Most of you, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, know that for the past three years I have participated in the 12×12 picture book writing challenge founded and headed by Julie Hedlund. It has been a wonderful experience, and I have found community, encouragement, and support in the group, as well as having gained knowledge and friendships.
Since my focus is now on writing middle grade and adult fiction, I will not be a part of 12×12 in 2015. That is going to feel odd, I admit. I am grateful that I am connected to many of the members in other ways.
Still, 12×12 goes on, and as she embarks on leading the group into its fourth year, Julie Hedlund has agreed to be interviewed for By Word of Beth. Thank you so much, Julie, for all you do for 12×12 and for the writing community at large, and for granting this interview.
Let’s start with a little bit of background. Near the end of November, 2011, a woman named Julie Hedlund had an idea – she would challenge herself to take the ideas she had come up with in Tara Lazar’s terrific creative challenge, PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and draft 12 picture book manuscripts in 12 months. She invited others to join her, and a community and a movement were born.
Now, on with the interview!
Beth: I’ve just re-read an interview I did with you in June of 2012, halfway through the initial year of the 12×12 challenge. So much has changed in the two and a half years since we did that interview! What are just a few of the highlights of 12×12 in 2012, 2013, and 2014 that particularly stand out for you?
Julie: Well, the strength of the community is what took me so much by surprise in 2012. I started the challenge to motivate myself – not as a movement of any kind. But the way the participants came together to help and support each other was truly a thing of beauty. It had to continue. 🙂
2013 was both the first year I began charging a membership fee (realizing that “free forever” is not a sustainable business model), and offering an opportunity for GOLD members to submit to agents once a month. There was a lot of growth and growing pains, and I learned a great deal that year about how to be a true leader vs. an accidental one.
What has been most rewarding about 2014 is witnessing the success stories of so many inaugural 12 x 12 members (yourself included!). It’s no surprise to me that many participants in their third year of the challenge are getting agents and book deals (even books sold at auctions!), winning awards, and more. I think it’s proof of what we all know intellectually but that’s harder to accept emotionally – that if you keep showing up for the work, keep learning, keep leaning on and supporting your tribe – the good things will come. Persistence DOES pay off.
Beth: I know that the challenge has evolved over the years. What’s in store for the 12×12 Class of 2015? What would you tell a person who might be trying to decide whether or not to join this year?
Julie: Well, this is going to sound “braggy, braggy,” which I don’t like, but if you write picture books, I honestly can’t think of a single reason NOT to join 12 x 12. The BRONZE level is just $45 for the entire year – I can guarantee a PB author would get at least $45 worth of learning from his/her membership.
SILVER and GOLD members will enjoy free access to a brand new feature in 2015 – the 12 x 12 webinar series (confirmed speakers include Emma Walton Hamilton, Jill Corcoran, Katie Davis, Jane Yolen, and more…). Also new for 2015 is our scholarship program, made possible by generous donations from the 12 x 12 community. There are four scholarships offered in two categories – Financial Need and Diversity. So yes, if you can’t tell, I’m chomping at the bit with excitement for 2015. 🙂
Beth: How can someone sign up for 12×12 in 2015?
Julie: Visit the 12 x 12 Membership Page on our BRAND NEW website, http://12x12challenge.com for all the details.
Beth: Before I move on to some of the other amazing things you do, is there anything else you’d like to say about 12×12?
Julie: Just how grateful I am for all of the participants and how much they’ve given of themselves, their time, and talent. 12 x 12 is not Julie Hedlund. 12 x 12 is a village. What makes it so amazing is that when you join, you will never be alone in your writing again. People help each other, share resources. Imagine having 750 librarians at your disposal to answer any tiny little question you might have about writing picture books. That’s what 12 x 12 is like. And you know I’m not kidding, because you’ve been there for three years yourself. 🙂
Beth: Let’s spend a few minutes talking about the exciting things that have happened in your writing life in the last couple of years. In the 2012 interview, you said “my greatest hope/desire at this point is to get my stories out into the world. Whether through traditional publishing, e-publishing or some form of publishing that hasn’t even been invented yet, I don’t much care. I’ve written stories I’m very proud of and that I want children (besides my own) to experience.”
I know that has happened for you, and you have been a forerunner for us in some new forms of publishing, with your picture book apps, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys and A Shiver of Sharks; then with Troop being published as a hard copy book; and most recently, with your hybrid publishing venture for My Love for You is the Sun. What has all that been like for you?
Julie: Wow, what a difficult question to answer, but I’ll try. It’s perhaps an overused cliché, but each book is like a child. And like children, once they’re published, they walk around in the world separate from you but impacting people’s lives just the same. Watching children screech with laughter at the skunks in TROOP, gasp at the sharks in SHIVER, or stare with awe at the illustrations in MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN is the greatest gift I will ever receive as a writer. No amount of money or success could ever equal that feeling of watching one child love your book. (Okay, it’s the New Year and I get emotional at this time, so my apologies if this is overly hokey)
Also, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN was inspired by and dedicated to my father, who passed away in 2007. So that book is even more special because it was a way for me to pass his gifts on to others.
Beth: You’re also involved in other interesting ventures. Let’s talk about your collaboration with Emma Walton Hamilton on the Ultimate Guide to Picture Book Submissions. How did that come about? It’s a course, rather than a book, correct? If someone signs up for it, what will they receive, and in what format? And finally, how can someone sign up?
Julie: Well, first of all, your readers should know that Emma is a miracle-worker when it comes to perfecting query letters. So much so that I’ve dubbed her “The Query Whisperer.” The GUIDE started with a series of 50 video query critiques that Emma and I did for 12 x 12 GOLD members last year as a benefit of their membership. When we were finished, we realized we had (no pun intended) gold on our hands. How often can you witness the transformation of so many queries in such a short time?
Rather than write a book about queries, we took our combined expertise in crafting query letters (and I’m no chump in that category either 🙂 ) and poured EVERYTHING we know and all the resources we had into this one GUIDE. It functions more like a course in that there are modules beginning with who to submit to, what goes in a query letter, the 50 query critiques, dos and don’ts, formatting, evaluating offers, etc. Go to http://picturebooksubmissions.com to see a tour of the course and a free sample video.
Beth: I know you’ve also recently launched a fabulously inspiring course called How to Make Money as a Writer. Please tell us more – what does it cover, who is it for, how can a person sign up?
Julie: How to Make Money as a Writer sprung from another one of my passions – helping writers have the confidence and create the skills to earn a living from their writing and writing-related income. I get so many questions about how I do this, and I had so much to say on the subject I finally decided it would be easier to put it all in one place!
The business side of writing, especially marketing and promotion, doesn’t come easy to many creative people. I stress throughout the course that the business of writing, far from being sleazy and time-drain, can be a big part of our creative lives and even fun! For more information about the course your readers can go to https://juliehedlund.leadpages.net/makemoneyasawriter/.
Beth: What’s next for Julie Hedlund? In the 2012 interview, I suggested that it seemed that the sky was the limit – or perhaps even that wouldn’t limit you. I’d say that seems even truer now. But let’s hear what you have to say.
Julie: Well, what I’m really hoping for in 2015 is to build on what I’ve already created (12 x 12, PB Subs Guide, How to Make Money as a Writer), AND to spend more time writing and tending to my creative self. I would like very much to have at least two more book deals by the end of the year, and to do that will take time and focus. I have a few pieces that I am seriously in love with and that want their day(s) in the sun. Who am I to deny them?
Beth: Where can people find you online?
Julie: My website is http://www.juliehedlund.com. It will be overhauled in February 2015, but the address will remain the same.
Beth: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Julie: Just one more thing. As if I didn’t have enough “passion projects,” I also run a retreat for writers in Florence, Italy each April called Writer’s Renaissance. 2015 will be our third year, and there are still a few spots left. After 2015, I will move to an every-other-year schedule, so the next opportunity won’t be until 2017. This retreat is truly life-changing, and because I won’t be back until 2017, I plan to blow the roof off this April in terms of its epicness. J So if any of your readers are interested in checking it out, go to http://writersrenaissance.com.
Beth: Thank you so much, Julie, for taking time out of what I know is a very busy schedule, at a busy time of year professionally and personally, to answer these questions, and to share with my readers all the marvelous opportunities you offer to writers. And thanks for all you do for the kidlit community!
Julie: Beth, thank you so much for having me on your blog. You are such an inspiration to me and have given me so much support over the years, as I know you have to many others. I’ll miss you in 12 x 12, but I applaud your dedication and focus and will look forward to continuing our friendship in the many other forums we have in common. Happy New Year!