'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Saturday 4 April 2009

How to Publish a Children's Book While Living Overseas


Sometimes we just have to take control of our own dreams

Whenever I tell people I’m a writer, they invariably say how they’d love to write a book. Indeed, we all have a story to tell and if you love reading, what better thrill to have a book in print?

I was very fortunate to have a non-fiction book published in Australia some time ago, but it’s only recently that I’ve turned my attention to the children’s book genre. I’ve been pottering on children’s stories since my kids were born and have a wee bit of an obsession with kids’ books, truth be told. I love the pictures. I love the stories that colour in our kids’ brains like an activity book and a box of crayons. I love fun children’s books, traditional ones, magical ones, educational and just plain nonsense ones. I even love the smell of them.

What a dream to actually publish a children’s picture book. What a dream to see the contents of my head down on paper; flickable. What a dream to entrance and inspire children in any way, shape or form. But how to make this dream a reality?

I have enough publisher rejection slips to pâpier maché the Forbidden City. There’s been a lot of despair, frustration and tears shed in this writer’s lifetime, trust me. But I keep telling myself if Gone With The Wind was rejected 18 times before becoming one of the world’s best-known tales, surely I have a remote chance… Likewise, knowing Harry Potter’s tale was knocked back 14 times before conquering the world, also gives me a shred of hope.

Forging ahead despite setbacks is easy for me because I love to write, and living in Beijing with kids certainly provides lots of creative fodder. But loving what you do doesn’t mean it can’t frustrate and disappoint you. After completing three children’s picture book manuscripts last year and sending them religiously to a long list of publishers in China, Australia and the States, it’s been very despairing to watch time slip away – with nary an acceptance letter in sight.

I’ve had several “we’re considering this proposal, we’ll get back to you in 8-12 weeks” slips in the mail. These slips are the equivalent of a glassed-in bamboo stick to a hungry panda bear. They’re a little tormenting. And they completely block out a large chunk of your life because most publishers like to be exclusively offered manuscripts. Margaret Mitchell must have been 183 before Gone with the Wind was published.

Nonetheless, each “we’re considering” slip has taken centre-stage on my fridge, where its edges slowly start to curl and where it is eventually removed and binned when the corresponding rejection letter arrives.

I’m almost immune to the disappointment now. Almost. I’m still affected but at least it doesn’t completely swamp and disable me any more.

So, what to do when you’re really sold on a story idea, you know it’s good and you’re just not connecting to the right “make it happen” person?

What you do – is you publish it yourself.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Budding children’s book writers in Beijing, watch this space and I’ll tell you how I do it. And I’ll also tell you whether or not it’s actually do-able. Whatever the case, at least I won’t have another rejection slip to deal with.

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.