As a first time author, I did a lot of research during the drafting process, so I hope for those looking to write their first picture book they will get even a small idea of what can be involved.
I had always dreamed of being an author, though I never, ever, imagined I would write a children's picture book. But, on one cold winter night when Logan was around 2 years old it was clear to me that his floppy ear was never going to stand up, and along with his very cheeky personality, I had the idea to write a children's book - about him!
If I can leave you with one important message it would be to not rush your drafts. It took over 2 years of research (HINT: Possum Magic author Mem Fox's website was a big help!), drafting, reading and re-reading, story boarding, and making mock books before I had my final copy manuscript. While not every story may take that long, a rushed one won't get you far. Over those 2 years I regularly went into bookshops to take notes on how those published picture books looked, what were the stories about, who were the characters, and how did the author start and end the story. Online I endlessly Googled 'How to write a picture book'. I learnt that a picture book should be a maximum of 500 words (preferably less); I need to engage both the parent and the child; I need to ensure that the words will support engaging illustrations; the story should have a clear beginning, middle and end, and other important must-haves in a picture book.
I wrote many, many, many different versions of the story, and I constantly doubted myself. But in those moments I would look at Logan who was usually peacefully sleeping beside my bed and I would remember that no one else is going to write this story for me, and one day I'd wake up regretting that I never tried.
If the drafting process is as critical as I believe it is, I would say getting feedback is equally as important. Especially from those who don't know you well and can provide more constructive and truthful feedback.
When I had a final copy manuscript worthy of being read by others, I requested the feedback of family, friends and work colleagues who had children. Every bit of feedback whether negative or positive was helpful. But my favourite feedback was from a Grade 4 class. A friend of mine who worked at the school asked the teacher if she would like to read the manuscript to them - It was literally just the story printed on A4 paper. My friend videoed the session and I was able to see and hear the children engaging with my story even better than I expected they would. They laughed when I hoped they would and followed the narrative to a T. I received such positive feedback that I was confident I could start sending my manuscript to publishers. Oh, and the class even drew pictures (above) which I still have!
Like any new venture being undertaken, research is important (I believe I made that clear in the drafting stage). Not only did I Google publishers, I also regularly went into bookshops to look at the picture books that were stocked so I could note down the publishers and enquire about sending my manuscript to them. I had sent my manuscript to many publishers both in Australia and overseas and I didn't hear back from any, which is really common (so don't give up!). It took almost a year before I was contacted by a publisher and even then it was a one in a million chance. One of the publishers I sent my manuscript to was New Frontier. They didn't accept it, but they gave it to Little Steps (their sister house) who then contacted me to join them, and I accepted. Although New Frontier didn't accept it, the fact that they took the time to read the manuscript and pass it on is more than most publishers do - ever heard of a slush pile? That's where most manuscripts go to die without even being given one look at!
Little Steps is a partner-publishing print house which means I paid a fee for their publishing services - head to their website to find out more about what is involved - https://www.littlesteps.com.au/
Because I paid a fee for Little Steps to publish my book I was actually able to choose my own illustrator. But I didn't anticipate that finding an illustrator would be almost as difficult as finding the publisher! I said the drafting process should not be rushed, and if you are able to choose your own illustrator you should not rush that either. The power of the pictures in a picture book should never be underestimated.
It took almost 3 months before I found Katrina Fisher (www.katrinafisherillustration.com). Her traditional illustrating style of using watercolour was exactly what I had been looking for (and not easy to find). I get countless compliments on her work. The Perfect Puppy was actually her first time illustrating a published book!
The entire illustrating process ran over 4 months and involved rough sketches, black and white drafts, final rough drafts, and final colour illustrations. See some below!
From signing with Little Steps to getting the published book in my hands took over a year. It was exactly how I had always imagined it would be and I am so happy that I never gave up on my idea - the idea I had one cold winter's night at home when I looked at Logan and felt inspired.
Since then, I've hosted two book launches, sold the book at local markets, had it distributed to major booksellers such as Dymocks, Angus Robertson, QBD Books and Booktopia, been in the local paper, and had it read by The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson on her Youtube page "Storytime With Fergie and Friends".
The Perfect Puppy is based on my real floppy eared German Shepherd dog, Logan, but what is fact and what is fiction? Find out how I merged fact and fiction to write an engaging children's story.