First-Time Picture Book Author Cover Letters, Exposed! - Keila Dawson

Hello again! Welcome to another post for
First-Time Picture Book Author Cover Letters, Exposed!
Today we will be interviewing the wonderfully talented Keila Dawson!

Keila is the first-time picture book author of The King Cake Baby, which is a hilarious fractured version of The Gingerbread Man story. In this version, Keila takes the story to New Orleans and centers it around a local custom during the Mardi Gras season where a plastic baby is hidden inside a king cake leaving everyone wondering who got the baby? In this retelling, the plastic baby runs away from an old woman before she has the chance to hide him in the king cake. The baby meets other characters in his French Quarter neighborhood and runs away from them too, until a clever baker catches him.
This story is really fun and unique! I love how creative Keila was with her retelling J
Hi Keila! Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. I really enjoyed reading your book.
Q: How long have you been writing books for children?
A: I started writing for the children’s book market approximately 6 months before Pelican Publishing acquired The King Cake Baby in June, 2013.
Wow! You work fast!!
Q: How many picture book manuscripts did you write/submit before The King Cake Baby?
A: The King Cake Baby was my first attempt at writing a children’s story. Over the years, I have enjoyed journaling about my travels and kids. Most recently I had two articles published for the adult market. One published in a genealogy journal and another in a magazine for expats about raising third culture kids. Before that, I wrote educational reports professionally.
Nailed it on the first try? Okay, now I’m a little jealous ;)
Q: Now that you are a published picture book author, do you still have to write cover letters?
A: I wrote a cover letter to accompany the manuscript I subbed to my publisher while in New Orleans for my debut book launch. I believe the cover letter is an important part of my writing process. I will often draft a hook or pitch before my manuscript is submission-ready.
That’s a really good idea.
Q: Do you hate writing cover letters as much as I do (I hate them about as much as I hate doing the laundry)?
A: I don’t mind writing cover letters, but I dislike doing the laundry! I prefer to work out my hook early in the writing process. The better I understand the story I want to tell - a main character + the problem or goal + obstacles or conflict or struggles faced + the resolution - the easier it is to convey that to others. This process helps me with revisions too. I’m either tweaking the hook or sticking to it, until the words and story are in sync. The other two parts, information about the book and comparative titles and finally what I think the publisher should know about me, the cook, is added later.
No wonder you hit the ground running!
Q: How many cover letters did you write for The King Cake Baby before you found that winning one?
A: I wrote three or four drafts.
Sounds about right :)
Q: What resources did you find helpful in writing your cover letter?
A: I read a lot of articles on how to write a query and a cover letter. The first online group I joined was Children’s Book Insiders (CBI). I then joined a wonderful local Society of Children’sBook Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) group, and members encouraged me to join the national organization where I found more about submissions. I found HaroldUnderdown’s site and other online sources.

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
Harold Underdown’s site

Great info! Thanks for sharing!

Q: How many agents and/or publishers did you send the cover letter and manuscript to for The King Cake Baby before you found your publisher? 
A: I did what a lot of newbies do! I subbed to seven or eight well known large publishing houses. Online research taught me how to look for submission guidelines on each publisher’s site, but I didn’t yet understand how to look at a publisher’s list to see if my manuscript fit. After joining a local SCBWI group, I met some wonderful authors who mentored me and taught me to look more closely at publishing houses and the type of books they publish. I learned that big was not necessarily better.  My story was a good fit with Pelican, a regional publishing house based in Louisiana, but I waited since they required an exclusive submission. I remember thinking to myself that I would send my story out just one more time. And I’m so happy I did!

I think a lot of writers get caught in the big publisher trap instead of researching who would actually be a good fit for their book. We want the fame and fortune that we think will come with a big publishing house, but there are so many other great publishers and small presses out there!
Q: Are you currently working on any additional picture book manuscripts, or have any picture books scheduled for publication that we should look forward to?
A: I am always “working” on other ideas. But for me that doesn’t necessarily equate to writing. I don’t actually write every day, but I do think about what I have written or an idea I want to develop. I can spend days thinking about whether or not a word I’ve chosen to use is the best one. Or my work for the day may involve reading other picture books, working with my critique partners or participating in groups like JulieHedlund’s 12x12 Challenge or Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo or Susanna Hill’s PerfectPicture Book Fridays and Would-You-Read- It-Wednesdays.
I will let you know if the story I subbed in February made the cut. But if my manuscript is rejected, I know it comes with the territory. And it’s happened to the best in the industry so no regrets for trying. 

Sounds a lot like my day :)
Q: Were these books finished before, during, or after The King Cake Baby?
A: Once I started learning, studying and actively participating in writing communities, story ideas came more easily to me. After the acquisition of The King Cake Baby, I wrote another fractured fairy tale also set in New Orleans. And I have many other stories in various stages of the revision process.
Thank you, Keila! It has been a delight getting to know you. Definitely keep us posted on your progress and we will keep an eye out for you online and in bookstores :)
And now, the incredibly rare, amazing, fantastic, stupendous…okay, okay. Here is Keila’s successful cover letter for The King Cake Baby!

This cover letter does a great job in letting the editor know right away that Keila knows what she is talking about. It is short, professional, and to the point.
See a pattern here?
Well, that’s all for today. You can read more and connect with Keila by following the links below.

NPR affiliate WVXU interview with Around Cincinnati host Lee Hay
Local author Keila Dawson talks about her first children's book, The King Cake Baby   
Social Media:
Twitter: @keila_dawson 
Author Facebook  

Facebook: The King Cake Baby (Facebook page)

Instagram: kingcakebaby504


The King Cake Baby is available at Pelican, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other online retail stores.
Stay tuned for our next post for First-Time Picture Book Author Cover Letters, Exposed! Coming in April. We will be interviewing First-Time Picture Book Author Peter McCleery!
Thanks for reading!
Happy writing!



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