Guest Post: Jennifer Swanson


 We welcome Jen Swanson to our blog this month. What a thrill to have her on our page! A celebrated author, Jen has had multiple successes navigating through and contributing to the Kid lit world. Thanks for stopping by and sharing some words of wisdom with our readers, Jen. Continued success on your journey.

                                     BE BOLD!

                                   by Jennifer Swanson

      People often ask me for advice about how to manage their career. After over 15 years and 45 books in this industry, I smile. I’m not sure it’s possible to give anyone advice about how to navigate a career as an author. Everyone’s journey is different. You get out of it what you put into it (usually). But when pressed, I give them the two words that have guided me throughout mine: BE BOLD.

That sounds good, doesn’t it? What exactly does it mean?


Taking advantage of opportunities offered to you.

Applying for opportunities you think you have no chance of getting.

Politely asking for something that might be out of your reach (assuming you are not doing anything on the list below)

BELIEVING in yourself, even when you find that difficult.

When is a good time to BE BOLD? 

 1. When you’re at a writer’s conference, during the mixer, consider going over and chatting with an agent or editor. DON’T pitch to them. Just talk to them about normal things. How’s the weather? Do you have a pet? Isn’t it a bit freezing in here? Those types of conversations will stick with the person much longer (and much more positively) than pitching.

Then, when you email them your submission (according to the rules), start out with, “It was so nice chatting with you a X. That way they might remember you.”  It works. I’ve done this. It is not a guarantee of a sale or anything, but if you make connections with agents and editors, in the long run, it helps you to feel more confident about yourself.


( I met these editors at conferences, most before I worked with them—note meeting an editor does NOT guarantee a sell.  I’ve met plenty of editors who haven’t bought any of my books… yet 😉)


2. When you really, really want to get a certain expert to help you or go to an amazing place to visit. Start out by asking. I mean, you never know. I really wanted to get a quote from Fabien Cousteau for my Astronaut-Aquanaut book. It just so happens that I met a university professor who is also an aquanaut who knew Fabien. I politely asked to be connected to Fabien. It took about six months for him to respond, but eventually I got my quote. And went on to work on a couple other things with him.


When I wanted to visit CERN on their Open Day, I dug until I found their PR department, and wrote them a letter. I told them who I was and why I wanted to come, took a deep breath and hit send! Three weeks later they responded with a private tour of the Alice detector. OMG! Was that amazing!


3. When you need a change in your career. Let’s face it, sometimes this writing gig gets us down. Even if you’re published multiple times, you can still experience imposter syndrome. Like many others, I was having a hard time getting work during the pandemic. So, I decided to… start a science podcast for kids! Who knew if it would lead anywhere, but I did know where to get guests. I contacted all of the experts I’d worked with on my books. Luckily, most of them said yes (even Fabien!). 

Today, my Solve It for Kids podcast is over 150 episodes and going strong.


 Let me add a final caveat though, being bold does NOT mean:

·         That you don’t have to follow submission rules of agents and editors

·         That you can submit more than the allowed amount from a conference

·         That you should ask a fellow writer for their contacts (unless you’re really good friends)

 I added that second list above because I want to be clear. I have been bold in my career and sometimes it has worked out. Other times, it has not. (but that’s for another blog post 😊)

So, go out and--BE BOLD!  Have the confidence to take the writing world by storm. Or at the very least, write something really cool that makes you happy.


   Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of more than 50 books for children. Her awards include: three Florida Book Awards, a Parent’s Choice GOLD award, a Kirkus Best Book of 2021, AAAS/Subaru Prize semifinalist, and multiple NSTA BEST STEM awards. Jennifer is the founder of the STEMTuesday blog, STEAMTeamBooks, and the Solve It! for Kids podcast. She has presented at NSTA conferences, the Atlanta Science Festival, the World Science Festival, and the Library of Congress' National Book Festival.









Who we are? Then and now?

This is Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton and I thought you all might enjoy a little back story on the members of Six Pens.

When did you first get the itch to be a writer?

Laurie: I got hooked on writing in fifth grade. In ninth grade I had a very encouraging teacher, but it wasn’t until I became a kindergarten teacher that I decided to try my hand at writing.

What I didn’t do initially was my homework. I assumed that because I read multiple stories to my
children daily that I would automatically be able to write. So, my first story had two main characters, two main points of view, and the plot was meager at best.

What I learned was I needed to go back and educate myself. I attended classes, workshops, conferences and read every how-to book I could get my hands on. Probably the best three resources for my education were: attending a Highlights Writer’s Conference, initiated by Kent Brown, joining The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and reading every How To Write For Children book available.

As a result of attending events I found the networking, the encouragement, the critiques, the speakers, the rejections all worked together for my eventual success. It took me a total of 12 years of stumbling, educating myself, participating in critiques, classes, and conferences, submitting, and receiving piles of rejections before I finally accomplished my first published book, Why Cowboys Sleep With Their Boots On, Pelican Publishing, 1994. Since then I have had 62 titles published in the trade, craft, educational, Christian, and work-for-hire markets.

What advice do you have for people wanting to become writers?

Laurie: 1. My best advice is to educate yourself. Read, read, read!

2. Attend every conference, workshop, library speaker, in your genre that you can afford to participate in.

3.Allow your work to be critiqued. Do not defend your work. Listen. Then incorporate what rings true to you.

4. Be tenacious. Do not give up when you receive a bad critique, or another rejection. Listen, learn and keep moving forward. The people who make it in the field do not give up.

Best part of being an author?

Laurie: When I see a child listening to or reading one of my books.

Worst part of being an author?

Laurie: Having books go out of print.

Gloria G. Adams

When did you first get the itch to be a writer?

Gloria: As a kid, I always had my nose in a book. The local library was practically my second home and authors were my heroes. I dreamed about becoming a writer when I grew up and even majored in English in college. But I was steered away from writing as a career and ended up eventually becoming a children’s librarian.

I loved my library career! But I never lost my dream of becoming a writer. I made up a lot of my own stories for story hour and, as I read picture books to my preschoolers, hoped that someday a librarian would be reading books in story hour that were written by me.

I was fortunate to have my dream come true! But getting there was a long journey. I remember thinking that it would be easy to write picture books since I had read so many over the years as a librarian. Boy, was I wrong!

 I had a lot of learning to do. I took writing courses, read books on writing, joined SCBWI and was fortunate to find not one, but two critique groups with amazing authors. One of them started as a mentoring group led by prolific author, Laurie Knowlton, from whom I have learned so much. And of course, I wrote and rewrote and…well, I’m still learning, taking webinars, reading articles, and writing and rewriting. I’ve found that the writing community is all about sharing, teaching, and encouraging.

I have a great agent and have been published traditionally as well as independently through my self-publishing company, Slanted Ink. I also started a critique editing company with a partner, author Jean Daigneau, called Two-4-One Kid Critiques.

What advice do you have for people wanting to become writers? 

Gloria: Learn all you can, not just about writing, but about the publishing business. Join writing/critique groups and professional associations. Read the kinds of books you want to write and practice, practice, practice.

Best part of being an author? 

Gloria: Seeing my books on the shelf at the library where I used to work, finding out that one of my books helped my great nephew with his reading, and finally being able to say, “I’m an author.”

Worst part of being an author?

The frustration of having editors want your book, but then the book getting turned down by the acquisition department.  and


Lisa Amstutz

When did you first get the itch to be a writer?

Lisa: I always loved to read and kept a journal intermittently as a kid, but never thought about writing until I was in my 20s. Then I proceeded to read every book in three local libraries about writing. However, it took me 10 years to work up the courage to submit something for publication. Once I finally started, I wrote for magazines and the local newspaper for several years before venturing into books. In 2009, I discovered the world of children’s writing and haven’t looked back! 

What advice do you have for people wanting to become writers?

Lisa: Don’t let fears and insecurities keep you from your dreams. Do your homework – go to the library, take classes if you can, and look for resources online to help you learn the craft of writing and understand how the market works. And don’t give up – the first stories you write may never sell, but each one will teach you something. Writing is a journey, not a sprint. 

Best part of being an author?

Lisa: Connecting with readers is definitely the best part!

Worst part of being an author?

Lisa: Rejections. But they are just part of the process for a working writer.

Kate Carroll

When did you first get the itch to be a writer? 

Kate:  I can’t say exactly when I wanted to BE a writer, but it was always my favorite subject, next to reading. I pursued a career in elementary education and found myself writing supplemental stories for my struggling second grade readers and penning plays for my class to perform. I didn’t think of it as writing, but more of way for my students to succeed at learning.
One fall, I needed cce credits, so, I randomly took an online class on creative writing.  That was the first time I realized writing was more than a solo activity. The professor encouraged us to share homework, support each other and join professional organizations like SCBWI. Which is what I did, and which is where I met my fabulous fellow pens. 
That first SCBWI conference caught me swimming in water way over my head. But I didn’t care, I was hooked. Slowly, I began to understand the challenges of writing for children. In fact, my first ever critique was a disaster. I think the editor was as stunned and didn’t have much to say except to tell me that most of my story was missing!  Shaken but undaunted, I kept diving into the deep to learn the lessons of plot, character development, climax, theme.  I never stopped believing that I could produce some publishable work. 
Five years later, I sold to Cricket Magazine, followed by Highlights and Faces Magazines, I picked up credits and the courage to keep going, to keep studying the craft, to keep tapping into the world around me and to lean on my kid lit crew. Even as an agented writer, my work ethic remains the same. My picture book hopes loom large… stay tuned for that big news!

What advice do you have for people wanting to become writers?

Kate: Study the craft. Whether you want to write picture books, middle grade or YA, learn everything you can about the genre. Read books, dissect them and repeat. 
Develop a community – even if it is only one fellow writer. Be brave. Have a thick skin. It will help your manuscript in ways you can't imagine.
Be patient! Success rarely happens overnight.

Best part of being an author? 

Kate: I love that my writing can be an unforgettable part of a child’s life.

Worst part of being an author?

Kate: Not having the time to write when I get an idea brewing in my head.


Lana Wayne Koehler

When did you first get the itch to be a writer?

 Lana: I always remember writing but never thought about doing it professionally until I wanted to share a particular story that I had written. I attended a writer’s group at my community library and read my story. I got what I now know was a kind reception and from there, caught the bug to improve.

I began to hang out with other writers and listen to their stories of encouragement and defeat and
realized that I knew nothing about the craft that I wanted to pursue.

From there, I joined writer’s groups and local organizations like SBWI. I began to attend classes and conferences and met many others who had a thirst for learning more about writing. I had finally found my people!

I went to a Highlights retreat in Honesdale, PA, and began to really work at my craft. There, I met editors, agents, and fellow writers and learned how to hone the craft I was starting to understand.

What advice do you have for people wanting to become writers?

Lana: Read what you want to write. See what others have done with your genre. Research your subject matter. Become an expert in every story you want to write.

Best part of being an author?

Lana: Sharing what I have learned by writing what people want to read and meeting those readers! I once asked a little boy what his favorite animal was from my book about allergies and he said, “The rabbit.” My book didn’t have a rabbit in it. I found, after close inspection, my illustrator had included a rabbit on the cover. Always trust your readers opinions!

Worst part of being an author?

Lana: Putting time into a project and not finding an editor who was interested. It can be hard to remain optimistic and persistent in the face of rejection.

Gloria Reichert

When did you first get the itch to be a writer?

Gloria Reichert: I am not sure I can precisely pinpoint when I realized I wanted to write. It seemed to evolve. In high school, I had to write a theme every week for four years, and during college, as an education major, I was always writing something. My last quarter I had 14 papers to write! Writing was a part of my life. My desire to write for children became apparent during my teaching career. Using picture books as part of my teaching made me realize and appreciate the value of this genre. I came to regard them as little books with big ideas. I remember stating to my students that one of my goals was to write picture books. I still have a thank you note written by one of my students at the end of the year. In the note, she wishes me good luck in writing picture books.

Once I left teaching, my first step in my quest to write for children was to contact the local library to see what direction they could give me. They suggested I contact the wonderful Laurie Knowlton. (Actually, I remembered her, since she had taught a workshop I attended as a teacher.) When I spoke to Laurie all those years ago, she advised me to join The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and to educate myself by reading books on the craft of writing. I took her advice and participated in workshops of all kinds and did all I could to hone my talents. Educating myself as a writer continues to this day.

What advice do you have for people wanting to become writers?

Gloria Reichert: Those who wish to become writers should educate themselves and find a critique group. It is also important to keep reading, not only books in the genre in which they wish to write but also current adult writing. Never give up. Be persistent. There is not one published author who ever gave up.

I also think it is important not to compare yourself to other authors. All of our roads to being published are different. Our uniqueness will eventually make our work stand out.

Best part of being an author?

Gloria Reichert: I appreciate having fun when creating, wordsmithing, and challenging myself to make my manuscripts better. I also appreciate knowing that my words have the potential to change a child’s life for the better in some way. As I have participated in workshops, conferences, classes. and critiques, I’ve met many other authors and illustrators who are among the kindest, nicest, people in the world.

Worst part of being an author?

Gloria Reichert: To me, rejections and all the time it takes to hear from editors are among the worst parts of being an author.