Monday, September 12, 2011

Getting my first book published

I started out wanting to be an illustrator. That's all I wanted to do. I was one of those kids that could draw at an early age (and was encouraged to do so). So being an illustrator of children's books was something that I aspired to at a very young age.

When I was in art college I took trips to NYC to show my work to art directors and publishers. Time was always short so I would plan as many meetings as I could. In the early 80's this was not always easy to get an appointment if you were an unknown but I always seemed to be able to see 4-5 people on my visits.

On one trip I met with an editor at Harper & Row who suggested I try writing. Writing!? I was an illustrator, didn't she hear me? I'm not an author! Authors are a rarefied breed and I never thought I could be one of the "chosen" people.

But her reasoning was sound. If she had a story about a cute duck, she could turn to dozens (or more) artists who could turn that into an amazing book. But if I write the story about the cute duck AND could draw then my chances of getting published would be better!

Up to that time the only thing I tried to "write" were some retellings of fairy tales to go along with my drawings-just an afterthought really. But I came back from that trip with a new purpose-to try and write and illustrate my own book.

I worked on many ideas but I remembered when I was young and having to share a room with my older brother. That evolved into my first book, Timothy and the Night Noises. Timothy Frog (that was me) was afraid of the dark, but his older brother Martin (my brother) just made fun of him. It was a realistic slice of life and I crafted the simple story and sketches into a 32 page dummy book and sent it around.

And then I waited, and waited, and waited some more. It was hard enough to try and get meetings in NYC to show my work around but it was ten times harder to have to wait for a response to a story.

But of course the response did come back and the book was rejected. I packed it back up and sent it out to someone else and waited the 3-5 months it took to hear back.

So I sent that baby out over several years while I worked on new stories. I got so used to the rejections that when I sent the story out I usually knew who I would send it to next after it was rejected.

I think after seven or so rejections I remember coming home from work on a Friday night around 6:00pm. There was a message on my message machine from a woman named Carol Barkin at what was then called Prentice Hall Children's Books. She left a short message saying she read the story and would like to talk to me about it. Remember its Friday night and the office was already closed so I knew I couldn't get a hold of her till Monday morning! What a tense filled weekend!

I was thoroughly convinced by Monday morning that the reason for her call was because she hated the book so much she personally wanted to tell me never to send them anything again. These were the days before cell phones and I had a full time job as a paste up artist at a pharmaceutical company, so I had to find time to sneak away to a pay phone. I think it was about 10:00 am before I finally had a chance to call!

And, of course, Carol did not want to tell me she hated the book. She told me she loved it and wanted to publish it. I never felt so happy! I even got to publish two sequels with that little frog.

Well, I was finally published and that editor at Harper&Row started me on a new path-loving to write books. I can't remember her name off hand but it changed my life.

And I still write and love it. But I don't illustrate anymore and I don't miss it! But that's another story.


  1. Love reading this. I was given the same advice about also writing and eventually sold my first story as well. Bringing to mind some things I haven't thought about in a while.

  2. No more sketches at all Jeff??? Not even on post-its while you talk on the phone or notepads while waiting for Doctor appointments?? Sigh. Great story Jeff! I'm glad you found your muse!! :)

  3. It just goes to show that perseverance pays off. A lovely story. I wonder how many beautiful books are not published because the author gave up too early.