Author Spotlight: Chelsea Tornetto
Dec. 30, 2022
We are pleased to feature author Chelsea Tornetto and her picture book, GARDENS ARE FOR GROWING, illustrated by Hsulynn Pang (Familius 2022), and GOD MADE YOU TOO, illustrated by Kimberly Barnes (Worthy Kids 2022). Enter to win a copy of both books!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I live in southeast Missouri with my husband and two kids (Tessa, 12 and Milo, 8). I have been teaching 7th-grade world geography for 17 years. I had wonderful writing teachers when I was in school, who encouraged and helped develop my writing skills, and there was also a picture book writing contest in our district each year, which I entered religiously! So, I’ve been writing ever since I was a kid - but only professionally since about 2018. I am an idea person by nature, so writing picture books is a great creative outlet for me. I love the challenge of saying a lot with very few words, and I love rhyme!
Congrats on your two debut picture books, Gardens Are For Growing and God Made You Too! Tell us about these books and how you approached the project.
Thank you! It’s definitely been a big year, and now I know why authors try to spread new releases over different publishing seasons. Releasing two books in four months was a whirlwind!
Gardens Are For Growing was actually a manuscript that poured out of me in a single night on a picture book retreat at the Highlights Foundation. It’s about my husband and daughter in our backyard garden - and shows the parallels between raising a child and growing a garden. It was the manuscript that got me my first agent and was also the first manuscript to sell.
God Made You Too was written and sold after Gardens, but actually released first! (Publishing is weird.) It reminds kids of all the amazing things God has created…and that he made them too!
Both are lyrical, rhyming picture books.
Was your initial road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Something in between, I guess?
While I’ve always loved writing, I never thought of “author” as a job that was realistic. It always seemed like too much of a dream! But, luckily, I was equally passionate about education, so I became a teacher. My day job and my hobby eventually intersected when I submitted a teacher resource book to Scholastic’s “Professional Resource” division and it was accepted for publication. That experience gave me the confidence I needed to think about writing children’s books, and I eventually attended a Highlights Foundation Retreat at their campus in Pennsylvania. After that weekend, I knew I had found “my people!” I came home determined to get an agent and become a kidlit author, and started querying. It took me about 9 months and 12 queries to find my first agent. She sold my first few books, and then left agenting to become a freelance editor. Luckily, Lisa Amstutz, another amazing agent at Storm Literary, was willing to take me on, and we’ve just sold our first picture book together. Hopefully, there are more big things to come!
What other projects are you working on?
I have four other picture books under contract, but only one I can talk about! It’s called, Chalk the Walk and it’s about all the amazing things you can create with just a box of sidewalk chalk (coming Spring of 2024). I also just partnered with a company called Send-a-Friend to create a board book called Sending Love, which can be added to their stuffed animal care packages and shipped to loved ones across the country. And most recently, I’m tackling my very first self-publishing project and creating a custom picture book for the kids in my local school district.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same you'd give to aspiring authors?
As I mentioned, when I was younger, I saw becoming a published author sort of like getting drafted into the NFL or being elected President…so rare that it wasn’t really possible or practical to pursue it! So, I think if I could give my younger self some advice, I’d say that being a published author isn’t a pipe dream - that it’s an achievable goal - and to go for it!
Today, I think the rise of self-publishing has sort of helped dispel that misconception, but I’d still encourage aspiring writers to follow that dream. I’d also tell them to start reading and researching the publishing industry DEEPLY before jumping in. Whether you plan to self-publish or pursue a traditional deal - there is SO MUCH to learn!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I grew up on a hog farm and once helped deliver a baby pig.
Where can people find you online?
I’m on Twitter (@MrsTornetto), Facebook, and Instagram and my website is www.chelseatornetto.com. I love to do picture book critiques - so definitely keep me in mind if you need another set of eyes! The teacher in me LOVES to help other authors navigate the publishing process, so I’ve also started consulting for At Home Author - which is a company started by successful self-published author and literary agent Vicky Weber. We help aspiring authors decide between traditional and self-publishing and give them the resources and support to be successful on whichever path they choose. You can find me there at www.athomeauthor.com.
Chelsea Tornetto is an author, world geography teacher, freelance editor and SCBWI member who has loved writing ever since she was a kid. Her first book, Conquering Content Vocabulary, was published by Scholastic in 2018, but now her passion is picture books. Chelsea lives in Jackson, Missouri with her husband, Mike, and her two kids, Tessa and Milo. She loves snow days, lattes, and Target. She hates spiders, her sinuses, and laundry.
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