Birthing a Picture Book & an Author: Part 2 of 2

If you haven’t read part one, the entry before this, you might want to (but certainly don’t have to) take a step back to get the foundation of what I will share now.

If you did read it, you know that I have always loved creating stories (more particularly, through songs, poetry, short stories, newspaper/magazine articles…) I also mentioned that finding an agent, which can be just as or even more challenging as finding a publisher to buy your book, is what’s usually necessary if you’re looking to publish traditionally.

So let me pause here to explain a little more, the differences between two main ways to get a book out there to the public. This will be the short version.

  1. Self Publishing: You can pay a company to print what you write. Often these are called PODs or “Print On Demand.” There are other names for this, but they are in the same category: you pay up front to hire a group to be your publisher, make your art, make a cover, etc… Many authors choose this route because not only do you have more control over your product, you receive a bigger percentage of the profits. The downside is, you have to pay for an editor, all that I mentioned above and more; and that can be a lot (I’m talking thousands+ of dollars.) It’s also harder to sell large amounts of books, though it has been done (like the early days of “Pete the Cat.”) So for those who are business savvy, it could work.
  2. Traditional publishing: This is the route I chose for several reasons. First, I like working with a team of professionals who have have been tested and believe in my book enough to work hard to receive part of the profits. I think this makes my work better. Next, I’m horrible at the business end of anything. I just want to write. Finally, with a team at a traditional publishing house, your book has a little more potential to grow to wider audiences. The downside is, even though your work is good, it’s harder to get the attention of an agent and traditional publisher. Finally, I didn’t want to pay up front.

So after about 8 years of trying to partner with an agent or traditional publisher, I certainly could have stopped writing or sending out queries. But in my head, I resolved that I got a lot out of the process. It was still excited to “get close.” And could I stop writing?… nope. It gave me too much satisfaction and even if I ended up giving away my words in a blog or for pennies in other ways, it was how I believed God created me… to make sense of life through stories.

Sometimes, daily life got in the way, so I stopped querying for a time (a few months here, a few there.) By “querying, I mean sending letters and manuscript submissions to agents and publishers. All the while, I kept writing. Sometimes I wrote only nonfiction, like feature stories for news outlets (knowing a kid’s version could one day be written from the research.) I kept joining contests, a “quick and easier” way to get your work seen by an agent or editor at a traditional publishing house. And when I was tempted to quit, I’d get a nudge from God to keep going. I became a finalist in a “We Need Diverse Books” contest. I was given a mentorship to shape my first pages for my middle grade novel. I’d receive a full manuscript requests (step 2 in the process of querying, when agents and editors believe your first pages are promising and want to see more.) And I’d receive very kind, informative and personal rejections, instead of the typical form letter (I was familiar with those.) These nods to my work being “good enough” to publish kept me going. In turn, I learned to be outspoken and generous with praise and helpful critiques when a fellow writer’s work was worthy. I have and will continue to pay this forward!

Now, back to my debut picture book (PB.) Even though it sold in late 2020, it was just the beginning.

The contract alone went back and forth for months between my agent (Louise Fury,) editor (Rosie Ahmed) and myself. I waited for months for the details to be approved and all parties ready to sign. I even wondered if I had been forgotten or placed at the bottom of someone’s “to do” list. Finally, it was official and I celebrated with close friends and family. (A brief note on celebrating… I’m for it 110%! Have people near you, who love you and understand this LONG journey. And each time you jump through a “major” hoop, CELEBRATE!… even if it’s just going out to dinner or eating doughnuts.)

When everything was official on paper, we started the search for an illustrator. This took about a year. I had a list of desired illustrators and the publisher reaches out if they also agree. But this list evolves as I learn about new illustrators, so theres a lot of back and forth about why one illustrator over another. Some are more soft. Some use only watercolors. Some are bolder with colors. Some are more graphic novel-like. There’s just a lot to consider. And I certainly went back and forth a lot! This was a very important step since my words go into the hands of the illustrator to create yet another layer of storytelling from their perspective. In the meantime, Rosie and I continued to edit and fine tune my words and page turns.

Once the illustrator was chosen, they accepted, and all was made official, I was elated! The very talented Hanna Cha would now add her magic to make my words come alive in a way that only she could. In a picture book, this is most important! So the anticipation of what she would do, made this whole process more exciting and real. Hanna had 40+ panels to work on. So I waited about another year.

During this time, our partnership was announced in publishers weekly and other indy publications. This brought the realness to yet another level. Now it was public, the book and the people behind it. Ahhh! Celebrate!

In late 2022, I received a quiet email saying the first round of sketches were in. I saw the whole book; and I cried… happy tears. It was beautiful and they were not even full illustrations yet. Kudos Hanna! There were another few rounds of edits to make sure the images, words and page turns fit well. I turned in the last of the edits last week. Celebrate! Now I wait again. Hanna will take all the edits and create the final. I’m not sure when I will see the completed version. But Rosie, the editor at Dial, reminded me that we were on schedule to release the book in the spring of 2024. This is really real. A few more happy screams here.

This year, there will be a cover reveal (not sure when, so stay tuned.) And I will celebrate here! And we’ll probably go through a few more edits. (I’ll talk about edits in another post. You would be amazed by how much editing goes into a picture book!) The marketing team will put together a plan. More on that when I learn about it. Speaking of learning, I feel every interaction with my team and my continued research about launches is a huge opportunity for growth. It’s scary but even more, exciting.

So there you have it, the recipe for getting a picture book traditionally published. You need a little bit of persistence, a good story told well, getting it to the right person at the right time, God and prayer over it all. And for those who are fortunate enough to make a career out of this, you have to do this over and over for each book. One sale does not guarantee another. I may be a one book and done author. But I don’t plan on it and thankfully, my agent, Louise is betting on the same.

My dream to write has never really gone away. But it has taken decades to be where it is now. And it continues to evolve. What dream are you working on? And how do you keep on keeping on and not lose faith? Your stories inspire me and others, so please share, knowing that our struggles are not in vain.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Esther says:

    I can’t wait!

    Liked by 1 person

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