I first discovered Kathy Temean’s blog, Writing and Illustrating, five or six years ago, and I’ve been following it ever since. If you like to write or draw for children, you must check it out. Kathy has been a long-time member, speaker, and regional advisor of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is very knowledgeable and helpful.
I am so thrilled that Kathy agreed to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.
ARHtistic License: What books have you written or illustrated?
Kathy Temean: I wrote and illustrated Horseplay and illustrated Yogi’s Team, and various book covers, and have written and illustrated many articles for magazines like Highlights and Sprouts. Plus I have done artwork for Individuals like Jerry & Eileen Spinelli, major corporations like McDonald’s, Pfizer and Merck, and businesses like Mullica Hill Merchant Association have commissioned my artwork.
AL: How did you first hear of SCBWI?
KT: To understand that, I need to tell you about my writing journey: I went to college to study art. My only connection to writing was my Dad who wrote short stories for magazines, articles for the newspaper, and love poems for me and my mother. I am sure he would have loved to write a novel, but he worked hard to make a living to provide for his family. I had to do the same, working full time to take care of my family and doing my art on the side. When my mother and father passed away in 2001, I had the task of cleaning out their house and found all the treasures of my childhood and Dad’s writing. Oh, how I wish I had found them earlier in life. I would have loved to discuss writing with my Dad. I started write so much that I really thought my father had taken over my body. All I could do was write. Maybe it was because I was an only child and I didn’t have a brother or sister I could talk to, or just grieve, but I poured my heart out writing for hours every day and night for many, many months. With my art background and so many cherished memories and the inspiration of my father’s poems, I started writing children’s picture books. One night I got up from my desk and couldn’t take a step and had to have my knee replaced. I started thinking I should use my artistic talents to illustrate the books I wrote. Then I realized I didn’t know anything about how to write or get a book published, so I read every book I could find and did everything suggested. One of those suggestions was to join the SCBWI. I did. Went to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, won an award for my illustration titled “Boys with Bear” and met other writers, illustrators, agents, and editors.
I had worked for some major companies setting up corporate events, so I volunteered my talents to the New Jersey SCBWI chapter in order to create programs that would not only helping me navigate the road to publication, but others, too.
AL: Did you win other kudos for your illustrations?
KT: I did. “Babes on Beach” (Society of Illustrators in NYC), “Homework Helper” (SCBWI Summer Conference), “Cinco de Mayo” (PASCBWI Conference), “Exploring the Garden” (NJSCBWI), “Boys with Bear” (SCBWI Winter Conference).
AL: You were the regional advisor for New Jersey SCBWI. How long did you serve in that capacity?
KT: 10 years. I stepped down at the end of 2013 and still attend the NJSCBWI events. I have conducted workshops and have done critiques at some of the NJSCBWI annual conferences.
AL: Tell us about your passion for children’s literature and the authors and illustrators who create them.
KT: I love children and I love to write and illustrate. Seems like a perfect combination to me. The thing I loved about being the SCBWI Regional Advisor was how I got to see writers and illustrators grow and succeed. Having a little part in that success was special. That is why I have kept up my Writing and Illustrating blog.
AL: Tell us about your illustration work. What software do you use?
KT: I have done a lot of traditional techniques, but when Photoshop came along, I jumped on board and taught myself how to use the software. It was instalove. I love that I can play around with the colors, correct anything I don’t like. I just wish I had more time to experiment more.
AL: You also assist writers with marketing and with author websites through your consulting business. Why is an author website important?
KT: For the last two decades I have gotten upset with writers and especially illustrators for not thinking enough of their work to show it off. Facebook is nice, but not good enough. Having a website gives a writer/illustrator a chance to tell their story. Think of it as having a picture book about you. You need to put up something interesting, provide some unique content that will bring visitors back. Even if you don’t have a book out there, you want to put your best foot forward, show off a little, and get that editor, agent, or future buyer interested in you. You never know where your next opportunity will come from. Just make sure what you design and create is professional and interesting.
AL: Besides a website, what are some of the most important things authors and illustrators can do to promote their work?
KT: Don’t run scared of having a blog. Just the word can make some of my clients faint. A blog is a great thing to include with your website. Why? Because it lets give you a place to put up pictures, notices, and stories about what you are doing to help build an audience. Your website designer will not be there 24/7 to put all the new things up on your site. With a blog, you will have complete control without having to depend on and pay someone else.
You don’t have to do something every day. Think about what you can reasonably do. Could you take an afternoon once a month to come up with four things to post? If so, you can schedule them to post on four different days during the month. Hint: If you see something interesting you would like to share, put it in a file so you can get your hands on it the afternoon you schedule to come up with your four posts.
Also get a Twitter account. You can set your blog up to automatically tweet what you post. That is so helpful. And people will click on the tweet and will be steered to your site.
If you have a new book coming out, make sure you put it up on your website. I know you are thinking Duh! But I have seen that happen too many times. Also, I know a debut author who did not have a website ready for their book launch. This is very bad. Don’t let that happen to you. You can’t expect to hire someone to do a site and get it up a couple of days. I have seen some sites take a year to finish and not go live until after the debut book has been out for months on the bookshelves. Make a marketing plan or hire someone to help you accomplish that. Don’t miss your window of opportunity.
AL: Your blog is one of the most helpful I know for writers. How often do you post?
KT: I started the blog in 2009 and have blogged every day since then. Even through major operations, pneumonia, and vacations, etc.
AL: How do you keep up that blogging pace and still do everything else that you do?
KT: A lot of late nights and I try to plan what I want to feature a month ahead. Writers and illustrators should think about submitting something to me. Think about what they could send to get their name or books seen. I feature authors, books, illustrators, agents, and I am always looking for articles that would interest other writers and illustrators. I love to get submissions – an illustration I could use with a post or holiday post – poem — a how-to article – a new book with their journey – a good new announcement for a kudos post. It’s a win-win for them and me.
AL: My favorite feature is the weekly Illustrator Saturday. The posts are full of illustrations, some in various stages of completion, so that we can actually see the artists’ process. How do you find 52 illustrators every year?
KT: There are so many talented people out there. It really is amazing. I am in awe of all the talent. It is a lot of work doing Illustrator Saturday, but most illustrators see the benefit of being on a blog that gets thousands of visits every day from all over the world. Many of my visitors are agents, editors, art director, publishers, teachers, writers, and illustrators. All are lovers of children’s books.
I rarely get anyone send me a link to look over their illustrations or tell me about themselves. I think they should. Even if I don’t think they are quite ready, there could be an illustration that catches my eye and could use, which might be something that would catch someone else’s eye, which could lead to a job. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
AL: You also keep us apprised of upcoming new books in the children’s market and even run book giveaways. Do you seek these books out, or do the authors or publishers offer them to you?
KT: It’s a mix of both. In the beginning I asked writers if they would like to be featured, but now publishers are sending me books coming out, hoping I will feature the author and the book. It is funny how I have seen an author, illustrator, and even a publisher grow from posting this feature on the site. At first glance it might seem like it is just a chance to win a free book, but it is much more than that. I always ask the author to write up their journey with the book. Everyone loves to read what an author and/or an illustrator had to go through to get their book on a bookstore shelf and into the hands of a reader. There is a lot of knowledge being shared in those stories. Plus, we are all in this journey together, so we have support the new books coming out to keep the industry going. We want it to be strong when we submit a manuscript and have people see and buy your book when it comes out.
AL: You profile agents who are building their children’s book lists and also feature an agent of the month, who critiques several submitted first pages of manuscripts. I am in awe of your contacts.
KT: I am glad you find the info about different agents helpful. If writers and illustrators read the features, it could save them a lot of time trying to figure out who is out there and may be a good fit for them. Just remember, the industry changes frequently, everyone should check to make sure the agent hasn’t left the company or that they are still accepting queries. Last month, I had an agent who decided to close submissions and I didn’t realize this, since I had just researched her. So things can change on a dime. One day they can be working for an agency and the next they can be working for someone else or traipsing around the world with a new boyfriend. I do my best to keep up.
AL: What else would you like readers to know about you?
KT: I would like to let writers know I am currently working on organizing a Virtual Writers Retreat. I have done a full manuscript critique retreat for the last seven years. It has helped so many writers get published or opened doors for them with an agent. This COVID-19 and everyone being locked down and afraid of flying, I decided going virtually would be a good idea. If you write a novel, where would you get a chance to have an agent or editor read your full story. Plus, everyone gets assigned to a four person critique group and everyone gets a 20 page critique with one of the other agents. The retreat is open to picture book writers, too. Their cost is less. They get a total of four PB critiques and a PB critique group. Here is the link for more details.
Children’s authors and illustrators, now it’s your turn. Check out Kathy Temean’s websites. You can learn so much there! And take advantage of Kathy’s offer–she’d love to have some submissions about your work and your journey.