I often get asked how I got into this field of work but the more interesting question is how I did not get into this field of work. Here is how it DIDN’T all start.
Let’s get into the Way Back Time Machine and set the dial to 1992 or 1993. I’ll figure it out when I get there. You have to pump the time accelerator, the space-time spark plugs are corroded.
There. Now it’s working… A few years after graduating college I was working at a connectivity software company doing interface/ interactive design and would soon be working on some very early websites. (Can you say grey backgrounds?) I was also doing some freelance illustrations and was in love with picture books.
A local author/illustrator named Kevin Henkes (Yeah THAT Kevin Henkes. Still have all his books) was generous enough to spend time on a phone call or email with me (I don’t remember which now) and he explained enough about submitting that I decided to try it out. A generous bunch these author/illustrators. My career has depended on the generosity of people like this.
I researched an imprint that fit my work, called the publisher and got an editor’s name (man was I energized!) and rules for submission (I was a worker bee back then!). I had my dummy in pencil roughs and two illustrations with color finishes (Kinkos color photocopies – at the time color copies were like magic), my manuscript properly printed out and proofed (spelling was mostly pretty good – I like to say), included a SASE – and off it went.
Back to work for me and checking the mail every day. Three weeks later I walked home for lunch (I lived just down the street from where I worked.) and in the mailbox was my SASE. I was expecting the worst (the Minnesotan in me I think) but a sliver of me hoped that maybe, just maybe – they decided to buy my book, had sent me a check for twenty thousand dollars and decided already it was the best picture book ever written.
I was enthusiastic, inexperienced, naive – a perfect fit to jump into publishing! My hands were shaking as I sat at my cluttered kitchen table and opened the envelope.
Inside was my dummy, my manuscript – and a letter from the editor! (I still have it filed somewhere) And it basically said, this is a pretty good book. Here’s some ideas to work on. When you are ready send it back.
WOW! Yowza! Holly SASE Batman! It was encouragement which means so much when you are starting out.
I immediately set to work thinking about the ideas from the editor that afternoon. I didn’t get a lot of work done at work that day… Within two weeks I sealed up another envelop and sent back my revisions. (MAN! I was efficient back then.)
I had started to believe that it was within the realm of possibility that I could do this and I waited.
About 2 months later I got my SASE back. And no, there wasn’t a check or a publishing contract inside (let the kid dream) – but there was another letter. It said that the editor I had corresponded with was no longer with this publisher (I hope she wasn’t fired for encouraging a slub like me!) and that no other editors had any interest in this project. (She must have been fired for questionable taste when she encouraged a slub like me!) Bye and thank-you-very-much.
And that was that. My introduction to picture books. It would be more than a decade before I would look at this industry seriously again and submit a picture book.
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