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?
The first book that I had published was Things Are Looking Up, Jack. It is a chapter book, which is worth mentioning, because for many years, my only focus was on getting a picture book published. Deciding to write a novel was initially only a comforting distraction from banging my head against a wall.
How did you handle early rejections?
See: wall, head banging. But seriously, I handled rejection like a trooper. I always had several stories out at any one time; my distribution system nicely organized with a page for each manuscript listing the date it was sent out and to whom, the date it was returned and the comments (if any). For the most part, I would allow myself a moment of self-pity before putting the story back into rotation. Every so often, however (because it did take five years), I would go through “a dark period” where I would hold communion with Self Doubt (worst self-help guru ever). And when that blew over, it was back to writing and submitting (such an apt word, that).
Do you think about trends/marketing when you’re developing a project?
The short answer is no, and maybe that is why it’s been a bit of a slog, publishing-wise. I write primarily for myself; the stories I want to tell, but I trust that all the time I have spent in the company of children as a teacher or childcare provider has given me some affinity to their relationship to stories, and humour in particular. Also, because in my mind’s eye, I can see so clearly these stories turned into picture books, I have come to trust that timing plays a big part; getting the right story to the right publisher at the right time. But you may have to stick with it for many years to see it happen. I should add that my graphic novel That One Spooky Night wasn’t originally meant to be in that form, but the conversion was suggested by an editor who saw the possibilities from a creative as well as a marketing position. So I would also suggest that you stay open to the collaboration once a publisher has teamed up with you.
Do you have a favourite publishing moment? A career highlight?
There are many wonderful publishing moments. Let me list a few in a somewhat chronological order. The phone call you get from an editor when they have finally, finally agree to publish your story. The first time you see the artwork for the picture book. Getting your contractual stack of copies delivered in the mail. The happy dance that usually follows each of those first three moments. Seeing your book well-displayed at a bookstore (thank you Kidsbooks). Presenting your book to a group of children (and/or adults) and hearing their laughter or sensing their full attention. Getting an envelope filled with a stack of drawings about your book made by students, sent to you by some amazing teacher. Getting random complimentary emails now and then from people who took the time to write. Attending an awards ceremony and meeting people whose work you admire. Oh, and did I mention royalty cheques? Those are good moments too.
What project are you most excited about now?
One of the most often asked questions I get from students is “which of my books is my favourite.” What I tell them is that it’s always the next one (may it always be so). Currently, I have a couple of picture books that are at different illustration stages of production and each one offering interesting challenges. One story is set almost entirely in one room. The other one requires character dialogue to be amalgamated into the book’s graphic design. I’m looking forward to seeing how each illustrator approaches the work. In the meantime, Not Your Typical Dragon comes out this month, and Dream Boats (illustrated amazingly by fellow CWILL BC member Kirsti Wakelin) comes out in May.