Author Spotlight: Susan B. Katz
Nov. 27, 2020
Today we are excited to feature author-illustrator Susan B. Katz and her recent picture book, MEDITATION STATION, illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan (Bala Kids, Nov. 2020). Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.
I always say that I’ve been writing since kindergarten and my voice as an author really took shape during a poetry unit in fourth grade. In middle school, I entered a poem about my grandma in the Detroit Free Press and won. In high school, I wrote all of my speeches in rhyme. I spent a year abroad, while at Michigan, working in a Costa Rican rain forest and did environmental education for the kids around the forest. I guess my first stories for kids started formulating there. Fast forward, after doing Teach for America, to my third year as an educator. I was teaching overseas at the American School in Valencia, Spain. I got inspired by songs I sang with my students and wrote my first manuscript. Visiting author, Anne Miranda took one look at it and said, “Send this to my agent!”
When I returned from Spain, I started submitting (I didn’t get signed with her agent, but I did get an agent). I stayed in education for over 25 years so there were lots of story starters from my classroom, but I wrote my first published book, ABC BABY ME (Penguin Random House) in the notes of my phone. I was flying back from Michigan to California the day my twin nephews were born. They are 12 now. I started thinking of all the things you have to do for a baby, and even more for two, and that book wrote itself on the plane.
Congrats on your recent picture book, MEDITATION STATION. Tell us about the book & what inspired you.
Thanks. I’m thrilled that MEDITATION STATION won the 2020 International Book Award for Best Mind/Body/Spirit Book for Kids. I’ve been meditating for about 20 years at Spirit Rock, and at home. During one retreat with Sylvia Boorstein, she was telling us that we should let our thoughts pass like clouds just floating by and it occurred to me that the way to translate this message for kids was with an evergreen obsession—trains—just Stay in the Station! I loved that Meditation Station rhymed for the title.
The idea is that we can focus on our breath, and stay connected to our body, so that our racing train of thoughts doesn’t whisk us down the railroad tracks. Kids get that. Even as adults, especially in these chaotic times, we all get distracted with “shiny things,” emotions that make our hearts ache, or political posts that make our brains break. Learning to count our in breath and out breath, pausing in between, and staying with that breath is essential to stress reduction and living in the moment. Just stay in the station—the Meditation Station!
You are a bilingual picture book author and an author-illustrator. How do you decide which books to write in Spanish and which ones to illustrate?
So far, of my 10 published titles and 15 forthcoming, I only wrote one in Spanish (UN AÑO REDONDO) and have one forthcoming that is “Spanish-sprinkled.” I was a Spanish-immersion teacher for 25 years, and have lived in Costa Rican and Spain, so I’d love to meet the demand and write more books in Spanish; however, it is a bit based on what the publishers want. For example, another one of my forthcoming titles is coming out in German and English simultaneously! I have a functional knowledge of German, having lived there as a child, but I am not fluent like I am in Spanish.
|© Anait Semirdzhyan
As for illustration, that is very much on my bucket list. Inspired by the mosaic artist, Antonio Gaudí, I create ceramic and multi-media mosaics as illustrations: https://susankatzbooks.com/portfolio-of-illustrations/
|© Susan B. Katz
I’ve pounded the pavement with my portfolio in NYC, attended illustrator showcases, etc., but no illustration contracts have materialized yet. I hope to illustrate some day and continue to work on my craft, getting feedback from my amazing writer’s group.
Was your initial road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
|© Susan B. Katz
From the time I showed that first manuscript to Anne in Spain, it was 12 years to publication of my first book—which wasn’t even that one. That first manuscript is proof that persistence, perseverance and patience pay off. It is “my baby” –a book about my happy place, the ocean. It comes out next year (27 years after I wrote it and have revised it over the years) with a major house and is being illustrated by an incredibly talented artist and friend.
So, it took me 12 years to get my first book, ABC Baby Me (PRH) published in 2010, then I had My Mama Earth (Barefoot Books) come out in 2012 and win a Moonbeam Gold which was thrilling. In 2015, I had my first Scholastic title, ABC, School’s For Me, published by Scholastic. That was a life goal achieved as I always loved sharing their books when I was teaching.
|© Susan B. Katz
In 2016, my next Scholastic book came out, All Year Round, and then I translated it into Spanish—Un Año Redondo—which came out in 2017. It was three years before my next book came out—but 2020 has been amazing for my publishing career. I have seven books out this year—six early chapter book biographies with Callisto Media/Rockridge Press (The Story of: RBG—which hit #18 on Amazon’s overall Bestseller List and #9 in Children’s, Frida Kahlo, Jane Goodall, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Fred Rogers (Nov). Gandhi and The Mystery of Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight come out next year. Of course, I also have Meditation Station releasing on election day—couldn’t we all use some meditation right about now? It is being distributed by Penguin Random House so I’ve sort of come full circle, ten years later. My first book came out with them on 10-10-10 and I’ll launch this one on 11-11-20.
What projects are you working on now?
This is where my career took an interesting turn. I worked at Facebook HQ as Strategic Partner Manager in charge of helping authors with their social media strategy. I also launched my own business, SittingSpa, aside from the non-profit I run, ConnectingAuthors, bringing authors into schools. I learned, through those high tech and entrepreneurial endeavors, that it is important to open up diverse revenue streams. Through an author Facebook group, I found freelance work writing the biographies and several STEAM books for Callisto, Capstone Press, Heinemann and other publishers. It is a different entry point to the publishing world. I also do some developmental editing work for several companies, both in English and Spanish. Since I studied environmental science in college, I have a background that helps me get in the weeds with the STEAM-themed books. I still have “traditional trade” books come out—about the ocean, famous people, etc.---but I combine that with the freelance work which is much more consistent, albeit sans royalties.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors or illustrators?
Going back to those three Ps of Persistence, Perseverance and Patience, I would add a 4th P: People. Building lasting relationships with editors, agents, other authors and illustrators really is the magic fairy dust of this industry. My writer’s group is a lifeline! It means a lot to me that my editors have faith in my work, can rely on me to make deadlines, and that I’m receptive to their feedback and always willing to revise. Growing a thick skin helps.
I’d also tell my younger self—which I heard at a lot of conferences starting out—write what you know. My background working in a rain forest, and passion for snorkeling, are making their way into my forthcoming books. The Spanish sprinkled is the icing on the cake.
Finally, know that getting your book published is half the marathon. Right now, I am in marketing mode—sending out ARCs of Meditation Station and doing radio, podcast and TV interviews. That piece of the publishing puzzle is something aspiring authors need to prepare for as well. The marketing and publicity teams at publishing houses are amazing but, in the end, the author needs to do a lot of promotion at schools (now, virtual visits), through media, to influencers, etc. It’s a different skill set than that creative process but I kind of love it!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I am severely allergic to dairy—like 911. I was born without the enzyme to digest it so I can’t have milk, cheese, pizza, ice-cream, chocolate, etc. I know, most people say: “How do you live?” But, you can’t miss what you’ve never had. I do have an allergy book on the back burner in case anyone is looking for one of those!
Where can people find you online?
My website is www.SusanKatzBooks.com. I’m @susanbkatzauthor on FB & IG and @susankatzauthor on Twitter.
Susan B. Katz is an award-winning, best selling, Spanish bilingual author/illustrator with Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Bala Kids (Shambhala), Barefoot Books, Callisto Media, Capstone, North South and Heinemann. She has ten published titles, one of which she wrote in Spanish for Scholastic, and 15 more books forthcoming in 2020/2021. Her book, The Story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, recently hit #18 on Amazon’s overall Bestseller List and well as #9 in children’s books. Meditation Station, a picture book about trains and mindfulness, won the 2020 International Book Award for Best Mind/Body/Spirit Children’s Book. Ms. Katz also earned the Moonbeam Gold Award for Best Picture Book in celebration of My Mama Earth. In 2020, Susan released seven books, including six early reader biographies. For the past 25 years, Ms. Katz worked as a bilingual elementary educator, National Board Certified Teacher and literacy specialist. She is a frequent keynote speaker and workshop presenter who also launched and ran Facebook’s author vertical out of their headquarters. Susan practices Metta meditation and attends retreats frequently at Spirit Rock near her home in Northern California. You can find out more about Susan’s books and virtual visits on her Facebook author page or IG: @susanbkatzauthor and on her website www.SusanKatzBooks.com.
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