September 22, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Books

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I love our comics anthology series!

Chris Duffy puts together these wonderful collections that are full of awesome author/artists and amazing stories.  This latest, Fable Comics, is the third in a trilogy that also includes Nursery Rhyme Comics and Fairy Tale Comics.

In this anthology you’ll find: foxes, hares, tortoises, dogs, mice, and a whole host of other animal characters having great hijinx!  And you’ll also find the Greek gods, a number of interesting foods, and adventures left and right!

This is the perfect book to share with any young kids you know — and get them started reading their very first comics.

Happy reading!

September 17, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

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(business cards; from my office wall)

One of the reasons that publicists and marketing people exist is to be an intermediary between authors and the outside world.  (Unrelatedly, this is also why people have FAQ sections on their websites.)

When media that wants interviews or bookstores that want events and they need to get in touch with an author, frequently it’s easier just to get in touch with a single publicist with whom the media or the store already has a relationship and talks to on a regular basis than to e-mail a different author every time a new book comes out.

This can also be easier on the author’s end, because rather than having to respond to e-mails from lots of individual media outlets saying, ‘I’m definitely up for an interview — send me questions!’ a publicist (having already established that the author is up for doing as many interviews as possible) can deal with that aspect of things and just give the author a direct shortcut to the questions so they have more time to spend on making some books.

It can be a weird and complicated situation for media, bookstores, foreign publishers, etc. to figure out who to e-mail about professional inquiries if there’s already a personal relationship — do you talk to the author (who you know) or to the publisher (who you also know)?

We tend to lean towards always e-mailing the publisher, because a) we like to know what’s going on, b) with most of our authors, we’ve already had extensive conversations about the kinds of things they’re interested in doing to promote their books, so we’re fully informed, and c) we’re also employed to sit around and e-mail people about our authors, so we’re generally around 9 to 5+ five days a week doing just that.

And that way you can save your author-contacts for ‘I loved your book!’ letters and photos of delicious ice cream and cute kittens (always good things to send authors you like) rather than having to bug them about what kind of AV they want at their event and whether they’ve remember that their interview questions are due tomorrow by 9am.

September 14, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

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(Galleys of Faith Erin Hicks’ upcoming graphic novel The Nameless City — which is going to be awesome, you guys!)

For most authors, getting a book published can be a struggle.  It’s a struggle to write or draw the book, it’s a battle to edit it, it’s a fight to find the right publisher, and then a challenge to work with them to get the book published in the best way.

Why is it such a struggle?  For most authors, writing/drawing a book is a really personal, creative act.  It’s all about revealing lots of extremely personal things inside of an author’s brain.  Getting that right can be really difficult — and working with an editor and a designer and a marketing team to make sure they understand that creative vision can task the patience of everyone involved.

As such, it’s a real temptation for authors to think of publishers as adversaries rather than partners.  After all, as an author, it’s your book, right?  You’re the one ultimately responsible for how it comes out.

That’s not necessarily the wrong way to look at the situation.  If you have specific ideas about how you want a book you’re writing/drawing to be edited, designed, marketed, and sold, it’s always best to tell your publisher that and work with them to make that vision come to pass.  But!  That doesn’t mean authors and publishers need to be enemies.  In fact, it can be much more efficient to look upon publishers as partners.  Depending on what’s in your contract, it benefits a publisher just as much as an author if your book sells well.  Publishers aren’t out to make the books they publish fail; in fact, they generally want to sell as many copies as possible.

But here’s the thing — and this is another part of why authors and publishers can end up on opposite sides of an argument — because your publisher has extensive experience publishing books, there will probably be things she’ll want to do that come from that wellspring of experience that might not initially make any sense to you.  If/when that happens, treat your publisher as an ally and ask them why they’re making these choices.  Not every discussion has to be a fight — and going in with an open mind and a willingness to compromise on both ends can make for a much less wrenching conversation.  Some of the factors that a publisher looks at while making decisions might not be data available to authors — or they might not be things that an author is even considering.

Publishers — good publishers (ie, hopefully all publishers) should be every author’s ally in the fight to get more people to read books.  And the best author-publisher relationships come from treating them accordingly!

September 10, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

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(art from Box Brown’s wonderful nonfiction graphic novel Andre the Giant.  This is an interview, but it’s not an informational one)

There are times when you want a job and you know who you want it with.  But: they’re very clear in explaining how their hiring works, and they don’t have any openings that would work for you right now.

What do you do?

Getting a job (especially, especially if it’s your first job) can be a really long and frustrating process.  For me personally, it was seven months from the point when I started applying for a job in publishing to getting one.  And that’s actually pretty quick as far as jobs in this particular industry go — I know someone who finally got her first publishing job . . . two years after she started applying for one.  That’s such a long time!

What can be particularly frustrating about publishing is that you can go into the looking-for-a-job situation knowing the one or two or insert-your-own-very-small-number-here of places where you’d be an amazing fit.  But because of low staff turnover, some of those companies may not have any openings for years at a time.  So even though you know that there’s a perfect job out there with books you love, there’s no way for you to get it.

(What do you do about this?  We recommend that you try working in other parts of the industry — bookselling, librarianing, even working in publishing in perhaps-less-initially-appealing jobs like sales or rights so that you get a feel for the industry.  These jobs can also get you the connections to get the job that you ultimately want . . . or in the meantime, you might find that you prefer being a rights manager!)

So you know who the publishers are where you want to work . . . and none of them have job openings.  What do you do next?

You go meet them anyways!

One of the classic getting-a-job strategies is the informational interview (and the subject of this post).  What is an informational interview?  It’s where you go in to talk to the person you want to work for about how you think they’re great and that you’d like a job . . . even though a job isn’t actually available.

This is a real thing that people do, I swear.

Here’s the thing: because jobs in publishing can come up pretty infrequently, you want to be on the radar of the person who’s hiring.  What better way to go meet them even before the job is public and tell them about how wonderful you think their company is and why you want to work there?  Informational interviews are also a great way to actually interview the person you’re talking to about what the company does, what their job, and what it’s like to work there (which might either make you super-excited about working there in the future or make you decide that you’d really rather work somewhere else)!  Come prepared with questions about things that you’re curious about.

After the interview is over, write a thank-you note, and stay in touch every six months or so with quick e-mails like, ‘hey, I really enjoyed that book that you edited that just came out.’

That way, when the job comes open, you are automatically candidate #1!

September 7, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

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(the top half of last Thursday’s free PW Daily e-newsletter)

Go to conventions! — that’s something that we frequently hear as advice for aspiring creators.  And it’s good advice — conventions are a great place to show off your work, meet people in the industry, and see what kind of authors are getting published and what kind of books they’re publishing.

But depending on where you live and what your resources are, conventions can be really expensive — to travel to, to attend, and to exhibit at.

There’s good news!  At least of the things that conventions are really good at — learning more about what’s happening in the industry — are is pretty easy to accomplish without having to travel far from home.  You do have to put some effort in, but professional hint: to accomplish anything, it’s necessary 99.9% of the time to put effort in.

Here are three ways to brush up on your comics/books industry knowledge without having to travel away from your home town.

E-newsletters!

In the header of this post, you’ll see the top half of one of last week’s issues of Publishers Weekly‘s daily e-newsletter.  That’s one of the three daily e-newsletters I subscribe to, and I subscribe to more that I get on a weekly, biweekly, monthly, or seasonal basis.

What that means is that every morning in my inbox, I have a short precis of what the publishing industry is doing.  Reading through it every day (even as a person who doesn’t work in the publishing industry) really helps you get a sense of who the publishers are, who important authors are, and what important issues the publishing industry is dealing with, as well as a general idea of the health of the overall publishing industry.

All of that can be super-helpful in deciding what publisher you want to work with, as well as what terms you want on any book contracts you have!

Newsletters I recommend include any PW newsletters targeted to your interest (I subscribe to comics world and to kids), Shelf Awareness, the Diamond e-newsletters if you’re interested in comics, ICv2, and any book trade publications you’re interested in — Booklist, Kirkus, SLJ, etc.

Local bookstore/comics store!

Work at your local bookstore or comics store.  Even if it’s just one day a week — and even if they don’t have money to pay you — working at a store will give you unparalleled access to both the publisher and the consumer end of the industry.  Publishers because it lets you see on a week-by-week basis what books are being published — and consumers because it lets you see on a week-by-week basis what people are reading and buying and asking about (and what they’re not reading and buying and asking about)!

And if your local store doesn’t need help right now — try during Free Comic Book Day, Independent Bookstore Day, or during the holidays.  Everyone always needs extra help for days that are going to be completely crazy!

If what you want to do is tell your kind of story in your kind of style (and this is frequently what a publisher will want, too — that’s why most books read and look different from each other), why is gaining this knowledge helpful?  First, it lets you identify authors and publishers whose work you feel yours fits in with.  That can give you a good idea of what publisher may be right for you (and further down the line, which authors may be good choices for blurbing your book).  Second, knowing what kind of books are really working can give you inspiration — as well as a bandwagon to jump on.  And knowing what kind of books people are reading and buying and asking about also can help you see holes in the market — if you’re like, ‘there haven’t been any great mysteries published in the past six months,’ and that’s what you want to do, that’s something you can capitalize on.

Read everything!

One of the most important things that helps you to be a writer is to read.  Read everything.  All the time.

If you want to write nonfiction, read as many nonfiction books as you can get your hands on.  If you want to write fantasy, read every fantasy book you can find in your library.  If you’re making comics, read every single comic you can.

Reading books improves your vocabulary and can help your storytelling skill, especially if you’re reading critically, examining how the author is making their story work as they go.  And like working at a bookstore, it’ll give you a good idea of what publishers are most suited to you.  Bonus: it probably also means that you won’t be accidentally writing the exact same book that someone else has already written.

You don’t have to know about the industry to get your book published.  But it can make things a lot easier for you to deal with the publishing process if you have a basic idea of how it works before subjecting yourself to it.

September 3, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

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(Current :01 office bookshelf!  It’s got some books that we’ve published.)

Most of the time when we talk about books on this blog, we’re specifically talking about books where the pitching process goes like this:

Author: I have an idea!  It is this idea which I am now explaining to you in moderate depth, and I would like to write and draw it into a graphic novel story.  Please publish it, First Second.

Editor: Author, I like this idea very much.  Let’s ride off into the sunset together with it!

But we got a question on our tumblr recently that brought up book packagers, so I wanted to talk a little bit about the other side of the coin — when it’s the editor having the ideas and approaching authors about them.

Book packagers are organizations that create ready-made book projects for publishers.  So basically, the publisher buys into the idea and the packager says, ‘great, I’ll put together a writer and an editor and a designer and an interior artist and all of that stuff so that I’ll give you the book — and it’s 100% finished.’  These types of arrangements work a lot of the time on series and other multi-volume properties — for example, Wikipedia tells me that the ‘For Dummies’ books are a packaged project.

That’s just about entirely on the other end of the scale from the way that we typically do things!  In a book packaging situation, there are times when an editor can just be involved to provide a materials due-date (and hopefully a project read-through to make sure that nothing unexpectedly crazy occurred between buying the book and the final delivery).

For a lot of editors, there’s also a middle ground between entirely outsourcing a project and having an entirely author-conceived project.  When talking about potential projects to work on together, editors can suggest ideas to authors, some of which might spark their imagination and later become books.

Here’s an example!

You may have heard about our upcoming Science Comics series that we’re launching next year — we announced it last week.  It’s going to be great!  And it’s a series of books that all discuss a specific scientific topic — like coral reefs or dinosaurs or volcanoes or flying machines.  I’m sure you’ll all be shocked to learn that this series didn’t come about from multiple different people simultaneously e-mailing us to propose single-topic science-related middle-grade graphic novels.

Instead, the Science Comics idea sprung from the brain of our editor, who then approached all the science-loving authors and artists involved, giving them the parameters that she was looking for in the books.  And then they went off and wrote and drew some amazing graphic novels about cool science things that we’re looking forward to sharing with you!

Similarly, think about our anthology comics series — Nursery Rhyme Comics, Fairy Tale Comics, and Fable Comics.  Those also came into being because they were a type of book that we were interested in publishing — at which point we approached the wonderful Chris Duffy to work with us on organizing the seventy or eighty people who have been a part of the books into these three volumes.  They’re wonderful, fun books — and a great example of how you can take a basic conceit (draw a classic fairy tale!) and reinvent your version story in look, feel, and sometimes in the text itself.

So — as you can see — the editorial involvement on the idea development of a book can vary pretty wildly from book to book.  It can range from, ‘that’s great as is — let’s do it!’ to ‘maybe let’s try a different age for the protagonist’ or ‘let’s consider setting this in the 1950s’ to ‘why don’t you write a book about lumberjacks!’

September 1, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Books

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Ben Hatke’s new graphic novel Little Robot comes out today!

One of the things that Ben is a master of is gestural storytelling.  That really comes to the forefront of this graphic novel, which doesn’t have a whole lot of words.  It’s the story of a girl and a robot who are each others first friend — and so have to figure out how to be a friend while they get to know each other.

As the two characters explore their worlds — and get to know each other — their emotions are as much written on their body language as on their faces.  It’s such a great reflection of children — and childhood — that the characters are drawn this way.  It’s easy to draw facial expressions on characters to depict moods and feelings, but Ben Hatke never forgets to make their bodies reflect those feelings as well.

We can’t wait for you all to read this marvelous book!

August 27, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Books

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No format is better suited than comics to breaking down complex information and making learning fun. And so we’re proud to announce our all-new series: Science ComicsScience Comics’ combination of eye-grabbing art and informative scientific facts will make this series an irresistible choice for kids and educators alike, encouraging its readers to think critically about the science in the universe around them. The study of science is an essential part of a child’s educational development, and Science Comics will get kids excited to learn.

The first three books of the Science Comics series will cover the topics of Dinosaurs (MK Reed and Joe Flood; Spring 2016), Coral Reefs (Maris Wicks; Spring 2016), Volcanos (Jon Chad, Fall 2016), and future volumes, published one per season, will address subjects including flying machines, bats, and the solar system.

Science Comics extends our non-fiction offerings to middle-grade readers.  The Science Comics books will be narrow-focus, single-topic 128 page narrative nonfiction graphic novels, and a new volume will be published each season.  The series will be written and drawn by some of the finest graphic novelists in the industry, and feature introductions by leading experts. Each book will cover topics from the fields of biology, chemistry, and physics, subjects that are part of the classroom curriculum and can be easily worked into lesson plans.

In recent years, comics have found a home in libraries and classrooms across America. Educators and librarians agree that visual literacy is an extremely important facet of a modern student’s education. With the increasing ubiquity of visual information, students must learn to process and respond to visual content, and comics are an incredibly effective medium for exploring visual literacy. In the Science Comics series, readers will not only engage with the combination of words and pictures in electrifying narrative nonfiction, but they’ll also discover the biodiversity in coral reefs, learn about the origins of the  universe in the deepest reaches of space, figure out how volcanoes shape the earth, and more.

“Budding Goodalls and Cousteaus take heed! Science Comics is the perfect series for any curious kid. As exciting as they are educational, Science Comics gives young readers an introduction to the scientific fundamentals of our universe.  This is a series for the next generation of inventors and innovators!” –Casey Gonzalez, Series Editor, Science Comics

“Forget what you think you know about nonfiction books for kids—Science Comics are fun, hilarious, and exciting! This series is all about the joy of discovery, and each book will make you an expert in a new topic,” said :01 Senior Editor Calista Brill.

Since its inception, First Second has been defined by graphic novels spanning all age and genres, from pre-school nursery rhymes to adult memoir and everything in between. We live in a time of unprecedented creative explosion for the graphic novel medium, and season after season, First Second has grown into a home for the best creators and the best works in the field.

Popular Science has some more details (and some sample art)!

August 24, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

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(the candy currently in my office which is not chocolate and which I purchased for myself, I swear)

Sometimes we get asked the question — are there little things that authors can do that will help get a publisher’s attention for their pitch — like send them some chocolate in the envelope?

Now, it’s well known that publishers enjoy chocolate — and also cats, but please avoid sending any cats in the mail to us — but here’s the long and short of how publishing works: sending us chocolate won’t induce us to publish your book if it’s not right for us.  Even if it’s a lot of chocolate.  Even if it’s really good chocolate.

So there’s that.

But!  There is a caveat here — and those of you reading carefully will notice that I didn’t quite exactly answer the question with that last response.

We do open our mail regularly — and we’re only human, so it is exciting when people send us nice things in the mail.  So while chocolate won’t sway our editorial judgment, putting something special in the envelope can sometimes motivate us to remember we have to take a look at your submission.  However, we do prefer to get our submissions digitally, so mailing us anything — even a submission with chocolate in it — is kind of a win/lose situation.

If you’re not a chocolate fan what are some other things you can do to make your submission stand out?

Send us all your mini-comics as they come out so we can see what your writing and art style look like — and how they’re (hopefully) getting better.

Draw a quick adorable sketch on the envelope!

Draw a quick adorable sketch on your cover letter!

Address the editor you want to work with directly by name in your cover letter!

Here are some things you could do to make your submission stand out that we recommend you avoid.

Please don’t send us the original art for your graphic novel as your submission.  What if it gets damaged in the mail?  And it costs a lot to send it back!

Sending us anything perishable is definitely a no — we can be out of the office at conferences for a week at a time.

Please don’t print your submission on special paper — regular printer paper is fine.  No need to go for bright pink or blue or a perfumed stationary!

Elaborate gifts are not a thing we need!  Statuary, articles of clothing, etc. — please keep those for yourself.

And finally — don’t send us a cat.  We like them a lot, but our building has an allergy policy — and also they aren’t the most mailable animal.

Please note that this post is not in any way a request for a deluge of chocolate or adorable sketches!  But doing something to make your submission stand out can sometimes pay off.

August 20, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

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(here is a photo of my bookshelf at the present time, which is actually a moderately reasonable representation of our publishing, though of course many books are omitted for purposes of being on the bottom of the bookshelf behind some boxes)

Publishers really want to publish books.  It’s practically the whole reason for our existence.  We all love books and think they’re awesome.  And we read them and review them and edit them and work with writers and illustrators to foster their careers and then we also publish a whole lot of books.

But to a lot of aspiring writers and illustrators, it can seem like publishers are gatekeepers who are basically doing everything they can to keep books from getting published.  This tends to be incorrect (because as previously mentioned, here we are trying desperately to publish books with all 100% of our time!), but why the misapprehension?

Here are four reasons why this may be confusing.

Deciding whether to publish a book is not as easy as one, two, three.

Sometimes we’ll get a book submission; we’ll e-mail acknowledge we received it and the response will come right away: ‘so, will you publish it?’

Even though we only have four staff people, we want to talk to all of them about the book: can they take some time and read it?  Do they like it?  Do they have thoughts about how to publish it well, or about things that may be issues?  After that, we want to talk so some people at our parent company — our publisher, our sales staff.  Do they all like the book?  Do they think it will work well for our company?

And all of that is after the editor reads the book and thinks about the book and then reads the book again and then does some research on the author’s background and previous books and possibly reads all of those and thinks about how this could fit into the company’s publishing schedule and the author’s body of work and what exciting things our particular publisher could bring to the table that’d make the book super-amazing and make the author excited to work with us.

Also, math!  How much would we pay for the book?  How much would the production for the book cost?  How are those balancing — do we think we could pay enough to make back the advance and pay for the production and hopefully then make some money for both the author and the publisher?

By then, at the very least, several weeks have passed.  In some cases, several months have passed.

When we decide to publish a book, it’s a commitment of thousands of dollars and years of time from our publisher and our staff, and those are decisions we like to take some time with!  You may know when you’re submitting a book that it’s completely and totally fantastic and a perfect fit with this publisher — but the publisher has to take some time and be sure of that too.

Publishing (like any industry) involves a whole lot of tasks that are mostly invisible to the outside observer, but which still take up a great deal of time.

There are a finite amount of hours in the day.  (Corollary: publishers have a finite amount of staff.)

Publishers are only able to publish so many books.  This year, First Second is publishing twenty-two titles.  We have four staff people at our company; this is literally all we have hours in the day to deal with right now.  Because of that, there are books that we may pass on because we already have a lot of books in the pipeline and we can’t actually fit this new project in our schedule without people forgoing sleep and weekends and authors still having to wait six months for editorial notes.

Besides reading books and deciding whether to publish them, our staff also has to edit the books, design the books, market the books, sell the books, and do all sorts of extraneous activities like getting blurbs, organizing author tours, creating series logos, mentoring younger staff members, keeping up with industry news, taking authors and agents we work with or want to work with in the future to coffee or drinks or lunch, going places to speak about how great our publisher is, exhibiting at conventions, keeping an eye on anthologies and the internet and mini-comics to watch for emerging talent; going to company meetings to figure out things like how we will price and schedule and design and market and sell our books; communicating with company staff about all book developments; e-mailing authors and agents to explain to them all of the things going on with their books, producing book-related materials like catalogs, samplers, and buttons, and more.

Since we don’t work in a glass bubble, to someone who is waiting for their book to be read and considered for publication, it may seem like (and feel like) time is crawling by.  And during those days or weeks or months, if they were doing nothing else, a publisher could have certainly read and reviewed the book and made a decision about whether to publish it.  But during that same time period, a publisher could be like, ‘I went to conventions for half the month and didn’t have time to read anything because when I was back in the office, all I did was catch up on the books I’m already working on!’

A book can be a great book — but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a publisher will be able to publish it.

Sometimes we get in submissions and we really like them.  And then we’re like, ‘wait, we just acquired a trilogy about a cave girl for kids ages 6 – 9.  There’s no way that we can also publish this trilogy about a cave boy for kids ages 7 – 10, too.’

And then sometimes we’re like, ‘this seems like a great book.  It’s a really really great book.  Whoever’s going to publish this book has something really good on their hands.’  And then we’re like, ‘because of format/content/audience, this book won’t work at all with our publishing program.’

These are very vague hypothetical examples, but they’re not ‘once in a blue moon’ sort of happenstances.  Publishers really do have all sorts of editorial concerns going on behind the scenes that you may not know about or be able to figure out that can prevent them from buying a book that they like a whole lot and would under other circumstances publish.  Sometimes those factors can be obvious — for example, if a publisher publishes all their books in a standard trim size of 6 x 8.5 and the book under consideration is a foot high and can’t be reduced at all, that’s a clear possible issue, even if that book is 110% awesome.  But something like, ‘we just acquired two different books about the Holocaust so we can’t publish this new one, even though it’s great’ isn’t something an author could ever know beforehand!

Publishers want to publish really, really good books.

Most people who got into publishing didn’t read a terrible book and then say, ‘this!  I want to make a career out of producing things that are just like this!’  Instead, they tend to have had experiences like, ‘This Dorothy L. Sayers author is really amazing — I read this Nicola Griffith novel and it changed my life — Jo Walton’s book made me think about history in a whole new way.’  And then they decide that they want to be part of that process, and that that caliber of books is what they want to be working with.

Those a great origin stories!  But if you are a new author working on your first book, those can pretty high standards to live up to.  Do not despair: editors are professionals at seeing something with potential and nurturing it, so not everything has to be Pulitzer-winning perfect with your first novel.  But with anyone who loves reading, and loves books, there are probably some favorites that they hold everything against — and it can be a challenge to write something that hits those standards.  The last reaction you want to your first novel is for someone to read it and say, ‘oh, this was such a first novel.’  You want to create book that stands up to the best things that the publisher is publishing — and in almost every case that can be some pretty intimidating writers and artists.

If you’re a writer/illustrator who is submitting your book to publishers, it’s good to keep these things in mind during the whole process so as not to get too discouraged!  It may take some time, but you’ll find the right book — and the right publisher.