Author Spotlight: Nicole Collier


Jan. 21, 2022

We are thrilled to feature author Nicole Collier and her debut middle grade novel, JUST RIGHT JILLIAN (Clarion/Versify), coming out on Feb. 15! Enter to win a copy!

cover art by Kitt Thomas, design by Mary Claire

Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.

I grew up just south of Atlanta, GA, the only child of an accountant and a public school librarian. My mother was a voracious reader, so we went to the library every week or two. We’d both come home loaded down with books. I’d finish all of mine and she’d finish all hers and back we went to reup our stacks. 

I knew from the time I could read novels that I wanted to write them. Throughout grade school, I wrote endlessly, but after a short stint in journalism, I chose to become a teacher and put my writing on the back burner. My favorite part of teaching 4th grade was introducing kids to wonderful middle grade books and helping them to develop a love for reading. Every time our reading groups met, I pictured myself sharing one of my books in the circle. But procrastination and self-doubt kept me from actually sitting down and putting words on the page. 

Eventually, after a series of career and life changes, I made a promise to myself to really give it my all. I took workshops and attended conferences and tried my hand at a few different projects to learn more about the vast world of children’s books. When I felt I could do Jillian’s story justice – I had carried it in my heart for many years ¬– I finally sat down and wrote it.

Congrats on your middle grade debut, Just Right Jillian! Tell us about the book and what inspired you.

Just Right Jillian is the story of a super smart, super shy 5th grader who is tired of coming in last due to her own fears. She has promised her grandmother that she’ll be more confident in herself, and when the annual academic competition comes around, she has a chance to do just that. But breaking out of her shell is much easier said than done! Hatching chicks, unexpected friendships, and supportive adults are all part of Jillian’s journey to be herself.

My life was my main inspiration. I was a very shy child, unable to speak up, even when I really wanted to. It’s so painful, knowing you have something to contribute, but feeling as if you can’t. I experienced moments that mirror a couple of key events in the book. I wanted to travel back in time to revisit and revise those moments, and offer kids like me a pathway forward. 

Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?

All three! The long and winding part was getting myself to actually follow my dreams and start writing in earnest. That took over three decades! However, once I got very serious, writing the book took about a year, revising and then finding an agent took another year, and selling the book took about a month! I sold the book in November 2019 and it’s out February 2022. That’s not exactly short, ha! But I didn’t mind waiting once I knew it’s just a matter of time. 

What projects are you working on now?

I’m not actively working on anything at the moment. My next middle grade, out in 2023, is in copyedits and two new ideas are percolating. One of those is a chapter book series and the other is a middle grade series. I know a little bit about the characters for each project, but I’m giving myself time to daydream and read.

What are some of your favorite classic MGs? New ones?

Growing up, I really loved Philip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe. That and anything from Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. Mildred Taylor is another one. I read just about everything and rarely met a book I didn’t like. Modern favorites include The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristin Levine, A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus, Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles and Wish by Barbara O’Connor. My current list of favorites is actually quite lengthy, so this is really just a snippet.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Be willing to try different things to find out what works for you. You can play with how much or how often you write, which categories you like, which genres feel best, what time of day, everything. One size does not fit all, so don’t be afraid to experiment! Also, be gentle with yourself. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. Some miles are easy, some are hard, and no matter what, the journey can be a tough one. The only surefire way to cross the finish line is to take the first step and then keep going. Fuel yourself with mentor texts, inspirational resources, writing friends, a dose of discipline, and a bigger dose of kindness to yourself.

What is something most people don't know about you?

In college, I learned to splice audio. I mean with an actual razor! I’m nearly 50, so I grew up before digital media. I majored in journalism, emphasis in broadcast. We had to produce packages for our radio news class, which usually meant splicing audio tape for clarity and time. I loved it, except that we were always on deadline so we had to do it very quickly. 

Where can people find you online?
@essentialcoco on Twitter and Instagram

Nicole D. Collier, Ph.D., was born and raised just south of Atlanta, Georgia. After a short stint in journalism, she has spent the past two decades in education. First as an elementary school teacher, and now as a partner in an executive training, coaching and consulting firm. An advocate of self-expression, Nicole writes stories that illuminate the challenges and rewards that come when learning to be true to yourself. A self-proclaimed ever-victorious woman, Nicole has been known to run, dance, and turn cartwheels on sunny days.

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  1. I have this book already on my TBR and can't wait. I love finding supportive adults in middle grade fiction. I can identify with Jillian already.

  2. Wow! What an accomplishment. Your hard work, commitment and dedication are commendable. You are an inspiration. I look forward to reading this book. God bless.

  3. Looks like a great story with a valuable lesson for shy kids. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

  4. My students are going to love this book! Thank you for setting it out in the world.

  5. I can identify with your childhood shyness. I was also afraid to offer an answer even when I knew it was right. This book will help other shy kids who have so much to offer. You certainly came out of your shell and accomplished so much. I would love to read this book. When I taught middle school I would have loved to have this book in my library. Great post!

  6. What a great book for children to see themselves in stories and reassure themselves they are not the only shy person in the world. Looking forward to sharing this story with my library classes .

  7. Being shy can be so painful. I look forward to sharing this book with children!

  8. this looks like the perfect book for kids who'd rather read than play tether ball during recess (which would be me). Can't wait to see it out in print.

  9. Thanks for the chance to win a copy

  10. Great interview! I can't wait to add this book to my classroom library. My students will love it!

  11. I'm looking forward to reading this one! I think it will resonate with quite a few of my school's students.

  12. Oh, Congratulations! I too was pretty shy as a child, so I can just imagine how much I would connect with your new book! Yay! Best wishes!


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