Co-authors of Shark Nate-O, I Am Famous, I Used to Be Famous, Operation Photobomb, and Ronan the Librarian (coming April 21, 2020)
About Tara and Becky:
Tara Luebbe is a children’s toy and bookstore owner turned picture book writer. She lives with her husband and three boys in Fort Mill, South Carolina. When she is not writing she can be found indoctrinating her boys in all things Star Wars or reading subversive picture books. She is a member of SCBWI Carolinas.
Becky Cattie was a casting producer for reality TV shows like NBC’s America’s Got Talent, ABC’s Extreme Makeover and E!’s The Simple Life. She is currently a creative recruiter residing in Chicago, Illinois. Becky can be found going to the theater, eating too much sushi and spoiling her nephews. She is a member of SCBWI Illinois.
Tara and Becky are giving away a copy of their latest book, OPERATION PHOTOBOMB, illustrated by Matthew Rivera. To enter, please see instructions at the bottom of this post.
Now on to the interview …
Thank you for joining me today. I know you’ve told the story many times, but for those who don’t know, can you tell us how you got into writing picture books together?
Tara: I’d owned a toy and bookstore and had always wanted to try my hand at writing picture books, but never had enough time. We’d closed the store to move for my husband’s job and I finally had the time to try. Becky and I never really planned to do this together, it just sort of fell into place after I sent her my first (really BAD) manuscript to look over. When it came back half changed, I asked her if she wanted to do this with me.
After you sent Becky that first manuscript and she sent back her revisions, what made you decide that she needed to be a co-author, and not just a critique partner? Where does that line fall in your minds?
Tara: I think the simple fact that she was my sister helped me feel comfortable making that leap, because I have lots of critique partners who I don’t ask to co-write. It just seemed like the right thing to do, and she seemed to have a knack for it. Our parents were a bit nervous about the situation, to be honest. They did not want any family feuding, but it has worked out wonderfully.
What does the process of writing a picture book together look like for you? Do you have a specific method? (For example, do you work on a specific schedule? Do you meet in person or communicate electronically?)
Tara: We live in different cities, so we mostly work online, on the phone, or even by text sometimes. We are together a few weeks a year and try to get something done in person whenever possible. We wrote the first draft of I AM FAMOUS over Christmas break one afternoon. Becky attends all the local SCBWI Illinois conferences and I attend the SCBWI Carolinas conferences. Then we try to go to one big conference together every year. We don’t set schedules, because we’ve found that when we force ourselves to stick to a timeline (except when edits are due to an editor), we are not as successful.
Does one of you typically generate ideas, write the first draft, revise, and/or market your books, or do you collaborate throughout the process?
Tara: When we decide to write a new book, we have a phone call and run through our idea list and pick one to try. Then we start brainstorming the plot. Since this is my only day job and Becky has to be at work all day, I tend to write all the first drafts and then send them to her.
Becky: Once I get a rough draft from Tara, I go through it, make suggestions, and add what I can. Then Tara will revise it again. After that, we each take it to our various critique groups and share the feedback, then we make more changes. Once we have polished and polished, we send it to our agent and see what she says. We both share in the marketing duties equally.
What are each of your strengths? Do you both shine in the same areas, or do your strengths complement the other’s weaknesses?
Tara: I have the strongest market knowledge and am the best at determining which of our ideas is the right one to pursue. My years as a children’s bookstore owner have given me a good handle on what will actually sell. I am very in tune with what is coming out in the picture book market, so we make sure our ideas aren’t already out there or too difficult to sell. So I take the lead on most of the ideas we write.
Becky: My strength is recognizing plot holes and fine-tuning character development, which comes from my drama and theater background. I have also been known to come up with a few good endings.
How do you combine your writing styles and visions for a story? Are you always on the same page?
Tara: Maybe it’s because we’re related that we have a very similar voice? Whatever the reason, we’ve not had any issues with this and have had the same style thus far. I guess we’re just lucky this is the case, so we don’t have to fight about it.
That’s great! How do you work through your creative differences if/when they do arise?
Tara: Well I am the older sister, so I just act bossy and decide. I’m kidding, but luckily, we’ve not had any drastic issues yet. We are both fairly open minded. We want the best for the book and we both understand “kill your darlings” well. Because we flesh out the plot ahead of time, before writing a word, this has never been a problem. If we run into this in the future, our next step would be to ask CPs for input and see if one solution comes out on top.
LOL. I’m a bossy older sister, too. 🙂 Do you also have separate kidlit projects that you are individually writing?
Becky: Not at this point. We only write as a team.
How did you find your agent? Did you find it more challenging to query a collaboration?
Becky: We found our agent via a regular slush query, referencing a #MSWL tweet. We’d heard a rumor that it was hard to get an agent to represent co-authors. To combat that possibility, we made it crystal clear in the query that we were looking for representation as a “team” and would function like one client, and not have separate work to alleviate any hesitation an agent might have when he/she saw two names on a query.
What advice would you give to other author teams (or would-be collaborators)?
Tara: I think the most important thing to remember when collaborating with anyone on a writing project is to remain open minded, even if you have a specific vision in mind for your manuscript. Think about the author-illustrator relationship, for example; when an author sends his or her words to an illustrator, the story as a whole emerges with so much more detail and depth, simply because someone else has applied his or her vision to the work. In an author collaboration, you are building and expanding this vision as a team, using each other as springboards for new ideas, and journeying through the creative process of writing a book together. It is really fun and exciting when you have the ideal writing partner!
It sounds amazing! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and give us a peek into your process.
Tara and Becky have generously agreed to gift one copy of their latest book, OPERATION PHOTOBOMB, to one lucky winner. To enter, please follow Tara, Becky, and me (Rachel) on Twitter, follow this blog, and comment below by 11/2/19.