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?
I published my first book at age 65, a bilingual story written in English and Japanese called Fly Catcher Boy (Gumboot Books 2009).
Did you have a mentor in publishing or do it all yourself?
I worked hand-in-hand with my publisher, Crystal Stranaghan. She found the illustrator and together we walked through the two years it took to launch.
What was your favourite publishing moment?
Nothing beats holding your book for the first time! I was reminded of holding my first-born, proud and very happy!
How did you find your publisher? How did you handle rejections?
Finding a publisher who saw value in a dual-language book was time-consuming. I began sending out queries in the 1990s. By early 2004, I was settled in B.C. and resumed my search. I didn’t get rejections so much as comments like: “nice story, but we don’t have a market for it”.
Maggie deVries suggested I re-write the story in English using Japanese words and expressions throughout the text. The original text was written separately, in English and again in “kanji” letters, not mixed. I did as she suggested and re-submitted it. To my surprise the book landed in their top five for publication that year. Although it didn’t make the number one slot, Maggie encouraged me to “keep on sending it out; it’s a good story and you’ll eventually find the right publisher.”
And that’s just what happened at SiWC 2007 when I visited the author/publisher tables one evening and met Crystal Stranaghan who was sharing her newly-formed publishing company, Gumboot Books. I gave my pitch. She was interested to read the manuscript, which I just happened to have in my bag! A few days later she asked if I could come into Vancouver and the next thing I knew I had a publishing contract! It was so easy. I practically skipped down Seymour Street to meet my husband for what turned out to be a celebration lunch!
Do you think about trends when developing a book?
Not really. I felt the concept of introducing kids to other country’s culture/language was pretty sound; however, when the book went out of print in 2011 I was forced to make a decision — let it disappear or find another way to keep it alive. The word “app” was just starting to be bandied about and I got interested very quickly. I felt that a digital re-work of the original Fly Catcher Boy would make an even better book.
First, I decided to totally change the illustrations to “manga”-style. I found a talented high school artist who really hit a home run with the drawings. Then I needed a dynamic narrator who knew how to speak Japanese, and I found him. Finally, I needed a project director who could tackle all the technical/development stuff. That person just happened to be Crystal, my former publisher. She did a super job over the nine months it took to go from that first meeting to having the iBook up on the iBookstore and a print version available worldwide on Amazon.com.
I’m a risk taker at heart and taking this path just felt right to me. I’m keen to do it again, with a view to building a “dual-language set”.
Advice I would give to emerging writers?
Obviously, never give up. Persistence usually wins out in the end. Oh, and don’t take “rejections” personally.
Publishing mistake you’d never make again?
Mistakes? I prefer to call them “learning curves”!
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned since publishing?
Just how deep the kid’s lit pool really is. It requires a huge amount of effort to pull your project up from the deep end in order to get it noticed. The marketing is much more difficult than the writing and production process. When you self-publish, marketing becomes your full-time job. Prepare for it and realize that at least six months of concentrated effort is needed, followed by keeping yourself relevant as time goes by.
What project excites you now?
Well, I have a second bi-lingual book on the go but the current marketing mania is all-consuming right now. I’ll re-assess at the close of 2012 but I do want to get a second book out as soon as I possibly can.