You have a brilliant story and you want to share it with the world… but how?
It seems important to start with this: Are you interested in becoming rich and famous? Hahahaha! Stop. Think about why you want this. It can’t be about the money. The money isn’t there, unless you really make a mark like the Aaron Blabeys and Mem Foxes of the world. There is so much competition, and so little in profits, that being a picture book author is not enough to give up your day job… well, not yet anyway.
But, with the joys of the Internet, it is possible to publish a picture book.
Let me share my adventures on becoming a published author.
I’m a primary school teacher. I read lots of picture books. And I love them. But there have been some that weren’t at the top of my list and I always though I might be able to write a book one day.
So, then I become a mother. Oh, what endless inspiration becoming a parent brings! Topics such as exploding baby poos, ninja babies, manic meal times, whinging and whining, and of course bedtime battles all become great story ideas. For me the title or catchy rhyme usually comes first.
When I get 5 minutes, I jot down my ideas, then pop onto the computer to type away. When time permits, I add and tweak, reading it out aloud to baby and myself. I have written LOADS of manuscripts, all the while thinking them through carefully, some rhyming and needing balanced syllabification, others needing to be concise and to the point. Then it is off to find a publisher… a good place to start is inside the cover of your favourite picture books. Great publishers are waiting right there in your house, and also at your local library.
I clearly remember the day I posted off my first manuscript. I was full of hope and excitement, we even popped a bottle of ‘champers’ to celebrate! Oh dear how naïve I was! This was it, I was going to be published… or not. Months went by and no answer. The publisher suggested authors only sent to one publisher at a time in case you were picked up, and I followed this the first time. Then I sent them off to everyone! Back then you had to put it in an envelope and put a stamp on the front with the address… now it’s so much easier. Find a publisher (who is actually accepting unsolicited manuscripts at the time), fill in their form or send an email and boom… manuscript submitted. Over the years, fewer and fewer publishers are accepting manuscripts for children’s books but it can depend on the time of year. Mark in your diary when publishers are accepting and make sure you don’t miss the cut off. Be prepared to not hear anything, ever. Some publishers kindly send a rejection email, but most say nothing. And fair enough, they receive hundreds every month. I would love to have the job of reading them all though!
Ok, so around six years later I got THAT email. The one I literally jumped for joy about. I called my husband leaving a message of excitement. A few tears of joy even found their way out. And then I read the email thoroughly. It was from a division of New Frontier (who I had submitted to), called Little Steps (https://www.littlesteps.com.au/), and was inviting me to co-publish (now called partnership publishing). They wanted money. My heart sank, so low that I was devastated. The second message to my husband was quite the contrast to the first!
They contacted me numerous times over the following weeks and I was adamant I wouldn’t pay to have the book published. In a way I felt cheated, or not good enough. But it was then I started talking to fellow book lovers around me. One in particular was going through a tough period. She was a librarian (that wasn’t the tough part) and could see the potential in Please Don’t Cry. She also said the magic words:
“You only live once.”
That got me. I went home and thought about what I wanted to leave for my kids, what I wanted to inspire in others, and how I wanted to look back at my life. My Mum had passed away from cancer a few years earlier, and I knew she would have loved this book. So, together with Little Steps Publishing we found the most incredible illustrator, Jelena Jordanovic-Lewis (http://jetzyey.blogspot.com/), all the way over in Denmark. And the book started to take shape…
For Please Don’t Cry the inspiration was my second child. As the title suggests, there was a fair bit of crying with her. Our first baby slept through the night from six months of age, which we just thought would happen with Bub #2… oh how we were wrong! We had tried many ways: a self-settling technique that she was just not into that AT ALL. Her stamina was astounding! I tried patting her and just as I thought she was asleep, I’d stop patting and off she would go again. We would sway together, I’d do squats with her in my arms, and we would go driving too. It was mentally and physically exhausting. At times I felt so defeated. And when parents around you tell you how their angel sleeps for 8 hours at a time, it’s hard not to feel like something is really wrong. But the weeks passed and so have the years and now the tears flow from pride at watching her dance on stage.
One thing I have always enjoyed is humming or singing to my babies. I am a terrible singer to say the least. But when it’s just my baby and me, I feel like Beyonce! I had a good bank of lullabies, the tune to Hush Little Baby was perfect but the lyrics pretty average. I Googled them to check I had them right, and yes there were billy carts, goats, and a dog named Rover. It was boring and so started making up my own lyrics. The editor at Little Steps suggested a dream sequence, which is now my favourite part of the book. They also helped with fine-tuning the rhyme, and eventually the words worked.
Deciding on illustrations was very significant, and as a first time author, I was slightly inconsistent with my wonderful illustrator. I sent her a guide, but when the roughs came through, some were perfect for the text while others needed some changes. Luckily for me, Jelena had her own little baby, who was around 6 months of age when she started illustrating. She connected to the text beautifully. And I couldn’t be happier with the work she has created.
Bright, bold colours, diverse families, real situations and of course some magic! I think every parent can relate to the images in the book, and of course the text. We all have our tough times, some of us more than others, but in the end, we love the sleeping little human who just takes our breath away.
Hush little baby, please don’t cry. My precious child, sweet dreams, goodnight.
And if you are having troubles with settling your baby to sleep, talk to your local doctor, there may be something that has been missed.
Give a sleep consultant a go, there are many around these days.
Or just give in to the fact that your baby wants you nearby. Enjoy the cuddles, wipe the tears, and embrace the early hours of the morning! Creating lasting bonds in the first year of life has been shown to impact on the attachment of children as adults, in their adult relationships.
The nights are long but the years are short…