March 27, 2024

Birth Stories for Books: THE SEA HIDES A SEAHORSE, by Sara T. Behrman

Hello, readers! Today's Birth Stories for Books interview is extra special. Our guest is my longtime critique partner, friend, and now DEBUT PICTURE BOOK AUTHOR, Sara T. Behrman. Whoo-hoo! I previously introduced Sara's book here, and today we'll take a deep dive into Sara's path to publication experience for her beautiful new picture book, THE SEA HIDES A SEAHORSE (illustrated by Melanie Mikecz, published by The Collective Book Studio, April 2024).

by Sara T. Behrman and Melanie Mikecz

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Sara. As your longtime critique partner, I am SO EXCITED to interview you about the path to publication for your debut picture book, THE SEA HIDES A SEAHORSE.

Although I've had the pleasure of reading various iterations of this beautiful book during critique group sessions, I must say I don't recall the inspiration that sparked the idea for you, or the process and timeframe between your initial idea for the book and the story that was formulated enough to submit to an editor. Can you refresh my memory on this?

Sara T. Behrman: The inspiration for this story came from a visit to Australia, the second stop on a yearlong world traveling adventure. We spent three months traveling around this beautiful country, observing animals we’d never seen before. When I saw my very first seahorse at the Sydney Aquarium, I was hooked! I’d thought seahorses were imaginary creatures, like sea monkeys and unicorns. I wanted to learn more, and as I researched these amazing animals, I wanted to share what I’d learned with others. 

Starting in 2007, I tried writing my story in a variety of genres —first as a nonfiction picture book, then as an easy reader and chapter book. Nothing worked as well as I’d hoped with what I first called Papa Seahorse, then Salty the Seahorse. Then, in 2013, I had a breakthrough. My book group (we called ourselves the No. 1 Ladies Book Discussion Group) read Just Kids by Patti Smith. As I read about the life of this poet-songwriter, I wondered what my seahorse story might be if written as song lyrics. That approach led me to multiple rounds of very helpful feedback from my critique group, which in turn resulted in the final version I first began submitting to publishers in 2019 and sold in 2021.

DP: I am so glad I asked that question, because I had forgotten many of those twists and turns! 

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything in particular that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

SB: My earliest notes from 2007 to myself: “Use rhyme and cadence to convey life in the sea and to emulate the constant motion of these animals.” So, why didn’t I follow my own advice for years? Why did I have “papa seahorse” talk to other characters? My finished version most resembles my early nonfiction picture book manuscripts because my interest in the changing colors, behaviors, and habitats of seahorses remains front and center.

DP: Ah, yes, the ole, "notes to self" that somehow get carried away by a current for a time. I think we all have those! So glad you found your way back to what interested you in the story in the first place. 

Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for this particular story to find its way to publication? 

SB: When I examine the timeframe between having a polished manuscript ready to submit (2013) and actually beginning the time-consuming process of researching publishers, preparing book proposal forms, and submitting the manuscript for consideration (2019), it’s clear my journey was a long and winding road. Despite working as a full-time grants consultant who dealt with submission deadlines on a daily basis, I just couldn’t seem to apply the same sense of urgency to my own creative submissions. Ultimately, it took the COVID pandemic to help me realize I had to reduce my client portfolio and make my creative writing and submission process a priority. I submitted The Sea Hides A Seahorse to West Margin Press in June 2020 and they acquired it a year later.

DP: Yes, we were ALMOST publishing house siblings! 

But alas, you experienced some unique bumps along your path to publication related to changes at the original acquiring publisher, West Margin Press. Can you share any valuable learnings from that experience that might be of help and interest to our readers?

SB: Initially slated for release in April 2023, The Sea Hides A Seahorse was entering its final production phase when West Margin Press was bought by Turner Publishing Company in October 2022. Suddenly I knew how a seahorse felt when experiencing rough seas! I clung to my optimism when I was told in November that Turner had opted not to acquire a number of picture books in production, including mine. Jen Newens (West Margin Press publisher) reassured me that she and Ingram Content Group (the distributor) were committed to finding a new home for the book. But then the entire West Margin Press team lost their jobs, and Ingram terminated my book contact in February 2023. Just three months shy of what would have been my book’s birthday, I wanted to throw a pity party! 

However, I decided feeling sorry for myself interfered with my creative process and I focused instead on the new stories that were bubbling up inside me. I also reached out to my former West Margin Press team – my editor, Michelle McCann (McCann Kids Books), and my former publisher, Jen Newens, to thank them again and ask if they had any leads I could pursue. Michelle kindly submitted my “production-ready” manuscript with some others orphaned by the Turner acquisition to a publisher, who declined all of us. So, in March, Jen pitched my book to my current publisher, The Collective Book Studio, who loved it so much they immediately acquired it!    

DP: I'm SO GLAD you were able to shift from planning a pity party to planning your book launch party! (NOTE to readers: Sara has several book events coming up, including a storytime at Powell's City of Books on Saturday, April 13, 2024 at 10:30 AM, and a book launch party at Green Bean Books on Sunday, April 21, 2024 at 2pm. Join in if you can!)

Image provided by Sara T. Behrman

DP: As I understand it, The Collective Book Studio is a hybrid publisher whose books are distributed by Simon and Schuster. Can you share with us a little bit about your experience working with a hybrid publisher, and how that might be similar/different to publishing with a traditional publisher?

SB: Since I haven’t experienced the entire publishing process with either a traditional publisher (West Margin Press) or a hybrid publisher (The Collective Book Studio), I don’t know that I can really describe how the experience might be similar or different. What I can say is that I loved working with the folks at West Margin Press, and I love working with the folks at The Collective Book Studio. My book wasn’t acquired by The Collective Book Studio in the usual way, and I was able to keep my advance from West Margin Press because Ingram terminated the book contract. The production process was accelerated because the book had already gone through the final editorial and artwork process. Planned for release in June 2024 (about 15 months after acquisition), The Sea Hides A Seahorse will now be released on April 2, 2024. The book contract for both types of publishers is similar, but authors retain many more of the rights typically reserved by traditional publishers, and the royalties are much higher with a hybrid publisher because the author contributes a portion of the production costs up front. These are called “creative fees” and I was able to use my author advance from my traditional publisher to make a substantial downpayment on my share of the creative fees. Since I’ve only experienced the marketing process working with a hybrid publisher, I can say that they are willing to handle a large chunk of the promotional work, and will work with you to prepare a reasonable marketing budget that is shared by the publisher and author.

DP: That's great to hear, Sara. 

When you compare your creative process for writing children’s books to your creative process as a longtime professional grant writer, what are some of the key similarities and differences? 

SB: My creative process for writing children’s books is completely different from my professional grant writing experience. Writing for children requires me to use my imagination and unique voice when telling a story; grant writing requires me to mimic my client’s voice and marshal facts in a logical, sequential way to write a persuasive grant proposal. It might take me years to write a 500-word picture book, while I can write an 80-page grant proposal in a week. I work on scores of drafts for stories, but rarely prepare more than one draft of a grant proposal before sharing it with a client for final review. Children’s manuscripts are always double-spaced, but grant applications might be double or single-spaced, depending on the funder. 

There are some similarities: comprehensive research is required to assure all details are accurate and consistent, whether world-building or application writing. In children’s books, there are rules to follow about word count limits for specific genres, while grant applications often limit the number of characters you can use, including spaces! You have to know your audience in both processes. You have to respond well to editorial comments, while protecting critical writing elements. Lastly, you cannot take rejection personally. (I find calling this step ‘a decline’ is less traumatic than using the word ‘rejection.’) 

DP: Thanks for all of the informative pro tips, Sara. 

Speaking of which, one of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips in this regard. Given your experience as a popular presenter at the Oregon Writing Festival, longtime book talker, and former professional librarian, what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful (in-person and/or remote) book events? 

SB: Like you, I love connecting with young readers wherever they are. I like being around children; I like their energy, curiosity, authenticity, and openness. I know children respond to the same traits in adults, so I try to be my most energetic, curious, most authentic, and open self when interacting with them. I tell funny stories about myself and share the world travel adventures I’ve had. I want to hear their questions and I want to answer their questions honestly. When I engage with young readers, it’s really all about them. Whether I’m doing a classroom-based writing residency, or a one-day writing workshop, I always remind them that “they are the boss of their story.” (Kids love being in charge!) My stories, whether published or as adventures retold the top of my head, just facilitate our conversations as we connect. 

Advance planning is key. Bookstores and libraries need about 4 to 5 months of lead time to plan an event, and special venues (e.g., aquariums) need at least 6 months. When pitching your event, be sure to talk about how your event advances the venue’s mission and will benefit its target audience. Since I didn’t know a lot about marketing and promotions, I took advantage of the free webinars offered by The Author’s Guild and learned a lot.

DP: Great advice, Sara. Thanks! 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

SB: Dear Pre-Published Self,

Did you really think your stories would be published without having to invest at least five hours every week in a well-researched agent/editor submissions process? Did you think your creative responsibilities ended after a few years of writing, rewriting, and polishing a story? Think again, little monkey. Getting a children’s book published is a lot harder than pitching and publishing feature articles for adults. There are so many gatekeepers standing between you and the young readers you want to reach. There’s no easy path to publication; no one is going to discover your manuscript on a restaurant table, and then become so smitten by your talent they’ll want to sign a book contract to publish your next 10 manuscripts.

So, if you really want the stories that only you can write to find a publishing home, you’ve got to submit them when they are as ready as they can be. You’ll also have to organize your submissions process, keeping track of submission dates, editors/agents, and titles of manuscripts. Then, if you are really lucky, one day you will have an agent to help you with the part of publishing that doesn’t feed your creative soul.

Don’t despair. 


Your Much (MUCH) Older Published Self

P.S. Remember when you couldn’t wait to be old enough to escape your childhood home, but time passed SO slowly? “Publication time” passes at a similar glacial pace.

Image provided by Sara T. Behrman

DP: What a wonderful, encouraging letter to your younger you, Sara! 

Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for THE SEA HIDES A SEAHORSE, that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

SB: I wish someone would ask me about my finger puppets. I have about 50 of them positioned around my home office. I recently organized them according to their preferred habitat; all of my marine finger puppets are grouped together on one stand. How did having finger puppets help me on my path to publication, you ask? Well, finger puppets are great when practicing dialogue aloud. Since writing is a solitary activity, I can talk to my finger puppets when I get lonely or need to let off steam. Finally, there’s nothing like looking into their tiny faces when my imagination needs a boost.

Image provided by Sara T. Behrman

DP: Love it! (and I see some of your finger puppets in the background of this photo!)

Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on? 

SB: I’m currently working on a bunch of very different creative projects. I’ve been revising what I call my “Moishe Pupik” collection of stories, all of which transform well-known tales into a celebration of Yiddish culture and traditional Jewish food. My agent also suggested I consider crafting another piece to complement The Sea Hides A Seahorse, so I’ve written two: The Sea Hides a Sea Star, and The Sea Hides a Sea Slug. Lastly, I’m hoping to workshop my children’s musical, Zombie Rodent, starring an undead squirrel named Flatty, within the next year or so. 

DP: Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for THE SEA HIDES A SEAHORSE with us, Sara! I can't wait to hear more good news on the way for these other projects, as well.

Dear readers, you've heard me say it before: the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. THE SEA HIDES A SEAHORSE is available for pre-order everywhere books are borrowed and sold, including your own local, indie bookstore


Sara T. Behrman is a children’s book author, technical writer, and former librarian. She loves to travel and, like seahorses, has found her way to all five of the world’s oceans: Arctic; Southern; Indian; Atlantic; and Pacific Ocean. Sara now lives in Portland, Oregon, which is about 80 miles from the Pacific Ocean. 


Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, the 2023 Walt Morey Award winner, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at

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