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Bridget Heos on Writing Children's Books
Written by
She Writes
December 2019
Written by
She Writes
December 2019

This month we are getting to know Bridget Heos, author of the Mustache Baby series. As our first children's book author guest editor, we had to dig into what it was like to break into this often elusive corner of the publishing world. 

Describe your writing routine.

I like to focus on one thing at a time, so I either write for most the day (while my kids are at school) or I answer emails and attend to business and marketing. Often times I'm visiting schools sharing my books with kids! So I'm either writing 8:30-3 or doing other writing related stuff.

What is the first thing you can remember writing?

Growing up, my mom would have me write letters to my great grandmother, who used to send them back corrected with red ink. In a way, she was my first editor!

How did you and your illustrator find one another?

The publisher selects the illustrator. I hit the jackpot with Joy Ang illustrating MUSTACHE BABY. I've loved seeing the illustrations for all my books. The first time I lay eyes on any of my characters is when I see the first sketches.

Did you know from the beginning that Mustache Baby would be a series?

I didn't know. Originally, the ending did not have Beard Baby. But my editor didn't like the original ending (which had all the babies in the world growing mustaches and Billy being their barber,) so I had to change it. Beard Baby popped into my head, and at that moment, I did hope for a sequel. When I saw Joy Ang's Beard Baby, I knew right away who he was--the laid back, philosophical, but tough-when-he-needs-to-be counterpart to the fiery Mustache Baby.

How did you decide it was time for a holiday edition?

It was the suggestion of the editor at Houghton Mifflin. I loved the idea! I love Christmas and what could be cuter than MUSTACHE BABY and BEARD BABY all sweatered up for the holidays?

What do you do to market your children's fiction? How do you reach readers and their parents?

I've just begun marketing my books. Starting out, I was writing all the time. To make a living as a writer, I had to write a lot of books-sometimes 20 in a year. (At that time, workbooks and children's series nonfiction--pets, planets, etc., were the bulk of my work.) I finally got to a point where I could take a breath. Now, I do school visits, travel to librarian conferences, have family events at libraries and book stores, and am active on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

What is the advice you would offer other aspiring children's book authors?

I recently wrote a thread about this on Twitter, which I'll just share here:

I've read that 999 out of every 1000 picture book manuscripts get rejected. There is luck and timing involved, but I believe these are the best practices for getting a picture book published:

1. Read 100 picture books: 50 that have stayed in publication for many years and 50 that have been published in the last 5 years. 

2. Keep a notebook for jotting down ideas. A lot of people focus on one idea, one manuscript. It may be a story that is close to their heart. I had a story like that and it never got published. You will probably need more than one idea.

3. Write 3-5 picture books. Revise each 20-100 times. 

4. Join a critique group--in person or online-- to help you with revising.

5. Make a 32-page dummy by folding 8 pieces of paper in half. Cut and paste your manuscript onto those pages to see if it flows right. 

6. Start researching the picture book business. I think the best way to do this is by joining

@scbwi Also look at the title pages of the picture books you read to get a sense of who is publishing what. 

7. Find an agent. There is usually a list of top picture book agents posted online each year. Research each to see if they are taking submissions. Follow the instructions for submitting on their Web site. 

8. Continue reading picture books, jotting down ideas, and writing new manuscripts. With so many manuscripts rejected, it makes sense that the more manuscripts you write--and work really hard at, the better your chances at getting published. 

9. This is a rare business where it IS what you know, not who you know, at least at first. Learn how to write a good story. Learn how your stories fit into the book business. 

10. Last: make a wish. I wished a lot while trying to get published, so maybe it was all luck! Wish when: you lose an eyelash, see a Texas license plate and touch 3 shades of blue (not sure if this works IN Texas), eat a folded over chip, and of course, the penny and star ones.


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