Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Take the Plunge! by CBIG member, Robyn Dean McHattie

The new CBIG Challenge: Book proposal! 
Sounds daunting, doesn't it? I say: TAKE THE PLUNGE

So much expertise--and adventure-- to be gained, especially from errors and false starts. 

You think not? 
Look at my start in the children's book field. My first children's book, A Black Cat Named Smokey: On Vacation debuted as a real, live picture book the fall of 1992. The sixty-four glorious pages featured thirty illustrations, the hugest sequence of drawings I had ever attempted! And it sold like hotcakes locally upon release. But that is a long way from where the project started.

An original Smokey, that you have never seen, became my very first Zyxalon Press Publication in early Astrobright index weight wrapper, the original Smokey featured several panels per page layout with dialog word balloons. In a word: a comic book! I showed it to a score of retailers. Only one bookstore in town agreed to carry Smokey; Colette Morgan and Jackie Lotsberg (best known now as the mavens of Wild Rumpus) recognized the potential of the comic market even back in 1991 at their giant Centennial Lakes  bookshop. Meanwhile, Smokey glimmered from its shelf, but sat in the store. 1991. Just eight pages, reproduced by Xerox copier, hand-folded and stapled into an

Fortunately for me and my career trajectory, Smokey the comic book contained a tragic flaw. A TRUE friend, Jane Anderson Howard, who at the time was Membership Director at Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), pointed to the horrendous typo on the cover and said: "Robyn. You need to know that over at MPR, even when we spell-check scan Minnesota Monthly for this error, we occasionally still miss it." The error? A badly missing 'l' in the word 'Publication'. Now doesn't that give you a more human view of the sacrosanct Minnesota Public Radio?

The beauty of such a mortifying error was the chance to fix it. Not just the cover, either. You see, by the time Jane saw it, I had a second Smokey comic ready for the Xerox: Primitive Instincts in Urban Pets. The additional drawing time turned Smokey and his friends into much better pieces of art. What to do? Since I was fixing things, I also reconsidered the objections given by the stores I had visited.

Out on my sales calls, a dozen amazing and first-in-their-field children's booksellers had told me, "You have talent. Kids love cats." Then they had named the same two obstacles: "Parents hate comics [and it is they who make the purchase], and we cannot shelve this without a spine." So was born the rewrite, redesign and complete art-rework of a real children's book:  A Black Cat  named Smokey: On Vacation. It took the entire dead of winter 1992 to enlarge and revamp the art, ultimately filling the new layout for 64 pages, which was enough girth for a perfect-bound spine. Although I felt like a traitor to free art expression, I needed to sell this book! Word balloons-- Be Gone!

The final product made my Xeroxed comic book laughable by comparison. The ISBN and Library of Congress numbers added legitimacy as well. Excellent enough to take the next frightening step? It was now June. I called on the book buyer at Dayton's. I was petrified. The buyer said the requisite three magic words: Puss in Boots. Holiday show. Gift shop. Expecting to trudge home stoically, instead, I returned with giddy glee. The opportunities that accompanied the success of Smokey fueled my further creative adventures, right into the international book market in this new century.

See? My entire career shifted due to starting a pitiful little project.
Moral? Be brave! Make the effort and see where it leads.

To learn more about Robyn Dean McHattie, visit her Website: Robyn Dean McHattie

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome article. Inspires me to work harder than ever! Thanks, Robyn and thanks CBIG!