I’ve always been a fan of collaboration. As a kid, I loved getting together with friends to plan a fun project. As a kindergarten teacher, I treasured the contributions from parents who brought a wealth of diversity and talent to school functions. It seemed natural to me that there would be a team effort when a book was created—with input from author, illustrator, and editor. But unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.
In theory, the author brings her vision to the story with words. The illustrator adds another layer of vision. But some editors may fear if too much communication is allowed between author and illustrator, the author may try to influence the illustrator to do things her way. Although I understand that point of view, I also believe that there is so much good that can come out of working as a team.
At this point in my writing journey, I have multiple book deals. That is certainly something to cheer about. But it’s also given me the opportunity to experience different publishing processes. The first contract I signed was for SWEET DREAMS, SARAH (Creston Books, May 1, 2019).
I never saw early sketches, there was no collaboration between author and illustrator, and when the color layouts were finally shared with me, there were many changes that needed to be made for historical accuracy. I’m grateful that those changes have been made and the finished product will be stellar, but that is why a book that was signed in November 2015 isn’t launching until May 2019. Happily, for the other two books that also launch next year, there has been a level of collaboration which exceeded even my expectations.
PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE (Holiday House, Feb 5, 2019) began as a Picture Book Idea Month thought back in 2013.
When one of my in-person critique buddies, author/illustrator Jill Weber, saw it at the end of 2017, she fell in love with it and brought it to her long-time editor in NYC who also fell in love with it and bought it on the spot. Jill signed on to illustrate and what followed was pure pleasure for me, although lots of hard work for Jill. She showed me early sketches—I loved each one. She shared early color illustrations—they were fantastic. And when the book dummy was complete, we shared a cup of hot chocolate at our favorite local meeting place while I got to flip through the pages to see Pippa Mouse and all the other characters come to life. Hurray for collaboration!
When my agent sent FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK to the editor at PomegranateKids, she also sent some sketches from one of her illustrator clients. Essie had a feeling that Mirka Hokkanen’s style would be the perfect match for my lyrical text. And she was spot on right! The editor loved the partnership and signed Mirka to do the illustrations.
Mirka and I live 5000 miles apart and can’t meet for hot chocolate, but we were able to connect via Facebook messaging and email. And thank goodness for that, because Mirka, being a conscientious illustrator, did her research before she began drawing (sadly, not every illustrator does that). She uncovered a big problem. All ten of the endangered animals were supposed to inhabit the ecosystem of the Colorado Rockies. “No!” Mirka said. “Not the Golden Cheeked Warbler.” “Yes, it is,” I replied. “It’s found in Colorado Bend State Park!”
Now, wouldn’t you think that Colorado Bend State Park is in Colorado? I certainly did. But no. It’s actually in Texas.
Thank goodness for Mirka’s attention to detail and for our ability to collaborate. We researched other birds and found the perfect substitute—the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Of course, we immediately let the editor know why we were making the change and he was totally fine with that. But how much better it was that we made the change before the publisher fact-checked and discovered my incorrect information.
Later in the process, Mirka sent me a sketch of one of the spreads and she questioned why I had peregrine falcon babies in a burrow. “Don’t they live on a high cliff ledge?” she asked. They certainly do, but the ‘bobbing beaks retreating to the borrowed burrow’ referred to the five burrowing owls from the previous spread, not to the six peregrine falcons who were circling overhead.
If Mirka and I were not collaborating, she would have spent a lot of time refining her sketch and perhaps even crafting the block from which she would make the woodcut illustration. Or worse, if I didn’t get to see the book until it was almost ready to ship, expensive changes would have to be made. Hurray for collaboration!
Just a few weeks ago, I got to see the dummy for FROM HERE TO THERE: INVENTIONS THAT CHANGED THE WAY THE WORLD MOVES (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). Illustrator Gilbert Ford had a huge task…nine nonfiction picture book bios in one compilation book. The editor kindly asked me to comment on the PDF, but there was very little for me to say except how much I loved it! And although I haven’t seen any sketches yet for MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: THE INSPIRING FRIENDSHIP OF ELLA FITZGERALD AND MARILYN MONROE (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020), I’m thrilled with the portfolio of Allenanna Harris, the illustrator who will be bringing that story to life. I know she will do a fabulous job and I look forward to the collaborative effort that will create a wonderful picture book for children.
Although this writing journey can be frustrating at times and disappointing at others, I always feel blessed to be on it. And lucky to have all of you as my traveling companions. I truly believe that we can turn our dreams into reality if we keep moving forward, help one another, and never give up. Our destination is within reach.
Vivian is giving away ONE PICTURE BOOK CRITIQUE to a random person who leaves a comment on this post. All commenters names will be placed in a hat and one winner will be drawn and announced on this blog on Thursday February 7, 2019. If you share this post on Twitter or FB, or reblog it, let me know and I will add your name twice to the hat.
Vivian Kirkfield’s career path is paved with picture books. She shelved them at the library during her college years. She read them to her students when she taught kindergarten. And she writes them. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House, February 2019); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (PomegranateKids, March 2019); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books, May 2019); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). Vivian lives in the quaint New England village of Amherst, New Hampshire where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite Monopoly partner. You can visit her website at Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Linkedin.