Julie Hedlund — Spotlight Worthy INTERVIEW

It is the most delightful serendipity that a few months ago Julie Hedlund (founder of the picture book a month challenge known as 12 x 12 in 2012) and I agreed that she would do an interview for my blog on June 27th. At that time, we had no idea whatsoever that a celebration of the six-month half-way mark of 12 x 12 would be happening at the same time. Is this perfect timing, or what?

Like many others in the 12 x 12 “family,” I got to know Julie through the online PiBoIdMo challenge in which participants came up with 30 picture book ideas in the 30 days of November 2011. Julie then extended a challenge to us to attempt to write twelve actual picture book draft manuscripts in the coming year — 12 manuscripts in 12 months in 2012 — and 12 x 12 in 2012 was born. As I said in my post on Monday, we’ve since become an amazingly supportive, encouraging group, cheering each other on in so many ways. It has been, and continues to be, wonderful. You can learn more about 12 x 12 at Julie’s website.

Julie Hedlund is a picture book author, a member of SCBWI, a monthly contributor to author/illustrator Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast, and the founder and host of the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge. Julie’s website is http://www.juliehedlund.com.

I am so grateful to Julie for taking the time to participate in this interview as we celebrate the half-way point in our challenge. So, let’s get on with the interview!

Me: Julie, many of us just “met” you when we were in PiBoIdMo last November, others have come to know you through 12×12, others of my readers haven’t met you at all – until now. Could you give us a brief overview of the life journey that brought you to this point in your life?

Julie: Wow, way to go straight to the jugular in the first question Beth! Just kidding of course. My path to become the writer I am today is so squiggly and circuitous that it even has loops in it! The short version of the story is that I’ve always been a writer in my heart, and a big part of me knew I had to share my stories with the world. Eventually, I decided it was time to get on with it after trying very hard to convince myself that I was meant for a “high-power,” corporate career. The long version, if your readers are interested, is on my About Page on my website.


Me: This week we’re celebrating the midway point of 12×12 in 2012, your challenge to us to create 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. I suspect that the reality of 12×12 has exceeded your expectations. How did you initially envision the challenge, how has it evolved over the past six months, and how has that evolution impacted your life?

Julie: To say that the reality of 12 x 12 has exceeded my expectations would be the world’s biggest understatement. I initially envisioned the challenge as a personal one that I would do on my own. Then, toward the end of PiBoIdMo last year, I decided it would be nice to have company. I expected maybe 30-50 of my most faithful blog followers who were also picture book writers to join me. I NEVER could have imagined we’d end up 400 strong!

One way the challenge has evolved has been how much the participants take care of and support each other. In the beginning, everyone was naturally looking to me and asking a lot of questions (the answers to which I made up as I went along!). Now, the participants buy and promote each other’s books, read and comment on each other’s blogs and share resources. If you want a great example of how this community works, check out author Susanna Hill’s April Fool, Phyllis World Tour.

The fact that I had a hand in creating this community is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, both personally and professionally. I’m sure it sounds corny, but I’ve always wanted to help people and to feel as if I am making some small difference in the world. The 12×12 has given me that in spades. When participants mention how the challenge has inspired them, helped them overcome their fears, made them feel like writers… it can bring me to tears.

It has impacted my life by proving to me (again – corny alert!) that we can all use whatever talents and gifts we have to make a difference. Just think of how many picture books that will have been written by the end of this year!! The fact is, many of those stories will be in the hands of children someday and will then work their magic in those children’s lives. This feels very gratifying.


Me: So many serendipitous things seem to have happened in your life because of 12×12, such as becoming a regular part of Katie Davis’s popular podcast “Brain Burps About Books.” On Brain Burps, you talk about gratitude. You also have a regular feature on your blog about gratitude. Would you be willing to share with my readers why gratitude means so much to you?

Julie: Practicing gratitude has shifted my entire worldview, which is why it means so much to me and why I want to encourage others to build a practice. I used to be a pretty negative person. So much so that my best friend once said to me, when I was lamenting one negative aspect of a mostly positive situation, “Don’t pull the gloom out of the jaws of happiness.”

The reason I call gratitude a “practice” is because it is not easy and it takes constant effort and reinforcement – much like writing. After a couple years of regular gratitude practice, I can say truthfully that I am more likely to see the good in a situation. Not only do I notice good things more, I make sure to appreciate them. Gratitude makes the bad things more bearable and the good things more wonderful. What’s not to love?


Me: I can’t help wondering if you sometimes feel as if 12×12 has taken over your life. How do you balance the demands of this rather unwieldy organism, your own writing, family responsibilities, and the apparent myriad other things you do?

Julie: Um, I don’t really… I am still working on that balance, as I suspect all of us are. Ironically, although the existence of the challenge certainly takes a lot of my time, it also forces me to set aside time to get the writing done. I feel a responsibility as the founder to do the best job I can in my own challenge – LOL.

I continually experiment with different systems to maximize my chances of getting everything done that needs to get done. Setting short and long-term goals at the beginning of the year has helped a lot, because I track my progress to those. I have also had to learn how to prioritize, which means I’ve had to turn down some opportunities or discard story ideas that didn’t seem like the best use of my time.

I also try to get my kids involved in the writing process. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I took them to the library, and while I was working, I asked my daughter to search for books I needed for research. Then she read through them to see which ones she thought would be best. So, I’m not above child labor either!! 🙂


Me: In the midst of everything else, you have launched a new website. For those of us still just doing blogs, what does the website offer that a simple blog cannot? How did you decide that the time was right to take the step to a full-blown website?

Julie: I’m not sure every author needs both a website and a blog, but because I am expanding the “business” side of my writing, I wanted to have the flexibility of a full website that could include pages and tabs for products and services without disrupting or cluttering the blog. I also felt it was time to bring a more professional design into the mix since I was using an “out-of-the box” theme for my former blog.


Me: You’ve also launched a critiquing service. What was the impetus to branch out into this field? What types of critiquing/editing do you do? What is the process for submitting something to you for critique?

Julie: My impetus for starting a critique service was because people started asking me if I would critique their manuscripts! I’ve been a part of two critique groups for more than two years. I’ve also had my own work critiqued by many professionals in that time period – agents, editors and authors, so I’ve learned a lot about what makes a great critique. I apply that knowledge to each and every critique I give.

My personal philosophy is that a great critique will make the writer excited about revising the manuscript and about its possibilities.

Right now I am focusing on picture book critiques because I understand the craft and the market for those. I am especially excited about my Three Manuscript Special, which is geared toward 12 x 12 members who have now accumulated several manuscripts. We all know that agents want to see multiple manuscripts before taking on a PB client. This service is a way for writers to expedite the revision process on multiple manuscripts.

The process for submitting is simple. Choose which service you want on my Manuscript Critiques page, click the Buy button to pay. I get notified immediately and then I get in touch to schedule the critique. If you have questions you need answered first, you can contact me from my website or via email.


Me: You’ve mentioned on our Facebook Group that there may be a 12×12 challenge in 2013 as well. I was impressed that you want to build on the challenge into another year. Do you see it continuing in the same manner year by year? What are your long-term plans/hopes for 12×12?

Julie: I am definitely going to run the challenge again in 2013. So much good has come from the community that’s emerged, I couldn’t imagine disbanding it after one year. As for long-term plans? I’m taking it year by year at this point, and I also want input from the participants regarding how they’d like the challenge to evolve. I should mention that anyone who is interested in participating next year, whether new or returning, should fill out this form to make sure you receive all the pertinent information when it becomes available.


Me: When I look at all you are doing, I think that the sky is the limit for you – or perhaps you won’t even be limited by that. What do you hope will be in store for Julie Hedlund in the future?

Julie: What a great question (and you are also too kind)! Honestly, 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.


Me: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Julie: Only that I am honored you invited me to be on your Blog, Beth. It has been such a pleasure getting to know you this past year. You are so generous with your knowledge and talent. I have absolutely no doubt that the 12 x 12 group will be buying and promoting one of your titles in the near future!! I do hope we’ll get to meet in person one day. Thanks again!


Me: Thank you so much! I, too, hope we’ll get to meet in person one day. And congratulations, Julie, for leading the 12×12 group so successfully through our first six months of manuscripts. We each owe you a huge debt of gratitude.

80 thoughts on “Julie Hedlund — Spotlight Worthy INTERVIEW”

  1. I was already hooked on Julie’s blog and her journey before PiBoIdMo. I followed her trip to Italy last summer, with great pleasure, and sensed that this was a go-getter with a bounteous heart. It has been a tremendous joy to continue to follow as she launches all her new projects. I will whoop with joy when she snags that agent and gets her first book published. This was a delightful interview. Thank you, ladies! And good luck with all these plans and projects, Julie.

    1. Lucky you, Joanna, to have discovered Julie “before she was a star” !!! I will join you in that whoop of joy when it happens.

  2. Thank you both for this interview. It is so gratifying to read how one little spark, one tiny idea that seemed almost too small to be much of anything, grew into stalk of writerly fun, joy, excitement, encouragement and progress for some who may not be where they’ve gotten to without the support of others gained from Julie’s 12 x 12.

    1. It is amazing what has come from that one spark of an idea. I’m so grateful that spark ignited in Julie’s imagination. Thanks, Angela!

  3. Pingback: Guest Blogging with Beth Stilborn | JulieHedlund.com

  4. Great interview! This 12×12 has been so much fun, especially the community of writers that is so ACTIVE!
    Thanks, Julie, for sharing this part of your life with us!

  5. Great interview Beth and Julie! I think I missed that there is going to be a 12 x 12 in 2013! Awesome!
    Julie – I think your critique service is a great idea. The packages you put together are well done! Good luck with that venture!

    Thanks again for 12 x 12! The experience has been amazing!

    1. Thanks, Eric! Hmmm… Maybe we should all try for a “bonus” baker’s dozen of picture books in 2013! And I certainly join you in your thanks to Julie.

    2. Thanks Eric! It’s good to hear that you think the critique service will fill a niche. I’ve learned so much from your blog, so I’m glad to reciprocate.

    1. Jennifer, I launched the critique service when my new website went live, so it’s still pretty new. I’ve had a couple of people use the service since then, so now I need to get those testimonials up – LOL!

  6. Woop, woop! Great interview ladies. Hugs and smooches all around. Julie, you’re awesome. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for all you’ve done! And about balance. *sigh* *waves to Beth and Julie*

  7. Lovely interview, my dears! I, for one, am grateful every day for all the fun and inspiring people I’ve met through 12×12 and in the kidlitosphere in general. It gets lonely over here in Italy, so it’s nice to know there’s always someone online who “gets” me! Thanks to you both. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Renee. It’s so good to have you part of our community — so good to be able to connect over so many miles.

  8. This interview was chocked full of background information. I’m sort of nosy, so I’m always excited when I’m allowed to get a full picture of how a “hmmmmm, I wonder if I could…?” idea begins, then grows on to have a pulsing existence on its own. This 12 x 12 organism has created its own ecosystem (biology test on Fri.) It will not be contained and we’re blessed to be the recipients. What a wonderful interview, ladies. I’m so glad I stopped by. Much success on your business and literacy adventures Julie and Beth!

    1. I love your analogies, Pam (and thanks for the warning about the biology test. I’m very glad it’s biology and not chemistry or physics. I have a chance with biology!!!! 😉 )

      I’m so glad you stopped by, as well. Thank you so much!

  9. I like the ‘magic number’ critique package idea too! And the honesty spilling out – if you felt like you had a controlled grip on all that is going on in your life Julie I would need to scream! I also enjoy your so-what-if the-water-is-cold humor vocalized in your writing/comments! Thanks to both of you and Happy Halfway!

  10. Oh, I love this interview. The 12X12 group is a wonderful group because that is the tone that Julie has set from the beginning. One idea from one person blossoming into this amazing experience, that’s pretty cool.

    1. Thanks, Heather. It’s amazing what can grow from a tiny idea — if that idea is shared. Imagine if Julie had just kept it to herself!

  11. Patricia Nozell

    Beth & Julie,

    A wonderful post. How appropriate, Beth, to honor the founder & guiding spirit of 12×12 at our 1/2 way point. Julie, not only am I awed by all you’ve accomplished, but I’m so happy to have met you in person at NJ SCBWI. And the image of your daughter searching for books to help you research – priceless!


    1. Patricia, it was FAB to meet you in NJ! My daughter whined a bit about the research, but it was good for her. Character building. She had to ask the librarian for help, so it brought her out of her shell a bit. 🙂

  12. Great interview! And so perfect that it comes at the 12×12 midway point. Julie, how do you find the time to do all this?? I’m still trying to squeeze in my June manuscript – LOL. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your great 12×12 idea with the world.

    1. Carrie, as I said, I DON’T. I won’t have a June ms this month and I haven’t subbed anything (I usually try to send 5 queries). But I’ve gotten a lot of other stuff done and I’ve learned to let some things go (tough lesson for me).

    2. It seems, hard though it is to believe, that Julie is human with the same number of hours in the day as the rest of us! Actually, that’s kind of encouraging. I try to live by the motto “Do what you can and let go of the rest.” Sounds like Julie does the same.

  13. Wonderful interview Julie and Beth.
    Julie I still don’t know how you manage it all, but I agree with Beth we owe you a “HUGE” debt of gratitude for running the 12×12!

  14. “What’s not to love” indeed! (was one of my favourite sayings), Julie is the sweetest person, and thanks to her and 12×12 I have come to know some wonderful friends. Amazing how an idea can evolve!

  15. Sorry I’m late to the party, but have been gone all day. Lovely interview. Your one creative l idea impacted a lot of people in such an amazing way. It has really blossomed over the past six months. You have challenged us all and created a wonderful suppport system! I’m sure there are even greater things to come.

  16. Beth…awesome interview…thank you for giving us all the opportunity to learn a little bit more about Julie and her magical accomplishments. 🙂
    Julie…I love that you have your kids doing research for you! I love that you offered us a sign-up sheet for receiving info on 12×12 in 2013…of course I signed up! I love that you are providing a critique service…I will definitely check that out! I love your new website…it is so CLEAN and EASY to Navigate. Have you mentioned whether you did it yourself or had someone help with setting it up…maybe I missed that.
    Oh, and I love your book page…what a great portfolio of work you have there!
    And of course, I love 12 x 12 and all you have done to set it up and keep it going. 🙂

    1. Vivian, the subject of my first newsletter (which was supposed to go out in June but will now be postponed in July) will be about the website and my lessons learned, along with tips and more resources. Thank you for your comments about my book page. That is definitely where my heart is. Thank you for thanking me! I could go on and on… 🙂

    2. Thanks so much, Vivian. Julie has given us a lot to love, hasn’t she! I’m so grateful to her… and to all the 12 x 12 family. YAY US!

  17. Julie…you are amazing! I don’t know how you pack what you do into your day. I love the idea of including the kids in researching your book…good practice for them, and great use of time for you. And your manuscripts…I can’t wait until they are published. Clever titles and plots…Fun!
    I am grateful for 12×12, and the encouragement I have recieved from the group. I hope to promote you all on my blog, as soon as I can get my life together! Thank you Julie for the time you have invested to make that happen.
    And thanks to you,Beth, for hosting Julie…I agree…you are most generous with your time and resources, and extremely supportive!

  18. Julie and Beth,
    What a great interview. I really enjoyed the questions you asked, Beth! Julie, you are just amazing. You have given so much to kidlit and I believe the results will be evident for years to come. I think my favorite line (I have several, but I am choosing) is ” I don’t much care. I’ve written stories I’m very proud of and that I want children (besides my own) to experience.” That is such a great inspiration to me 🙂

    1. Thanks Penny! That is truly the way I feel. I just want to share my stories with children. I’m glad to be able to bring so many others along with me on the journey!

  19. Great discussion, Beth and Julie. It’s already been a great 6 months and I look forward to next year. Though, we might have to add an extra month to the calendar so it can be called 13×13 in ’13…

    1. Tim,

      Yeah I never thought beyond 2012 when I started this, so we’ll just have to be creative. Like Beth said, maybe the “baker’s dozen” draft can be for an extra bonus. 🙂

  20. Wonderful interview, Beth and Julie! We are so lucky to have you both!!! (And thanks for mentioning Phyllis’s world tour – she was so happy to see her name in highlighted print :))

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