Book Production & Collaboration
Inspiration—writing—submission. That’s what I’ve talked about thus far in this series of posts–those first important three steps toward getting a book published. Fortunately, these things happened quickly for Love Can Come in Many Ways. I got the idea in January 2017 and accepted the book deal in July 2017. After a lovely “honeymoon” with Chronicle Books making me feel so incredibly welcome, it was time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Love is my first novelty book and I was incredibly fortunate that my wonderful editor, Ariel Richardson, included me in on the book collaboration. I, who knew very little about novelty book production! But her welcoming nature, gentle guidance, and master ringleader skills in managing everyone involved (her team, the illustrator, and myself) made the experience pure joy.
To give a sense of Love’s timeline, our initial discussion began in August of 2017, when we chatted about some light revisions, the number of page spreads, which animals to include (or remove). A few weeks later, our talented illustrator Suzy Ultman, had already done some rough sketches for the cover, so Ariel asked for my thoughts. We also discussed the felt samples (Chronicle wanted to use felt flaps and found some gorgeous sturdy felt fabric that could withstand the repeated use of small hands).
In January 2018, Suzy had completed the rough sketches for the book, so for the next few weeks, we discussed revisions (to the art and the writing). One of the things we all agreed upon was incorporating diversity into the book (even though there were only two spreads with humans we wanted to make them count so all readers could see themselves in the book). For me, the final spread was where we aimed at being all-inclusive. I mean, this is a book about love, after all!
By late February, Suzy had done more rough sketches based on the revision notes. One of the things we were discussing was a line, “Enclosed in tender toothy jaws” which I wrote based on this photo:
I loved this picture of a mother alligator carrying her young inside her mouth. Wow! That’s some motherly love! But unfortunately, it just didn’t work in the art because no matter how Suzy drew it, it looked like the mom was eating her young! (Yikes! NOT our desired effect!). So, after much discussion, we landed on using a panda. Phew! Kids love pandas and they carry their very pink young in their mouths like cats do (something young readers might be familiar with already).
Our collaboration continued for the next few months. Suzy’s artistic style is charming and whimsical (so fun for very young children), but because I’m a stickler about animal facts, sometimes I’d have a question or concern. I greatly appreciated Ariel and Suzy’s patience with me whenever I’d ask about something in the art that I wasn’t sure of. I also found that sharing the photographs that inspired the writing was helpful. If nothing else, seeing these beautiful animals showing affection to their young was a joy for all of us to see.
We also had to reorder the spreads a bit. Ariel had noticed the animal-to-human order of appearance was off a little. I’m a visual learner, so I printed out the rough sketches and laid it out on my office floor to play with it and see what suggestions I could come up with. Playing with words and pictures is so much fun! (and yes, that’s cat food and water on my office floor—my co-authors must have sustenance!)
After taking a pause for Suzy to complete another project, we were now mid-summer 2018. Our collaboration on the cover and interior illustrations continued, mostly working out the fine details. One of my favorite ideas born of this time was to have a felt speech bubble flap on the final page. When Ariel asked me for suggestions for the text under the flap, I immediately thought of how I often sign my other board book, Mama Loves You So: “You are loved!” Everyone loved this idea so these became the final words that will resonate with every reader. And how important is that?
Our collaborations continued through 2019. Much of this was checking the final art and text, and deciding on the final cover. Checking and rechecking all those delightful details! It wasn’t until late 2019 that the final edits were actually “final.”
So, in case you’ve lost track, the collaboration process took about 28 months (August 2017 through late 2019). That might sound like a long time, but it flew by for me. I love doing deep dives into projects and am so grateful I had this opportunity to do so.
One final thought…I’ve learned many important lessons in my twenty-one years of writing, but one of the most important is to play nice. That might sound obvious, but I can’t say enough how important it is to be kind, respectful and courteous to your fellow creatives and professionals in the book business when you’re collaborating on a project.
Next week, the “radio silence” phase of book production! (and a shorter post, I promise!)