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?
Dinner at Auntie Rose’s (author, Janet Munsil) with Annick Press way back in 1984. It’s embarrassing to look at now but I guess you could say it has a hint of primitive charm. I even got to do a little film reel with the NFB.
Did you have a mentor in the publishing world, or did you do it all on your own?
I was lucky to start out with one of the nicest people in publishing by the name of Anne Millyard at Annick Press. Later I worked with Sheba Meland. She is a gem.
Do you have a favourite publishing moment? A career highlight?
I’ll have to pick two. A book I illustrated called Let’s Go! (written by Lizann Flatt) was chosen as a TD Giveaway. This meant half a million copies were handed out to grade one students across Canada. I did a book tour and saw the kids enjoying the books first hand.
I illustrated Brendan, Morgan and the Best Ever Cloud Machine (Annick Press) early in my career. My mother wrote it and she called herself Gerrem Evans. She changed her name so I could avoid the embarrassment of doing a book with my mom. I wasn’t embarrassed but she thought I might be. It’s a wonderful story about her grandsons using their imagination. It’s still being read today by those grown up grandsons’ kids.
How did you handle early rejections?
As an illustrator there’s not a lot of rejection because the publisher comes to you with the project ready to go. Sometimes you have to rework an illustration but I’ve been very lucky with that. I’ve worked with art directors who are particular about certain things — I always look at the big picture and realize, on balance, I get to do what I think works. As a writer I see a different side of things. But I have to say rejection isn’t really a big deal. Sometimes it’s the quality of my work but just as often it’s the subject matter (the publisher has just done a book on that topic) or the quota has been reached for books that year.
Do you think about trends/marketing when you’re developing a project?
As an illustrator I try not to see trends and marketing too much. It’s good to keep an eye on things but you really have to follow what is true to you. I remember making a conscious choice when I started illustration to do a style that was quick, easy and had humour. And it had to not be trendy. The theory being that if you were never too in style you might also never be out of style. So far so good. Just because you’re an artist doesn’t mean you can’t be pragmatic!
As a writer there is a different sensibility because you often work with someone from the outset of an idea so trends and marketing show up as you create. Especially now. Publishing has changed so much with marketing driving a lot of new ideas. Publishers have to be aware what is going to sell much more than years ago when more chances could be taken on a topic or treatment.