(drumroll, please… ) by Allison Remcheck Pernetti at Stimola Literary Studio! I’ll be working on author-illustrator books and I am just absolutely giddy with excitement about making this move.
I’ve been talking to Allison for quite a while, since she critiqued one of my picture book ideas in a class I took at the Children’s Book Academy. She loved it then, but felt it was a little quiet – I think she suggested it was written in a tone that was more commonly published in the late ’80s-early ’90s, which made me chuckle because that’s when I was reading so many picture books last! But since then I’ve upped my modern picture book library and gotten a sense of exactly what she meant. She asked me to do a revision and submit it to her, and I did, some months later. I was delighted, of course – this was my first interaction with an agent and it was so positive! Her MSWL (manuscript wish list) matched my writing interests, she gave feedback in a way that made sense to me, and it all felt like, gosh, too good to be true! This was my *first* course in writing picture books (though I’ve been writing since I was a little kid and taking classes in other types of prose on and off my whole life) – could things really happen this fast? Spoiler – nothing in publishing happens fast, especially not in 2020.
Allison liked the revision when I finally sent, and scheduled a phone call! I’d been told this was a really good sign! Giddy! Well, it was a good sign, but she could see I wasn’t quite ready yet. Yes, the revisions to the manuscript were good, and yes, she liked my next picture book manuscript a lot – but she’d need me to show her that I could draw humans a bit better and that I had a dozen or so illustrations in my portfolio that I was really proud of, and also tidy up the book dummy for the story she wanted to send out first becasue it was very sketchy. This might have discouraged some people, but for me it clarified that Allison was gearing me for success. All of those requests made sense to me. People are not what I was trained to draw, and I hadn’t found my style yet or become confident with hands and feet or consistency. My portfolio was mish-mashed with very old work and very sketchy work, and heavy on the three books I was working on.
So I sat down to make some art.
I set myself a deadline, and to be honest, I was in a hurry. I wanted this career move SO BADLY. I busted my butt to make a dozen images (without really thinking about *what* they were, just that they existed) and sent them to her when I had 12.
I made a few moves that slowed everything down at this point. First, I sent things to Allison the last week of December, when most of us are *not* reading emails. Second, I just sent a link, not any of the images. Third, I hadn’t curated these images… like I said, I just counted to 12. Some of them were good (I’d worked on some in an Open Studio course with Larissa Marantz (major plug here- work with Larissa!! She’s amazing!), and those were in good shape. Some of the others… eh. So Allison didn’t see the email because it got buried, and then when I checked back in with her in the spring, she didn’t click the link (or maybe she did but saw the “eh” images and very reasonably said “eh”).
At this point I tried to temper my excitement, and I sent out some queries. A bunch of queries. I took some more classes, including character design and comic/graphic novel classes. I drew some more. I started working on a collaboration with another writer as practice, which made me draw a lot of hands and people and pushed me to find a hybrid way to work, with watercolor and digital teaming up. I made more random pieces. I got a bunch of nopes, a ‘revise and resubmit’, and a ‘show me more work’ from some agents. This was encouraging – about half of the nopes were personalized, and I was getting enough “hmmm, maybe!” answers that I was not delusional in my goals. I could actually do this and the people who knew were – in one of the busiest, weirdest times in publication – responding positively to my work.
I took another class with Larissa and made a piece that was very silly, but helped me understand what to do with digital tools.
Then, I responded to a twitter call for illustrators who were chronically ill or disabled, and was asked to send work that had detailed backgrounds or showed disabled characters. Something about this process reminded me that I know exactly how to apply for gigs. I’ve been freelancing for YEARS. I am a queen of throwing together proposals with new/existing work to show that I could be the right fit for a job. I just never applied it to kidlit. And with the jump in skills I was making in Larissa’s class, I was suddenly able to edit some old work and make some new work to fit this bill. The three images I made that week were good – and after I sent my reply to that call and edited the heck out of my website portfolio, I thought, maybe I should send these to Allison.
It took me a minute. I second guessed. I wrote very self-deprecating emails. I erased them and made them less self-deprecating. Finally I said something like, “I hope you’re still interested in my work, here’s what I’m working on right now, and here are some new images I made.” And I put the illustrations IN THE EMAIL. Because let me be real… I don’t click on links to things unless I’m pretty excited about them. I can’t assume anyone else will either. So I put the eye candy in the email.
And the rest? History. Allison liked the pictures. She was motivated enough to click through and see the rest of my portfolio (which was pruned significantly since the winter’s dozen images, and better ones added). She checked out my instagram and liked the weird digital piece I was making in Larissa’s class. And she scheduled a call…
and offered me representation!
I’m super excited to be on sub to publishers next month and to have someone help me decide what project is NEXT.
I’ll keep taking Larissa’s Open Studio, I suspect. It’s a great way to keep working.
And now as soon as my kid is in school, I can very reasonably block out time to write and draw. It’s my job now. I have to.