Laurie Isop is one lucky woman. Then again, luck has nothing to do with it. It’ more like skill, talent and persistence.

Who is Laurie Isop? She’s the first winner of Cheerios’ annual New Author Contest, which she won in 2009. Her book HOW DO YOU HUG A PORCUPINE? will appear in a million Cheerios boxes and the hardcover will be released with Simon & Schuster in July.

So how did Laurie get so lucky? (Err, I mean, how did she win?) Luckily (and this time I mean it), she agreed to an interview! Today she shares her journey with other aspiring children’s authors.

So go grab a bowl of the famous breakfast O’s and read how you, too, could have your name in boxes.

When did you first hear about the Cheerios contest and what made you decide to enter? How long had you been writing for children?

I’d been trying to crack the children’s market for about 10 years when I heard about the contest. I had drafted the story, “How Do You Hug a Porcupine?” prior to learning about the contest. My sister owns a bookstore in Stoneham, Massachusetts (shout-out to The Book Oasis!) and she sent me a link to the contest and encouraged me to enter.

How did you get the idea for your story HOW DO YOU HUG A PORCUPINE?

We were sitting around the dinner table talking about “warm fuzzy” people vs the “cold prickly” types, and the idea was born from there. I wanted to do something with animals to make it more age-appropriate. We had such a good time, talking about the different animals and envisioning all sorts of ways for the porcupine to win his hug. I probably revised my story eighteen or twenty times before I submitted it.

How did you find out that you won? What was your reaction?

I was having “one of those days” last October 2009. You know, one of those self-fulfilling prophecy-type days your mother warned you about when you were twelve, and again when you were thirty? The sky was ashen, the roads slick with the endless, penetrating drizzle of fall in the Pacific Northwest. Paul and I were several hours behind schedule, and I was eying the front door of a house I knew contained a bathroom in desperate need of cleaning. Lucky me, I sulked, my hand poised to open the door.

And then the phone rang.

I looked at Paul, sighed, and pasted an I-love-my-job smile on my face. “Studio 6 – this is Laurie!” I gushed, expecting a bride-to-be on the other end (our ‘real’ jobs are with the wedding studio).

“Is this…Laurie Isop?” queried the lovely voice on the other end. I rolled my eyes. Darn solicitors, I thought. They aren’t even sure how to pronounce my name!

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Then I cried a little, and called my mom and sister.

What was the process like to produce the book? Did you make revisions? Did you have a hand in selecting the illustrator, Gwen Millward (whose illustrations I loved in GUESS WHAT I FOUND IN DRAGOD WOOD)?

My editor at Simon & Schuster worked closely with me to tweak and polish the manuscript. They were in charge of selecting the illustrator, and I was able to communicate my design ideas to her. Once the proofs started coming in it got super exciting!

What has been the best part of your experience with the Cheerios contest?

Actually winning the contest was fantastic and very emotional—it was something I wanted for a long time. It was like a whole new page was turning and I felt like doors were going to open for me, so that’s an exciting feeling. It’s all been very flattering and also validating. And, winning the contest has motivated me to write every day. The best part, though, was receiving a letter from a mother of a two-year-old boy in Illinois. She told me he had never said more than one-word “sentences.” She picked up the story in a box of Cheerios and read to him. Right away he asked for the story to be read again, and again! She wrote in her letter that his first sentence was “how do you hug a porcupine?” Pretty cool.

Wow. Now I’m crying! What a touching story. 

What are your upcoming plans? Do you have more books in the works?

I am working on a few different projects and I have several titles in various stages of the submission process. I’m incredibly excited to do some local readings and signings once “How Do You Hug a Porcupine?” is out in hardcover in July, and I’ve been invited to Boston to read/sign in some bookstores. Coast to coast!

What is your best piece of advice for new writer’s hoping to break into the children’s market?

Be persistent – don’t give up! Read your book to anyone that will listen and note their reaction. Are the children wide-eyed and wanting you to turn the pages? I also recommend writing in different settings; I used to write in coffee shops, libraries, karate places – anywhere that provided inspiration. And, of course, edit, edit, edit.

Thanks so much, Laurie! Congratulations and best wishes with your book!