Jody Jensen Shaffer on work-for-hire writing and her recently released celebrity biographies for kids.
Hi Jody! Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. To start, why don't you tell us a little about yourself and your books to date.
Hi Casey! Thanks for having me!
I grew up in a small town in Missouri, the youngest of three kids. My dad taught college Biology and my mom taught elementary school. After high school, I earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in English. I taught Freshman Composition at two colleges while working full-time in corporate management development. I had always loved writing but became interested in writing for children when I stayed home with my own kids. We’d visit the library, check out as many books as we could carry, then rush home and devour them. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked on children’s literature--picture books, fiction, nonfiction, chapter books, and novels. When my youngest child entered kindergarten in 2006, I began writing for children.
Since that time, nine of my books for children have been published and another four or so are in the pipeline. I also write for magazines like Highlights, Highlights High Five, Highlights Hello, Clubhouse Jr, Babybug, Humpty Dumpty, and Turtle.
I had a chance to read one of your celebrity biographies, Liam Hemsworth: The Hunger Games' Strong Survivor and enjoyed learning about the star. What sort of research was involved in the writing of this and your other biographies?
Thanks! I enjoyed learning about Liam myself. My publisher, Lerner, wanted Liam and my other biographies to be as current and as verifiably accurate as possible. That meant seeking out primary source quotes from Liam, watching hours of interviews with him, and scouring reliable sources, like library databases and established newspapers and magazines. It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed uncovering little-known facts about Liam.
It does sound like enjoyable work. One thing that stood out to me in Liam's biography was the fun, accessible voice. What age range are these books marketed to, and how do you ensure the voice and language are at grade level?
These books are written for kids reading at grade levels 3-4, but because of the subject matter, they may be interesting for kids through sixth grade. It’s a balancing act to find the right voice for these fun books and to make them accessible to their intended audience. Tools that analyze the readability of your text are super-helpful. They tell you if you’ve written to the grade, below it, or above it. Then you can make changes accordingly.
Your books with The Child's World are all written on a work-for-hire basis. How did you start writing for the company and what has been your experience with them?
I began writing children’s work-for-hire through the book packager, Red Line Editorial. I sent my resume and some writing samples to then-Editorial Director, Patricia Stockland, now with Lerner. She asked if I’d be interested in writing some books for The Child’s World. I jumped at the chance, and BREAD BEFORE THE STORE and BLUE JEANS BEFORE THE STORE became my first published titles. Both Red Line Editorial and The Child’s World are top-notch.
What would you say are the pros and cons of a work-for-hire project?
I love doing work-for-hire! It’s fun, interesting, and highly collaborative. I never know what subject I might be working on next for what audience in what format. I love the variety, the challenge of learning new things and producing good work on a deadline, and the people I’ve met through this line of work. They have all been fabulous.
Honestly, I can’t think of any cons! My experiences have been great. It helps that I’m curious and can synthesize information fairly quickly.
No cons? Fantastic! Do you know of any good resources for writers interested in work-for-hire opportunities?
The very best resource I know of for those interested in work-for-hire opportunities is Evelyn Christensen’s website. Writers can click on the link for “Educational Markets” and find an extensive list of publishers and packagers. Another way to find possible markets for work-for-hire is to go to the library and see who published books like you’d enjoy writing. Then search out the companies online for their writers’ guidelines and requirements.
I see that your first fiction picture book Us Time will be published by tiger tales in 2014 - congratulations! Moving forward, do you see yourself continuing to write both fiction and non-fiction?
Thanks! I am so excited about my first picture book with tiger tales! I saw early illustrations, and they are adorable.
Yes, I will continue to write both fiction and nonfiction, because I love them both!
That's great news for us! What are you working on now?
Well, I’ve always got picture book and chapter book manuscripts percolating in my brain. My agent, Kathleen Rushall, and I are subbing a few things currently. I’m preparing to do a poetry workshop with middle schoolers next month. I’ve got bits of notes on my desk with poem ideas that I need to formulate. I’ve got more work-for-hire books on the horizon. And I proofread and copy edit professionally, so I’m never at a loss for writing-related activities! I am so lucky!
Wow! Writing definitely keeps you busy. One last question. Where can readers stay up-to-date on you and your books?
My blog is the best place to see what I’ve been up to lately, http://jodyjensenshaffer.blogspot.com.
Thank you so much for stopping by Literary Rambles and sharing your writing with us, Jody!
Thank you for having me, Casey! It’s been lots of fun. I’ve followed your blog for many years and found it super informative and helpful!
Jody has generously offered to give away one copy of her celebrity biography, Liam Hemsworth: Hunger Games' Strong Survivor. To enter, please be a follower and leave a comment by April 1st. Include your e-mail address if it's not available online. This giveaway is US only. For additional giveaways we're running see the list at the top of the blog, and don't forget to check out Jody's other biographies including Josh Hutcherson, Taylor Swift, Taylor Lautner, Lea Michele, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Welcome to Literary Rambles! While you’re rambling around and exploring the site enter for a chance to win:
STORY'S END until midnight July 6th here.
POSSESSION,SURRENDER, & ABANDON until July 6th here.
WRITTEN IN STONE until July 6th here.
Coming in July:
July 2nd Freedom to Read Blog Hop
July 8th Melanie Crowder interview and PARCHED giveaway
July 15th K.A. Barson interview and 45 POUNDS giveaway
July 22nd THE 5TH WAVE GIVEAWAY and ASK THE EXPERT INTERVIEW