How did CWILL BC members get their first big breaks in the publishing world? In this series of interviews with local writers and illustrators, we ask what advice they would offer and what mistakes they would never repeat — an inside look at the publishing process, from the creators’ point of view. Please feel free to tell your own publishing tales in the comments section below.
What was your first book?
Dusty, published in 1983 by a small Kootenay press called Solstice Books. This was not only my first book but also Solstice’s first children’s book (they had done regional photographic books and almanacs before) and the illustrator’s (Anne Swanson Gross) first book. Needless to say, we made a bunch of mistakes, but it was fun.
Do you have a favourite publishing moment? A career highlight?
When Stealing Home was accepted by Tundra. I had poured myself into that book, and I really hoped they would like it. Kathy Lowinger called at about 6:00 in the morning – naturally, being from Toronto, she had forgotten about the time difference – and I was half-asleep when my husband told me to pick up the phone. I sat bolt upright in bed, not sure if I was hearing right when she said, “We love it.” I don’t think I’ve ever been so thrilled to have an acceptance.
How did you handle early rejections?
Dusty was rejected six times before Solstice picked it up. Of course, it was discouraging, but I never thought of giving up. I think I had the naïve optimism of the newby – surely someone would see what was in it and would like it. In fact, it was after that first book that I became more nervous about sending stuff out – maybe because I know what rejection feels like. But that little part of me has faith that the work is good and that someone will see it.
Do you think about trends/marketing when you’re developing a project?
No, never. That would be the death of a book. I’m going to live with this thing for a year and I’m going to pour my guts into it – I have to be passionate about the idea. Even with the sad state of publishing these days, I still believe that good work will get published. And if not, well, I couldn’t write only for the market anyway.
What advice would you give an emerging writer/illustrator?
Read everything you can get your hands on. Write, write, write. Accept that writing is rewriting. Form a critique group in which people will be constructive but honest, and listen. Don’t be married to your original idea – be prepared to make substantial changes if better ideas come along.