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 was working as a graphic designer and staff writer at Whitecap Books when they happened to need someone to write about famous Canadian women. I may have jumped up and down a few times, waving my arms frantically and screaming “Pick me! Pick me!” The first edition of Canadian Girls Who Rocked the World was published in 2001.
Did you have a mentor in the publishing world, or did you do it all on your own?
I had some wonderful and encouraging teachers, including Stephen Hume and Kit Pearson. Colleen MacMillan (now at Annick Press) was an early mentor and continues to be one of my most valued sounding boards. She’s also one of the only people in the world who laughs at my jokes. Writing would be a long and lonely road without friends and supporters, and I’ve been blessed with great ones.
How did you find your publisher/agent?
I spoke to everyone I knew who had an agent and I did a LOT of on-line research. Then I wrote an “A” list of my five top agent choices, a “B” list, and a “C” list. I said a prayer, sent my proposal to the “A” list, and waited. I received one rejection within about six hours, then nothing. After three weeks, on the very day I’d marked my iCal to start writing proposals for other agents, Patricia Ocampo e-mailed and asked to read the entire manuscript. According to my research, there are quite a few things you’re supposed to do to seem cool and composed when first interacting with an agent. Yeah, I did none of those. I did a lot of squealing, stuttering, and hand flapping, and thank God Patricia liked me anyway.
How did you handle early rejections?
By crying bitterly into my pillow. Now, I know that rejections are a reflection of the market, or a weakness in my concept, or a difference in taste. They’re not actually secret code for “you suck, you’ll never write anything worthwhile, and your proposal was so horrible we snorted coffee out our noses.”
Do you think about trends/marketing when you’re developing a project?
I may be the first to answer “yes” to this question. But I write a lot of non-fiction, and the market for non-fiction has changed dramatically in the past ten years, pushed along by the availability of information on-line, the increase in electronic publishing, and the demand for information books that are less… boring! So, I’m always looking for what’s new and what can be applied to a book concept.
What advice would you give an emerging writer/illustrator?
You need two groups of beta readers. Show your first efforts to the people who love you, the people who think there’s never been a writer more brilliant than you. That will keep you going through your first draft and revisions. Then, when your project’s at the next stage, show it to people who will actually point out problems. And listen when they talk.
What project are you most excited about now?
Anywhere But Here, my young adult novel to be released with Simon & Schuster in October. It seems like so long to wait!