March 15, 2019

Birth Stories for Books, BUG, by Robin Koontz

from BUG by Robin Koontz and Amy Proud
I am so pleased to share author, Robin Koontz's, birth story for her forthcoming picture book, BUG (illustrated by Amy Proud, Sterling Publishing, April, 2019).

Robin is one of the first people I met in the local writing community when I started on my path to publication journey about 15 years ago. I attended my first writing conference (the Pacific Northwest Children's Writing and Illustrating Conference, facilitated by Linda Zuckerman) in the summer of 2004. One of the most valuable take-aways from that conference was the advice to join SCBWI, which I immediately did. Soon after, I received a welcoming email from Robin, who was the Regional Advisor for SCBWI-Oregon at that time. Robin let me know how to get connected with a critique group, she sent me info about local events that SCBWI-Oregon was hosting, and she sent me a sample of the local chapter's newsletter, as well as a link to the online chat group.

Soon after reaching out to Robin, I started attending SCBWI-Oregon events and volunteering to help with events and other logistical aspects of the chapter. It was through these experiences, and the people I met through these experiences, that I found my writing community, and found my way to writing and revising manuscripts that would eventually become my body of work. Thank you Robin, for helping me learn how to navigate this crazy world of publishing, and thank you for taking the time to share your path to publication story for your latest book, BUG.

Planting the Seeds for Publication
by Robin Koontz   

Thanks, Dawn, for the invitation to share the birth story of Bug, my new picture book being released on April 2, 2019.

The seed for Bug was planted when I was about five years old. I loved bugs and I loved to draw, while school, including math, was not on my list of loved things. I grew up to pursue a career in art, and first began illustrating children’s books in 1985. My fascination with bugs and all other animals continued, and they played major roles in my various projects.

Up All Night Counting and Creepy Crawly Colors, pop-up books written and illustrated by Robin Koontz 

In those good old days, children’s books were much easier to get published. Editors would take on a diamond in the rough and work with a writer to get it polished. And once published, nobody seemed to mind if a book wasn’t a big-seller. Back then, quality and variety mattered more than sales numbers.

During that period, I published seven picture books and six early-readers, almost all of which I illustrated. I also worked long hours illustrating activity books and other educational products for School Zone Publishing Company. I made good money doing what I loved. Life was sweet.

Then, long story short, the children’s book market took a dive during the 1990s, leaving hundreds of authors and illustrators behind. I had been so swamped that I hadn’t pursued other illustration jobs, and wouldn’t have had time to take them on anyway. When School Zone switched to using licensed characters, my career went from feast to famine. And after 10+ years of successful self-employment, where I was free to play during the mornings and work into the wee hours if need be, a 9 to 5 gig didn’t look very appealing. My partner of 42 years, Marvin, was self-employed as a designer and builder and doing okay in spite of the recession. We had learned to live practically and had socked away a few royalties for a rainy day. I decided to keep traveling on my chosen path and joined the tougher new world of getting and staying published.

I established new contacts and nurtured the old, continued to create new manuscripts, and kept all of my projects circulating. I also began to try something new: writing non-fiction books for kids. I honed my skills, learned from friends in the industry, and started landing projects. To note, nobody wanted me as an illustrator in this market; they only needed writers. While I missed writing and illustrating picture books and early readers, it was a fun new world. It was especially enjoyable because as a kid, I was pretty bored by the books offered to us. As a nature nerd, I probably missed out on pursuing a career in science because of the lack of inspiration/connection in school. Now I had the chance to write the books I would have loved. I could hopefully help kids get excited about things they’d never considered before, maybe even help set them on a career path that they’d never heard of or thought about.

As of yet, I haven’t turned down a job that sounded interesting no matter what the challenge or the deadline, and I’ve sold a few series of my own design. Marvin and I self-published two books: Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge and Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt. And as always, there are a variety of projects simmering that I hope to sell someday.

So, back to the birth of Bug. In winter of 2015 I had time to pursue an evasive idea that had been simmering for a while. All I knew was that it was about a little girl who loved bugs. At that point I didn’t know if it would be a biography of someone like Edith Patch or a fictional story. Meanwhile, there was also a quest to learn a different style of illustration. I wanted to try a scratchboard effect using the computer. It was a backwards way to draw: pulling white out of black rather than drawing black on white. It felt good to dabble with illustration again and to try on a new style.

Image Source: Robin Koontz

But hey! What was Bug’s story? It was time to get to work. When it was all said and done, Bug was brainstormed, researched, written, rewritten, trashed, started over, rewritten, revised, revised again, tweaked, submitted, revised again with editorial direction, and after not that many months, sold to Meredith Mundy at Sterling Publishing. After a bit more tweaking, Meredith and the art director included me in the search for the illustrator. When we chose the talented Amy Proud, we had to wait for Amy to finish up committed projects before she could start. The publication date moved from spring 2018 to this spring.

Wait. What? A story that began with an illustration would not be completed by its original illustrator?? Nope. Once I wrote Bug’s story, I knew my style was wrong for it. I pictured illustrations much like those that Amy ultimately produced. In fact, I’ve written other stories in recent years that are not suitable for my style (little animals with dots for eyes). It allows me to broaden the field of what I write about when I know another illustrator might take on the challenge. So, when I submit a story, I include sample illustrations if I feel that I could be the right illustrator, otherwise I just submit the story as a writer. That’s what I did when I submitted Bug. I’m not recommending that others do the same; it’s just what works for me. And I think that Amy Proud did Bug proud!

BUG by Robin Koontz and Amy Proud

Here’s the teaser on Amazon and Indiebound for Bug:

“Bug is the nickname-that-stuck for a quirky little girl who‘s mad about insects and drawing . . . and hates arithmetic. But when her teacher promises the class they can go on a field trip to the science museum only if everyone does well on their math test, Bug knows she HAS to pass. This humorous, character-driven story shows kids who struggle with math (or any subject) that there are many ways to find the correct answer—if you use your imagination and count on the things you love.”

Bug is already getting positive reviews. Kirkus wrote, “A respectful boost of encouragement for young minds that may be struggling with school.” That line made me smile. Thanks again, Dawn, for sharing the birth story of Bug!

Robin, this is such an encouraging and inspiring birth story. You've taught us to keep working at the stories we love AND open our minds to different paths and possibilities than we might have originally imagined for ourselves. I have no doubt that the books you have written for children have inspired a new generation of scientists, and I have no doubt that this post has inspired many authors and illustrators. Thank you so much!

Robin Koontz loves to learn and write about everything from aardvarks to ziggurats. Raised in Maryland and Alabama, Robin now lives with her partner Marvin in the Coast Range of western Oregon. In her spare time Robin likes to grow plants, lurk on Facebook, yell at the TV, and walk in the woods. You can learn more on Robin's blog, and you can see her complete list of books on Robin is Regional Advisor Emeritus for the SCBWI Oregon.

Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (forthcoming, 2019), and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to Oregon Reads Aloud and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at


  1. Great story, Robin. Although we've known each other since before the beginning, there's always more to know. You win my Talent, Perseverance,and Adaptability Award! Thanks for posting this, Dawn. Becky H

  2. Thanks for reading, Becky! Your award for Robin is perfect and well-deserved!

  3. Thanks again, Dawn, for sharing this story. I appreciate your award, Becky. Amazing what can happen in a span of 42 years!

    1. It's a great path to publication, story, Robin. I'm so glad you were willing to share it!