Student Success Stories: Sue Macartney

I have a fun interview with author/illustrator Sue Macartney for you today, and a book giveaway at the end of this post. Sue and I have been emailing back and forth since she signed her first contract last summer, and it's been fun to get to know (and happy dance with) her a bit. 

When I asked Sue to share her process, she made the following graphic for us:

Myrna: Could you tell us about your work, both professional and volunteer?

Sue: I have a background in graphic design and art education and am currently working as a nature sketch educator for The Bateman Foundation. It’s a dream job for me – I get to work outdoors with kids, fostering a love of nature through art.

I also really enjoy my volunteer work with Story Studio, a charity that gives storytelling workshops (writing and illustrating) to public elementary students.

Myrna: That all sounds very rewarding. What made you want to start writing and illustrating picture books?

Sue: It feels like drawing and telling stories was my go-to activity from the time I was given crayons and paper. My grade 4 teacher, Mrs. Fowler, cemented my love of art and creative writing when she introduced my class to the amazing world of Greek myths. The best part – getting to illustrate the stories and retell them in our own words! A couple of stints working in two great independent bookstores kept my dream of being a picture book author-illustrator alive.

Myrna: I remember falling in love with Greek myths around 4th grade too!

You have a picture book coming out in June. Could you tell us about Benjamin’s Blue Feet and how you ended up selling it to Pajama Press, please?

Sue: Benjamin is a young blue-footed booby, who has a unique talent: treasure spotting. His discovery of a mirror leads to niggling self-doubt, followed by a sequence of creative attempts to improve his perceived “short-comings”. Nurturing self-esteem is important to me and I knew that I was looking for a publisher that specialized in engaging and empathetic stories. Pajama Press books stood out for me, and I sent them my dummy book and manuscript. Very happily, the editor and publisher felt that Benjamin’s Blue Feet was right for them!

Myrna: I love how that worked out! With all of the rejection in this business, it's uplifting to hear about you finding the perfect fit for your story.

Your biography on Pajama Press’s website says you’ve lived on four continents. How has that influenced your perspective?

Sue: I think I could write a book or two on that question! Having lived much of my childhood and adulthood as a nomad, I feel my world is large with many places where I feel at home. A transient life certainly isn’t without difficulties, but there is also something very reassuring about this much broader sense of connectedness and belonging. In terms of writing for children, both the challenges and wonderful experiences provide a wealth of material to draw on.

Myrna: I'm sure they do! Do you have any advice for writers who want to tackle subjects they’re passionate about in their picture books?

Sue: Being passionate about your subject is extremely important. For fledgling ideas and first drafts, I would say: Run with your passion and write it ALL down. If nothing else, it’s a very cathartic process. And once you’ve gotten it out of your system, let your writing rest for a bit. A really enjoyable next step: dedicated library and bookstore research! On your quest, here are a few questions to consider:

  1. Is your story already out there?
  2. What target audience is best suited for your topic?
  3. Which publishers seem like a good fit for your work?
  4. And how might you position your story to stand out in the vast world of picture books?

With this knowledge, the real work lies ahead with further drafts, critiques, revisions and more revisions … Hang on to that passion as it is essential on this journey.

Myrna: Great advice! When and why did you start taking our classes? 

Sue: A critique partner told me about Storyteller Academy’s “Black Friday Boot Camp” in 2018. It provided a great overview of the Storyteller Academy program and was just the boost I needed. Subsequent classes were very informative and instrumental in helping me to stay the course.

Myrna: Do you have any advice for our readers?

Sue: My path to publication has been long and winding, with regular derailments. But all along the way, picture book ideas continued to pop into my head – a reminder that as arduous as the journey might be, this was something I should continue to pursue. Ultimately, I think the road to that elusive “lucky” break is paved with a lot of hard work: being part of a critique group, attending local conferences, and constantly improving your skills through research, classes and workshops.

Myrna: That's so relatable! Thank you for sharing your experience so honestly. What’s next for you? 

Sue: Pajama Press recently asked me to contribute an illustration to a special collection they are publishing, and I have just pitched my next story to them. Top Secret: for now…

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

Sue: I’m on:

  1. Twitter: @suesumac
  2. Instagram: @suemacartney
  3. Website: suemacartney.com

Myrna: Where can we buy your book? 

Sue: A little plug for independent bookstores! BENJAMIN’S BLUE FEET: Pajama Press is being released June 16, 2020. If you have a favourite independent, it would be wonderful if you could ask for it there. It is also currently available for pre-order at:

Myrna: Thank you so much, Sue, for sharing your process and your experience with all of us! We wish you the very best! *Fingers crossed for the project you just pitched!* 

Book Giveaway Details

I'm giving away a copy of Sue's book. To enter, let me know something that you've learned from Sue in the comments by midnight on March 14. You don’t have to buy anything or be a student. 

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.

Thank you for reading!

Blog Contributors

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.

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20 thoughts on “Student Success Stories: Sue Macartney”

  1. Thank you for this, Sue and Myrna. I learned a lot but especially to question:
    Is your story already out there?
    What target audience is best suited for your topic?
    Which publishers seem like a good fit for your work?
    And how might you position your story to stand out in the vast world of picture books?

    Congratulations on the publication and best wishes for millions of sales, Sue. 😊

    1. A very belated thank you for your kind comments! And even before the draft I would say get those “ideas” down – all of them, with no judgement!:)

  2. Love your advice about just getting it all out on paper as I tend to edit myself as I write the first draft. I’m going to give this a try. Also would like to give online ordering site Indiebound/Bookshop a shoutout if online ordering is preferred to going to local indie.

    1. A very belated (pandemic hiatus) thank you for your very kind remarks! Benjamin lands in Canada next week and is winging his way to the US next month:)

    2. Thank you for your very kind remarks! Benjamin lands in Canada next week (June 2020) and is winging his way to the US next month:)

    1. Bonnie – thank you for your lovely comments and congratulations on being the give-away winner! Benjamin is “expected” to land in Canada next week (June 16)…(pandemic timing) and I will send you your copy as soon as it arrives! Best Sue

  3. Kristy Nuttall

    Such I great intereview! I loved how she said that the road to an elusive “lucky break” is actually paved with a lot of hard work–taking time to write, being active in critique groups, going to conferences, etc. Benjamin’s Blue Feet sounds like a fabulous tale too–can’t wait to read a copy!

    1. Kristy – thank you for your very kind remarks! Benjamin is winging his way to Canada next week and is due for release in the US next month(July 2020)

  4. Kristy – thank you for your very kind remarks! Benjamin is winging his way to Canada next week and is due for release in the US next month(July 2020)

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