Sometimes writers and illustrators question their ability. That’s normal and keeps us pushing for excellence. However, they shouldn’t question their saleability. That is for someone else to do, so let it go. There are people who know as much about selling as you do about creating, so you are in safe hands…
Teamwork is what makes a book succeed or fail. Besides the writer or illustrator, the editor, art director, designer, marketing, publicity, production and printing team members share the responsibility of making an idea the best book it can be.
This means you can concentrate on your special skill, safe in the knowledge that everything else is under control. No one knows for sure how many copies of a book will sell in a given period. You might think yours is the best idea ever, only to find its not a commercial success. Or, you might question why your idea is being taken apart, interrogated so aggressively, only to find on publication day that it is going to be a massive success…. Each member of the team has a valuable contribution to make, raising the overall quality.
Within the team there can be as much conflict as harmony; Editorial and design opinions are historically tense (editors often want more words, designers less). Or, authors who have a strong conviction their words are the exact right ones, and editors who weigh that conviction against sales and marketing insights. And no one is happy when sales people dismiss a cover that they all love. But the right thing for everyone to do is step back have a think and come back with a different option.
So, when you are finally ready to present your masterpiece to a publisher, you should also be ready to let go of your emotional attachment to it. Instead, be open to what your new team will have to say. They will probably point out things you haven’t considered and, more importantly, remind you that presenting your idea isn’t the end of the book building process but the beginning.
A slow burning idea can sometimes work very effectively. Are you a prolific ideas generator? See what happens when you slow yourself down. Put your idea onto paper/a device and then leave it to bubble away… Notice how much more focused you are when you get back to it, or when it starts to call you. Everyone has their ideal situation to generate ideas. But it is well worth trying something different, if only to reaffirm what you already know!
For one of my books I was super-excited when I started, and still super-excited some nine years later when the book finally hit the bookshops. Yes, that’s right- nine years! About six or seven different iterations, three changes in art style, rhyming text, prose, and so on. Each time I thought that was the right version. Then I kept pushing for something more…
It was a slow burner. It got better with time. It was a relatively new experience to hold a book that took that long, but wholly satisfying. I learned a lot about my own process, improved on many levels, like how to develop characters and the worlds they inhabit, and there is something about the painting that I found more considered and consistent.
Stepping away creates time to assess an idea on a much deeper level. It helps to become less emotionally attached to the work too, which is something that will be useful when it is time to hand it over to a publisher.
Combined with time away, the importance of sketchbooks and notebooks in the creative process can’t be underestimated. They hold all our thoughts and ideas and free up our brains to create new ones. So when you are stuck, or feel like you aren’t giving your best, just step away and wait.
Astro Girl is in bookshops and making its way to libraries across the UK as part of the Summer Reading Challenge, so I thought it might be an idea to remind you about the other books with strong female characters I have worked on over the years.
First up, I Can Do It Too, written with much fun and energy by Karen Baicker. I remember how much I enjoyed painting the text! It was easy to bring her to life. It’s still available on Amazon and other good bookstores in the US. Perhaps we need an official UK version? Ahyway, here’s the review from Kirkus:
“Is there anything so heady or contagious as the shiny, new confidence of a child who has freshly mastered the everyday, but oh-so-difficult? No matter that a few drops of juice miss the glass, or that her buttons are a bit askew, the lively little heroine of this satisfying story absolutely exudes positivity and innocent pride in newly-acquired skills. With bright, broad, touch-me artwork and easy-on-the-ears rhyming text, Wilson-Max and Baicker conspire to communicate, most successfully, the infectious exuberance of their cake-baking (okay, batter-testing), trike-riding young subject. (P.S. Thanks for the helmet.)
This sturdy cardstock offering has plenty of finger-paint child appeal: each carefully composed page depicts the earnest little girl’s effort to replicate the activity of a nearby friend or family member, and artfully integrated, actively designed type swings and sings and whooshes across paintings that pronounce her hard-won self-assurance with a boldly saturated palette. Physical skills are not the only kind in focus here, for a happy contagion of kindness is also afoot. The support of her family and congenial companions has the very finest of effects, and best of all, at the end of it all, is our little heroine’s unspoiled and generous display of encouragement for one even smaller than she.” (Picture book. 1½-4)
I am taking part in Pathways, which is a fantastic new programme for young and emerging children’s books and comics talent in the UK.
The Pathways into children’s publishing programme is a groundbreaking new two-year illustration programme for diverse, talented and ambitious artists taught by world-class illustrators and writers, university tutors, children’s editors and art directors. Pop Up Projects has partnered with House of Illustration in the UK and secured 12 publisher and 10 university affiliates who are giving money and time to this project to support the next generation of children’s illustrators!
The project aims to increase diversity and representation in children’s books. Help them find new and ethnically diverse illustration and comics talent from across the UK!
Applications are open until September 2nd. Enourage the young people you know to take part and make sure that they see themselves in the books they create.
You can find out more on pathways-org.com, or on Instagram (@PathwaysINTO), Twitter (@PathwaysINTO) or Facebook (@PathwaysINTO)