I received a surprise package a few weeks ago — my copy of Rebecca Colby’s picture book debut THERE WAS A WEE LASSIE WHO SWALLOWED A MIDGIE. It was a surprise because I had preordered the book so long ago, I had completely forgotten about it. I don’t often preorder books, but I did order this one because in addition to being a milestone for Rebecca, it’s also a milestone for me — the first picture book I have critiqued that has made it into publication! And doesn’t it look sweet?
Rebecca has very kindly offered to do a GIVEAWAY – just leave a comment at the end of this post to enter. And now, please welcome Rebecca!
Rebecca, your book is a charming twist on “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” What gave you the idea to do a Scottish version?
I’ve always enjoyed this traditional rhyme—and even more so, the various twists on it that have been written like Jennifer Ward’s There was a Coyote who Swallowed a Flea. It was after I read P. Crumble’s Australian version, There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Mozzie that I got the idea to write a Scottish version. I considered writing a generic UK version, but as I listed ideas, I found myself drawn over and over to all things Scottish. Let’s be honest, swallowing the Loch Ness monster was always going to be funnier than swallowing a fox or a plate of fish and chips.
Yes, and I love the spread with Nessie! You’ve said that you submitted this book on your own, before you signed with your agent. How did you find your publisher?
Finding my publisher was fairly straightforward. I researched Scottish children’s book publishers and found all of two. I submitted to the first one on my list, Floris Books. Floris has a strong picture book list and a reputation for nurturing new talent through their annual Kelpies Prize. Their submission response time is three months, and it was nearly three months to the day when they came back to me with an acceptance.
I wish all interactions with publishers were that fast! I remember seeing a version of this in our critique group (Poets’ Garage) that was a bit different. What changes were made between acceptance and the published book? What was it like to work with an editor?
Working with an editor was a new experience for me and it was great to get a different perspective on my work. And yes, the original manuscript was very different from the published book. In the original, the Wee Lassie swallowed anything and everything Scottish that she could get her hands on—or rather, her mouth on! She swallowed a thistle, a haggis, and even a bagpipe player. However, my editor at Floris decided it would be best if Wee Lassie swallowed mostly real creatures. And having her swallow a bagpipe player was thought to be too disturbing for young children. Good thing I didn’t send my editor the first draft which had Wee Lassie swallowing the Queen!
You signed with an agent last year, and you have another picture book coming out in 2015. How has the experience of working with an agent and with editors and seeing a book through to publication changed you as a writer?
Having an agent is awesome! Or maybe that’s just my agent. She’s happy to provide feedback on anything I send to her, and she always keeps me in the loop with any communication she receives from my editors. As to how I’ve changed as a writer, after seeing my work so heavily edited in my first book, I’m not as precious about my writing as I used to be. I’ve realized that having a strong idea, can be just as important as strong lines—if not more so, as those beloved lines may be changed several times over before publication.
That’s a great thing for writers to remember — starting with a strong idea is so important. What have you done to promote this book, and do you have any takeaways for your next book?
I started by doing the usual things like booking visits with any library, school or bookstore that would have me. I also purchased a truckload of bookmarks to give away.
Beyond that, I’ve done a couple other things. When I had no success in getting the local paper to interview me, I wrote an article about myself and submitted it to them. The newspaper published an edited version of this article in their very next edition.
The other thing I did was to write a teacher’s guide to Wee Lassie. However, I soon realized writing the guide and making it available from my website wasn’t enough—I needed to get it into the hands of teachers. I did this by uploading the guide to elementary teachers’ resource websites.
So the big takeaways for my next book are 1) make things as easy as possible for the press by offering to write up interviews for them and 2) make things as easy as possible for teachers. They are some of the busiest people I know. They don’t have time to make resources or search websites for information. Create resources for them and put the information where it is easily accessible. Don’t make them search for it!
Those are great tips, Rebecca! What’s your favorite part about being a published author?
My favorite part of being a published author is sharing my stories with children, and inspiring them to explore their own creative talents. I’ve worked as a teacher myself and from my experience, there is no greater feeling than knowing you’ve made a positive impact on a child’s life.
Although I started conducting author visits the day after my book launched, I didn’t appreciate that I was making any kind of impact on children’s lives beyond the enjoyment and novelty of having an author in their classroom. Then a mother at my daughters’ school came up to me and thanked me. “My son hates writing,” she said, “but he became so enthused about writing after your visit. He came home that very day and immediately wrote a story.” I’m not sure which of us walked away from that conversation happier—that mother or myself. To me, that’s what makes being an author worthwhile—knowing you’ve inspired a child and positively influenced their attitude towards reading and writing.
What a sweet story. Thank you so much for sharing, Rebecca!
Rebecca Colby writes picture books and poetry and is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Her debut picture book, There was a Wee Lassie who Swallowed a Midgie, is published by Floris Picture Kelpies. A further picture book, It’s Raining Bats and Frogs, will be published by Feiwel and Friends in 2015. You can learn more about Rebecca at www.rebeccacolbybooks.com
LEAVE A COMMENT for Rebecca and you’ll be entered to win a copy of There Was a Wee Lassie Who Swallowed a Midgie. I will do the drawing on Friday, June 6.