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kellylightby Kelly Light

I don’t want to talk about feelings. I don’t want to pamper you. I’m not gonna nurture your spirit. I’m not gonna help you find your happy place where ideas grow like flowers.

I want to make you work.

I want to talk about just how hard you are going to have to work if you really want to create children’s books.

I’m gonna get real here, folks. I could try to inspire you with lots of spiritual mumbo jumbo, but I’d rather kick you in the tuchus.

‘Cause that is what you need. I’m gonna be tough. I am gonna go all medieval on that butt.

I wish I could get Samuel L. Jackson to read this post to you…but this is just me, the voice of experience..sending you some tough love today.


You now have one week left of PiBoIdMo. You’ve taken on the challenge. When the month is over – don’t put down the pencil.

Never put down the pencil.

I am talking commitment on a new level.

Ten minutes a day is not going to lead to getting a book written or drawn or dummied or submitted. If that’s what you have managed to do everyday for three weeks, making children’s books may not be the job for you.

I know, I know….you’re calling me some choice words right about now. Hear me out.

This month is about coming up with ideas. Which is an important first step. What are you going to do with those ideas?

An idea is just a spark. You have to cut down the trees and chop them into logs until your blistered and bleeding and collect kindling and learned how to build the right wood pile tee-pee…to make a fire…to make that spark ignite into a blaze.

You aren’t gonna get warm with just a spark.

You are gonna freeze like a motha #$%&#%.

Don’t stop after ten minutes. Don’t stop after a month.

This is hard work. This is hours and hours of work.

If you want to get published, want it more than anything or want it more than everyone else, than this is the job for you.

Job. Not dream. Not hobby.

If you are in this for the long haul, start your haul now. You want a career in this? Act like you already have one.

Fasten your seat belts while you have your “Butt in Chair,” folks, and only get out of it to go to the john!

If you really want this, keep reading. If you think you may get to that book dummy you have had on your desk for the last two years or you might write down that idea you had four years ago that you know is genius and a best seller and the next Fancy Nancy or Diary of a Wimpy Kid and you’ll get around to it after you’ve decided “you’re ready” and you’ve taken 24 more writing workshops….you may want to stop reading now.

I’m about to get meaner.


I said you need to want this more than everyone else.

I wanted this more than you.

Harsh, right?

But true.

I wanted this so badly I was like a pitt bull. Jaws of steal clamped down on this career.

Who do you think of as the people successful in publishing?

Those people wanted to be in it more than everybody else.

They had the drive. The determination.

They were like dogs on a bone.

They write to write and draw to draw, day after day, after day.

They don’t just consider it a hard job that they love….but also consider it oxygen.

You can’t exist without oxygen. You can’t only breathe for ten minutes a day.

You are dedicating the month of November to generate picture book ideas. Dedicate the next 12 months to turning your ideas into manuscripts and book dummies.

Ideas are not delivered under your pillow by the Idea Fairy. Ideas are generated, manufactured by work. You need to be an idea factory. A word factory. An image factory.

You have to grind these ideas into something. You have to pound them into shape. You have to process them into something useful, intelligent, imaginative and appealing.

You have to billow steam and pollute your life to make something that matters.


The biggest pieces of the 1000 piece puzzle to publication are hard work, passion, believing in yourself, perseverance, persistence, patience and opportunity.

Talent—or a better word, SKILL—is the last and smallest piece of the puzzle. When all other pieces have been put in place…you need the the skills developed and ready for when opportunity knocks. Or YOU kick down the #@$@%*$ door.

You had better have the goods and be ready to work. You can only be ready if you are ALWAYS creating new work.


That’s in like, everyday.

I now work 7 days a week. 10 hours a day.

I worked hard to get here but I had no idea how much harder I would work once I got books.

So work that tuchus off this week. Don’t half-ass it.


What you have come up with this month will not be brilliant. But what you think has potential should not sit on your desk until the next PiboIdMo.

Finish it. Really, finish it. Finish one. The next one will be easier. And the next. Just finish.

Polish it. It’s no good until you rework it, over and over……..

Send it off. To a crit group. To an agent. To a editor. If you don’t submit, nothing will ever happen. Nothing. Ever. Nada. Zip. Ze-ro.

Believe in it and yourself. You are as much a work in progress as your work. Own your work where it is right now. Make no excuses for it or where you are in your development at this very moment.

The Beatles could never have made “Hey Jude” without first making “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”.

Take your work in hand and hand – it – over – to be looked at by many people who know more than you.

Move on. NEXT! Next challenge, next idea, next month, next story, next project… you are factory now, remember? DO NOT PRESS THAT BIG RED STOP BUTTON. DO NOT SHUT DOWN THE LINE.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Think of me. By next PiboIdmo, I will have met 4 book deadlines working 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

I wanted it more than you. Now YOU go—beat ME at wanting it.

My inspirational foot is kicking your backside. Go to work.

Don’t make me come over there.


No Samuel L. Jacksons were harmed in the making of this post.


Kelly Light has a lot of books to work on. She is illustrator of “The Quirks” series from Bloomsbury. “Elvis and the Underdogs” from Balzer and Bray, her picture book “Louise Loves Art” is out next Fall 2014 from Balzer and Bray with more Louise books to follow,
“just Add Glitter” comes out 2016 from Beach Lane Books and the hits just keep on coming…

Check out Kelly’s work at

All opinions expressed above were solely Kelly’s and not the opinions of PiBoIdMo or it’s affiliates.


Kelly is giving away signed copies of “The Quirks” and “Elvis and The Underdogs”.

Two winners will be randomly selected at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

“This person has no business being in children’s books.”

Read that again.

Imagine it being said in front of a crowd of over a hundred of your peers and various industry editors and art directors… at the NY SCBWI conference.

Your work is up in front of a big auditorium on a video screen with a panel with loud microphones when these words are spoken…

Imagine that person that it was said about was YOU.

DON”T WORRY! It wasn’t.

It was ME.

In 2009.

Yes. An art director declared me as a person who has NO BUSINESS being in children’s books … in front of the entire world of children’s books.

It felt worse than the worst college art critique I could have ever imagined. I was a grown woman. I had already had a hot career as a hot shot in cartoon merchandise. I shrunk in my seat. I wanted to run out of the room. My heart pounded.

I went home that night on the train back to Long Island… and cried. Crying on The Long Island Rail Road is like visiting Dante’s bonus level of hell. Those words echoing in my head…

The Art Director who said it—we shall call: “The A.D. WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED”—but that name was burned into my mind. Branded onto my frontal lobe. I went home to google the crap out of this person. Bleary and blood-shot-eyed hours later…I knew everything they had ever worked on. I was sure some day… I’d encounter this A.D…

Now, I wasn’t automatically like Scarlet O’Hara shaking my fist in the air against the sunset vowing that “Tomorrow is another day!” No… I hit rock bottom. I questioned it all. Why? Why children’s books? Was I nuts to think I was good enough? Was I certifiably insane to think that I had the talent and ideas and stories to share with kids?

I went down, down, down into a pit of self doubt. I spent the good part of the next six months doing nothing. Hanging on to those words for a good long while…. but…

You just can’t keep a good pencil down… so eventually, I found myself, drawing myself out of that hole. I drew for myself. I made all kinds of silly art. Whatever I wanted to draw and paint, I made. I allowed myself to indulge in my imaginative whims. Whatever floated my boat, floated out of my pencil. This was new. The feeling of having nothing to lose, so why not? I was no longer thinking about what I thought the publishing industry wanted to see. I was drawing what I wanted to see for myself. I told myself stories as I drew. I wrote them down in messy notebooks.

Funny thing about this… I liked what I was drawing. So, I put it into my portfolio.

Then I had two important people enter my life. One a successful illustrator, who told me I WAS good. The other, my first agent. Who—obviously thought I was good enough to sign. That was the first time I thought of The A.D. Who Must Not be Named… and thought “…one day…you are gonna eat your words…!”

A year went by. I showed my portfolio a lot. The more I showed it—the better I got at reading the reviewer’s body language and interpreting the feedback. I listened at critiques but I chewed up the feedback and spit out what did not taste right.

I started to trust my own vision. The vision of what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be as an illustrator and maybe just maybe, a writer too.

I got my first books as an illustrator. One was a novelty book and some early readers. They were for small publishers and I found the work to be not what I wanted for myself. I wanted a picture book with a big publisher.

I went back to the 2011 SCBWI NY Winter Conference. I entered a piece in the art showcase and won an honor award. I got up on the same stage where “A.D. Gate “ went down and got hugs and recognition. Talk about a weird moment. I thought of that Art Director then… and those words. This time—those words felt like a dare.

“Oh yeah, A.D. Who Must Not be Named? I have no business in children’s books? You just watch me…” I was hoping that person would be there. I found out who was on the jury for the show. (The Art Director Who Must Not Be Named was not one of them.) I decided to find each one of the judges and meet them.

I did that for the next six months. I was like a bounty hunter. I crossed each one of the judges of a list as I met them. I made some amazing connections. I got my all of my work and myself in front of the eyes that already had a good feeling about what I do.

Some time went by. I did a lot of work on story ideas and characters. Still no bites from big publishers… so I did something way out of my comfort zone. I applied to give a character design workshop at the NE SCBWI Spring 2012 conference. While I was there… I got my first offer.

Donna Mark, Art Director at Bloomsbury wanted me to illustrate a middle grade chapter book called “The Quirks – Welcome to Normal”.


Take that Art Director Who Must Not Be Named.

Then I got a call from Alison Donalty, Art Director at Balzer and Bray, an imprint at Harper Collins. Another middle grade chapter book.


Those words from The A.D. Who Must Not Be Named were barely audible any longer. Now I HAD business in children’s books!

Next—an un-ending amount of calls about a character on a postcard that I mailed out… all from art directors and agents from all of the major publishing houses…

My first picture book as author/illustrator will be from Balzer and Bray as well , “Louise Loves Art”.

Those words in my head? Silenced.

“Who were you again? Oh, an art director? Oh yeah… that one who said something cruel…I think I remember your name… wait… I may have to google you…”

TWO more picture books with Harper Collins.

You, A.D. Who Must Not Be Named, have been (almost entirely) wiped from my memory.

You see, it’s kind of fabulous to have revenge—validation—someone to point to as a huge road block that I decided to drive through. I defied his label of me because only I can define myself. Don’t tell me I can’t—cause I will show you—not just that I can- but I will—and I will do it big.

Maybe… just maybe… I should be a tad grateful. That person forced me to grow. They could have been a hell of a lot more tactful in their choice of words in front of all of those people!!!! BUT—they don’t call these things “growing pains” for nothing….

I want everyone to take away from this, REJECTION is not a done deal. Critiques are not the end of the world. Public humiliation is tough—but if you know yourself—you can shed it. IF you hold on to who you are and what you do that is uniquely you and do it to the best of your ability. Do not stop! Keep getting better through the work. Follow your own heart—your own head—the beat of your own drum. Show those people in publishing—YOU are here.

These days, I am contacted, happily, by many art directors.

Last week, The A.D. Who Must Not Be Named contacted me. “Just wanted to drop a line to say that I love your work.”

One day—I will shake that hand and be gracious—cause that is what professionals do, but in my head… I will hear… BAZINGA!!!!

Kelly Light’s pencil is sharpened and she’s not afraid to use it.. She is currently working hard on her first three books. All due out Spring 2014: ,THE QUIRKS – WELCOME TO NORMAL, written by Erin Soderberg (Bloomsbury), ELVIS AND THE UNDERDOGS, written by Jenny Lee (Balzer and Bray), LOUISE LOVES ART, by Kelly Light (Balzer and Bray). Spring 2015 brings LOLA KNOWS A LOT, by Jenna McCarthy (Harper Collins).

Kelly lives in Long Island and currently has power!! She is, right now, drawing in her attic studio surrounded by old radios, books, cartoon collectibles and is usually singing very loudly. Head over to Kelly’s website and read her blog all the way back to 2009 and maybe you can figure out who The Art Director Who Must Not Be Named is! Sketch along with her on Twitter @kellylight.

I love Kelly’s art, and Louise loves art period, and now you can love both Kelly *and* Louise because you can win a Louise sketch by Kelly! Just comment on this post to enter (one comment per person). A winner will be randomly selected one week from today. Good luck!


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As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019

illus by Ross MacDonald
October 15, 2019

illus by Vivienne To
Spring 2020

illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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