12 X 12 Featured Author Christy Mihaly September 2018

Christy MihalyBuilding a Community, Becoming an Author

It’s an honor to be a featured author on 12 x 12. In fact, when I consider those who have posted in this space before me (all those real authors), my Author Imposter Syndrome starts acting up. You know … that fear that someone is going to discover that I’m a fraud, not a “real author.”

I have battled imposter syndrome this year because my first picture book (Hey, Hey, Hay!) just came out. That meant that for the first time, I faced the unfamiliar (and to me, terrifying) task of marketing. Since 2012, I’ve published many magazine pieces and a half-dozen books in the educational market. Though I’m proud of these, and happy to know that kids are reading my words, I never promoted these works. “Marketing” wasn’t in my job description.

As HAY’s release date approached, I was filled with dread. Ack! Promotion? Reading at bookstores? Signing books? Asking people to buy my book? And what’s this about running book-related kiddy activities at storytimes? Why hadn’t anyone told me about this before? Was this really part of an author’s job? Yikes. Clearly I was not qualified for this gig. The Author Police were going to come and take away my signing Sharpie.

Hey Hey Hay book coverWell, Hey, Hey, Hay! is out, and I’m happy to report that my panic was misplaced. I’m reading my book to kids, and they’re applauding. I’m celebrating with my writing community. It’s a ton of work, some of it outside my comfort zone, but I’m having a great time.

So … I wanted to share with you something I’ve realized. It’s this: The thing that most helped me think of myself as “an author” is that I’ve built relationships within the writing community. The community’s support is what helped me get my story out of my head and into the world—to promote it. And sharing my book with kids, in turn, has reinforced my sense that yes, I am an author.

Most 12 x 12 members already understand the importance of making connections. I was a bit of a late bloomer in this regard. So, for what it’s worth, I’m sharing some ways that I’ve found to build relationships in the world of books over the years. I hope they might inspire you to make or strengthen your own connections, regardless of your publication status.

Meet other writers, in person.

Get out and meet writers (and illustrators, especially if you’re an artist). I remember the first time I attended a writing workshop, five hours from my home. I’d been writing (alone) for several years, and now, surrounded by children’s writers, I was giddy with the camaraderie. I suddenly felt like a real writer. Today, folks I met at that first workshop are some of my best writing friends.

Then, because another writer urged me to get more involved with SCBWI, I attended a regional conference. I was overwhelmed—clearly not cut out for this. But I signed up for a second conference, this time as a volunteer. Now I felt useful. In my “panel support” post (filling the water pitchers and such), I had a reason to talk with the authors running panels; at the volunteer party I connected with others. We had so much in common—questions, ideas, complaints, inspirations. We became friends and colleagues.

Find critique partners.

I now know that critique partners are indispensable. But when Sue Heavenrich first invited me to join her critique group, I didn’t really know what that meant. Fortunately, I took the leap and joined. Five years later, our five-member crit group is going strong—exchanging manuscripts and updates monthly by e-mail—and we’ve helped one another grow as authors. During the group’s lifetime, we’ve all published books, and Sue and I have co-written one. (Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought, YA nonfiction about climate change and food, will be released October 1 by Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner.)

And … I’m now in three other fabulous crit groups, too—one online for poetry, one in-person for kidlit, and another in-person for all kinds of writing. (You should, of course, choose your critique partners carefully—a topic beyond the scope of this post—but if  you haven’t joined a crit group, I recommend making it a priority.)

Meet your local booksellers.

Frequent your local bookstore. Get to know the staff. If you’re browsing picture books, ask the people there for recommendations, and share opinions. Attend author signings and other events. If you can, purchase books and ask visiting authors to sign. Your bookstore staff will recognize you as a Book Person. When you’re ready, you can tell them you’re a writer too.

After I had published a couple of work-for-hire books, I managed to introduce myself to the folks at my local indie (Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, VT) as a kids’ writer. That led to their asking me to give a talk about being a working writer for their speaker series. I overcame my Author Imposter Syndrome enough to do the talk, and enjoy it.

Then, when Hey, Hey, Hay! came out, my bookstore support team was ready. We worked together to create a pre-order campaign with giveaways, which was good for me and my book, good for the store, and good for the purchasers. Win-win-win!

Get to know your local children’s librarians.

Several years back, I had an idea for a blog post, “Tackling Tough Topics with Picture Books.” It occurred to me to ask the children’s librarians at the public library for recommendations for kids’ books about death, cancer, and other difficult subjects. That’s how I met Nicole, the children’s librarian, who was happy to help. I had been checking out tall piles of picture books and research materials on a near-weekly basis. But now I started introducing myself and getting to know the children’s library staff. Like librarians everywhere, they are knowledgeable, helpful, and supportive. And when I learned that Hey, Hey, Hay! would be published in August, I ran to the children’s desk, thrilled to share the news—and to schedule a library storytime as my launch event.

Meet a classroom of kids.

Do you have a kid or grandkid, niece, nephew, or young neighbor in elementary school? Have you talked with their class? I’m lucky to be friends with a brilliant first-grade teacher—Montpelier’s Susan Koch—who invited me to visit her classroom. I brought in my educational book, Moose, and we discussed how I wrote it, how I revised, how the book was formatted, etc. The class was studying nonfiction reading and writing, so this tied directly to their lessons.

Meeting this pack of eager readers was inspirational. Here were real kids reacting to my writing. That infectious kid enthusiasm filled me with fresh writing energy. Later, I returned to the classroom with Hey, Hey, Hay! to do my first read-aloud with Mrs. Koch’s class. They provided great feedback on how I could improve!

Writers and illustrators have much to share with teachers and kids. So seek out a classroom and make that connection. Children love hearing about the creative process, the revisions, the rejections, and the journey. And prior publication is not required.

Get to know children’s book people virtually.

Social media is great for this. The 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge connects more than a thousand people who are serious about the craft of picture book writing. It’s an amazing resource. Other internet-based groups focus on nonfiction, or marketing, or school visits, or submissions. On many blogs, book-loving people, writers, librarians, agents, and educators share opinions and pointers about writing. Children’s book people are generous with advice and support if you put yourself out there. Become part of that world! If you love a book, let the author know. When people ask for advice, why not offer suggestions and help? Make friends online. Then, at conferences and other gatherings, you can meet up with people you’re already friends with. How cool is that?

Social media can also help make friends close to home. I met fellow Vermonter Amy Huntington when I posted on Instagram about how much I liked the book Fresh-Picked Poetry. I tagged Amy, who illustrated the book (it’s written by Michelle Schaub). Amy liked my post, and we started an online conversation, then agreed to meet in person. As a result, we recently arranged a joint storytime at a farmer’s market with our farm-themed books. Double the fun!


The writing community offers many chances to lighten your load by sharing it. For example, I knew I couldn’t create a blog on my own, but in 2014 when I saw a call for people to contribute to a group blog about writing for kids, I volunteered. That’s how GROG—the group blog for kidlit writers, librarians, and educators—was born. As a group of 13, we not only created a vibrant blog, we formed an online group that has provided support, information-sharing, and friendship through the ups and downs of writing and life.

Another recent example is Epic 18. Last year, Hannah Holt and other writers and illustrators anticipating 2018 debut picture books banded together. In this online forum we consult and support one another, answer questions, and sympathize through the sometimes-painful process of dealing with critical reviews, facing empty seats at book readings, vetting storytime crafts, etc. Through Epic 18, I’ve “met” picture book writers around the world. One of those is Margaret Chiu Greanias, debut author of Maximillian Villainous. In fact, Margaret and I are planning a couple of joint readings in California bookstores in October. Because along the way I’ve learned that book promotion—like so much else—is more fun when you share!

I’m sure each of you will have your own ideas for meeting people and creating supportive writing relationships. Good fortune to you, as together we continue to build this Children’s Literature community.


Christy Mihaly’s debut picture book, HEY, HEY, HAY!, a rhyming celebration of making hay, came out on August 14. Her nonfiction YA, DIET FOR A CHANGING CLIMATE: FOOD FOR THOUGHT, co-written with Sue Heavenrich, releases October 1. Christy has published nonfiction books in the educational market, as well as articles, stories, and poetry for children’s magazines, and she blogs about children’s literature. She writes in Vermont, under the careful supervision of her dog and cat.

One lucky 12 x 12 winner will a copy of HEY, HEY, HAY! So, go get those September drafts written!

This Post Has 76 Comments

  1. Great advice–I think you addressed most of the worries in my head. The many ways to ease into marketing a book make that a tad less scary now. Looking forward to reading Hey, Hey, Hay.

  2. This blog was great. I know what you’re talking about. It’s hard to make yourself say, “I am a writer.” We are all writers here at 12 x 12. No one should be nervous about admitting their authorship, even if they’re not published yet. I am thankful for my critique groups, both on line and in person and I love making connections at conferences and workshops.

  3. Congratulations! I checked out Hey, Hey, Hay, from my Chicago library and I loved it! Your words and the story arc and even a recipe, all make for a perfect picture book to share! Best of luck with the marketing. Sounds like you’ve got this.

  4. THANK you for this amazing post! I co stantly feel like an imposter so it’s always so nice to know I’m in such incredible company! 🙂 I appreciate all the advice and insight and can’t wait to read your new books! Congrats!!

  5. Fantastic advice! And congratulations on your debut picture book. I have it on my “to read” list and can hardly wait to read it.

  6. Great post of what happens after . . . Good marketing tips and tips for building community. Congratulations on Hey, Hey, Hay.

  7. Thank you, Christy, for sharing so many great ideas for making connections. Being a part of a community is important for me too. I’m impressed with how many different ways you’ve found to immerse yourself in the writing community and the creativity you bring to it–along with your writing creativity.

  8. Fabulous post, Chris…and I love all of your action steps for authors who have books out or are hoping to. In fact, I’m going to print out this post and tack it up near my computer to remind me of what I need to be doing. I am so proud of you and absolutely love your new book!!!

  9. Christy,
    Thanks for outlining your process for connecting and marketing in the kid lit community. I have a ways to go but with persistence I’ll get there. Thanks for shining the light on your path.

  10. Congratulations on you debut picture book. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels like an Imposter. Thanks for all your wonderful advise.

  11. So much useful information about building your network and linking in with other writers and readers! Congratulations on your new book – hope the launch goes well next month.

  12. Christy, I was so excited to see a book about the making of hay come out. I have lived and worked in rural Nova Scotia for many years and my students and their parents and grandparents have seldom see themselves or their experience featured so brilliantly in a picture book.

  13. Christy, I read your debut PB, Hey, Hey, Hay! And you’re definitely not an imposter. Thank you for your insightful and reassuring post. I’m not anywhere near the promotion stage but I’m terrified of it. I’ll be sure to keep your suggestions in mind! I’ll also look for your other books to read.

  14. Thanks for the good suggestions! We writers tend to be so darn introverted! Good reminders for us all. And I can’t wait to get “Hey, Hey, Hay”, as I teach kindergarten in a rural area with lots of hay baling going on around us! It’s perfect for here!

  15. Wow! What a great post. Thank you for the advice, encouragement and ideas. I think I need to read this post about 100 more times! I have read Hey, Hey, Hay and really enjoyed it. I’ll be reading it to kiddos in the school library where I volunteer for sure. Congratulations and thanks again!

  16. Ha, love the Author Imposter Syndrome. Can so relate to that. But what great advice on building relationships and community. It doesn’t come naturally (at least, not to me!), so having a working list to consult as a way to change that is terrific.
    Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and congratulations on Hey, Hey, Hay!

  17. Thanks for sharing your journey of growth as a writer — and the importance of how building those connections with other writers strengthened your work, and you, at each stop along the way toward publication of your first books. Congrats on publication and thanks for the valuable insights into building a network, Christy.

  18. Congratulations, Christy! Thank you for sharing these tips and for talking about your author imposter syndrome. I know it well and look forward to the feeling less and less of it as my writing develops.

  19. Congratulations on your book and love that Joe Cepeda is your illustrator too 🙂
    I know every time I attend one of the regional conferences, I feel like such a fraud. I am getting better but locally, few people know that I write picture books. I’ve been writing and submitting for years so I’ll just wait until I have some news before I let the whole town know. I look forward to reading your book-it will be a great read for my classes!

  20. It’s reassuring to hear the goings on of another writer. Appreciate the reminder about building community at so many levels. I’ve put a hold on Hey Hey Hay at our library. Look forward to reading it. Thanks.

  21. Thank you for such a wonderful resource for making connections and marketing. And congratulations on your new book! I look forward to reading it.

  22. Great post, Christy! Thank you for giving us a look at marketing (an aspect of writing that few of us understand) and what you did to promote “Hey, Hey, Hay!”

    I live in Vermont and you had me at mentioning my favorite bookstore, Bear Pond Books… I practically lived there while a student at VC… Every semester I’d hit Bear Pond and spend most of my Pell Grant money on books, books, and more books… you can never have too many books… or cats in my opinion!

    Can’t wait to read “Hey, Hey, Hay!” Having been born in Windsor and lived all over the state I have done my share of haying. I really like that your book shows a mother/daughter team working and putting up the hay.

  23. Thanks, Christy, for sharing the ways you connected to the writing community and your audience. Marketing sounds like a big challenge but the steps you took are certainly doable. This was not only interesting, but helpful.

  24. Thanks so much for a great post, Christy! Love your concrete steps for making connections. I look forward to reading your picture book – congrats! 🙂

  25. Thank you for a great post, Christy! Love your concrete steps for making connections. I look forward to reading your picture book – congrats! 🙂

  26. Christy, thank you for reminding us that human connections are one of the crowning jewels in a writer’s treasure chest. Much luck to you. Enjoy your shared bookstore talks with Margaret. She’s a former critique partner of mine. Wishing you sales, sales and more sales.

  27. Solid advice. Congratulations on your new book! I’ve never made hay, but I’ve sure done my share of shacking it back when I worked on a horse farm in my twenties. I look forward to reading HEY, HEY, HAY!

    P.S. I had the good fortune of meeting and speaking with Sue Heavenrich this past March at my regional SCBWI conference. I learned a lot from her about writing nonfiction. Lovely lady.

  28. Christy, you are definitely not an author impostor! I share that same fear with you and your advice in this post hit home for me. Thank you so much for sharing! And congratulations!!!!!

  29. Congratulations and thank you for pointing out the ways in which to promote books, establish kidlit connections, and nurture ourselves as authors (and human beings)! I really appreciate your thorough and helpful approach to this topic!

  30. Congratulations on your book Christy! Getting out of a comfort zone is always a hard thing to do. It sounds like you have managed to take it one step at a time with an attitude of perseverance that has resulted in success and lasting friendships! Thanks for all the good ideas!

  31. What a wonderful (and somewhat soothing, I might add) post! I love the idea of doing marketing with others; that seems so much less stressful.
    I totally agree on the invaluable sentiment per critique groups.
    Congratulations on your success, Christy. May it continue!

  32. Thanks, Christy, for your wonderful encouragement of writing relationships. It is a lonely world sometimes as a writer in front of your manuscript, but a seemingly safer place to be than in front of people and putting out your book on the market place. You have given some words for thought and taken away some of the unknown.

  33. Thank you, Christy, for wonderful words of encouragement and writing relationships. It is a lonely world sometimes as a writer in front of your manuscript, but a seemingly safer place to be than in front of people and putting out your book on the market place. You have given some words for thought and taken away some of the unknown.

  34. Thanks for the excellent advice, Christy, and big congrats on your book! Making connections has been my greatest joy since joining the kidlit community. I feel lucky every day to be hanging out with such wonderful, smart, caring, and creative people!

  35. Hey, hey, Christy! You are the best for sharing your ideas for establishing relationships in the writing community. I miss the collegiality of teaching, and you showed me some ways to make writing a bit less solitary. My library does not yet have your book in its collection, so I am going to suggest that a copy (or two) is purchased. Best of luck!

  36. Christy,
    What fun to learn of all the ways you have connected with others after moving to a community and learning about farming and the hay bales. And now you have multiple support groups for writing. I am envious. I have
    had several groups of in person groups that have fizzled and about 4 online groups but they don’t last forever but I have learned so much from 12 x 12 in the 4 years I have been writing with them and the cbi clubhouse. Thanks for your insight and what you learned when sharing at bookstores, classrooms, and libraries.

  37. I don’t think I realized the value of networking with other authors until I joined 12×12 this year. Being part of a supportive community makes me feel more like an author because I’m introduced to new ideas and opportunities in the field of children’s literature every day. Thank you for all your networking/marketing tips. Great ideas! And congrats on your debut picture book!

  38. I love the range of advice here. There are so many ways to build community, and to overcome Fake Author Syndrome. Now, I just need to tackle my Fake Adult and Fake Mom Syndromes!

  39. Thanks very much. It’s nice to hear someone that isn’t a marketer managed to get out there, do it, and have some fun. Something to look forward to:)

  40. Christy, these are some wonderful words & tips to write by. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas & your writing journey. Wishing you much success with both your book babies this year!

  41. Congratulations, Christy! Thank you for sharing your journey and the fab tips 🙂 You’ve driven home some terrific points to ponder.

  42. Outstanding! I especially appreciate that so many of these activities do not depend on publication. Thanks for sharing, Christy, and congrats on the new PB!

  43. To Christy
    Congratulations on your picture book HEY! HEY HAY! Thanks for sharing your knowledge about your writing journey on how you got where you are today!
    Sincerely Bev K. Taylor

  44. Great practical advice. Thank you, Christy. Your “late blooming” was a consolation to me. I often feel my ducks are scattered everywhere and lining them up before the next step in the process seems impossible—and it probably is! Your thoughts will keep me going. Congrats on your book!!

  45. Dear Christy,

    I really enjoyed this and was nodding me head along to it all. It’s so reassuring to see that many of us have the same feelings when a first PB comes out. Best of luck with your book. I can’t stop thinking of that Sawdoctors song, ‘Bale ’em’, everytime I see the cover 😉 It makes me think of home.

    All the best,

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