It's time to welcome another wonderful creative to the Chitchat series--author Nikki Bergstresser is here! I'm excited to learn more about her sweet picture book, LILA LOU'S LITTLE LIBRARY that was just released from Cardinal Rule Press, and I'm also curious to know what Nikki's journey to becoming an author was.
In addition, Nikki's lovely publisher is kindly giving away a copy of the book to one lucky winner, so make sure you enter! (Details at the end of the interview.)
Welcome, Nikki! Thank you for joining us on the blog. Please briefly describe your journey to publication.
NB: Throughout my elementary teaching career, I often incorporated my love for writing into the classroom. Whether it was writing poems for special occasions like Grandparent’s Day or creating scripts for Christmas concerts, it kept my creative energy flowing to use what I wrote with my students. When I left the classroom to have children of my own, my writing took a back seat for a while, but it was replaced with the joy of reading countless books to my daughters throughout the years. I remember sitting at a coffee shop with friends sharing that I wanted to pursue my writing in a more serious way. Folks, find yourself friends who cheer you on in your writing journey! I can’t say it enough about the importance of having cheerleaders when pursuing your dreams.
So with the encouragement of friends and family, I began to write. I researched writing for children, learned about the writing community and even joined Twitter. Then I got the news my dad was diagnosed with cancer. I was provinces away and felt discouraged with how I could be of support to him, but one day an idea came to me. My dad loved to write, too. In fact, he shared his love of words with me ever since I was little. So I collected small, flat stones and painted a meaningful word onto each stone along with a tiny flower. There was one stone for each day of his cancer treatments. I packaged up the stones and mailed it to him. Each morning he chose a stone and that would be the word he would focus on for the day. During this time, I wrote and wrote. It was a difficult season for our family. SEASONS FOR STONES, my debut picture book with Brandylane Publishing, came out years later, based on the idea of what I had shared with my dad. Oodles of rejections, lots of tears and then the offer of publication. Mailing the book to my parents for them to hold was something I will never forget.
During that time, I had also worked on many other manuscripts. When submitting and waiting, be encouraged to... “just keep writing, just keep writing”. There was one story in particular, I had worked over a lot. It was my manuscript that had gone through the most changes. Cardinal Rule Press had open submissions. One year before I had submitted to them and received the kindest of rejections. I spent more time looking through their website to make sure I would submit my best manuscript to align with their publishing focus. I submitted right before their submissions’ window closed. One month later, Maria Dismondy offered me a publishing contract for LILA LOU’S LITTLE LIBRARY. I’m counting down the days until my picture book with Cardinal Rule Press is released. It’s about a spunky girl who loves to read, but her house is filled to the brim with too many books and she needs to make an important decision. Lila Lou dreams big, creates a plan, gets to work and takes action to make it all happen, all while sharing from her heart and connecting the community. As soon as I saw Sejung Kim’s illustrations, I loved the vibrant colors she used in her storytelling and how she brought out Lila Lou’s character. Did I mention the cover has glitter? The best surprise was when I opened the box with my copies of the book. I’m a sucker for anything with glitter!
I'm beyond grateful to the entire team of Cardinal Rule Press, including the previously published authors. I was warmly welcomed into the CRP family and the enthusiasm they have shown towards Lila Lou’s Little Library, has touched my heart. It has been such a time of valued learning and growth for me.
Q: What do you find most challenging in this business, either on the creative or publishing side of things? What do you find most rewarding? What helps you stay motivated?
NB: The author's journey requires that we wear many hats! There’s so much more than just writing. It’s working on your current project, keeping track of queries/submissions, revising other manuscripts, supporting the kidlit community with reviews and critiques, posting relevant content on social media to connect with readers, professional growth by listening to podcasts for writers or attending conferences and continue to market upcoming and past publications. As well, many of us have other jobs. It’s all wonderful things! For me, the most challenging aspect is finding that balance between my author role, online classes I teach and my precious family. I’m learning more and more that I need to be intentional when blocking out my weekly schedule. I can’t just say, “When I have time.” I need to make the time by scheduling the time. It’s my autumn goal. After all, pumpkin spice lattes go perfectly with creating organized schedules, right?
One of the most rewarding aspects in the author role for me has been the support from the kidlit writing community. When I started traveling this road, I printed out a sticky note to put on my wall above my computer that says ABC...Always Be Connecting. Intentional and authentic connections with children’s writers has been a gift I have cherished these past couple of years. Writing can be lonely. Walking alongside others who are also traveling this path gives us encouragement, hope and motivation to journey on. They know how hard it can be and how sweet it feels when success arrives in various shapes and sizes. Look to celebrate the small successes as well as the momentous ones. This past year, I gathered together a group of authors who have picture books releasing over the next couple of years. Our group is called Picture Book Pals and we meet monthly online to chat about all things author related. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter for all our upcoming book news and celebrations.
Q: Could you share any craft tools or techniques that you find most helpful to you when working on a project? What does your revision process look like?
NB: Music motivates me. When I’m working on a specific project, I love to create a playlist. It helps me to find the mood in my writing piece by choosing certain songs to listen to while I write, revise or just go for a walk to think about the project while listening to the music. I’m all about the feels.
Nature nourishes me. I take my folding chair, laptop, venti coffee, and head out to one of my favorite places beside a gurgling stream and large cedar trees to write. Also make sure if you have a venti coffee and sit by a gurgling stream you also have access to a washroom….I’ve learned from experience!
Q: What's coming up for you next? Please tell us about any new releases, exciting news, upcoming events or anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
NB: When Lila Lou’s Little Library comes out October 1, it will be going on a social media tour. Follow along with me on Instagram, you will see Lila Lou’s travels! As well, my family loves building with Lego. With the help of my family and the planning of a talented Lego friend, I just completed a Lego mosaic of Lila Lou’s Little Library book cover that stands over 3 feet tall. I will be taking it to author signings and have it on display behind me for virtual author visits. Join me October 1 when Cardinal Rule Press hosts my virtual book launch and live reading of my book. Classes, authors, and everyone who loves books can sign up: https://cardinalrulepress.lpages.co/october-virtual-book-launch/
Thank you, Nikki, for being my guest. That mosaic looks amazing, and I loved learning about your journey. Wishing you the best of success with LILA LOU'S LITTLE LIBRARY and all future projects as well!
Readers, please support our featured authors/illustrators by following them on Twitter, requesting their book through your local library, posting reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and of course, purchasing their books.
Connect with Nikki:
Click on the book cover to order a copy
Nikki Bergstresser is an educator and children’s author of Seasons for Stones (illustrated by Kelly O’Neill) and Lila Lou’s Little Library (illustrated by Sejung Kim) releasing Oct.1/21. When not writing, she teaches online book clubs and writing classes to learners in grades 3-7. Nikki makes her home on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada with her husband and two teen daughters. Nikki’s best day has her lost in nature, coffee in hand and a good story to share.
G I V E A W A Y ! ! !
Leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway.
(US and CAN only, please)
*Social media shares are appreciated.
Jany Campana! Congratulations!!!
Booklovers everywhere will love Lila Lou and relate to her predicament--there's no more room for books!
What's an avid reader to do when her piles of books seem to be overtaking the house?
There's only one solution and Lila knew just what to do before yet another pile of books came tumbling down.
As Lila Lou gets to work, a very special library is born. Now, all the books can be shared with everyone, and Lila can find new books to read, too, without creating a bigger space problem.
This is a sweet story that will appeal to bookworms and book collectors alike.
Welcome, Maria! It's a pleasure having you at KidLit Oasis and I am super excited about our chitchat! I can't wait to get the scoop, the behind the scene at Cardinal Rule Press, and a peek at your upcoming list! I know our readers are eager to know more about all of that, too, so let's dive in.
Q: Please tell us about your mission at Cardinal Rule Press and the big picture goal of your publishing house. Your website states that you focus on picture books that "empower children through meaningful stories." Could you tell us a bit more about that?
A: Here at Cardinal Rule Press, we are dedicated to producing children’s realistic fiction that reflects modern day diversity. We think stories that are timeless but allow children to see themselves within the pages of the book are needed and we are responding to help fill that void. We are a beautiful, colorful society and children should be able to experience that in books.
Q: I know you're about to open up to unsolicited submissions (November 1st, 2020 ― February 1st, 2021) and I'm sure a lot of writers are planning to submit to Cardinal Rule Press, just waiting for the "gates" to open. Naturally, for those submitting, doing their research and following the guidelines is very important. It's also important for writers to know the publishing model of the company they are submitting to in order to make an informed decision when sending their work out. In that regard, many authors would want to know the answer to this question when it comes to smaller presses: Do you pay your authors advances against royalties or is it royalties only?
A: We do pay our authors an advance upon signing and the remainder once the manuscript is edited with our team. We also pay royalties and report twice a year on earnings to our authors.
Q: And speaking of submissions, just to clarify, do you accept agented submissions year-round or only within your annual submission window?
A: We accept unsolicited and agented submissions during our annual submission window. We set up our acquisitions model in this way in order to be strategic and successful in our campaign efforts. Our team has created a timeline that has allowed us to be super efficient with industry deadlines, marketing our new releases, acquiring new work and educating our new team of authors on strengthening their brands as well as hosting quarterly masterclasses with speakers for past and current authors.
Q: I am really impressed with Cardinal Rule Press' social media presence and the different ways you connect with the community! I'd like to go a bit deeper behind the scenes though and learn more about your marketing strategies and distribution channels? How do you support your authors and illustrators and how do you promote your titles?
A: Thank you! We are proud of the community we have built and we appreciate your kind words. Our new authors go through a six week mentorship, where we empower them with knowledge and skills to prepare their brand for a successful launch. Our team of authors with backlist titles are invited to quarterly masterclasses where we hire speakers outside of our organization to educate our team on current trends in the book industry and how we can get behind those trends to help our own brand succeed. We also create a customized marketing campaign for each author that is unique to their title. It tells them exactly what our team will be doing each month, six months leading up top their book release. It gives them suggestions on what we think they can do each month leading up to the launch as well. We try to be very clear on expectations and clear up any gray areas.
Q: How do you find and select the illustrators for your projects? Do you ask your authors for input? Once you've signed the illustrator for the book, how involved is the author throughout the illustration process? Do they see initial sketches or the finished art or something in between?
A: We have stopped accepting illustrator submissions and work with agencies like Advocate Art and Astound to find our creative artists. We ask authors to describe their main character and ask for input on the initial character sketch. The author also sees the artwork laid out and is asked for feedback before it goes to print.
Q: During one of your agent interviews on your Cardinal Rules Press Facebook Page you shared that you have an assistant who filters the submissions for you to weed out the ones that don't follow the guidelines--like the fact that you only publish stories with human characters. So after the rest of the submissions -- or the ones with the strongest potential―get to you, how do you evaluate them for your list? Any more specifics on what kind of projects you look for? When you read a submission, do you know immediately if it's one you want to acquire? What grabs you in a manuscript? Any pet peeves?
A: Yes, we have a team to help with the process. There are two of us who read through and narrow down titles. We keep a spread sheet with comments. It is important for publishers and editors to be up to date on titles that are out there so we are not duplicating stories that are already out there. That is a pet peeve of mine, reading stories that have already been done. I expect writers to research their theme and title before submitting. The cover letter (inquiries) are more important than you think. We read those before opening up the manuscript. We want to hear about your experience of writing, whether or not you have a platform and why you think the book would be successful in the world. Near the end of our selection process, we share the top 6-10 stories with a BETA team of readers that give us their opinions. This team of five is made up of an editor, parent, children and a teacher.
Q: Could you tell us about some new or upcoming projects that you're particularly excited about and why?
A: We are in the illustration process of our Fall 2021 title and the character is a Latinx child who has a love of books! Our Spring 2021 title is at the printers and is filled with kindness, empathy and community!
Q: Where do you see Cardinal Rule Press in five years?
A: I would love to bring on team members as full time staff once their children are a bit older (we have a lot of work from home mothers on our team) and in five years I would like to see us taking on more titles per year. We believe slow and steady wins the race and we have been in no hurry to increase our list just yet. Getting your standard operating procedures nailed down in a business is key, as well as timelines and workflows for marketing campaigns. I am proud of the pace we have chosen, even when sales have surpassed our predictions, we remain steady with our processes.
Thank you so much for your time, Maria, and for chatting with me! This was wonderful and very informative, and I am really happy that you shared all that insight with me and my readers. I'd like to wish Cardinal Rule Press the best of success and I look forward to your upcoming titles! You have our support here at KidLit Oasis and I hope you'll be visiting again in the future!
Award-winning author and founder of the publishing company, Cardinal Rule Press, Maria Dismondy inspires and educates others in the book industry. When Maria isn't working, she can be found embarking on adventures throughout southeast Michigan and beyond, where she lives with her husband and three book-loving children.
Signed copies of Sunday Rain available for pre-order exclusively through my local indie bookstore, Interabang Books!
Place your order HERE
(Matching bookmark included, while supplies last)
Teachers and Librarians, if you'd like to get some SUNDAY RAIN bookmarks for your classroom or library, contact me HERE and I'll be happy to mail you some! (U.S. only, while supplies last)
About Rosie J. Pova
Rosie J. Pova is a multi-published, award-winning children's author and kid lit Writing Coach. She's the creator of Picture Book Mastery System™ that is proven to help emerging children's writers advance their career and get closer to their publishing goals.
Rosie's latest picture book, Sunday Rain, was featured in The New York Times and recommended by Parents magazine. Her upcoming picture book, The School of Failure: A Story About Success will be released in the spring of 2022 in both China and the USA.
Rosie also loves to visit schools and her interactive workshops empower students to unleash their creativity and grow in confidence through reading, writing, and creating. Teachers and librarians love Rosie for her bubbly, upbeat personality which captures students' attention, encourages them to think creatively, and motivates them to pursue big dreams.
She has been featured on TV, radio, podcasts, and print media, and also speaks on women's and moms’ topics, sharing her journey from a Bulgarian immigrant to a published author.
Find out more about Rosie's online courses, mentorships, and her work by visiting her website: RosieJPova.com
Check out her Critique Services here, her Workshops here, and her school visits page here.
Rosie is represented by Jennifer Herrington of Harvey Klinger Literary.