Author Spotlight: Emma Walton Hamilton

Sept. 12, 2014

KidLit411 is very excited to interview the multitalented  EMMA WALTON HAMILTON! Emma is a best-selling children’s book author, editor and arts educator.  With her mother, actress/author Julie Andrews, Emma has co-authored over twenty children’s books, seven of which have been on the NY Times Bestseller list, including THE VERY FAIRY PRINCESS SERIES  (#1 Bestseller).

Emma also works as a freelance children’s book editor, and hosts the Just Write Children’s Books home-study courses in writing picture books, chapter books and middle grade and young adult novels, as well as the Children’s Book Hub - a center of resources and support for aspiring children’s book authors. She also provides voicing and narration for audiobooks, and is an accomplished public speaker, regularly addressing arts and literary conferences, schools, universities and other groups about the value of, and synergy between, the arts and literacy.

What are you working on at the moment?

My mother and I are still working on our VERY FAIRY PRINCESS series – we have a Halloween book coming out next Fall, and are currently brainstorming ideas for further installments. We’re also plotting a middle grade novel, as well as another picture book series. 

In addition, I’m collaborating on a picture book with a different co-author - my friend and colleague, Susan Verde, (author of THE MUSEUM, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds) and I have co-written a picture book that celebrates libraries and children’s literature in honor of the opening of our local library’s new children’s wing. It will be illustrated by Michael Paraskevas and is being published sometime next year.

What draws you to this genre?

I love kids. My own, and everyone else’s. And I remember how hard it is to be a kid, and how life-changing the right book at the right time can be. Almost all of us, I think, can remember the one book from our childhood that changed everything – and that may actually be unique to children’s literature. The books we read as children stay with us throughout our lives and inform everything we do; they color the lens through which we come to view the world. That’s such an inspiring idea – and also an awesome responsibility.

There are two other reasons I love this genre. One, it’s inherently hopeful. Even the darkest stories in children’s literature usually offer some kind of hope, or at the very least, tools with which to cope with the challenges of growing up. That makes it a very optimistic world to work in, which appeals to me on every level. And two, it’s inherently generous… you could almost say mission-driven. Just about everyone who writes for children does so because they want to touch the hearts and minds of young people – not just because they want to hear the sound of their own voice, or even to be a famous author. Most of us write for children because we want to give them gifts – and that makes it a lovely community to be a part of.

Do you write every day, 5 days a week?

I wish! Well, I suppose I do in some form, because I’m always writing something . . . whether it’s a story, editorial feedback, an article, a syllabus for a course, a presentation for the Children’s Book Hub, etc. But the truth is, unless Mom and I are on a deadline and scheduling time to write every day, I end up writing whenever and wherever I can.

I have a lovely office in my home overlooking my garden, and another one at Stony Brook Southampton, the university where I teach children’s book writing for grad students, but mostly I seem to end up at the kitchen table with the kids and the dog and my husband all around me! 

And of course, when I’m working on something, I’m always writing in some form – even if I’m not at the computer. I’m stewing, or brainstorming . . . turning ideas over in my mind when I’m driving, walking the dog, showering, lying awake in the middle of the night, etc. etc.

What is the hardest thing about writing? The easiest?

There is so much that’s hard about writing! Coming up with fresh ideas, trusting the creative process, having the patience, courage and faith to keep wading through the muck when things aren’t flowing, editing oneself (otherwise known as killing your darlings). And I find the more I learn, the harder it gets… because my expectations get higher and I become even tougher on myself.

Writing for children and young adults is especially hard. There are so many more rules in children’s literature, especially picture books, than there are in other genres and forms of writing . . . the necessary economy of words, for instance, or not writing what the art will show. Keeping the hero’s journey relevant - and resonant - for young readers, regardless of when the story takes place. Moving things along at a brisk pace, so as to sustain the reader’s interest. (Adults can be forgiving when it comes to books that start slowly, have a lot of exposition, or are stronger on style or voice than character or plot. Kids, not so much.) Connecting authentically with young readers, rather than talking down or preaching to them – they have enough adults in their lives doing that already! I think writing well for children and young adults is harder than writing for adults.

The easiest thing about writing? I guess the fact that you can do it anywhere, anytime, even in your pajamas!

What advice would you give to other writers?

Because of the many hats I wear – author, editor, teacher, writing coach – I am constantly giving advice to other writers. Of course it’s subjective, and depends who I’m talking to, but here are the most common recurring themes… the essentials, in my opinion:

1) Read. Read the best of everything in your genre, and stay current. People often make the mistake of thinking “I was a kid once, and I know what I liked,” or referencing books from their childhood, but children’s publishing has changed dramatically in the last 20 to 30 years. You have to know what the market is like today, and stay plugged in as it evolves – no matter what age group you write for.

2) Hone your craft. Take classes and workshops, attend conferences. Keep stretching, learning, sharpening your skills – even (or maybe especially) after you’ve sold your first manuscript.

3) Find community. Writing can be a solitary business. I’m lucky – I write with a partner and work for a graduate writing program, but it’s really important to find your tribe and connect with them regularly. Find a supportive critique group or a mentor, join forums, take classes, attend conferences, whatever it takes to connect with other writers. It will keep you sane, and honest.

4) Diversify your strengths. It’s the rare writer that makes a living solely from writing. Even the most successful writers in the world have to augment their income with things like teaching, editing, or speaking engagements. Find ways to support your writing habit. Be willing to have a day job, to do whatever it takes . . . but whenever possible, try to make those other sources of income writing-related, such as freelance writing, editing, teaching, etc. It makes it easier.

5) Focus more on rewriting than writing. Writing well is all about revision. I love the old adage about Michelangelo, who, when asked how he created the David, apparently replied, “I knew he was inside the stone – I just chiseled away at the excess to reveal him.” I think of writing like that. In the beginning, you have to pour it all out onto the page – no censorship. But when it comes time to revise, you have to know how to do so, and make that aspect of the process just as important (if not more so) than getting the first draft out on paper. You have to chisel away at the excess, and polish, polish, polish.

In today’s publishing environment, you get only ONE chance to make a first impression. If your work contains typos, grammar gaffes, is over-written or underwritten, has structural issues or any other problems, chances are that every agent or acquiring editor who reviews it will set it aside – and without a second chance to re-submit. Don’t succumb to the temptation to submit something before it’s truly ready. Learn how to revise, to edit your own work till it sparkles, even hire a freelance editor to give it a final onceover before you submit. Going that extra distance may be the difference between your work languishing in slush piles and getting published.

And once you have made the submission and you’re waiting for the answer? Write more. Continue revising or write something new, but keep flexing that muscle. That’s the main difference between being a writer and being an author. It’s a lifetime pursuit.

Thanks so much, Emma!

KidLit411 peeps! 

Don't miss Emma's NEW courses! 

Editor in a Box: Editor in a Box contains everything you need to get your picture book, chapter book or middle grade or YA novel into the best possible shape for submission to agents, editors and publishers. Special discount for the picture book class through October. Click the link above to register before the price increase!

Emma Walton Hamilton is a best-selling children’s book author, editor, educator and arts and literacy advocate. She has co-authored over twenty-five children’s books with her mother, Julie Andrews, seven of which have been on the New York Times best-seller list, including The Very Fairy Princess series (#1 NY Times Bestseller), Julie Andrews’ Collection Of Poems, Songs And Lullabies; Julie Andrews’ Treasury: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Seasons; the Dumpy The Dump Truck series; Simeon’s Gift; The Great American Mousical and THANKS TO YOU – Wisdom From Mother And Child (#1 New York Times Bestseller).
Emma’s own book for parents and caregivers, Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, premiered as a #1 best-seller on in the literacy category and won a Parent’s Choice Gold Medal, silver medals from the Living Now and IPPY Book Awards, and an Honorable Mention from ForeWord Magazine’s Best Book of the Year.

Emma is a faculty member for Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Creative Writing and Literature Program, where she teaches children’s literature courses and serves as Director of their Children’s Literature Fellows program as well as the annual Southampton Children’s Literature Conference. She is also Executive Director of their Young Artists and Writers Project (YAWP), an inter-disciplinary writing and creative arts program for middle and high school students on Long Island.

As host of the “Children’s Book Hub” membership site, Emma provides resources, information and support for children’s book authors and illustrators world-wide. She is also creator of the Just Write Children’s Books home-study courses in writing picture books, chapter books and middle grade and young adult novels.

Emma serves as the Editorial Director for The Julie Andrews Collection publishing program, dedicated to quality books for young readers that nurture the imagination and celebrate a sense of wonder, and works as a freelance children’s book editor, providing editorial evaluations, line-editing services and one-to-one mentoring.

A Grammy Award-winning voiceover artist, Emma has provided voicing for several children’s audiobooks, including Gitty Daneshvari’s School of Fear, Patrick McDonnell’s Me…Jane, Nancy Tafuri’s All Kinds of Kisses, Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies (2010 Grammy Award, Best Spoken Word Album for Children), and Julie Andrews Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year, as well as for radio, television, theater and industrial spots.

Prior to becoming a published author, Emma worked as an actress in theater, film and television and as a theatrical director and producer. She was a faculty member at the Ensemble Studio Theater Institute, and later became one of the founders of Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, New York.  She served as Bay Street’s Co-Artistic Director and Director of Education and Programming for Young Audiences for 17 years.

Emma has also co-written lyrics for several songs, including “The Show Must Go On” recorded by Julie Andrews, and “On My Way” recorded by Laughing Pizza, and selections of her poetry are included in Julie Andrews’ Collection Of Poems, Songs And Lullabies as well as Julie Andrews Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year. Emma and her mother have also completed stage and symphonic adaptations of Simeon’s Gift, which was developed at Bay Street Theatre and went on symphonic tour to venues including the Hollywood Bowl, Atlanta Symphony and the O2 Arena in the UK under the banner of Julie Andrews’ Gift of Music. In addition, their middle grade novel, The Great American Mousical, was adapted into a family musical and produced by Goodspeed Musicals at the Norma Terris Theatre in East Haddam, Connecticut.

An accomplished public speaker, Emma addresses arts and literary conferences, schools, universities and other groups on a regular basis about the value of, and synergy between, the arts and literacy.

Emma is a member of the Author’s Guild, The Dramatists’ Guild, The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the International Reading Association, SAG, AEA, AFTRA and ASCAP. She has served on the theater panel for the New York State Council on the Arts, as a National Ambassador for The Broadway League’s “Kids’ Night on Broadway”, and as a trustee for the Morriss Center School in Bridgehampton, NY, and the Center for Therapeutic Riding of the East End (CTREE).

She lives in Sag Harbor, NY, with her husband, director/actor/acting coach Steve Hamilton, and their two children.

Find Emma:

Just Write Children’s Books
Children’s Book Hub
Just Write Children’s Books

Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Creative Writing and Literature Program
Emma Walton Hamilton


  1. Loved the interview, Emma. Working in my jammies is the BEST way to work for me. :-) This community is lovely. The people brighten my day everyday. Love your advice. This genre is the hopeful genre. These kidlets that read picture books haven't been tainted by the world. I love them! Thank you.

  2. Wow, Emma is one mult-talented lady! I totally agree with her assessment about children's books offering hope (well, except for the Series of Unfortunate Events books, maybe...LOL!). What a nice summary of useful tips for writers too. I love her positive, can-do attitude!

  3. Fantastic post! I've known Emma well for several years now and still end up in awe when I read something like this from her.

  4. WOW. No other words (and that is INCREDIBLY rare for me!). Thank you.

  5. One of the high-visibility names that can truly write children's books. She seems as eloquent as her mother, whom I had the privilege to listen to at the CU commencement two springs ago.

  6. Thanks so much for such a comprehensive list of advice!! It's awesome and applicable.


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