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From Idea to Bookshelf Part 4: Love Can Come in Many Ways

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!)

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From Idea to Bookshelf: Part 3: Love Can Come in Many Ways

The Submission Process

Last week, I left off with a polished final draft of Love Can Come in Many Ways, ready to send to my agent. For me, this part of the writing-submission process is just as stressful as submitting to an editor. Despite feeling like I had written a strong piece, there were no guarantees that she (or an editor) would feel the same way! We work in a highly subjective business, after all. But as I once heard author and editor Arthur Levine say, “Nobody is going to show up at your door and ask to look in your file cabinet so you have to submit your work.”

So, off it went! I let her know I envisioned the manuscript as a picture book or a board book, depending on an editor’s vision. And of course, I’d be happy to revise. I crossed my fingers after hitting “Send” and, between you and me, was hoping she’d read it right away, especially since it was only 104 words. (by the way, shorter word counts don’t seem to affect how quickly editors or agents will read your work!).

Approximately six weeks passed without a response to Love from my agent (in all fairness, we were discussing other manuscripts as well—Love just hadn’t come up.). But I was so convinced, so completely certain, that Love would sell, I emailed her(after the six weeks) and essentially begged her to send it out. She soon wrote back and said she was still thinking on it. I put on my “patience” cap and waited…

Have I ever mentioned how much patience a writer should have? (probably true for editors and illustrators, as well!).

A week later, she wrote me back with lovely things to say about the manuscript, including that she was going to send it out to five editors THAT DAY. I was so happy to finally have Love out on sub…

…but when we got interest from Chronicle Books FIVE DAYS LATER, I knew my gut was right—it was going to sell.

Woo-hooooo!

Now, getting “interest” is exciting, but it’s no guarantee. And I knew not to get my hopes up too much, after the initial excitement. The editor wanted to share it with her team, and show the manuscript to one of their illustrators. Again, I put on my patience cap (by the way, I don’t really have an actual cap).

A month later, we received an email from Ariel Richardson, editor extraordinaire, letting us know the illustrator, Suzy Ultman, loved the manuscript, so we could expect an offer. But…here was the surprise—they wanted to publish it as a novelty book! A NOVELTY BOOK! They loved the idea of having movable arms, paws, tails, etc. for little ones to manipulate. I’d never published a novelty book before (although I’d certainly thought about it), so this was icing on the cake for me!

Another month passed, and we received the official offer letter with all the details. And I’ll say here that based on that letter alone (positive, enthusiastic, professional), I knew working with Chronicle was going to be amazing. And it has been! Seriously, it’s this writer’s dream.

At that point, we worked out some minor changes to the terms of the contract, so the contract process could move forward. (it can take anywhere from a few weeks to few months for an agent and publisher to finalize a contract). I was walking two feet above the ground, elated that Love had sold, and knowing I was going to get to work on a novelty book with one of the best editors in the business!

I should also note that the process up to this point had happened quickly. I don’t usually get a manuscript to perfection in a couple of months. And this was the second fastest submission response I’d ever received.

Next post, I’ll talk about the collaborative process with the book’s production (warning: the collaboration process took over two years—my post won’t be that long, I promise.).

If you’d like to preorder Love Can Come in Many Ways, just click HERE.

Available in stores and online October 20, 2020.