Thank you to everyone who entered the Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip publication day giveaway. It’s been inspiring to hear your writing resolutions for 2016. I hope everyone has a fruitful year!
The winner (drawn out of a tissue box – appropriately as I have the mother of all colds) is… duitwit! Sorry not to use your real name duitwit as I’m sure you have one. If you email me at lou dot treleaven at sky dot com with your name and address and who you’d like the book dedicated to, I will pop it in the post to you.
I had a lovely tea party yesterday with some friends to celebrate. We ate gingerbread Professor McQuarks, oojamaflapjacks and square balloon peanut blondies (brownies without the cocoa). I signed lots of books and felt like a real author!
The sign for the toilet!
We also made Professor McQuark fortune tellers / cootie catchers / chatterboxes – there are lots of names for these little gizmos but basically you fold the paper and work through the three options until you have an idea for an invention. Then you can draw it, act it out or simply muse on the possibility of actually having a portable cloud straightener or whatever your result is! If you’d like one of these, simply click here to download a pdf which you can then print and follow the instructions to fold. The artwork, as always, is by the incredibly talented Julia Patton.
You can also find Professor McQuark’s Curiously Creative Cootie Catcher at downloadablecootiecatchers.com
It’s nearly publication day! Fifteen years ago I started submitting children’s book manuscripts to publishers. Five years ago I decided to share my list of publishers I was submitting to by putting it on my blog. I never dreamed it would be such a popular post, with nearly 800 comments, queries and even success stories. It’s been great sharing the ups and downs of publication with so many people. Finally, on 28 January this month, my own dream will come true and my rhyming picture book, Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip, illustrated by Julia Patton, will be published by Maverick Books.
To say thank you for everyone’s support, I would love to give away a signed copy. If you would like one, please share your new year’s writing resolution below! On publication day I’ll print out the comments and pick one at random. I’ll then be in contact to ask you for your address and dedication.
If you are still submitting, don’t give up! I made this promise to myself and I’m so glad I did. I will keep updating the publishers and agents lists and keep encouraging you all. Maybe your success story will be the next one on here? I hope so! Have a brilliant 2016 and keep writing.
In my last blog post I was delighted to share with you that the very talented Julia Patton is the illustrator for Professor McQuark. I posed her a few questions and I think you’ll agree that, with her hectic schedule, inspired ideas and appreciation for the silly things in life, she is the Professor McQuark of the illustrative world!
Looking at your Amazon Author Page, you are a very busy woman! How do you choose your next project? What drew you to Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip?
It’s true I’m a workaholic! I’m madly in love with my job and my passion for creating children’s picture books makes me skip to my studio each morning. (All of three paces, as my studio is my woodshed in my garden overlooking my vegetable patch!)
I am lucky enough to have a collection of dedicated Bright agents in London and New York who work tirelessly for me, internationally sourcing the newest and hottest authors and publishers to collaborate with. Most weeks a few new jobs pop up! I also source my own new publishers through attending the International Children’s Book fair in Bologna, which I visit each year. It’s a lovely break in the publishing calendar to look forward to during the long hours in the studio. I use this annual opportunity to meet face-to-face with existing international publishers, strengthening those all important relationships. It’s a delight to finally meet someone after 6 moths of daily emails (often at very unsocial hours). Attending the trade fairs is important for me to see the worlds finest publishing houses under one roof. I then can see emerging trends, where my work fits into the market and who is on my next wish list to work with. Very inspiring. Networking with a glass of prosecco is also rather lovely!
Choosing the next project?….rather more difficult than first anticipated. I’d love to say yes to everything, but it’s is impossible. At one intense period I had 6 books on the go simultaneously. As you can imagine this is not sustainable or really giving everyone your best. A freelance creative has to carefully select what works best for them, everyone works differently. I know illustrators who deliberately take weekends off and others that work flexibly around busy families. Unfortunately these decisions usually depend upon timing: what I’m currently working on, what’s lined up for the immediate months and what I have lurking in the not-so-distant-future. Deadlines vary greatly so calculating what I’m capable of achieving to the highest standards has to be estimated. Saying no to any project is very hard. I also specifically put aside time to write and develop my own stories- I have maybe 4/5 ready to pitch, a few in the pea-pod stage and others just scribbles in my sketchbook that require frequent watering to blossom.
I was delighted to be offered Professor McQuark from Maverick Publishing as we’d wanted to work together previously but I’d been too busy unfortunately. Timing. The text was exceptional – if you can visualise each line, word and character on the first read-through you know it’s going to be very special. Exciting, busy and beautifully rhymed! A female professor empowering a new generation of mini-inventors and engineers! YES PLEASE!
How do you come up with a look for your characters? For example, I love the fact that the Professor has four pairs of glasses!
Character development is important to make each book distinctive, we have to care about our protagonists and this requires creating them with love and attention to detail. A redheaded character can subliminally be seen as the underdog we all secretly champion and we all can imagine what adding copious amounts of freckles to a little boys’ nose can possibly achieve!!! Professor McQuark is so clever and busy that she’d obviously require numerous spectacles and it was also a reference to my childhood hero, Professor Branestawm, who had multiple glasses too.
The level of detail in the illustrations is amazing! Were you a Richard Scarry fan when you were younger? Who inspired you?
I believe my role as an illustrator is to illuminate words, suggest the magical and interpret the unspoken. A good illustrator can capture the imagination and hearts of not only the audience, but visually interpret the emotions of characters and the adventures they explore. We have the tangible tools of colour, tone, texture and composition at our disposal and the responsibility to capture audible drama, anticipation, and physical emotions. The pause that a ‘page-turn’ gives offers an illustrator infinite possibilities. I love the idea that nothing is impossible to render and breathe life into. It can be quite an overwhelming responsibility and challenge sometimes. Professor McQuark was an amalgamating of many of my historical visual influences: Lego manuals I poured over for hours, and my beloved Richard Scarry (whose books I read as regularly now as in my infant years). Not forgetting Heath Robinson. Many days have been lost in delight fanatically deliberating how his contraptions were created. I loved discovering a 1912 dictionary definition of ‘Heath Robinson-esque’ as an “Absurdly ingenious and impracticable device” Even my children’s love of Wallace and Gromit is a modern embodiment of the same theme. A perfect partnership for Professor McQuark I thought!
I love the Science Fair page with all the wacky inventions you have come up with. What is your favourite illustration or spread in the book?
I really love diagrams. All those dotted lines, numerical influences, keys explaining odd symbols has me giddy with excitement. Combined with all those Heath Robinson and Richard Scary influences, the science page was a sheer delight. Your description of each object was delicious, just enough to give me a spring-board and leaving just enough to the imagination to create the sublime and the ridiculous. You can never underestimate how magical something ‘plain silly’ can be. The science fair page took me almost 2 weeks to create. I loved every second. I’d really like the ‘parrot-interpreter-radio’ to be achievable please – I imagine macaws are just hilarious company.
And finally… Your latest publication is the Children in Need celebrity co-authored book, The Curious Tale of Fi-Rex. I have to ask: did you get to meet any of the celebrities? Who came up with the best page?
This new book is raising vital funds for the BBC Children In Need charity which is very close to my heart. It was a huge privilege to be a part of. Fi-Rex is a collaboration between some of the finest sportsmen, musicians and creatives in contemporary society. A bonkers story based around a traditional game of ‘consequences’ which concludes happily I can report! The launch party was really quite marvellous, attended by many famous faces. Trying to give a sense of consistency to so many voices within one book what a delightful challenge. (Between you and I, Bear Grylls’ page was the most atmospheric and tension building – this was my favourite. Shhhhhh!)
Thank you Julia! We will let you return to your woodshed where no doubt new and amazing illustrations are impatient to burst forth!
Julia’s Amazon author page
It’s an actual Professor McQuark illustration by Julia Patton! I love it!
Probably the most exciting part about getting a picture book accepted is seeing the illustrations. More than any other book, a picture book has to grab the reader’s attention from the very first glance, so the illustrations really are the most important part of the package. I can appreciate much more now why most publishers ask for text only. They may have illustrators they are waiting to work with, they have their own house style to pursue, they have access to agencies with hundreds of artists… in short, they are much better placed to make a decision about an illustrator than you are. The exception is if you are an author-illustrator (a rare but amazing breed!) or an already established partnership such as Hedgehugs‘ Steve Wilson and Lucy Tapper (husband and wife as well as writer and illustrator). Having an illustrator chosen for you also gives you a wonderful chance to see your book elevated to another level, as your illustrator brings a whole new level of interest and fun to your text. This has certainly been the case with the illustrator my publishers, Maverick, have selected for Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip: the amazingly inventive Julia Patton.
Normally Maverick will select perhaps three artists and ask for sample spreads before comparing them and selecting their favourite. The author is consulted as part of the decision but is not in charge of making the final choice. In this case, however, they were keen to work with Julia and knew she would be the perfect choice for a book about wacky inventions. I only had to look at her sample spread to instantly agree!
The next time the author will see illustrations is usually when pencil-drawn drafts are produced for each spread, to give a rough idea of how the finished book will look. There is an opportunity for input but again the editor and artist will be making the main decisions. After the pencil stage, it’s time to sit back and try not to fidget too much while the artist puts in the hard graft. As I mentioned in my previous post about promotion, this is a good time to do those pre-publication jobs such as creating a website and Facebook page. When the finished drawings come in and you have picked yourself off the floor in amazement and awe, there is a chance for some typo-hunting, as by now the text will have been laid out on the pages by the editor. At this stage you may get a digital copy, which isn’t actually a virtual book but the real thing. It’s just not the actual book yet. Yes, I don’t understand either. One last check and then it’s off to be printed for real, a process which takes three long months. Time to get very excited indeed!
In my next post I’ll be interviewing Julia Patton about inventions, inspiration and interpretation via parrot. Back soon!
Thank you to everyone who entered the critique giveaway. It was so interesting to read about everyone’s work. The winner has today been chosen at random from the woolly hat and it is (fanfare)…
Rose, please email me your story at lou dot treleaven at sky dot com. I can’t wait to read it and give you my feedback.
Meanwhile, I promised to keep you up to date with the publishing journey of Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip. After acceptance (hurrah!), the next stage has been editing, which took the form of emails from and to my editor, plus the input of an external freelance editor. This has been really interesting and a great learning process.
The first job was to cut several verses which was a little painful but I could instantly see improvements. Apparently in a picture book the less words you can use the better. The words that make the final cut have to work so much harder that they become exactly the right words for the job.
Next to be picked up were inconsistencies and unnecessary areas of the plot. Yes, even a picture book has a plot – it needs a clear beginning, middle and end. The beginning has to jump straight into the action, the middle needs to be absorbing, and if the end can be a bang, a snort of laughter or a giggle of happiness then so much the better.
One issue I always struggle with is finding the right words for the target age group, and there were a few words that needed changing. When you’re writing rhyme, changing one word is not that simple – it can mean rewriting the entire verse. A fun challenge! After two or three rounds of editing, my editor was happy and I was very happy. I could see the improvements straight away. In fact the text is so much better than before that frankly I can’t understand why it was even picked it off the slushpile in that state in the first place!
The next stage is the really, really exciting one – illlustrations. I will blog about that in my next post. Here is a summary of what I have learned so far during the editing process.
- Although most publishers specify a maximum of 1000 words for picture books, there’s a magic number to aim for if you can – under 500. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but too many words on a page can spoil the layout, overwhelm the illustrations and put a child off the book.
- You can spend a day deciding on the right word. Luckily you can be doing the washing up at the same time.
- My publisher (hurrah!) favours 13 double page spreads. Not every picture book is that length (some are more), but if in doubt it’s a useful guideline. That means if your book is a rhyming one, 13 4-line stanzas would be a good maximum to aim for.
- Be prepared to lose a lot of your manuscript in the editing process. You will benefit from it. It’s like polishing a stone and getting all the rough edges off.
- Even a picture book needs to have a plot. If it’s rhyming, try to step away from the ‘poem’ concept and make sure you are telling a story.
- It’s easy to sacrifice meaning and or sense for the sake of a good rhyme. I’ve realised I do it all the time. I need to make the rhyme serve my story, not the other way around.
- Every word is important and has a job to do. You could say writing is making sure the right word does the right job at the right time.
Enjoy your writing and keep submitting!
I am so happy to tell you that a picture book I submitted to Maverick Books has made its way up through the slush pile and has been accepted for publication! You will know that this is a dream come true for me and I am still afraid I will suddenly walk into an exam hall without my trousers on and realise it is a dream and I have to retake my physics O level instead.
I sent the manuscript at the end of April 2014 but I knew there was a big backlog and Maverick was my first choice so I decided to wait and concentrate on other material. I have a lot of manuscripts of different age ranges and genres all whizzing about at once! Then at the beginning of February I received an email asking if the manuscript was still available and for more information about myself. Funnily enough Maverick had already heard of me due to the number of click-throughs coming to their site through the list of publishers on this blog! I was thrilled to hear they were interested but tried not to get too excited as I have been at this stage so many times before. The next email invited me to visit their offices in Horsham. It was a two-hour drive but nothing was going to stop me!
It was very interesting seeing inside a publisher’s office and I learned a lot about the process as we talked about how a picture book was put together and how Maverick works. Although it is a small team they have big ambitions and really high standards. They also like to work closely with their authors and get them involved in editorial meetings, which sounded great. Contracts were mentioned, hands were shaken and I left the meeting walking on air and hoping I wouldn’t crash the car on the way home!
Putting together a picture book is a lengthy process, so I won’t see Professor McQuark come to life fully until 2016. But there is the editorial process to enjoy, plus the excitement of seeing sample illustrations from three different illustrators before a final style is selected to suit the Professor and her amazing inventions. I think that’s what I’m looking forward to seeing most of all.
I’ll keep you up to date with my publishing journey as it happens. But for now, keep submitting, keep writing – you never know what might happen!