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?
My first book was Mermaids, a picture book about the diving women of South Korea or, more specifically, about a girl who is determined to be a haenyo, a ‘woman of the sea’ or ‘mermaid’, even though her mother forbids it. The rebellious girl-child is a subject with which I am intimately familiar. In my case my parents had been telling me I should be a writer for many years before I decided to give it a go.
My first novel, Under the Mound, was released a few months after Mermaids. It’s about a boy who really doesn’t want to leave home to go on an adventure with a bunch of Vikings. I can sort of relate. I’m a homebody. A homebody who loves to travel. I am also fascinated by Vikings and the impact they had on the world. They are far more interesting that most people realize. Alas, writing Under the Mound was as close as I could get to going on an adventure with a bunch of these strapping Scandinavian fellows and their Scottish counterparts, though perhaps this is a case of ‘the next best thing’ being better than the actual thing?
Do you have a mentor in the publishing world, or did you do it all on your own?
I don’t have a mentor in the publishing world, per se, but I have peers who struggle with some of the same difficulties I have had. We commiserate and cheer each other on in our determination to find homes for our stories. I have made some wonderful friends by joining CWILL and other writing organizations. I can’t imagine going through the writing and/or publishing experience without their invaluable support.
How did you find your publisher?
My publisher found me. I wrote Mermaids while I was doing an internship with a local publisher, who was so taken with the story that he immediately set about finding an illustrator for it. After a year he told me he had decided not to publish the book after all so I began submitting the manuscript to other publishers. The illustrator had already done a great deal of work on the project and knew that if I found another publisher they would very likely want to find their own illustrator so, after a year of me submitting the manuscript with no offers, she approached Simply Read Books with the story and her work thus far, and they took the project on. Later that year they also requested the manuscript for my novel.
What advice would you give an emerging writer/illustrator?
I would advise emerging writers and illustrators to learn as much as they possibly can about the business in general and who they are getting into bed with specifically. When red flags wave, pay attention. There are wonderful publishers out there and there are not so wonderful publishers. Investigate all aspects of your contract before signing it and don’t fall into the trap of signing a contract just because you are elated that someone actually wants to publish your work or because you are afraid another contract will never come your way. Beggars can’t be choosers, but you aren’t a beggar. You are a creator, and that deserves your respect as well as the respect of everyone involved with your project. Be proud of what you’ve made and don’t accept poor treatment. At the same time, be realistic. This is a tougher business than I imagined when I ventured down this path and my expectations have shifted drastically since I first began. Talk to people in the business. Find out what is ‘normal’ and what is not and then decide what you’re willing to live with. It is a toss up which is worse: not being published or being published by a company that does not have your best interests at heart. Your book is your baby. Make sure you find it a decent home.
What project are you most excited about now?
The most exciting project I’m working on these days is a big, fat historical novel which has morphed into a big fat ever-expanding trilogy. I suspect this tripling business may be due to the fact that the story is set in medieval Ireland, where things are wont to come in threes. Also, my protagonist is the sort of girl who has a knack for getting herself into trouble everywhere she goes. Trouble = stories. She’s a lot of fun to hang out with. That said, there are days when I feel nothing but dread and a sense that I am completely mad for venturing down this 10th century path. Who knows anything about 10th century Ireland? (I know a few things now.) Who cares? (I do, very much — what a fascinating time and place!) On those dispirited days I turn to lighter fare, working on old picture books that aren’t yet ‘right’ or starting new ones, playing with words and ideas in a way that is so much less intimidating than my ginormous triplets. Picture books aren’t easy, but they are lighter and brighter and less complicated than medieval novels. At least most of the time.