Author Spotlight: Jessica Speer
Aug. 6, 2021
We are excited to feature author Jessica Speer and her debut middle-grade book, BFF OR NRF (NOT REALLY FRIENDS)? A GIRLS GUIDE TO HAPPY FRIENDSHIPS, illustration by Elowyn Dickerson (Familius), out on Aug. 17. Enter to win a signed copy!
Cover Design: Emma Hiatt
Book Design: Carlos Guerrero
Illustration: Elowyn Dickerson
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Thank you so much for having me and for your unwavering support of children’s books! I started writing for kids almost ten years ago when my daughters were preschool-aged. Like many, I was inspired by the books I read with my kids.
To start, I dabbled in picture books and chapter books. Then, during a Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI event, author Matt de la Peña said, “It’s not about writing what you know, it’s about writing what you want to know.”
That was a turning point for me. I have a background in social sciences and have always been fascinated by human behavior and relationships. I especially love to explore the tricky and awkward parts of life. Matt’s quote inspired me to dive into that in ways that connect with kids.
Congrats on your MG debut, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends): A Girl's Guide to Happy Friendships! Tell us about the book and what inspired you.
BFF or NRF is a middle-grade nonfiction book about friendship.
When my two daughters entered the preteen years, friendship struggles started to emerge. This reminded me of my experience as well as the stories of so many others. So I got curious.
I dove into books and research on the subject. I talked to school counselors, teachers, kids, and parents to better understand social dynamics. This work eventually grew into a framework and a friendship program I ran for elementary school kids.
BFF or NRF is filled with quizzes, stories, and activities to help readers navigate the tricky world of friendship. I hope it serves as a supportive guide that reminds girls of their worthiness, sheds light on our shared humanity, and sets the stage for a lifetime of healthy relationships.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
It feels pretty long since I started this journey almost ten years ago. When this book was ready for submission in 2018, I wrote a proposal and scoured the SCBWI market guide to find publishers open to submissions. I started submitting directly to publishers that focused on this type of book. Of course, I received many rejections, but I kept trying.
In the summer of 2018, a small publisher, Familius, reached out to me. They loved the book! I signed the contract for BFF OR NRF to release in 2020. Then Covid-19 hit. This delayed the release until July 2021. A few weeks before that release, I learned a paper shortage caused another delay. The book is now releasing August 17, 2021. Phew!
What projects are you working on now?
I am writing my third middle-grade nonfiction book scheduled for release summer 2023. I’m also finishing my second book, Dissecting Middle School, which releases August 2022.
What advice would you give your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
Take time to celebrate the small success along the way. This is important for aspiring authors too. Finding the right word, finishing a chapter, sending a query, every little success matters. Keep celebrating.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I have a habit of getting in over my head, but usually, things work out okay—a quick example from my younger years. I grew up in the Arizona desert but longed to surf. One summer, I applied to work at a surf camp in California as a counselor/surf instructor. Somehow, I got the job. I had no surfing or ocean experience but found myself living in a hut on the beach teaching surf lessons to 10-year-olds. Luckily, we all survived. And eventually, I learned to surf!
Where can people find you online?
Thank you so much for the opportunity to connect with this amazing community! People can find me on @jessica_speer_author on Instagram and @speerauthor on Twitter. For book-related news and articles, you can visit my website, www.JessicaSpeer.com.
Jessica Speer’s book, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships grew out of her friendship program that strengthens social awareness and helps kids navigate common struggles. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores social-emotional topics in ways that connect with pre-teens and teens.
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