I have an idea for a children’s book. What do I do next?
For writers, there are many newsgroups online which cater specifically to children’s books. For illustrators, a book dummy is a must. Illustrating a single image is one thing. Understanding the layout of a book as a whole is entirely something else.
You may want to look into organizations, such as The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators
(aka the SCBWI), for a list of seminars and workshops in an area near you.Back to Questions
How did you break into children’s publishing?
TD: I tried to send sample portfolios from afar when I was an art school grad (back in 1992), but it was to no avail. Angela and I then moved to New York City where I began dropping my portfolio off to the various publishing houses. Even then, it took almost three years to break into this field that I adore.
First off, I called many children’s illustrators to get tips on what to have in his portfolio. I began creating images of subjects I like to draw to fill my portfolio. Next, I created a book dummy to show that I understood how books were laid out and produced. Finally, I began going to the bookstore and library weekly to see what kind of books publishers where publishing. I would cater my submissions to publishing houses I thought would respond positively to my work.
I also began contributing work to children’s magazines. Having my work published in this form started creating a familiarity with my work and name.
But most importantly, I did not give up. Whenever I could, I met with editors and art directors in person. With every rejection I learned something new and changed my approach, until I finally got a portfolio I was really proud of. I continued to meet with publishers until I found an editor who really understood me and my potential.
Although I started illustrating for role-playing games, there was no gaming art in my portfolio. All sample pieces were created specifically to showcase what I was capable of in the field of children's publishing. You can see some of the samples that I presented in the blog post "Bridging the Gap
".Back to Questions
Will you look at my idea for a children’s book? Perhaps we can collaborate.
Though honored that you would think of me so highly, I have a multitude of stories that I have written at various stages of completion. I am devoting all of my time to making these stories a reality. Therefore, most every manuscript that comes under my nose is usually passed on so that I can continue to work on my own projects.Back to Questions
How do you come up with your stories?
There have been times when I would come up with a neat character, like Jimmy Zangwow, but wasn’t sure what to do with him. Where could I send him? What could he do? What trials and tribulations awaited him?
Story structure has been a very important factor in the books that I have created. And the study of how stories are built, tested, and received by the reader, is a fascinating one. There are some great books which may inspire you.
First, I found a book about the most common plots used in modern storytelling. The book, 20 Master Plots
, gives many examples of the various plot structures that make up most of today’s stories; whether they are for a book, television, or motion picture.
I am a big fan of the classic “Quest Plot” and Joseph Campbell’s book, Hero of 1000 Faces
. I first learned of Joseph and his theories when doing research on George Lucas and how he created the Star Wars
Taking Campbell’s theory and putting it into a storyteller’s toolbox, is a fantastic book that deals with nothing but the “Quest Plot” called The Writer’s Journey
. This book discusses the various points a hero must make on his journey to become a true hero, and the archetypal characters he meets along the way that help/hinder him.
Did you ever wonder why Merlin and Gandalf and Obi-Wan Kenobi were all similar types of characters? Read The Writer’s Journey
and you’ll know why.Back to Questions
When you were starting out, did you ever work with an agent? How do you feel about contacting literary/illustration agencies to sell your work to potential book publishers?
You can have quite a bit of success with an agent showing your work around for you. Many have great relationships with different houses, and can get your work into the most receptive hands. The problem is getting that agent.
Many times agents, like publishers, won’t touch someone until they are more established (at least some of the bigger agents). This means you have to try to get published on your own and start up your career, then they can then step in and help guide you (hopefully) upward.
My advice (and what worked for me): Try to get published on your own if you can, because you could spend just as much time courting an agency. You may be able to do it yourself. And keep in mind, agents take a percentage of your gross, and those first advances aren’t that big.
I held out for as long as I could before I got an agency to represent me. That’s because I wanted a BIG agency to represent me, one that could not only handle my books, but movies and licenses as well. I didn’t have representation until after my first few books were published. Prior to that, I had an entertainment attorney look over my contracts.
Which leads me to…
If you can’t find an agent, at least get an entertainment attorney (with book deal experience) to look over your contract. You need to be educated on how business is done with creative property, and an attorney is a good start. Some attorneys may want a percentage of your advance, or you may be able to pay them a flat fee. My advice is to do it, an ounce of prevention can go a long way.Back to Questions