Are you aiming to write a picture book for children? Check out my guest blogger today – Australian author, Ellie Royce. Ellie talks about the journey of her first picture book, LUCAS AND JACK – from first glimmer of an idea to bookshelves.
Lucas and Jack is the story of Lucas, young boy who waits impatiently for his Mum to finish visiting his Great Grandpop at a nursing home each week. “Waiting is boring!” is the first line in the story.
One week, as he wishes for his Mum to “Hurry! Hurry!” Lucas meets Jack, a rather special resident of the nursing home. Through a tricky game of “I Spy”, Jack shows Lucas that underneath the wrinkles and grey hair, older people are really just people – even Great Grandpop was a boy once – and Lucas decides that visiting might not be so bad after all.
Where my story ideas come from.
As is always the case with me, this book began as an idea that came a knocking at my brain. The idea said, “You work with older people who have led exciting and brilliant lives. They all have stories but all we see when we look at them is their white hair and wrinkles. What would they say if they had the chance and who would they say it to?”
I had never written a picture book before, but even though this is a pretty big idea to try and fit into 450 words, the picture book format seemed to be the most appropriate. This story needed to be told simply, so that younger people and older people could understand and connect with it, although from different ends of the spectrum. All well and good, right? But wait… there’s more…
Writing a picture book text is like panning for gold.
I can’t tell you how many different drafts I did, from different perspectives, using different words, until I struck gold. Probably upwards of fifty. And that was before I even started properly!
Then I had to learn how to cut down the text and let the illustrations do their job – a vital skill to develop for anyone who wants to write a picture book. I was recently doing school visits for Book Week 2014 and we discussed this at length, for example – “It was a bright sunny day” is a BIG no no! You need to constantly ask yourself – “will the illustration show this?” again, to continue the panning for gold analogy, every word has to earn its place and be a 24 carat nugget or get rid of it.
You also need to be aware of the format – a standard type picture book has 32 pages so you have approximately fifteen chunks of text to work with. Luckily for me I had some great mentors on the journey who gave me this kind of good advice that I’m now passing on!
My journey to publication.
Lucas and Jack started life as a story called “Underneath” – as in, underneath we are very much the same if you look more closely. After many different drafts it metamorphosed into “Before You Were Old” which is when my agent began sending it to potential publishers. It was rejected by all of them in that first round of submissions, but some of them gave me some useful feedback.
I actually kept one of the rejections on my desktop because it was one of the nicest and most encouraging rejections I’ve ever received!
I put the story away for about six months and tried to forget it, but it just would NOT leave me alone. So I pulled it out, looked again, read the feedback from publishers and re wrote another five or six drafts. Then I pretty much badgered my agent unmercifully (“Nag Nag Nag” is one comment I believe he sent me at this time – said playfully of course!) into trying again.
This time, one publisher expressed interest ‘if’ they could find the right illustrator. Well, you know the end of the story. The right illustrator was found, luckily for me and now “Lucas and Jack” is a reality. The whole process? About three and a half years.
Working with an editor.
I was very lucky that my editor was also my publisher. Working Title Press is a small operation so there was no passing of any bucks, it was all straight to and from the horse’s mouth so to speak.
The best advice I can give to writers is – be open to change during the editorial process. A book, especially a picture book, is collaboration, a team effort. I certainly had my own vision about what I thought it should look like. The finished product, I have to say, was very different to that original concept. It’s now better, more age appropriate and works on a level my inexperienced brain could not have conceived. So, let your work go and be prepared to re think it.
My experience was very positive. All my suggestions were all taken on board. There was only one thing I felt really strongly about and held out for and now everyone agrees it worked that way. So don’t be a doormat, but don’t be inflexible either.
The editing process (with waiting for the artwork to be completed) took about a year.