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Rita Lorraine Hubbard – 12 X 12 August 2019 Featured Author

Rita Lorraine Hubbard – 12 x 12 August 2019 Featured Author

Rita HubbardIt’s such an honor to write an article for 12 x 12. I’ve been told I can write about whatever I want, so today I want to discuss the things I wish I’d known before my first historical pb was published. I’ll probably ramble a bit, so please spare me a little folly.

Before I proceed, let me just say that Julie Hedlund is one of the most giving people I know, and my writing life has only gotten better since we became virtual friends. And Kelli, you’re the best too!

Now, onward!

What I wish I’d known before the debut of my first historical bio pb

It has been nearly a year since HAMMERING FOR FREEDOM: The William Lewis Story, debuted. As most of you know, it’s the story of a slave who first rents himself, then spends the next 25+ years working to free himself and his family.

To my joy, the book became a Junior Library Guild selection and received starred reviews from Kirkus and The Horn Book. I have also just been informed it has been selected for “Read-Aloud Day” in October 2019, and will be distributed among 33 schools in a school system far, far away (sounds like Star Wars, doesn’t it? I’ll divulge the system later, after the details are hammered out).

I’ve enjoyed this whirlwind year, but there are things I wish I’d known beforehand. Here are my top three:

1 – All of life is a competition—and that includes writing picture books.

Sure, you write for love of the craft, but once your book is published, you’re going to be compared to your contemporaries whether you want to be or not. I found this out during all of the book award competitions out there (I won’t mention any by name, but believe me, they’re out there!). Suddenly, this book I wrote for the sheer joy of bringing an unsung hero’s story to life, was struggling for recognition amongst other outstanding books. Since I’m not a competitive person by nature, it was a harrowing experience for me. My advice is to not worry if/when what you write is suddenly thrust into competition with what someone else wrote; rather, celebrate your journey and your accomplishment(s)—whether you win awards or not.

2 – If you write nonfiction, you may have challengers.

Hammering for Freedom by Rita HubbardSome people will feel it’s their duty to challenge what you’ve written. In the case of Hammering for Freedom, I had newspaper articles, early history books, historical city hall documents, first-person interviews of William Lewis’ descendants—and even a real, live historical marker, to back up my claims. Despite this, several [well-meaning] history buffs hurried to my signings or readings for the express purpose of differing with me. One man told the amount of money William paid for his and his family’s freedom was way more than the typical price for slaves in Hamilton County, TN, so I must have made a mistake. Another said that all plantations had their own blacksmiths, so William’s services would not have been needed—which meant that he couldn’t possibly have been as successful as I claimed. A third argued that the cost of tools and services were so low back then, William could not possibly have saved enough money to free his entire family. Now, none of these people were rude; they were all good-natured debaters who wanted to, well, debate. My advice to you is to keep your sense of humor, know your stuff, and be prepared for the challengers.

3 – The sink-or-swim phenomenon.

In a lot of ways, the launch of a book is like walking near the edge of a pool and suddenly feeling someone push you in without warning. As you free-fall toward the water, your brain is on fast-forward: “Who pushed me? How do I stop myself from falling? Do I know how to swim? Wait—yes, I can swim, but…just how deep is this water, and are there lifeguards out there if something goes wrong? How’s my hair? Just wait ‘til I get my hands on whoever pushed me!”

In other words, I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know how to set up newspaper, radio, and face-to-face interviews. I had no flyers, and no clue what to charge for readings and other appearances—and I had no training on how NOT to be too shy to ask for my fee, because believe me, if you don’t bring up a fee for your services, they usually won’t. Since the debut, I have made it my business to learn about marketing. I now have flyers, order forms, bookmarks, a press kit, and an updated website. I even have bookplates!  I’ve also joined a picture book debut group and a group that helps you plan and successfully conduct school visits.  I’m feeling more confident now, but it would have been better to know these things BEFORE the book launched.


My newest picture book, THE OLDEST STUDENT: How Mary Walker Learned to Read (Random House) debuts on January 7, 2020. It’s the true story of ex-slave Mary Walker, who enrolled in a reading class at age 114 and was certified as the nation’s oldest student at 116. Here’s the cover. I’m so excited!

The Oldest Student by Rita Hubbard


I’m working on a historical pb about a little-known black inventor and innovator, and a second historical pb about two men whose friendship caused a national outrage.

Advice for aspiring authors

  1. Read as many books in your chosen genre as you can. In fact, consider becoming a reviewer for trade publishers so you get to read, read, read! Also, if you haven’t done so already, join ReFoReMo (Reading for Research Month), KidLit411, and of course, 12 x 12.
  2. Put in the work! Write as often as you can, network with other writers, and join some fabulous writing groups—like this one. It’s an investment in you.
  3. Never compare yourself to others. It’s too distracting – and disheartening. Cheer for others’ successes and they will cheer for you when your time comes.


Something most people don’t know about me

I’m also an illustrator. In early elementary school, I wrote and illustrated all my books. Then, somewhere along the path of life I forgot my love for illustrating.  For some crazy reason I thought I had to choose between writing and art…and I chose writing. Now that I have remembered and rekindled my love for doodling, I’m finally identifying as an illustrator again. My dream is to illustrate at least one of my books.


Where you can find me online:



Pinterest –


Rita Lorraine Hubbard writes picture book biographies and books for children, teens, and adults. She is the author of the HAMMERING FOR FREEDOM: THE WILLIAM LEWIS STORY (2018), a SLG selection; and THE OLDEST STUDENT: WHEN MARY WALKER LEARNED TO READ (Schwartz & Wade, 2020). She penned AFRICAN AMRICANS OF CHATTANOOGA: A HISTORY OF UNSUNG HEROES (The History Press 2008), winner of the 2014 East Tennessee Preservation Award, and she founded and manages Picture Book Depot and The Black History Channel. She resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee

This Post Has 173 Comments
    1. Rita,
      Thanks for the useful advice. I can’t wait to read both of your books. If Mary can learn to read at 114 then I can publish a book!
      Hope is a necessary ingredient. Thanks for supplying some!

  1. Wonderful advice! Your story encourages and inspire. Can’t wait to see your illustrations in an upcoming book. Congratulations and good luck.

  2. Rita thank you for your inspiring post. I so know what you mean about having to get out there when you are not a competitive person. All good wishes in your writing and publucation 🙂

  3. Great post Rita! I too was underprepared for my debut. So I get that. And happy we are in the 2020visionpbs marketing together. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us. Way to keep it real!

  4. Hi Rita! Great post. It’s true about people challenging anything historical. I don’t write it myself, but I do have friends who write historical fiction and they always say you better have your facts correct. “The Oldest Student” looks interesting. I remember having a man in his 80’s in one of my college business classes, but this woman sure surpassed him. lol Congratulations!

  5. Congratulations on your two books! I appreciate your advice, as well, especially about recognizing there’s always competition, but not worrying about comparing oneself to others. Fine line there. 🙂 I do hope you get to illustrate a book you write one day!

  6. Rita, I love your debut and look forward to your upcoming release. Thanks for sharing your insight on the publication process. I hadn’t thought of those things before and I hope to be able to take your advice someday! Best of luck with illustration!

  7. I love this post! Matter of fact yet vulnerable, scrappy but dignified. Can’t wait to find this book and read it. And how lucky you are to work with One Mora on your Oldest Student book. Keep drawing! Keep painting! I know you will reach your dream of illustrating one of your own books.

  8. Great post, Rita! Thank you for giving us a peek at your publishing journey and for sharing your insights on how important marketing is!! Being someone who is shy and dreads speaking in front of an audience, the marketing aspect of publishing terrifies me! I can’t wait to read The Oldest Student!! We need more books that tell people that you are never too old to learn!!

    1. Hi Saputnam, you’re very welcome. I hope you arm-wrestle that shyness until you “pin” it and declare yourself the winner. That’s what I had to do. In the meantime, yes, we do need more books that emphasize how you’re never too old to learn. When I read that direct quote in an interview someone had done with Mary back in the mid-’60s, I was blown away. She was a fiesty little lady and she certainly inspired me!

  9. Love this post, Rita! Your energy shines through. And I LOVED your book! I can certainly see why it’s getting so much attention. I love that it’s going to be read by or read to so many children. I’m looking forward to your next book!

    1. Thank you Penny! I was suprised when I got the email from the reading coordinator. She even sent a link so I could read their school system’s history of “Read-Aloud Day.” I think the whole thing’s pretty cool.

  10. Rita, you are such an inspiration. It sounds like you’ve had an amazing year, full of challenges, surprises, and success!
    Can’t wait to read your newest book about Mary Walker.
    All the best to you. Will be looking for that author/illustrator book of yours down the road!

  11. Congratulations on your books. Thank you for sharing the realities of the publishing journey. Too bad about the debates from people.

  12. Hi Rita, thanks for your post. I would love to write more historical fiction. I hope to read your book soon.

  13. Thank you for all your wise advice and sharing your experiences and especially the part about keeping your sense of humor through it all.

  14. Congratulations, Rita. I appreciate your advice and will definitely keep it in mind as I move forward. All the best with your new book The Oldest Student – 114-16 years is mind boggling!

  15. Thank you, Rita, especially for the list of things to do in point three. Your books sound most interesting. I’m about to search for ‘Hammering for Freedom’.

  16. Thank you, Rita, for sharing your path to publication and your insights. Fascinating reflection on the industry and what you didn’t know before you published.

  17. Thank you, Rita, for sharing your helpful insights. And congratulations on your books! How exciting! They sound very interesting, too.

  18. Rita, your “ramblings” are stellar! The top three tips hit home. My friend and critique partner is launching her first PB and is working hard not to sink from her role in the publicity pool. I will pass on your analogy and advice. As I get closer to submitting my PB manuscripts, a tingle of trepidation sparks over possible reader remarks. I’ll keep your wisdom close to my heart! And yes, I love our craft, too, yet at times when I read not-so-magical published picture books, I wonder about my place within the competition. “I will not worry” will become my mantra! Since becoming a participant this year in Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Challenge, I’ve grown and stretched beyond my belief as a writer. I am supported, critiqued, and encouraged by so many talented writer. And the 12 x 12 Webinars are Oscar worthy!
    As a former teacher, I look forward to reading The Oldest Student. I’ll be sure to request the purchase of your books at our local library. Sending you continued inspiration, energy, and blessings for your writing journey!

  19. Thank you for this wonderful post and for sharing your insight! Congratulations on your upcoming releases!

  20. All excellent advice, thank you so much for sharing! Comparison is so hard not to do but so necessary. I’m still learning. Congratulations on your books!

  21. Thank you so much, Rita, for sharing your insight! Your books sound like such inspirational and encouraging reads. I cannot wait to read them to my daughters and discuss the valuable lessons they hold. And I’m looking forward to seeing your illustrations too!

  22. Wow! Thank you for this generous advice! I completely identify on the whole competition thing. It’s odd to have a labor of love judged next to others. I can’t imagine having to defend a nonfiction picture book from those who’d like to debate the details. And I LOVE your sink-or-swim advice. Funny and oh, so true. Looking forward to reading many more of your books, AND at least one where you’re the author-illustrator!

  23. Thank you Rita! Your book sounds so interesting. I appreciated your insights into the world of a debut author. And I love the last tip about not comparing yourself. It’s a nice reminder!!

  24. Thank you for this encouraging post, Rita! I look forward to reading The Oldest Student. I hope to illustrate one of my picture books someday.

  25. Thank you so much! My nf pb is done (for the moment) and I am now querying—but I never thought about being challenged! That makes me want to go back and quadruple-check my sources, even though I am very sure I have everything down as it should be. At least I am now aware I might get questions and challenges.

  26. Thank you for this post, Rita! I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to get to know you (and your exceptional work) through 12×12!

  27. Rita, I love Hammering for Freedom – brilliant! Looking forward to reading The Oldest Student when it comes out.

  28. Congratulations, Rita, on your continued success! I hope you have the chance to illustrate one of your books in the near future. Thank you for sharing your experience regarding being published and what you encountered afterwards. Those are helpful things to keep in mind.

  29. Such a great post! I nabbed a few screenshots to reference some of your tips later. Thank you for sharing your industry learning experiences, and congrats on your first 2 publications!

  30. Rita-

    I loved all the practical advise that you gave. I have a really hard time not comparing myself to others and how well they are doing.

    I’m curious though, I know you said you weren’t prepared for marketing your books. Do you have an agent? I always assumed that an agent would guide and help their clients on how to market and set up all the things needed to make the book a success. I really appreciate the advise you gave on what steps to take if your book goes to print.

    Thank you so much for your time!

  31. Thank you for the advice, Rita. I never thought about some of the points you brought up. Congratulations on the success of your first book. I’m sure your upcoming book will be just as well-received!

  32. So much good advice in your post Rita. Thank you so much for sharing. Your new book – The Oldest Student – sounds great. Best of luck with the launch!

  33. I hope you reach your dream of illustrating one of your own books. That would be so fulfilling. Can’t wait to read your new book about Mary Walker. It looks super inspiring.

  34. Rita, thank you so much for your reflections on your debut! Your post is full of so much honesty and good advice, and I appreciate you taking the time to tell us about what you learned along the way.

  35. So many good reminders and advice! Thank you for being so frank. I’ve not read “Hammering for Freedom” yet, so I’m really looking forward to it – my library is searching for a copy for me as I write this!

  36. What great advice! I never even thought about the possibility of people coming up to you to “debate” your story. Woah. And Hammering for Freedom sounds incredible. My son prefers nonfiction these days, so I think they may be our next purchase. Thanks for sharing!

  37. Congrats on all of your success, Rita. And thanks for the great advice. I have a new NF book coming out in 2021 and appreciate the warnings about debaters. Wishing you lots of luck with your new books!

  38. Posts with “what I wish I had known before…” are some of the greatest gifts we can share within our community! Since I have a PB bio on my list of things to write, I really appreciate your gifting us with that hindsight, so that we can be more prepared! Thanks so much for taking the time to compile lessons you’ve learned.

  39. Oh my goodness, Rita, I cannot wait for “The Oldest Student” to debut. I wrote myself a calendar note to look for it. As the years pile up for me, more than ever I LOVE stories about late bloomers! Congratulations on all your hard-won success, and thanks for the valuable insights.

  40. I love that your stories introduce readers (me included) to such spirited people. It never would have crossed my mind that debaters would show up to challenge you in public—a great heads-up for NF writers. Glad you’re able to keep it in perspective. Really looking forward to the Mary Walker book. Congrats on your success!

  41. Thank you for all your comments here. I especially liked when you talked about what you wish you would have known. That must hit home with many people here who have a first book out there. I’m working on a NF about the American chestnut tree for the younger set of 5-8 yrs. Appreciate all the help you stated. Looking forward to your new book coming out.

  42. Rita – Thank you for providing your wisdom and insight here. It is very helpful! Congratulations on all your success! I can’t wait to read Hammering for Freedom and the Oldest Student! You pick such wonderful subjects! I am sure I will be reading a book one day that you wrote and illustrated. 🙂

  43. This was a lovely writeup with some great suggestions for those starting out. I hope to be in your shoes some day. I’ve written a couple of newspaper opinion pieces. I found out that people just love to take issue with whatever you write. The key is to stay calm and keep smiling which is really hard for me.

  44. Hi Everyone,
    Thanks so much for these wonderful comments. I appreciate the encouragement, and for all those who are working on your own nonfiction pb’s, I’m sending love and encouragement right back at you. <3

  45. What eye opening pieces of advice. Thanks for sharing all the things to be aware of when, not if, I get a manuscript published.

  46. Rita –

    Congratulations!!! I wrote down all the advice about the things you did not have ready when your book got published! Thank you…you never know!!!

  47. Rita, thank you for the amazing insight! You gave realistic advice about the publishing process that helps us all know what to expect. Good luck with your future projects!

  48. Congratulations! And I appreciate all the advice from a fellow native Tennessean. I look forward to reading your books someday soon.

  49. Congratulations, Rita! I read your marvelous picture book, Hammering for Freedom when it first came out and loved it. I’m looking forward to reading The Oldest Student. What a fascinating subject! Thank you for writing about things you didn’t know before publication. This is good information.

  50. Thanks for mentioning that you had wandered off from the illustration that you love. We go down so many interesting paths in life. I’m also glad to have gotten back to my love of illustration. I agree that we always think that we have to make choices that limit us.

  51. Congratulations on your successful book, Rita. Your post was very encouraging, and I appreciate the tips you gave us. Best of luck with all your works-in-progress. (I hate to say “best of luck” because I know you are a very skilled writer and luck has very little to do with having your work published.)

  52. I read “Hammering for Freedom” and marveled about the drive and perseverance required to rescue his family. I will have to read “The Oldest Student” as an inspiration as I work to improve my writing and illustration skills. I put my art on hold for a different career, and am finally back to working on it again. I wish you success with your dream to illustrate your own books! Given your writing success, I’m sure you can do it!

  53. Greetings, Rita, from a fellow Tennesseean. Your post inspired me to connect even more with other writers, especially writers with quality experience. Thank you for sharing your top three things you wish you had known before your first nonfiction book was published. What an excellent description of “The sink or swim phenomenon “! I could definitely relate to that analogy. Your wise counsel will be heeded by many, I’m sure. Thank you for sharing from your heart.

  54. Thank you for sharing about your challenges and experiences. I never would have guessed people would show up and debate with you so much! A non-fiction challenge I hadn’t considered. I can’t wait to read your latest book. It sounds like an incredible and inspiring story.

  55. Congrats on your book, Rita, and the upcoming one, as well! Thank you for your helpful insights on the ups and downs of being published. You brought up points that I hadn’t thought about before, so hopefully, I will be prepared [when the time comes…fingers crossed]. Cheers!

  56. Thank you Rita. It’s daunting, and feels a bit brash, to start preparing to debut a book when you have no book in the pipeline, but it sure sounds like that’s wouldn’t be a bad idea. An act of faith?

  57. Thank you for sharing and teaching us what you’ve learned through the processes. So impressed with what you’ve created.

  58. So interesting! Thank you for sharing, Rita! Your advice is so helpful. I hope to be prepared when the day comes. Good luck on your forthcoming books!

  59. Congratulations on your present and future books. And thanks for your down-to-earth advice, especially the emphasis on holding to one’s own strengths and goals, and not being distracted or disheartened by others’ achievements. You call out the best in us.

  60. Loved Hammering for Freedom and am looking forward to your upcoming book and the ones you’re working on! Thanks for sharing your insight.

  61. Congratulations on your success Rita! You obviously put in your time and energy into the research for your books. Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s good to keep all the business end of things in mind. Thank you for your encouragement and inspiration.

  62. Rita – Thank you for this post. I loved the format, and I loved getting to know a little more about you and your writing journey! Best of luck as you move forward.

  63. What a great idea to join groups about how to be a debut author. That is so helpful! I wish I had thought of that! Thank you for the great advice!

  64. Your stories sound great! Wow, some things I never occurred to me would happen with the publication of non-fiction PB. One day I plan to write a memoir and not looking forward to inevitable challenges.

  65. Congratulations, Rita, and best of luck to you for continued success! Thank you for your honesty about your writing and publication experiences. Your words were a real eye opener about the reality of what it really means to share your work with the world. Write on!

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