Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

March 2020 Meeting: Author Chris Barton

Chris Barton spoke to us this month on Zoom while celebrating his 20th book: FIRE TRUCK VS. DRAGON (Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, 2020). We thank Chris for embracing the new format for our monthly meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Be sure to enjoy other recent titles: ALL OF A SUDDEN AND FOREVER: HELP AND HEALING AFTER THE OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING and WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A VOICE LIKE THAT? THE STORY OF EXTRAORDINARY CONGRESSWOMAN BARBARA JORDAN (2020-21 Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List).

Who would have thought that telling a story about a smoke alarm to his fascinated toddler would lead Chris to becoming a full-time author? Well, Chris realized that if his own child adored his storytelling, perhaps other kids would too. And they do, as evidenced by the bestseller SHARK VS. TRAIN, the “MIGHTY TRUCK” early reader series, DAZZLE SHIPS: WORLD WAR I AND THE ART OF CONFUSION (an Orbis Pictus Honor book), Siebert Honor-winning THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS, and WHOOSH! LONNIE JOHNSON’S SUPER-SOAKING STREAM OF INVENTIONS, included on 19 state reading lists.

Chris shared with us 20 things he’s learned as an author. Here is the list with a few highlights: 

  • 1. Enjoy the process, because you might be in it for a long, long while.
  • 2. Not all rejections are created equal. (Typically, the more specific the editor is in your rejection, the more you learn.)
  • 3. Paginate your picture book manuscripts.
  • 4. Read picture books every day—and read reviews of them, too.
  • 5. Nonfiction is way sexier than it used to be. (Yay?)
  • 6. Go to TLA. (Texas Library Association’s conference is virtual this year)
  • 7. ______________ is a secondary medium in support of your primary medium. (Prioritize.)
  • 8. This work—your work—is worth investing in.
  • 9. Know what kind of feedback you respond well to. (With feedback: be honest and look out for it.)
  • 10. Between your first offer and publication: remember that nobody publishes your book because they’re doing you a favor. (Your book has value; publishers are there to make money, not for charity—you are in business with them.)
  • 11. Trust is the most important ingredient in bookmaking…
  • 12. …and trust deficit is a problem that’s not going to fix itself. (Be trustworthy; all parties must recognize trust: author with illustrator, author with editor, illustrator with art director. It might be uncomfortable to deal with a problem, but you are better off dealing with it.)
  • 13. Most librarians don’t operate at the speed of Twitter.
  • 14. Appreciate publishers who tell you flat-out “No.”
  • 15. Give others a great reason before asking them to work for free.
  • 16. Book launches aren’t necessary. (Authors must pay for their own launches, unless it is during a book tour.)
  • 17. Put your privilege to use to benefit others in this business.
  • 18. The right time to give up my day job was when I became scared not to. (Be aware of embracing opportunity.)
  • 19. For all of us…When in doubt, ask a librarian. (They have resources, connections, and valuable advice.)
  • 20. We are lucky to be here. (Lean on each other; count on each other; others out there are also experiencing this; we are a family.)

Chris and his wife, YA/middle-grade novelist Jennifer Ziegler, live in Austin, Texas, where Chris has advocated for greater diversity in children’s literature by co-founding the Modern First Library program with BookPeople.–