In Part 1 of this interview with Deb Kelly, we found out how she got started on the road to writing books for children. This week we focus more on how the books came to be picked up for publication and the setbacks and encouragements along the way:
Deb, can you tell us the path your books have taken to be picked up by publishers? Is it similar/different for each?
My name was pulled out of a hat to pitch a story idea to a panel of publishers at the Kids and YA festival one year at the NSWWC in Sydney (a festival I still attend each year). I pitched a story about my Hungarian grandmother and an editor from Random House asked to see the manuscript. That story became the picture book Jam for Nana (Random House 2014) but Random House also signed two other picture books The Bouncing Ball (2013) and Dinosaur Disco (2015). Ruby Wishfingers: Skydancer’s Escape was picked up off the slush pile by Wombat Books and has now branched into a series!
We all know the writing life has many opportunities for discouragements – rejections from publishers being high up on the list. How have you overcome discouragements?
From ‘no response’ to polite rejections to manuscripts going all the way to acquisitions and then falling at the last hurdle (after many months) I’ve had my share of rejections and yes, it can be very tough! Over time I have learned to develop a slightly thicker skin when it comes to rejection but it is never easy to take.
A good dose of stubbornness helps (!) and supportive shoulder to cry on is a must. But a strong belief in your ability and a faith in your path are essential. I think if you want it badly enough you find a way to work through the pain of rejection. My advice would be to take on board any constructive criticism if you are lucky enough to get it. Then, allow yourself a couple of days to sulk before preparing your next submission.
It is worth remembering that a manuscript can be rejected for a variety of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with you or the quality of your work. A full list, a list that already has enough books about dogs or enough books for pre-schoolers or it could simply be that the publisher already has a book in the works with a similar message or theme. Timing and luck can be very important but frustratingly, impossible to control.
The support and encouragement of family and friends, particularly my husband.
The support of fellow authors and illustrators has been instrumental, too. The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) NSW Newcastle Sub Branch here, set up by Katrina McKelvey has been an amazing source of practical support, advice and also friendship. It has also provided me with many opportunities to promote my books through various events organised by the CBCA such as the wonderful ‘Lunch With The Stars’ event we held last year and plan to hold again this year.
Positive feedback from people in the industry: Publishers who took the time to give me feedback, professionals I attended manuscript assessments with and authors running workshops who took the time to look at my work have all encouraged me to keep going.
I am deeply grateful to all my publishing teams for their belief in and support of me and my work and to all the fabulous illustrators who have brought my characters to life!
I am grateful to all the people who buy my books, borrow them from the library and come to my events. To those who took the time to review my books, or write to me and tell me why they liked my books. I am grateful to both the Lake Macquarie and Newcastle Library networks and our local bookshops especially Maclean’s booksellers of Hamilton and Harry Hartog at Kotara, all of whom are extremely supportive of local authors like myself.
I have learned that it takes a whole community to support a book and help it to succeed. And also to encourage an author to keep going in an industry that can be extremely tough.
What do you consider the most helpful things – events/skills/moments – that encouraged you to write and made you a better writer?
Relish feedback if you are lucky enough to get it. Use the positive feedback to propel you onward and be humble enough to learn from constructive criticism.
Read as much as you can get your hands on-including the shortlisted/ winning CBCA books.
Surround yourself with other people who are passionate about what they do.
It helps enormously to have a supportive partner or family and friends. But being around other creatives who understand the industry is really important. Get to know other authors and illustrators and support them by going to their events. They will be grateful for your support and eager to do the same for you.
Take risks-share your work. Why not put your name in the hat for a pitch session? You never know where it might lead!
Celebrate the wins. In a tough industry like publishing it is important to acknowledge each and every success even if it seems minor. If you get a nice comment from a publisher, break open the bubbly and celebrate. It means you are on the right track, and helps to break up the doom and gloom of constant rejections.
There’s a lot of hints in there that we can all take away, thanks Deb. Next month, we’ll look at what’s next – Deborah Kelly’s up and coming books and how she promotes them. In the mean-time:
Deb’s website is http://www.deborahkelly.com.au
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DeborahKellyChildrensAuthor/
Ruby Wishfingers has her very own website filled with free activities and games as well as teachers notes! Check it out at:
My Website: www.debratidball.com