Betsy Snyder: ‘Give yourself a poetry challenge’

By Maryann Yin Comment

Happy National Poetry Month! All throughout April, we will interview poets about working in this digital age. Recently, we spoke with award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Betsy Snyder.

In the past, Snyder (pictured, via) has published two picture books that feature haikus, Haiku Baby and I Haiku You. She has been celebrating poetry by tweeting one haiku a day all month long. Check out the highlights from our interview below…

Q: How did you publish your first book?
A: I have two answers: 1. Peanut Butter & Jellyfishes: A Very Silly Alphabet Book was my first chance to illustrate a picture book. Brian Cleary and I both worked at American Greetings—he as an editor and I as an artist. In 2005, Brian saw some of my work and asked if I would be interested in illustrating his next manuscript, which was already under contract with Lerner Books. It was very serendipitous because I had always wanted to illustrate children’s books and had just decided it would be a good year to move in that direction. I jumped at the opportunity, sent my portfolio to Brian’s editor at Lerner, and was fortunate enough to get paired up with Brian’s book.

2. Haiku Baby was my first chance to both write and illustrate a book. While I was still working full-time at American Greetings, my agent told me there was an editor at Random House that liked my art and wondered if I did any writing (she was specifically looking for novelty book ideas for baby). I had never pitched an idea to a publisher before and I didn’t even know what a novelty book was, but I spent a few weeks putting some ideas down on paper and sent them off. I really didn’t expect anything to come out of it. You can imagine my surprise when I got an email from my agent with the subject line: “Get out the champagne!!!” Random House had offered me a three-book contract, the first book being Haiku Baby, and now I’m writing my fifth book for them. I know I was really lucky to land a book deal on my first try, but I also know part of it was seizing a good opportunity when it came my way.

Q: Has the Internet changed the way you interact with readers?
A: Writing and illustrating can be solitary at times— I learn so much when I can interact with others and exchange ideas. The Internet really helps me connect with my readers, get feedback, and share news. For example, to celebrate National Poetry Month, I’m using Twitter to share a haiku a day for all of April. I’m also inviting others to join me in tweeting their own haiku for a chance to win a copy of my newest book, I Haiku You. It’s a fun way to spread the haiku love! If anyone wants to jump in and participate, here’s the scoop:

Q: Any tips for reading poetry out loud?
A: Hm, I would say immerse yourself in the moment of reading poetry, just as you would immerse yourself in the moment for writing it. Let the sounds of the words set the mood. Be yourself and have fun with it!

Q: What advice can you share for aspiring poets?
A: Sometimes a haiku starts out as one thought, but ends up as something entirely different. Play with the words and see where it takes you! Also, give yourself a poetry challenge to be accountable to. Committing myself to writing a haiku a day this month has shown me that bits of inspiration are everywhere, even in seemingly mundane moments. It’s making me recognize and appreciate the little moments in the day so much more, which is exactly what haiku is all about. I’ve also been using my pockets of down-time (waiting in a doctor’s office, lounging on the couch, riding in the car) to write my haiku—so it’s not stealing time from my day at all.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: More books! I have a new picture book called It’s a Firefly Night (by Dianne Ochiltree, Blue Apple Books) coming this May. I’m currently working on a follow-up book to Have You Ever Tickled a Tiger? with Random House. I also have a two-book contract pending for a board book series I’m VERY excited about! And I have a gazillion other book ideas I just need to find the time to work on—hopefully a few of them will grow into something good! Stay tuned…