To self publish, or not self publish...That is the question.
The journey of "A Little Goes a Long Way" began over six years ago. I had just graduated from Chapman University and moved to Ireland to travel and to be with my boyfriend (who is now my husband). As an American living in Ireland, I was limited to work on an extended holiday visa, but a wonderful family took me on as their ‘child-minder’ for their 3 small boys all under the age of 5. I was also teaching private piano lessons for beginning to intermediate levels and playing the occasional gig. I got the idea for ‘A Little Goes a Long Way’ while I was being inspired by all the work I was doing with these young children. A friend of ours in Dublin was a graphic designer and when I had brought the idea to her, she jumped on board and mocked up some illustrations for me. I LOVED her character interpretations. They were perfect. What a start! I had a story and I had an illustrator. Perfect! I thought this little story of mine, first draft and all, was on its way to sell out at Eason’s Books. What an idiot I was. First of all, the story was a mess. It tried to rhyme but only rhymed some of the time. The rhythm and the beats were all over the place. It didn’t work. Secondly, I had no illustrator because I had no contract between her and I. Take my advice: never have a business relationship with a friend without discussing each other’s expectations first and drawing up a written agreement. Little did I know I was going to be dragged along for 2 whole years with this person. I didn’t know she wasn’t taking it as seriously as I was. We did not have the necessary communication to get anything done and I did not have any money to offer up front. What, did I really just expect her to jump on board to do all that work for free? Lastly, I knew so little about the publishing world. I didn’t realize how this whole process was supposed to work. I thought I would just send along my story and a book dummy to HarperCollins and they would be so impressed that they would take it on straight away and make me the next Laura Numeroff. I didn’t actually know that if I were submitting it to a publishing house, they would not want any illustrations anyway…I was ignorant and naïve.
So I had a lot of work to do.
After plenty of research (and a little research goes a long way), a post graduate degree from St. Nicholas Montessori College of Ireland, a wedding, a small hiatus with a move to California and a few rejections later, I met a published author at the school I was teaching at. She really gave me insight to the publishing world. She gave me a few great books* with listings of agencies and publishing houses that were accepting picture book submissions all over the country. She told me all about the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators and even took my story to one of her meetings with a panel of accomplished authors who gave me great feedback. I took on one suggestion and rewrote the story without a rhyme scheme. I also decided at that point to try and get an agent. What I didn’t realize though was getting an agent to represent you was as hard as getting a publishing house to print your work.
A few more rewrites, submissions and a several rejections later…
I decide screw it! I’m going to self publish [again]. So many authors self publish these days. It’s so accessible and it’ll give me more freedom to do what I like with my own work. I’ll need to find another illustrator though…One that will want to take this on board WITH me and that will do it for a small amount of money...PS - That’s the downer of self publishing; you need money and I didn’t have much. I was prepared to offer 50$ a page plus 10% of all royalties OR a 50/50 ownership of everything, depending on if and how much the other partner would invest. I put an ad out and with the help of some parents in my classroom, I found a great local illustrator. I was 7 months pregnant at the time and was trying to stay focused on getting this project moving in the right direction again, and before my baby was due. I had 2 working drafts (a rhyming and non-rhyming version) and I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes I did before. I was organized this time. I knew a little more about the industry and more importantly, I knew more about myself as a writer and where I saw this project going. This illustrator and I met a couple times before deciding we needed an official contract with terms and conditions. I was all for it. I figured this time around it would go a little smoother since I was doing business with a stranger rather than with a friend. Early on in our working relationship though, I saw a red flag. That red flag is probably the BIGGEST thing that annoys me most about people in this world; taking your sweet ass time responding to texts and emails. Listen, I know you have other projects and kids and things to do, but I work full time too. It doesn’t take more than a minute to respond to someone and there is just NO excuse nowadays with everything being so accessible from your cell phone. I would not hear from this person for weeks at a time…I needed input for our contract that she was so adamant about and I needed to know she was still on board with me. I was one click away from setting up a KickStarter account to find more funds but was waiting to hear from her to see if she was still with me. I felt like I was always waiting. RED FLAG! I got screwed again…I was trailed along for about 5 months before she decided out of the blue that now she wanted $10,000 and wouldn’t be able to complete the art for over a year and a half. For crying out loud lady, I was very clear from the very beginning about my offer and that offer did not include a $10,000 advance. Are you kidding me?? This was going to be your first picture book too! I felt duped. What another waste of time…Anyway, It was a blessing in disguise because that very day she closed the door on me, I was in touch with Kevin Staniec of Paper Farms Press and a new door opened.
Kevin loved the idea of my story. The draft I sent on to him was my rhyming version. I decided to pursue that version because the kids in my class at the time loved that version best. Kids love rhyming stories. They love the play on words and the fact that they can fill in the sentence. But…making a rhyme scheme work for a picture book is extremely difficult. You have to remember that readers will be reading this out loud and if they stumble on a sentence that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, it ruins the flow. It's easy, as the writer, to know where the pauses and beats are after reading it yourself a million times. But for first time readers, it may not sound as clean. The other thing to remember about picture books that makes them so special is the pictures. You don’t need a lot of narrative in the text because the pictures tell the story too. There is a lot of visualization when it comes to writing picture books. Anyway, Kevin wanted to know if I had a non-rhyming version, which I did. So I sent it on to him. He liked it, but thought it needed a little work. It took over a month of rewriting but I finally came up with a version that we both loved. He had an illustrator in mind, asked her if she wanted to be part of the project and the rest, as they say, is history.
It is so exciting at this point because we are just in the process of developing the characters and getting the creative juices flowing. What’s so cool about this day in age is the accessibility to all these great tools we have on hand so now you can follow us and this whole project as it unfolds as well. I will be posting the artwork as it comes and drafts of the story so you can see how this whole thing is developing. With a Summer 2013 release, we have a lot of work to do and you can be a part of it!
* 2012 Children's Writers & Illustrator's Market, by F+W Media, Inc. Published by Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH
* How to Write a Children's Book and Get it Published, by Barbara Seuling, Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. NJ