By Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton
have the honor of interviewing one of my dear friends, Lisa Amstutz. I have
watched Lisa blossom from an aspiring author to an amazingly successful
author of around 150 books, both nonfiction and fiction. Beyond her writing,
Lisa recently became an agent with Storm Literary Agency.
I'd like to discuss Lisa's life experiences, becoming an author, an agent, and her two latest titles, Amazing Amphibians (January 2021) and Mammal Mania (coming April 2021). Both of these titles are published by Chicago Review Press.
Lisa, you grew up with a passion for nature. Can you tell me something about your childhood that is a good memory of experiencing nature firsthand?
My father was an entomology professor, so he would take us out into fields or the woods to catch insects for his collection. It was fun to see what unusual specimens we could find. We also had good times hiking and camping as a family.
What was your favorite book growing up?
I can’t pick just one! But when I was small, I loved The Snowy Day and anything by Richard Scarry. Madeleine L’Engle’s books were favorites in my middle grade years.
Your college education revolved around biology and environmental science. How did this help you when you decided to turn your attention to writing?
Well, first of all, I'm really interested in those topics, so it was natural to write about them. My training gave me more confidence in writing about science accurately and may have opened a few doors with editors.
What has been the hardest thing for you to overcome as an author?
It took me years to find an agent; in hindsight I think I was focused more on writing whatever inspired me and less on what the market wanted. There needs to be a good balance there.
What has been your greatest joy as an author?
Letters and stories from readers who have enjoyed my books or made memories together because of them. The latter happens most often with Applesauce
Day, which is about a family making applesauce together.
In your book Amazing Amphibians, you cover a lot of ground: Amphibian anatomy, behavior, hibernation, conservation and more. You also included wonderful activities. How is your writing process in writing Amazing Amphibians different from your process in writing a book like Applesauce Day?
Applesauce Day was based on a family tradition and a spark of inspiration. It flowed out in a stream of consciousness one night. (Followed by many revisions, of course). Amazing Amphibians is a much longer, fact-heavy book, so I researched one topic at a time, wrote about it, then moved on to the next topic.
Mammal Mania will be available on April 20, 2021. It is full of so many interesting and fun facts along with 30 activities. What do you hope is your readers’ take-away?
they will gain an appreciation of the amazing diversity of mammals and learn
more about how they can help protect them.
You recently became a literary agent for Storm Literary Agency. What do you see as an agent that is the most common mistake made by aspiring authors?
Most of the stories I get are pretty good. They just do not stand out. Because I can sign <1% of the submissions I receive, the story needs to really grab me, and I’m sure it is the same for editors.
Many of my books are written for educational market publishers who focus almost entirely on school and library sales. These publishers do mostly series. However, trade publishers do series as well, and you can write up a proposal with a sample manuscript if you have an idea for one. Amazing Amphibians and Mammal Mania were both pitched as part of an existing series at Chicago Review Press, the Young Naturalists series.
Read tons of recently published children’s books to get an idea of what current trends and styles are. Read some books about writing for kids, join Facebook groups, and join SCBWI if you can. It’s a tough market to break into and it takes time to learn the craft. Be patient and keep learning, and celebrate your successes along the way!
Thank you, Lisa, for taking time to share your experience and thoughts with our readers. I am sure they will be as inspired by you as I am by your wonderful success. We look forward to reading Mammal Mania in April and to seeing what you have for us in the future.
Lisa Amstutz is the author of ~150 science and history books for kids. Her background includes a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science/Ecology. A former outdoor educator, she specializes in topics related to science, nature, and agriculture.
eight years as a freelance editor, working with individual authors and
publishing companies. She also served as Assistant Regional Advisor for
Ohio North and as a volunteer judge for Rate Your Story. Lisa recently
Storm Literary Agency as an Associate Literary Agent. Learn more at www.LisaAmstutz.com.
ABOUT THE BOOK
How big is a blue whale? Why does a sloth crawl from the safety of a tree to the ground once a week? How does a vampire bat feed?
Young nature enthusiasts will find answers to these questions and learn all sorts of fascinating facts about mammals in this full-color, interactive book. Mammal Mania explores what makes mammals unique, as well as their anatomy, behavior, and conservation needs.
Readers will learn to build a squirrel feeder, write a putrid poem, make an animal tracking station, and much more.
Thirty hands-on activities promote observation and analysis, writing and drawing, math and science, and nature literacy skills.