2018 BEST IN RHYME TOP 10 – Sue Fliess INTERVIEW BY Cathy C. Hall

2018 Best in Rhyme Logo

2018 Top 10 Best in Rhyme

mary had a litle lab


Wheee! It’s Sue Fliess (Pronounced “Fleece”)!

Sue Fliess, whose name is pronounced “fleece” (which is the perfect tie-in to her book, Mary Had a Little Lab) is a prolific picture book author as well as one of the authors with a book in our Top Ten Best in Rhyme Picture Books of 2018.


So off we go with lots of questions for Sue:


I LOVE Mary Had a Little Lab for so many reasons! But we’ll start with the rhyme since the book plays off the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” nursery rhyme. So which came first? The idea to write about a girl scientist with a problem, or the nursery rhyme inspiration for the book?


Well….sort of neither! I actually dreamt the title of this. Usually my dream ideas amount to nothing, but this one had legs. In my dream, someone asked me what I was working on and I rattled off this title. Of course, no such thing was happening, but I thought about it all morning after I woke up. As is the case with many of my stories, I decided to at least try to write an opening. I loved my opening (which stayed from first draft to final book), and the story felt like it wrote itself from there.



Besides the delightful play on the nursery rhyme, I love the STEM focus of the book. Is there a different approach you use when writing STEM books?


Yes, but it’s more about working STEM aspects into the storyline. Since I mostly write fiction, I can get away with STEM being creatively weaved in, as opposed to worrying about exact science, for example. With this particular story, the title gave me a head start. But when I could tell I wanted Mary to be a little on the ‘mad’ scientist side vs. just a straight-up scientist, I threw in some Rube Goldberg-esque inventing. So that gave it the E in STEM, along with the science part. But in a silly and humorous way.



And finally, I love your humor, which seems to be a trademark in your picture book style. I’m a big fan of all humorous picture books, but I wonder if humor is something that can be taught. If so, how can writers develop their funny bone?


Wow, I’m grateful that you said that because I feel like I’m figuring it out as I go each time, asking, is this funny? Corny? Or only funny to me? Either way, I would tell people to read funny picture books to get a feel for how writers work the humor into the storyline. Sometimes the answer is to leave room for the illustrator to inject the humor. I will often have an art note like: I picture this as a funny scene. Or, this is sarcasm.  In case my text does not make it obvious. Funny is hard to pull off. Bu this is why you have other writers read your work – to tell you what’s working or not working.



Oh! And here’s a question from one of the Rhyme Revolution members, Natalee Herring Creech, just for you:  Did you or your agent do anything special with the submission—Mary Had a Little Lab—because it was in rhyme? (Like avoid or target certain editors/publishers?)


Hi Natalee! Almost all of my books are in rhyme, so as opposed to avoiding certain editors or publishers, we usually target those that we know have liked my rhyming work in the past, whether they have published me or not. Very few editors we submit to now do not like rhyme, because that would be a waste of everyone’s time. As with any submission, you or your agent should do the homework to make sure the editors would be receptive to whatever style you’ve chosen to write your story in.



You have a book trailer for Mary Had a Little Lab (and most of your books!). I’m sure your background in marketing and copywriting is hugely helpful so do you produce your own book trailers? Do you think PB authors need book trailers?


I don’t think anyone needs a book trailer to be successful, but after publishing many books in this super crowded market, I’m looking for any tools I can use to help me avoid the same types of promotion of my books. A trailer is a little different than just showing the book cover over and over. So a book trailer is an easy (fairly easy—I taught myself) and fun way to have a teaser for a book—plus, people love watching videos. I do recommend keeping them at about 1 minute in length.

Loved that book! Best of everything in 2019 for you and yours AND your writing!


How about the best advice you ever got in your writing career? And what do you always tell any writer who wants to be a rhyming picture book author like you?


I’ve received a lot of good advice over the years. One piece of advice I got was: write like the writer next to you is writing the same story at the same time. Which goes hand in hand with this piece of advice: You’re only as good as your last book. Which sounds harsh. But essentially it means don’t publish/write a book and rest on your laurels. If you are going to continue publishing, you have to stay relevant, which means as soon as you finish one story, start working on the next. Because you never know what’s going to sell, when. But if you’re not writing, you won’t have anything to submit. For writers who want to be rhyming picture book authors, I always say start with the story. Then decide if the best way to tell it is in rhyme. If the answer is no, don’t force it into rhyme. Rhyme is just a vehicle for delivering your story. Next part of that is, read it out loud to yourself. Then have someone read it out loud to you. I still find that I think my story is polished, and then someone will read it out loud and stumble over parts of the rhyme. Then I fix and do it all again.



Thanks, Sue! And best of luck with Mary Had a Little Lab and all the books you have coming out in 2019! You can check out her terrific website for all her titles, published and upcoming, but you can’t leave until you go to her Videos tab and watch a parody video (or seven). SO much fun! I love Sue Fliess (pronounced “fleece”)—and you will, too!

sue fliess


Sue Fliess (“fleece”) is the bestselling author of Robots, Robots Everywhere!, How to Trap a Leprechaun, and more than 25 other children’s books including Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins, Ninja Camp, A Fairy Friend, Tons of Trucks, and many Little Golden Books. Her books have sold over 850,000 copies worldwide. Her background is in copywriting and PR/marketing, and her essays have appeared in O Magazine, HuffPo, Writer’s Digest, and more. Fliess has also written for Walt Disney. Her books have received honors from the SCBWI, have been used in school curricula, museum educational programs, and have even been translated into French, Korean and Chinese. The Bug Book was chosen for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Her books have won awards and accolades. She’s a member of SCBWI and The Children’s Book Guild of DC. She does book signings, school visits, and speaking engagements. Sue lives with her family and their dog in Northern Virginia. Visit her at http://www.suefliess.com.


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