Grace Lin is the author/illustrator of the Caldecott Honor A BIG MOONCAKE FOR LITTLE STAR, is the author of the Newbery Honor WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON and has written and illustrated many more books for young readers. This interview was from 2003, before Grace made it big.
What drove/inspired you to get started?
I always had a love of books and stories since childhood. Do you have any specialized training?
Yes, a BFA from RISD; and I was a bookseller at children's book store, Curious George goes to Wordsworth, which actually taught me more about children's books then my college education... Has this been something you've always wanted to do?
Yes Have there been any obstacles along the way?
Many! $$, rejection and an overall sense of low self-esteem (during those "will I ever get published?" years) Before you got the all important contract, how did your friends and family react to your goals? Were they supportive?
At first, my family did not really understand what I was doing... "You're so smart, why don't you do computers?" ....but they eventually came around. Friends were supportive, but they were also starving artists... so we were all in it together! Now that you have a book/books in print, do you get different reactions from friends and family? The family now holds me in higher respect and understand more about what it is I do. They don't point at a street artists drawing portraits and say, "Is that going to be you?" anymore. In fact, my mom has turned into a bit of a promotional machine for me...."Go to gracelin.com!!" she tells everyone at every public gathering (though I have a suspicion she does so in fear that if my books don't sell, I will be a street artist). My friends have garnered success as well, so we are all colleagues...now we gripe about how to get paid instead of how to get published. How did you land that very first book deal?
Well, I sent millions of samples with minimal responses. One of the few responses was from an Assistant Editor at Orchard books, Harold Underdown. A year and a half later, Harold became the Senior Editor at Charlesbridge Publishing and he contacted me. He asked if I had any stories to go with my illustrations and even though I didn't, I said yes and quickly started writing. The story I wrote was , "The Ugly Vegetables" and became my first book. Did you have any misconceptions in the beginning about the whole book process?
People told me you couldn't make enough money to live off of doing children's books, so in the beginning I attempted to find work in all the illustrations fields--editorial, giftware, etc. It was only when I focused on books, what I loved, that I found success (and I do make a living off of it, thank you!). Another misconception was that I thought once I finished the artwork, the book would be published in like a month(!). I never knew it would take another 6-9 months just for production. I didn't realize that making a book could be so anti-climatic. But I always knew about the money. How would you describe your work? What's the most important thing you'd like others to get out of it?
My work is really colorful, thoughtful, fun. It's a part of myself so I hope it reflects a lot of things I'm about. My joy of creating art, my love of bright colors, and my issues about social identity (!). I just want people to like it (plaintive teenage cry, "I just want people to like me!"), enjoy it and maybe have it change their outlook on their lives in a subtle way. Do you have an agent? If yes, please explain how you acquired your agent and how do you think having one has helped you? If you don't have an agent, would you consider getting one?
I have an art rep now, but I didn't have one for any of my now published books. Christine Wilkinson contacted me after an SCBWI portfolio day and I met with her, liked her and took her. I wanted to expand my business, which I felt I couldn't do much more on my own without having the work suffer. Where she's been invaluable is that she is a reliable, dependable contact for me. Due to my marriage and other issues, I had a year where I moved cross country, out and in the country multiple times...if anyone wanted to hire me they probably wouldn't be able to find me. Or if they did, my constant movement might have turned them off. Having Christine as my rep put my mind at ease that I wasn't "missing" any work that I may have wanted. Describe your relationship with your editor (s) (art director if applicable).
I have a handful of editors that I work with (sans rep). When I come up with a book idea I send it to them, one at a time (most appropriate one first). If all reject it, usually I reevaluate the project and decide it's not that good. I trust their opinions and I'm incredibly lucky I get to work with them. How do you most often communicate with your publisher––e-mail, phone, or snail mail?
E-mail & phone, I prefer e-mail as I am really incoherent in person. What books do you have in the works now?
I just finished a book on fortune cookies, "Fortune Cookie Fortunes"; and I'm waiting to start my new favorite book, "Robert's Snow". Also, I'm illustrating a set of Christmas carol board books and the third book in the "Round is a Mooncake" trilogy. Is there anything you'd do differently with your new projects?
Some of my new projects are animal character, instead of Asian humans. It's fun and challenging to draw the animals--they look simpler then some of my other work but they are actually much more difficult! I'm considering changing mediums in the future.What's the best thing about publishing a book? What's the worst?
The best is having the book with your name on it, getting an e-mail from a child who is your #1 fan and having a parent tell you, "My child makes me read your book everyday, 100 times a day." The worst is the lack of respect for the profession outside practitioners & schools and the business frustration of being a freelancer Any last words of encouragement for beginners?
Have a thick skin and don't give up!!!