Author Debra Shumaker on how to Publish Expository Nonfiction- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who defines perseverance, Debra Shumaker. Check out her new nonfiction book Freaky, Funky Fish, illustrated by Claire Powell, and published by Running Press Kids, and see her cosmic journey below…

BUT first- YAY! Debra is generously giving away a free signed copy of her book (US only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends May 21, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for Freaky, Funky Fish.
Surprisingly, this book came about quite quickly! I wrote the first draft for FREAKY, FUNKY FISH during Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee the first week of May, 2018. By July, I had started sending it out to my various critique groups. After revisions, I sent it to my then-agent in September. She asked for some tweaks to the ending and we went out on submission at the end of October. In December, one editor emailed that she was taking it to acquisitions and we had an offer on January 15th! Eight months from conception to book offer floored me—usually it takes me years from idea to submission-ready.FreakyFunky-jkt_3P.indd

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
The funny thing is that this book is inspired by one of those older, unsold books that I wrote. Back in 2013, I wrote a humorous fiction picture book called NOT A GOLDFISH. I had several close calls with it but it never sold.
In April 2018, I had been focusing much of my time on writing picture book biographies. My agent encouraged me to try something different and after reading a stack of rhyming picture books about bugs, squirrels, water, etc. I decided I wanted to try writing a rhyming nonfiction picture book. As I brainstormed a topic to tackle, I remembered all the fish I discovered while researching for NOT A GOLDFISH. So the old became new!

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from the book.
“Fish have fins and gills and tails. All fish swim and most have scales. But. . .”
You have to turn the page to discover what comes next—but. . . not all fish look or act alike! Some fish dance, some “sing”, and some coat themselves with snot! Fish have adapted to live in their environments in so many unique and cool ways. I hope kids who read this book realize our natural world is AMAZING!

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
As varied as my projects are, my writing process is pretty much the same. After an idea strikes, if it needs research, I start gathering information from websites and books—both kid and adult. When I’m ready to start writing, I handwrite my first draft—my thought process is more “freeing” with pen on paper. That first draft is awful—a bunch of incomplete sentences and scribbles that I can barely read. After letting it sit for a few days, I type up the rough draft. From then on, I work on my computer. . .though when I’m digging in deep with my revisions, I do print it out and scribble and scratch all over it. After several rounds of revision, I bring it to my various critique groups—I’m in four. When it’s as far as I can take it, I send it to my agent.

I’ve been following your career for a while now, and I’ve seen how hard you worked to get to where you are. What were some of the elements that helped you secure an agent?
Being open—being open to joining writing challenges for motivation, being open to studying craft, being open to feedback on my work, and being open to revising. But probably most importantly, being open to setting a book aside and starting something new. As I shared in my previous blog posts with you, it was my 11th polished PB that landed an agent, but that book never sold. The 5th project that we subbed together finally sold—a year and a half after I signed with that agent. Will any of those first 10 or 15 other PBs become published? While one is, the others likely not. But they were not a waste of time. I learned something about writing from every single one of them. (Patience and perseverance are VERY important elements, too.)

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I’m thrilled to say I have more picture books coming!
TELL SOMEONE—a picture book that encourages kids to talk about things, both the easy stuff and the hard stuff–comes out in October with Albert Whitman. It is illustrated by the amazing Tristan Yuvienco.
A companion book to FREAKY, FUNKY FISH is in the works with Running Press Kids—PECULIAR PRIMATES will be hitting bookshelves Fall 2022. Thankfully Claire Powell signed on to illustrate it. I’ve recently seen the cover and it is adorable!
A fourth, unannounced picture book is slated for Fall of 2024—a lyrical, nature one. I am so excited and grateful to be in the place I am in my career. I’m savoring every moment.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
For the classics, when my boys were young, we checked out a series of seasonal, alphabet acrostic picture books by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Leslie Evans. They were gorgeous. The simple and lyrical acrostic poems with linoleum-cut illustrations made me FEEL each season. Those books inspired me to become a picture book writer.
For contemporary, Miranda Paul’s WATER IS WATER. I love how that book’s gorgeous text explains the water cycle in such a unique and fun way. And it rhymes! Perfection.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Find a critique group in your genre. By having other writers read your stories and provide feedback, your stories will improve. You don’t have to make every change suggested, but be open to making revisions. And by critiquing other writers, you’re writing will also improve. I would not be a published author without my critique groups.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, which one would you be and why??
I have to go with the barreleye fish. Not that I want to BE one, but it is probably my favorite fish from my book. A see-through head?! How cool is that? How can you not want to know more about that fish! I realize it’s probably terrible of me to have a favorite from my book, but when I stumbled on the video of the barreleye fish, I KNEW I had to have it in my book. Thankfully I found a rhyming word for head that worked!


My bio: Debra Kempf Shumaker loves weird and fascinating facts. When she isn’t reading or writing, Debra enjoys cooking, gardening, and watching Jeopardy. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband, three sons, and two cats who miss the days the youngest son owned an aquarium full of fish. FREAKY, FUNKY FISH is her debut picture book. She is also the author of the upcoming TELL SOMEONE (October 1, 2021), and PECULIAR PRIMATES (Fall 2022).

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26 thoughts on “Author Debra Shumaker on how to Publish Expository Nonfiction- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

    Danielle Hammelef said:
    May 20, 2021 at 7:32 pm

    Your book is so high on my wish list. I love reading about anything related to the ocean. Congratulations on your beautiful book!

    Liked by 1 person

    chardixon47 said:
    May 18, 2021 at 7:12 pm

    You persevered and I can’t wait to read your new books! Congratulations Debra. Claire’s illustrations beckon me with delight.

    Liked by 1 person

    Melissa Darrow said:
    May 16, 2021 at 2:42 pm

    It’s so interesting to read about how an author comes up with an idea for a story. I would love to share this book with my students!

    Liked by 1 person

    yangmommy said:
    May 15, 2021 at 10:20 am

    It’s hard, isn’t it, to put aside a story like your Goldfish tale, esp when you know in your heart that it should be a book! Yet bravo to you for being able to take elements from it and “recycle” them into a completely different book. Fish that sing? Snotty fish? So much marketing potential fun, LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

    Elia said:
    May 14, 2021 at 4:17 pm

    Congratulations on your new and upcoming books! I admire your perseverance and am so glad it paid off.

    Liked by 1 person

    Deborah Williams said:
    May 13, 2021 at 1:37 pm

    So glad your persistence paid off, Debra! Your story is so encouraging!

    Liked by 1 person

      Lydia Lukidis responded:
      May 13, 2021 at 1:41 pm

      Yes, I Love seeing that. The hard work and waiting has certainly paid off…


    Jilanne Hoffmann said:
    May 13, 2021 at 1:32 pm

    You never now where those stories that have been cast aside will lead. Congrats on finding a new path!

    Liked by 1 person

    Lynn Baldwin said:
    May 13, 2021 at 8:40 am

    Thanks for a great interview and congrats on the book, Debra!

    Liked by 1 person

      Debra Shumaker said:
      May 13, 2021 at 10:37 am

      Thank you so much! It was a fun book to write!


      Lydia Lukidis responded:
      May 13, 2021 at 1:33 pm

      Thanks for stopping by!


    rosecappelli said:
    May 13, 2021 at 6:45 am

    Thanks for a great interview! Congratulations on all your success, Debra!

    Liked by 1 person

      Debra Shumaker said:
      May 13, 2021 at 10:37 am

      Thank you!!!!


    Angie said:
    May 12, 2021 at 10:49 pm

    What a fascinating book! Thanks for the lovely interview. I love reading how authors come up with their ideas and how they proceed with revising, critiquing, revising, and submitting. Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

      Debra Shumaker said:
      May 13, 2021 at 10:38 am

      Thank you! It’s always a process, and I, too, love reading about other authors’ journeys.

      Liked by 1 person

      Lydia Lukidis responded:
      May 13, 2021 at 10:44 am

      I also enjoy hearing about this process!

      Liked by 1 person

    seschipper said:
    May 12, 2021 at 9:26 pm

    I love stories about sea creatures!! Can’t wait to add your book to my collection, Debra! Thanks, Lydia for this great interview! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      Debra Shumaker said:
      May 13, 2021 at 10:39 am

      Thank you! I hope you enjoy it!


      Lydia Lukidis responded:
      May 13, 2021 at 10:44 am

      Thanks for being a loyal blog follower 🙂


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