Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Getting Published: My "Tail"

Last week, I wrote to Will Terry thanking him for his video series How to Illustrate Children’s Books. His video series played a key role in helping me get my first book ready to submit to a publisher. The course outlined everything I needed to know about creating and submitting my book, and his real-world experience and knowledge gave me the confidence to finally go for it.

Since then I’ve often been asked, “How did an unknown author/illustrator get a book dummy to a major publisher, have them actually look at it, and sign a 3-book contract in under a week?” Good question.

I realize my success is fairly rare, like finding a cache of pirate gold buried in your back yard, or getting quick and friendly service at the DMV, but, it’s not impossible to do what I did. And I am not someone who has a brother or a sister-in-law working in the publishing industry. What I am, is someone who did his “homework”.

So unless you actually have friends, relatives or somebody high up in the publishing world, you’ll need to do your homework too. And the videos and tutorials on are a great place to start.

So here’s the story

I’d been working as a children’s illustrator for about 12-15 years. Mostly doing “work-for-hire” stuff in the educational markets. Occasionally I’d pick up some advertising and/or packaging work, but I always had the dream of writing and illustrating my own children’s books. As most of you know, everyone has written a children’s book. You can’t throw a wet cat at a party without hitting someone who wants to tell you about a great children’s book they, or their 12-year-old daughter, wrote that you should help them illustrate. They’re sure it would be a guaranteed “best-seller”. Heck, I’ve even written a few guaranteed “best-sellers”. No one has ever heard of them of course, because they’re still in a folder on my hard drive labeled, “reallycool_futurebookprojects”.

Finally in January of 2011, I was determined to get off my butt and take my shot. I was either going to be a published author/illustrator or I would join the ranks of the rejected. Either way, getting in the game was better than warming the bench.

A flash of ignorance

It all started with an idea, one of those rare “light bulb-over-the-head” moments. I swear it really should look like that. An actual giant light bulb should magically appear over someone’s head when they’re struck with a really good idea. It would sure make it easier to distinguish between a truly good idea and a run-of-the-mill one. But there it was. I had my flash of brilliance. And you know it’s good when you sit down and the story practically writes itself. So I sat down and began to type and scribble phrases and rhymes as quick as my fingers could go. This idea was not going to be filed away in the “reallycool_futurebookprojects” folder.

I’m stoked. I have my story. I’ve written, edited and rewritten it three or four times. I’ve shown it to my spouse (very important step). If you don’t have one of these, you should look into getting one someday. There was a moment when I knew it was ready. As I was reading the story aloud to my wife, my 4-year-old son stopped playing with his toys and came over to peek at the pictures but saw only blank pages. I told him I hadn’t drawn any yet. He replied, “Daddy, draw some pictures. I want to see this book.”

Infused with the confidence and expectations of my youngest child, I went to work on the illustrations. I drew three or four pages, sketching quickly then rendering final art in record time. I didn’t even start at the beginning. I started drawing page nine first then page three, then four. Page eleven flew from my Wacom tablet with equal parts inspiration and ignorance. The work was pretty good. I was onto something. Light bulbs were flashing over my head and magic was happening.

Suddenly it all stopped. Page five had no real meaning. Thirteen looked like it belonged in totally different story. Page six was unimaginative. I needed help. Inspiration and excitement had taken me as far as they could, but without a plan and some structure this book really was heading into the “reallycool_futurebookprojects” folder, and quickly.

That’s when I discovered Will Terry’s video course. As I followed his process it filled in all the structural blanks. I rewrote some pages; fixed the things that were wrong; made my very first folded paper book dummy; sketched out the entire story; and made the appropriate changes to some of the final art I had been so inspired to create. It was still good art, but now it actually worked!

So there it was. I had actually created a book. Well, it wasn’t a book quite yet, but it could be a book. If only someone would give it a chance it could be one of those “best-sellers” I’d often heard so much about. 

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