortar Books and Third Place Books. Just let them know if you’d like the book personalized when you order.

Thank you, Myrna, for having me!

Myrna: Thank you, Lily, for sharing your experience!

I just want to share a few more things about Lily's book. MEASURING UP is already getting recognition:

  • A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
  • Featured in Parents Magazine Book Nook October issue
  • A Fall 2020 Indie Next Selection
  • A CBC Hot Off the Press October Selection

Book Giveaway Details

I'm giving away a signed copy of Lily's graphic novel. To enter, let me know something that you've learned from Lily in the comments by midnight on November 2. 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 MEASURING UP on Goodreads and attending Lily's virtual book launch party on October 27 with Gene Luen Yang.

Thank you for reading!

Picture of 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.

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