The Five Most Surprising Things About Being a First Time Author
We are thrilled to welcome first-time children’s book author Wade Bradford today. He has written a delightful picture book that shows that the common question, “Why do I have to make my bed?” has been asked by children throughout the ages. Kids will laugh out loud at the clever text and bright art, and will actually learn a little history, too! Wade shares some surprising things he has learned in the process of having his book published. He also created an animated book trailer you can view below. We can’t wait for you to read this and will be drawing one name from the comment section to receive a finished copy of the book when it goes on sale in two weeks! (U.S. residents only, please.)
Thousands and thousands of authors wait for that moment. The letter that says “Thanks for your amazing query letter; we’d like to see the rest of the manuscript.” Or better yet, the email reply that exclaims, “Fantastic story! I have attached a contract!” Or the phone call that delivers the news, “We would like to buy your book.” I can’t tell you how many dreams I have had where I float outside to check the mail (embarrassed because I’m dressed only in my underwear — but that’s another issue). And in this recurring dream, I reach into the mail box, pull out a letter from some big name publisher, and as I try to read the letter of acceptance the dream falls apart. I wake up. I had that dream umpteen times since I began my “Quest to Become a Writer” at the impressionable age of 16. A year and a half ago, I was stunned when Abigail Samoun, editor of fabulous picture books, informed me that Tricycle Press / Random House wanted to buy my book: “Why Do I Have to Make My Bed? Or, a History of Messy Rooms.” Now, the book is just weeks away from its release date (February 22nd — rush to bookstores and wait in line now). The whole experience still leaves me blissfully dizzy, but a little bit wiser too. There have been a lot of surprises along this journey. Here are my top five:
#5) The Mystery Between Author and Illustrator
Some people think that a picture book writer partners up with an illustrator of their own choosing. That is not the case in the publishing industry. In fact, most editors don’t want writers to choose their own artists. You might think your cousin Bill is a master finger-painter, but your editors (and the general public) might just look at his self-portrait and let out a pitiful burst of laughter before they can politely shut their mouths. I was surprised that I had no contact or communication with the illustrator until after the work was completed. My editor was sort of a go-between for us. I found out who she was (Johanna van der Sterre), and was able to see some of the preliminary sketches (I was elated to find out Johanna is an amazing artist), and I was welcome to provide a little feedback in the early stages. The surprising part was the realization that an incredibly talented artist was intensely analyzing my story and bringing it to life in her own unique way. That became a very humbling experience.
#4) The Awesomeness of Picture Book Editors
I used to think that editors simply looked for good stories. Then, once they found something they liked and something that was reasonably marketable, I thought the editors just went through the manuscript and fixed the typos. Man, was I an idiot. Picture Book editors are the Steven Spielbergs of the Children’s Literature World. They not only find a story, they find the artist. They have to pitch the idea to the marketing folks, the publicity people, and the publishers who write the checks. They take risks with every creative endeavor, and even though they may not illustrate or write the book, they are the guiding force behind the book’s emotional impact. I am still in awe just thinking about it.
#3) The Slowness of the Process
When I first sold my book in April of 2009, my first question was: “When will it be in the bookstores? In a couple of weeks? Maybe a month or two?” Boy, was I surprised.
#2) The I-Have-No-Idea-What-I-Am-Doing Sensation
Once the proverbial ball started to roll, and the release date started to get closer, I was surprised at how inept I was (and still am). There are so many books and websites that tell you how to write. Unfortunately, there are not many resources that tell you how get the word out, or how to get a book signing event, or how to get on the radio, or how to optimize your website. So, these last few months have definitely been a stumbling-in-the-dark sort of learning experience. The good news: Lots of friends, colleagues, and fellow writers have given me some great advice. (Another surprise: Facebook has been a godsend during this question/answer process. And I always thought it was just a website where I could waste time watching my Farmville crops wither and die!)
#1) The Incredible Boost of Confidence
It sounds cheesy, but my dream came true. In fact, I don’t have those recurring dreams of opening up that mysterious letter. They have been replaced by the wonderful reality that my very first book is sitting right next to me as I type these words. Will the book be a success? I hope so. But whether the book winds up in the bargain section or on Oprah’s list of her favorite things (uh-oh, I’m dreaming again), I already feel a calming sense of accomplishment. I am surprised by this boost of confidence that I have gained from writing this silly little picture book about the history of making one’s bed. I am a better writer thanks to this experience. It’s too bad I still don’t know how to make my bed. (My wife forced me to add that last line!)