Kid Lit Craft: Interview with Anna Staniszewski

by Olivia Fisher
published in Community

Hello fellow Kid Lit Writers! This week, I have the pleasure of introducing author Anna Staniszewski. 

Anna has been writing children’s books for 10 years now; her first book came out in 2011, and her most recent book, Double Clique: A Wish Novel, came out in December of 2021. She was born in Poland and moved to the US when she was five. Stories have always been a part of her life and have given her a voice. Anna has published picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books, a few of which I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

I had the opportunity to interview her and talk all about her books and her journey as a children’s book writer! I wish I had the space to share all of our fantastic interview, but Anna has some beautiful insights for you into the world of being a children’s book writer.  

Interview with Anna Staniszewski

What made you want to write for kids?

Anna Staniszewski: I knew pretty early on that I wanted to be a writer. Eventually, I started writing plays, and I went to college for playwriting, actually. After I graduated, I loved theater, but I didn’t love it enough to do it in such a tough industry, not that writing books is that much easier. 

So I started working on short stories instead, and I thought I was writing for adults. But I got some feedback from a critique partner who said, “You know, all your characters sound 13.” And I thought, “Hmm. That’s interesting.” Then I kind of thought back to all the books that had really meant something to me in my life and so many of them were books I had read when I was young. 

Right around that time, I wound up getting a job at the Eric Carle Museum in Western Massachusetts. I started working there, and I was surrounded by people who loved children’s books. I thought, “Maybe this is a sign. This is what I am supposed to be doing.” So I went back to grad school to learn how to write children’s books.

Olivia Fisher: That’s amazing! And that must have been such an experience working at the Eric Carle Museum!

What was the first book you published?

AS: So this was actually the fourth book that I wrote and the first one that got published. It was my book My Very UnFairy Tale Life, and it came out from Sourcebooks. This book basically took all the things that I loved when I was a kid and put them into one book. It’s like a funny fantasy that’s rooted in fairy tales, especially the darker ones. 

I had been trying to get published with like a couple darker stories. It had taken me like a year to find an agent, and I was querying multiple projects. Then it took us [my agent and I] a year to sell something. This was right around when dystopian was really big. 

So I had like some darker manuscripts that almost got picked up but didn’t, and while I was kind of struggling through all that I was really writing this book just to make myself giggled. It’s so often true for writers that we start down one path thinking, “Yeah, I’m going to do this thing.” And then all of a sudden, we find ourselves doing what we love and being able to publish.

OF: Did those other books ever end up getting picked up, or are they still on the shelves?

AS: They’re on the shelf, but I feel like I learned so much. I feel like you learn so much from every book that you write, and I always feel like you take little tidbits from books you put aside, and some element of those projects might work itself into another book. It was never a waste of time to write those books. It was the time I needed to really get better at my craft.

What was the publishing process like for your first book?

AS: I had queried a couple other books and got some really nice rejections, but they didn’t go anywhere. I was working on something new and that actually wound up winning the Pen New England Discovery Award. So while I was at the reception for that award, this agent came up to me and was like, “I’m a new agent. I’m looking for new clients. If you’re looking for an agent…” and I was like, “Oh!’ I’d been querying for like a year,” and so I wound up connecting with Amy Jill Packett who is still my agent now, and she signed me for a different project. That one came really close to selling, but it didn’t. Luckily, I was working on this other book, and that’s the one that sold. We sold it as a stand alone with series potential.

How has the publishing process changed for you? Did that process change after you published your first book?

AS: The publishing process has changed so much for me because my first book, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, I was writing for fun, so I had no plan. There was no outline. I would just work on it when I felt like it. And then to go from selling that book to suddenly having to write two sequels with a deadline, I had to learn so much about plotting and getting unstuck. 

That first book from the time I started it to the time that it was on shelves was probably about four years. And since then, I’ve gotten to be much more organized about my writing process. I’m still not an outliner necessarily, but I’ve gotten really into writing a synopsis of the whole story. 

I’ve also found that I work best when I have deadlines and have multiple projects going at the same time. If I’m working on one thing and I get stuck, then I need something else to work on while this other thing’s sitting for a while. I can’t afford to get stuck. I can’t afford to give up on something, especially if I have a deadline. So I feel like I’ve found different ways to stay motivated and focused.

Where did you get your inspiration for your latest book?

AS: So with the Clique series, Clique Here and Double Clique, they’re both kind of inspired by my middle school woes. I was not exactly popular in middle school, and I remember wishing there was some kind of magic, like a popularity formula, that I could use. 

Then, about three or four years ago, I was thinking about that again and trying to come up with a new idea for a story. I went back to that idea, but I want to try writing it as a realistic novel rather than something that was magical because that would have been too similar to the project I had just finished. 

I thought what if it wasn’t magic that this character was using to try to become popular? What if it was science? So basically, she uses science in the first book to try and hack popularity because she was being bullied at her old school, and now she’s starting over at a new school. She thinks if she could just be in the popular crowd then she’ll be safe from bullies. So she uses science to try to get in with the popular crowd, and of course, hijinks ensue. 

In the second book, Double Clique, she tries to use science to help her patch things up with her friend. So they were very fun to write.

OF: That’s fantastic! I know those are definitely issues that lots of kids can relate to in their middle school experience.

What’s next on your author journey?

AS: I always like trying new things. That’s how I went from writing middle grade to writing picture books to writing chapter books. I love writing all sorts of things in different genres and different formats for different audiences. 

Right now, I’ve been working on a work for hire series, which I’ve never done before, and it’s actually under a pen name. It’s the Simon Seahorse Series and they’re written under my pen name, Cora Reef, which is adorable.

OF: That’s so cute!

AS: The first three books of this series actually just came out last month, and I have a few of those in the works, which has been really fun to do. And then, speaking of trying new things, I’ve been working on graphic novels, middle grade ones. And I am actually using a lot of my playwriting skills that I’ve sort of dusted off because writing a graphic novel script is very similar to playwriting in a lot of ways. And then I’m just always playing around with new ideas on the side. I want to always keep learning and trying new things by challenging myself to write for a new genre, or format, or audience.

OF: Oh man, that is so cool, and the world of kids graphic novels has become so vibrant recently.

Anna, thank you for taking the time to share all of your incredible author journey with us, and congratulations on your latest book Double Clique! To read Anna’s books or follow along with her writing journey, feel free to visit her website.

Tell us in the comments: Have you ever read anything by Anna Staniszewski?

Olivia Fisher

Olivia Fisher is a children’s lit writer and freelance editor with an English degree from BYU-Idaho. When she isn’t dreaming about living in a treehouse or chasing down her two young boys, she enjoys curling up with a book, watching Star Wars, writing her next adventure, and trying to live in the state of child-like wonder that we all secretly, or not so secretly, miss. Follow her adventures on Twitter or Instagram, or hire her for your next editing escapade on Fiverr.

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