The importance of illustrations in picture books was never more apparent to me than when I sat down and wrote a little story for my daughters when they were 3 and 5. I was pretty proud of what I wrote and couldn’t wait to read it to them.
I gathered my girls around me on the sofa and proceeded to read a tale written just for them. You know what I got?
Yawns. A look that said can we go now?
Here is my expert artistic rendering of their reaction to a picture-less picture book.
Years later, when that little story was made into an actual picture book by one of the best publishers around, reaction has been very different. The illustrations make the story come to life. Rob Dunlavey took an idea and made it even better.
And those little girls of mine are now teenagers and ready to help read the story to other little kids. If they yawn now, I’ll assume they were up all night texting with their friends. 🙂
Today, my 7-year-old niece asked me if I could publish her book that she had just finished writing. It’s a picture book about her and her best friend taking a dream vacation. Naturally, since Uncle Kevin is a writer, I can also publish her picture books. Of course, I gave her an emphatic ‘yes, I sure can!’
At that moment, I realized she has a 23 year jump on my own picture book writing career. I didn’t even attempt writing one until my first daughter was born and I was on the verge of 30. That was a pivotal year for me – the year I lost my invincibility and realized I was now living and working for this beautiful little baby who chewed through three playpens before she was one.
It was also the year I was inspired to write a book for her, something she could appreciate when she was older. It was a cute little Christmas tale full of longing for a little girl to be with her father on Christmas and a dash of Santa’s magic to make her wish come true. I even had a friend, who is a fantastic artist, draw up a dozen pictures so I had the makings of a real picture book.
I gave copies to family and friends, knowing it wasn’t a timeless classic, but prouder of that than anything else I’d written up to that point (and when I say copies, I mean black and white pages stapled together – this was years before self-publishing became as easy as making brownies).
Now, here I am years later, just months away from having my first bonafide picture book published through Schwartz & Wade. And no, it’s not my Christmas book. I’ve been working on others since The Dandelion’s Tale was accepted and have discovered that writing for children is possibly the hardest profession one can take on if writing is your gig of choice. I realize it’s going to take a lot of practice and infinite stores of patience.
Well, my niece has started at a time when I was busy playing with Star Wars figures. I hope she keeps it up. Maybe one day I’ll be the one asking her to put in the good word to have my books published.
Now, before you call social services on me, this post isn’t as bad as you think.
When I say ‘kids’, I’m referring, in this case, to the children’s books I’ve written. My agent hates it when I call my work my kids because she’s always asking me to delete parts and change them and trash sections that don’t work well. As a man, though, this is the closest I’ll ever come to giving birth.
Why am I stashing my kids…books…in a drawer? Simply, because not everything I write is pure gold, or ready for the world at this time, if ever. Writing for publication is a hit and miss game. My golden idea that sounds perfect in my head may not sound so wonderful to my editor. Or, the idea may be similar to something that was recently published, or is on the docket (that I can’t see) to be published within the next year.
Writing in any genre is about skill, luck and timing. All three have to come into play at the exact same time to lift your book from your laptop to the printed page on a book shelf. And even after you’ve landed your big fish, that doesn’t mean you’re going to pull up a marlin every time you drop your line. (and if you’re fishing for marlin, make sure you have a crew ready to help!)
Over the past 2 years, I’ve written several picture books and 2 middle grade novels. Where are they now? My drawer. Some aren’t just right…yet. Others need some tweaking. One may never see the light of day. So what’s the use of writing these books and sticking them in your drawer? Because that drawer will become your portfolio somwhere down the line. That book that your editor passed on may be just what another is looking for.
So I have a drawer full of kids, waiting to come out and play. Until then, I look in on them from time to time to make sure they’re well fed and happy.
If you want to increase your drawer, I mean portfolio, you may want to look into Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 course, where you work with experts and other authors to write 12 picture books in 12 months. These are 12 first drafts, mind you, but it’s invaluable to have them at the ready.
How many kids do you have in your drawer? How many have gone from the drawer to publication?
My actual kids were not harmed in the making of this blog post. In fact, they were out getting their nails done. 🙂
In my previous post, I wrote about how as a picture book writer, you need to construct your prose with the illustator in mind. Well, today I’m thrilled to show everyone the cover to my forthcoming picture book, The Dandelion’s Tale! It will be released in spring, 2014, but at least now I have a cover to prove to folks that I actually have a book coming out (flashing my book contract just didn’t seem right).
Taa-daa! I’m extra excited about the cover because I’ve been waiting a loooooong time to put my little eyeballs on it. You see, I first signed my deal with Schwartz & Wade Books back in December of 2010. Over the course of the early part of 2011, I worked with my editor, the highly esteemed Anne Schwartz, on more revisions than I can count. Once Anne polished it up, she then went to find an illustrator that would match well with the book.
I was very fortunate that she chose Robert Dunlavey. His work is brilliant and pretty much mirrored exactly what I was thinking – even though we’ve had no communication. Pretty cool…if not eerie.
So here we are in 2013 and I have one more year to go.
The constant rule of publishing is very much in place here. Patience, my boy. Patience.
It does pay off.
So, what do you think of the cover? And what are some of your all time favorite picture book covers?