The declined offer

One morning at around six o’clock, I woke up before my alarm (damn this term-time body clock). As I had a good 20 minutes or so before I had to get up, I grabbed my phone and began looking at my emails. Suddenly, I had a knot in my stomach and I could feel my heart beating harder as excitement and adrenaline began to surge around my body… I had an offer from a publisher!

“Over the past few weeks my colleagues and I have been discussing various aspects of your work and have agreed that your book is suitable for children with an enjoyable narrative, charming illustrations and a cliff-hanger ending. We believe that it deserves a chance to reach the general readership and this can be achieved with the marketing capabilities we can provide.”

I couldn’t believe it; it was happening and very early on in the process. I had only sent off my submissions about a month before (perhaps alarm bells should’ve rung then but I was caught up in the moment). All the hard work had paid off and now I was going to be a published author… With an enormous spring in my step, I got up and began getting ready for work. As time ticked on I began to calm down and my thoughts began to settle. I went from excitement to pragmatism and began to think more rationally. Then, I thought to myself that perhaps I should investigate this offer further before I get carried away with it all… So, I began researching the publishers. My heart sank and I felt like a fool. There were almost countless articles mentioning this publisher, telling a similar story to mine. It turns out this publisher is what is known as a vanity publisher, which is basically a company requiring the author to pay for some or all of the publishing costs. Vanity publishers generally make their money from charging authors rather than selling books.

I will emphasise that this publisher praised my work highly and did act in a very professional manner throughout the offer (even when I declined it). Also, they only wanted me to contribute a small amount of money. Now, this would’ve have been great if I merely wanted to have a book published, tell my family, put it on Facebook and be able to talk about it in years to come. However, I’m more ambitious than that. Call me a dreamer but I think my book can do well with the right opportunity. I really believe in my book and I think it is worth being more patient and worth working towards obtaining a traditional publishing contract with a successful, well known publisher or an ambitious new publisher.

So, after all the excitement and the rollercoaster ride of emotions it was back to the waiting game… waiting for a publisher to take a chance on me.

Approaching publishers.

Finally, after months of hard work I had got my first book to a stage where I was happy with it and now it was time to try to get someone to publish it.

My first action was to find out how the process works so I did what every modern person does today; I googled it. After reading several blogs, forums and web pages, I stumbled upon a blog which listed the best publishers and how they want your submission. I’ve researched a lot and learnt a lot. I’ve learnt a lot of new terminology, such as ‘unsolicited manuscripts’ and ‘vanity’ publishing. I quickly realised this was going to be a steep learning curve.

After trolling through many publisher’s submission guideline pages, I made a list of publishers who may be interested in my book. Many looked perfect but had the disappointing words of ‘submissions currently closed’ headlining their submissions page. Several stated they were not interested in picture books so I crossed them off my list and several just didn’t look suitable (lots of Hunger Games and Twilight style books).

So I had my list of publishers who looked like the real deal, wanted picture books, were open to unsolicited manuscripts and who were accepting submissions. However, with each submission I had to endure more formatting fun! Aaaah! Every publisher wanted different things, such as different word counts, just pictures and a synopsis, pictures and text, text in a certain line spacing and font, text separate from the pictures, personal statements, emailed submissions less than 10mb, less than 5mb and even some less than 1mb! I soon realised this was not going to be a simple, quick stage in the process…

Pen to paper

Okay, so now it was time to start putting pen to paper by adding words to my pictures. Having been a teacher for a while I knew where I wanted to pitch the word level, what grammatical features I wanted to include and how I wanted to structure the sentences.

I began my writing at home but finished the first draft of the text whilst I was on holiday in the Lake District. It was completely coincidental that I was writing my first book whilst visiting the home and setting of one of the greatest children’s writers, Beatrix Potter. I went on a tour of her house and felt empowered with inspiration as I found out more about this remarkable author.

After I had finished the first draft, I called in the help of family members once again to give me feedback. Finally, after many, many tweaks I was happy with the words and ready to begin constructing the pages of my book…

Going digital.

After I had finalised my storyboard sketches, it was time to create a digital-art version of them.  I wanted to show any prospective publishers that I am professional and can create high quality, aesthetically pleasing artwork.  As there were over 50 original sketches, I set myself a target of digitising five pages a week.

A couple of years ago, I received a digital art tablet for my birthday.  I have used my tablet to create many pieces of artwork for various projects, such as wedding invitations, business logos, a book cover and concept art.  It’s very different drawing on a digital art tablet compared to pen and paper and it takes a bit of getting used to.  It really tests your hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness.  Thankfully, the other early projects had really helped me to develop my skills and create art in a more modern way.

As I was still working full-time as a teacher at that point, I worked hard most evenings meticulously turning my rough sketches into colourful, vibrant images.  Initially, I wasn’t sure what style I should use to colour the images so I drafted five copies of the same picture in different styles.  I asked a small group of close family members to tell me which style they liked the best… the winner was unanimous.

It took several months to completely digitise the artwork to a level that I was happy with. Now that was done, I was moving on to the next part… writing the words.

digital drawings

Drawers draw.

Back in early 2017, I started to put something down on paper and as I am first and foremost a drawer (illustrator if I’m trying to sound professional), I began sketching.  Some may write first and illustrate later but that’s just not how I’m made.  I’ve had a sketchbook and pencil in my hand for my entire life and that is how I feel most comfortable.

The initial concept was clear to me so the sketches for the first four or five pages came out quite quickly.  After that, I took my time.  I knew where I wanted to start the story and where I wanted it to go so it was just a case of knitting it together fluently.  After each page I thought hard about the next and gradually built up my story.  Some parts just naturally came out but others needed more thought.  It was a long, enjoyable process which lasted a good few months.  Some pages were drawn and then completely crossed out, while others were adapted and changed.

I didn’t want to be too strict on myself by saying, “I must sketch a page a day!”  I figured this would be putting pressure on myself to force the next page when perhaps is wasn’t quite ready.  I chose to take a more mindful approach by developing ideas when they were ready.

Eventually, after drawing, rubbing out, drawing some more, crossing out, rethinking certain pages and drawing some more, I was finished.  I was very pleased with my final storyboard and I was ready for the next stage… going digital.