Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Grannie's Coal Pot: Manuscript Review and Thumbnail Review

I'm happy to share that I'm currently working on my first publishing project. No, it's not my very own picturebook (as we say in the Caribbean, soon come!), rather, my poem 'Grannie's Coal Pot' is carded to appear in an illustrated anthology of children's poems and stories to be published by Reflection Press. The anthology grew out of the "Heart of It: Creating Children's Books that Matter" online children's writing and illustration course that I did earlier this year. At the end of the course, students were given the option of submitting work to this anthology and I decided to go for it.

A word on Reflection Press. They're a small, independent publisher affiliated with The School of the Free Mind, which runs the online course I just mentioned. Their books are designed with "a grassroots feel inspired by our revolutionary ideas of transforming the world of children’s books." For this anthology, they were looking for writing and art that aligns with the philosophy of the "Heart of It" online course:

i. Inclusion
ii. First voice
iii. Multicultural
iv. Respect children
v. Lgbtqi
vi. Heart

I'm happy, and I might add proud, to be taking my first baby steps into the world of children's publishing with a small, independent publisher whose mission and values I share. The anthology will feature the writing and art of twenty-nine author-illustrators from around the world, and it will be edited by Maya Gonzalez, Pura Belpre award-winning author-illustrator of My Colors My World/Mis colores, mi mundo, I Know the River Loves Me/Yo se que el rio me ama and more (check out Maya's gorgeous books on Amazon). I'll also be doing an illustration to go along with the poem, another first for me.

Partly because I need the moral support and partly to give you a window into what it's like to work with a publisher on a children's book project, I'll be blogging about the process from beginning to end as I go along. Here's what's been going on so far.

Stage One: The Manuscript Review

The first stage of the process was the manuscript review. Back at the beginning of June, I submitted the manuscript electronically as a Microsoft Word document. Not all publishers accept electronic submissions, but at Reflection Press they're really committed to leveling the playing field in terms of providing equal access/equal opportunity (not everyone can afford the costs associated with sending snail mail submissions) and electronic submissions is one way to work toward that ideal.

Because this anthology will be printed at 8.5" x 5.5" trim size (also known as "digest size"), and I'm getting one double-page spread (i.e., two facing pages designed to be seen together, the illustrations or text forming one whole design, also known as a "two-page spread" or "full spread") for text and illustration, there was a strict word limit. My poem was actually a wee bit over the limit and I made sure to let the Editor know that.

As will usually happen, the Editor then sent me back a brief providing feedback for revisions. Most editors will provide a written brief, but in my case, Maya sent me a fifteen-minute audio review- a nice personal touch to hear her voice!

The audio review helped me finalize the text of the poem. This involved tightening up the language in some places, and re-phrasing in others to bring out the meaning and imagery more clearly. In the end, the poem flowed better (I could hear that reading it aloud; it's always important to read your writing aloud) and I just felt better about it. Maya is an Editor who really encourages you to pay attention to the heart- a writer's emotional connection to the story. There's an intuitive knowing that happens when you know in your heart that it's right.

It would be remiss of me if I didn't mention that I'd initially titled the poem 'Grannie's Pot'. The Editor pointed out that the word 'pot' is synonymous with marijuana here in the US, which is where the book is being published. Good catch! It's not my intention to write anything subversive (at least not with this poem!) so I'm glad they caught that.

I'm lucky to have an Editor who believes in supporting me as the writer/illustrator in listening to my own voice and in becoming more free and strong in my creative expression. Besides, Maya has a wealth of experience working in children's publishing and a strong vision for supporting voices that aren't typically represented in mainstream publishing. I trust her and felt comfortable accepting all her suggestions.

It's important to note that an editor's brief (or, for illustrators, an artistic director's brief) is for guidance only; everything is still open to change and the final decision rests with the author/illustrator. If a publisher wants to make changes to your work to the extent that you feel your vision for the story is lost during the editing process, you're always free to part ways with that publisher, although you'll want to be sure to do so amicably. At the same time, it's good to remember that editors and artistic directors are there to help bring out the best in your work, so make sure you're open to what they have to say.

Stage Two: The Thumbnail Review

After resubmitting the manuscript, I got an email informing me that the final text had been approved. Yes! At that point, the process of translating the poem as art began.

The next step then was to submit a rough thumbnail, which I did earlier this month. The rough thumbnail is just a small initial sketch to give the publisher/the book's artistic director an idea of your basic vision for an illustration. It's a very elemental preliminary drawing for brainstorming purposes. As you can see, my rough thumbnail is very rudimentary. This is me just starting to feel things out, just playing with possibilities and figuring out how I want to structure the image. This is the rough thumbnail I eventually submitted after doing a few.

The rough thumbnail is just a start, but an important one

A few days after submitting it, I was emailed a brief written review with some suggestions for revision. One of the suggestions was that I add shadows on the wall behind the figures, a great idea because the word "shadows" is used in the poem, as is the word "night". After getting the thumbs up (pun intended) on that initial thumbnail, I then had to submit a final thumbnail, which I did last week.

The thumbnail stage is for sorting out the technical, layout and design issues of the spread. It's the publisher who decides how the text and art will appear on the page and who guides the layout aspects of the book. For example, the publisher will suggest whether a particular spread should be a “full bleed” (a single illustration running to the edges of the page as opposed to an illustration with an illustrated border or white space around it), two separate illustrations, or a series of smaller vignettes. The publisher will also determine which pages will be left blank (white background) for text, and places where text will be integrated into the illustrations.

In the case of this anthology, we were offered three design options for our double-page spreads and because my poem contains a lot of text relative to the small trim size this book will be printed in, I chose the half spread page, as you can see in my final thumbnail below. As you can see, we were given templates to work with for our thumbnails.

Final thumbnail, it's coming together

The thumbnail template is a working design to help me, the illustrator, begin to see where any issues with the layout might lie. In book layout, elements like the trim line (where the edge of the page will be cut), the gutter (the part of the book where the pages are bound), the text space (the area of the page where the text will appear) all affect the decisions I will make in terms of how I structure the different elements of an illustration.

I want to make sure all the important elements of the illustration are within the proper margins/the trim box (also known as the "safe zone"), and I want to make sure that nothing important crosses or gets cut off by the gutter. The thumbnail template helps me to "see" the final layout clearly so that I know what I'm about when I go on to the next stage: the final drawing...which is what I'm working on now. I've also been asked to submit an additional spot illustration, i.e., a small independent piece of art that would relate to my spread image and that would appear on other pages of the book as an extra design element. So I'm working on that too.

I'm having a lot of fun learning and experimenting with the art. More updates on 'Grannie's Coal Pot' to come.