Introducing...Author/Illustrator Fred Koehler

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: We are happy to have Fred Koehler as our January Rate Your Story Guest Guru. He will read and rate four (4) submissions from our Members. But whether or not you are a Member, don't miss this insightful interview. We are allowing everyone who reads and comments on this post to use the RYS22 code to get a discount at his new company, Ready Chapter 1! Please click on the links to buy Fred's books. And now, here's Fred!

1. What do you LOVE about children’s books?

Hope, joy, love, discovery, play, heartbreak, redemption, forgiveness – all of it can fit into something as small as 300 words. Where else can you find that?

2. What brought you to children’s books? I never set out to be a storyteller–I was just me. But once I discovered that who I was had an industry and even a career path, I couldn’t possibly have done anything else. I gravitate toward the children’s market because I find kids to be unfailingly honest, curious, and happy to share their gummies. This is much more rare with adults.

3. Name something you loved / enjoyed as a child? In the woods next to my house, the neighborhood boys came together to build a tree fort unlike anything you’d see today. Our rambling shack spanned at least a dozen trees, connected by ropes and ladders, held up by tenpenny nails. No roofs, just platforms. In that fort we were pirates; soldiers; spacemen; outlaws. For that fleeting span of childhood, we got to live in a world we built ourselves. What could be better?

4. What do you look for in a project to make it a favorite? As an illustrator, I get to say yes or no to a project, and I try to choose projects where the words alone can’t possibly tell the entire story. If you look at One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Dotlich or Flashlight Night by Matt Forrest Essenwine, both of which I illustrated, you’ll see what I mean. Neither author nor illustrator can really claim to be the definitive storyteller because the mixture of art and copy created a brand new storyline. Write me something like that, and we’ll be besties.

5. Share a story that you love and why.

Much like a good conversationalist, a book with great dialogue creates openings for each character to bask in the spotlight. Have you ever been simultaneously surprised and delighted by what a side character says when they finally have their moment? Terry Pratchett does this so well in his Discworld novels. On the modern side, I’m currently reading the Aurora Cycle Series by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. No character hogs the spotlight, but they all shine.

6. What is a common issue you find in manuscripts that don’t work. Stories where the main character learns a very clear lesson feel, to me, like they’re cheating the reader. You know the kind I’m talking about. Where at the beginning Johnny won’t eat his peas but then the peas turn into monsters and the only way to save the day is for Johnny to consume them one by one. Now this is just an opinion, but I don’t believe we read stories to learn lessons. We read to be dazzled and delighted. And while I know it’d never sell in today’s publishing market, I’d much rather a story where the peas eat Johnny. :-)

7. Our Rate Your Story 2022 Word of the Year is Professionalism. In terms of becoming a writer, what does this word mean to you? I was once at a big writers conference with hundreds of aspiring authors. I stopped to chat with a first-timer who was dressed to the nines in a smart suit, briefcase in hand brimming with tab-separated folders and printouts of manuscripts. As we were talking, another conference-goer walked by wearing pajama bottoms and a hockey jersey. The schlubby guy had just penned his seventh or eighth book deal. Professionalism is not about outward appearance. It’s keeping your promises–to yourself, your readers, your colleagues. Doing this requires more time, humility, and sacrifice than you might think. But as long as you do that, few people will mind if you do so in a three-piece suit or a cowboy hat and swim trunks.

8. Please share a Submission tip with our Members. In my family we have a ‘heck yes’ or ‘no’ rule that governs many decisions. Should we eat out tonight? Do you want to go for a run? Should we buy a zebra? If the answer isn’t ‘heck yes,’ then we say no. And writers have a sense, in their heart of hearts, if a manuscript is a ‘heck yes.’ It has a spark of something brilliant. It’s unexpected. It sings. It sizzles. It cost a piece of themselves to put the words on paper and the thought of giving it away is perfectly terrifying. Do you submit that story? Heck yes. As for the others, let them simmer a while longer.

9. Please share a Revision Tip for our Members. Oof. Revision is my nemesis. I have a rather smug angel that sits on one shoulder telling me that the thing I wrote is perfect exactly the way I wrote it and nobody ever say otherwise. The equally smug devil on the opposite shoulder tends to agree. To make any progress at all with revision, I have to ignore both of them and trust my editor or agent. But I can promise you I kick and whine all the way through revision. For those of you who are good at revision, I salute you. My only tip is to walk away for a few days. Work on something different. Go fishing. Better yet, call me up and take me fishing. Then get back to work and trust your editor.

10. Name subjects you would like to read about. I mentioned the one about Johnny being eaten by the peas. I suppose my favorite thing to read is the shockingly unexpected. The one where you glimpse what might be coming as a reader and say to yourself there’s no way the author would go there. And then they do. Conceptually, I thought Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies was brilliant. Never saw that one coming. Within my preferred reading genre of Sci-Fi or Fantasy, I’d love to cozy up to a space western with an ensemble cast of villains who wind up on the side of good. Or maybe gundam robots vs monsters graphic novel where the fighting upends the global hierarchy of wealth and privilege.

11. Name subjects you would not like to read about. Have you ever been in a conversation you wish would end but you can’t seem to pull yourself away and when it’s finally over you have no idea what just happened but feel sad that you lost twenty minutes of your precious time? There’s a book version of this. It happens when the main conflict and stakes are NOT clearly defined (or at least hinted at) in the opening pages. Or, worse yet, when a book promises to be one thing and turns out to be something different. I know that’s a bit vague, but I feel like I pick up PUBLISHED books all the time that suffer from this. When this happens, I have no qualms about giving up on a book before chapter two.

12. Share a fun fact about YOU! In the most introverted of possible activities, I love being underwater. I go free diving in the ocean, sometimes from shore and sometimes from my kayak. I frequent the spring heads in Florida, diving down 30 or 40 feet to where the ground splits open and I can literally touch the source. There’s something primal about that feeling, as well as some pretty cool mind-over-matter science-y stuff. I let my adventures on the water spill into my writing, which is why my stories have included shark encounters, near-drownings, and sinking ships.

Also is there anything in particular you want or don't want to give rating and feedback on? I’m happy to read anything. But because I want you to succeed, I won’t shy away from criticism, especially if your work is good. Think of me as your frenemy. Muahahahaha.

Bio: Fred Koehler is an artist and writer whose real-life misadventures include sunken boats, shark encounters, and getting caught in a hurricane. Whether free-diving in the Gulf of Mexico or backpacking across Africa, Fred’s sense of adventure and awe of nature overflow into his stories. He won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award for his illustrations for One Day, The End and has earned numerous starred reviews for his writing and artwork. Fred is passionate about encouraging artists, promoting justice, and conserving our environment. He is the founder of the Ready Chapter 1 novel writing academy and lives in Florida with his wife, kids, and a rescue dog named Cheerio Mutt-Face McChubbybutt.

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Ready Chapter 1 Novel Academy:

NOTE FROM RATE YOUR STORY ADMIN TEAM: We are excited to announce a collaboration with Ready Chapter 1, a first-of-its-kind academy designed for career-minded writers looking to develop and sell their stories to traditional publishers. The faculty takes writers from concept to query over 10 months, and includes editors, agents, and bestselling authors. If you think this program might be a fit for you, registration is open until February at and our members receive a $100 discount with code RYS22.