Tracy C. Gold


How I Got My Picture Book Deal (Yes, I Have a Book Deal!)

on December 17, 2019

I’ve been sitting on this secret for a long time: I am so excited to announce that my debut picture book, “Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby,” is coming out from Familius in 2021! It’s going to be a board book, illustrated by Adele Dafflon. Update 2024: You can buy it on Amazon (affiliate link) and via other retailers! I am psyched to bring this book into the world for babies and toddlers to chew, and potentially even read. I decided to wait to announce the deal publicly until Familius had chosen an illustrator—and I’ve been waiting since July. I’m so happy I finally get to shout about it, and I could not be more excited that Adele will be illustrating the book. Her style is whimsical, bright, and simple: perfect for babies. Check out her gorgeous Instagram.

There’s a whacky story behind how I got this book deal. I’ll start at the beginning. I’d always thought I’d love writing picture books—I wrote poetry and fiction, after all. But I never tried to write a picture book until I had my daughter and found myself reading multiple picture books every day, or rather, reading one picture book multiple times a day (one week it was Brown Bear, right now it’s Jill Twiss’s Marlon Bundo). Suddenly, picture books were pouring out of me. I wrote them in the notes of my iPhone and periodically emailed them to myself. 

I kept returning to one I really liked, which I started out calling “Mommy’s Sleepy”—my motto as the mom of a one-year-old. I revised it, read it aloud, let it sit, and repeated the process again. After tweaking it for a few weeks, I felt it was pretty good. 

In a haze of self-confidence and abandon, I submitted it to a few small presses. 

Then the haze cleared, and I realized what I’d done. I hadn’t shown this book to anyone. It could totally suck. What was I thinking, submitting it to small presses? I was clearly deluded. 

I truly had no idea what I was doing writing picture books. I’d never even discussed any of the picture books I had written with my critique group. I wanted professional opinions before deciding whether to curl up in a ball of shame, revise it more, or send it out to more small publishers—or even agents. 

I sent the book to five highly qualified freelance editors on Reedsy to get quotes. These editors had all worked in publishing and/or published picture books themselves. I am an editor myself, and thus believe that it’s worth it to pay for advice from experienced professionals. I am also listed on Reedsy as an editor, and wanted to see what it was like to request quotes from editors through the platform.

What I received, in this instance, was a lesson in subjectivity. The first editor to respond said she didn’t think I should pay her to work on the book because it wasn’t marketable. She thought it would be hard to sell this book because it would appeal to parents, but not babies. All of my doubts came bubbling back up to the surface. I read a lot of picture books and thought the book I had written would certainly fit in on my daughter’s bookshelf! It didn’t matter whether babies liked this book—my daughter chose her books by how fun it was to chew them, not what the words said. What was wrong with my judgment? This feedback piled on top of a lot of the self-doubt I had accrued from getting four novels rejected by hundreds of literary agents over the years. I went back to the familiar refrain in my head: Why was I even trying this writing thing? Writing was supposed to be fun, but all of this rejection hurt too much.

Over the next day or so, other editors sent me their rates without commenting on the quality of the book. I figured they probably thought I was an idiot too. 

Then, the last editor, Jennifer Rees, told me she didn’t think I should pay her to work on the book . . . because she loved it the way it was. She called it a “modern Goodnight Moon.”

I almost fainted from joy. What the heck and a handbasket was I supposed to do with that?! 

I couldn’t imagine two more different responses. As a freelance editor, I had never told a prospective client I thought their book wasn’t worth working on because it wouldn’t sell OR that their book was so good it didn’t need further editing. Of course, I work on books that are 100,000 words, not 100 words total, so it is harder for me to assess quality from a quick sample.

My head was spinning. But at least, with this last editor’s feedback, I knew I wasn’t an idiot for thinking this book was cute enough to submit to publications.

I spent a couple days trying to figure out what to do. Which editor was right?

Before I could make up my mind, I got a reply to my submission email from Familius, one of the small presses I had submitted to. Kathy MacMillan, a friend of mine from SCBWI MD/DE/WV, had published two books with Familius and raved about how awesome they were to work with. Publishing with them would be a dream. Of course, that meant they would surely reject me. 

I opened the email expecting confirmation that the book was stupid and would never sell.

But wait.

That’s not what the email said. 

“You sent us an unsolicited manuscript for Everyone’s Sleepy But The Baby.”

Yes, I thought. I did send it. I know that. 

“We like it very much.”

Well, that’s nice, I thought, waiting for the “but”—surely, they liked it, but there had to be a caveat.

“We started a padded board book series and we think this would do well in that package. I’m providing an Amazon link to two of these titles.” (The titles were If There Never Was A You, and Made For Me.)

What? Why were they telling me all this when they were going to reject my book?

“We’d like to work with you.”

What? What? What?

“We’d anticipate releasing this book in 2021 as 2020 is already in production.”


I ran around screaming, well only in my head, because I think my baby was napping, before reading the rest of the email, which was about scheduling a phone call, and then rereading and rereading the email. 

This was an offer of publication. They wanted to publish my book! This was real! The little book that had given me so much angst since that freelance editor told me she thought it wouldn’t sell was going to be published!

Well, I ate a lot of ice cream that night, and, let’s face it, for the next several weeks. I nudged the other publishers I’d submitted the book to, scheduled a phone call with Familius, got a contract, had it reviewed by a lawyer, and signed it. 

In the meantime, I wrote back to the Reedsy editors with news of my book deal. The editor who told me it would be very hard to sell congratulated me kindly. That felt pretty good. Jennifer Rees, the editor who said she loved the book as it was, sent her congratulations too—and she encouraged me to look for an agent to represent my other books. Because I knew my friend Kathy loved working with Familius, I didn’t feel like I needed an agent to represent me for this book deal (and I didn’t want to give up 15% for a deal I’d gotten on my own). But I knew agents could open doors at other presses that didn’t take unagented submissions. Familus has a fairly narrow focus—they only publish books that relate to families. While you can make an argument that most picture books relate to families, I also write non-fiction picture books that I didn’t think would be a good fit, and I wanted to find them a home. So I decided to reach out to agents, and now I’m represented by Carrie Pestritto at Laura Dail Literary Agency. You can read about that journey here—though, of course, I was keeping the picture book deal secret at the time I announced signing with her, so I couldn’t quite tell the whole story.

So, that’s how I got my book deal. I am still pretty flummoxed that my first book deal came for a book that I submitted to a small press before I sent it to anyone—not even a critique partner. I would not tell anyone to approach the publication process in this whackadoodle order—submitting and then seeking professional help. But if I’d heard from that first editor who didn’t think the book would sell before submitting the book, I might have never found the courage to press send. The thing is, she did have a point. Everything I’ve read about publishing board books says most publishers either develop board books in-house, buy board books from illustrators, or convert popular hardcovers to board books. Before hearing from Familius, I didn’t  know that this book would be perfect for a board book, and I didn’t know that Familius had a line of padded board books. Frankly, I got lucky to find this perfect home for this book. Though, of course, I also made the luck by writing the book and having the guts to submit it.

So, there are a few lessons here. Realize that publishing is super subjective. No one opinion is the end-all be-all. No matter how confident someone is in their opinion, they might be totally wrong. Also, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Sometimes, your gut that you have a good book is totally right. And, last, you can’t get a lucky break if you’re not putting yourself out there.

Want updates when I write more blog posts or have book news? Sign up for my newsletter.

Update 2024: Want to get a kickstart on writing your own picture books? Check out my on-demand online class about writing picture books for beginners or my more advanced online on-demand class on writing rhyming picture books.

Note that the links to books in this post are affiliate links. If you buy the books mentioned, I’ll get a little bit of money, which I will probably use to buy more books.

10 Responses to “How I Got My Picture Book Deal (Yes, I Have a Book Deal!)”

  1. Linda Hofke says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. It is a great example of how subjective the publishing industry is.

    CONGRATS on your book deal!!!

  2. Ruthie Kirk says:

    I loved reading about your experience and love your title! I look forward to giving your book to new moms!

  3. Judith E Minkove says:

    Just seeing this now, Tracy. Wow, wow, WOW! Congrats on this triumph! Loved reading about your experience and the fears we all harbor as writers! Can’t wait to read and buy copies of your picture book for my grandchildren and other babies! You inspire me.

  4. Pamela Weissman says:

    What a phenomenal almost fairy tale like story! Congratulations!

  5. Tomeko says:

    I stumbled upon your website while doing an internet search. Such an inspiring post. I just recently started writing my manuscript for a picture book . I submitted it to Reedsy in hopes for an editor to help with developmental editing. I was fortunate enough to land Jennifer Rees!! Congratulations on your book!! I really enjoyed reading this. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *