What I’ve Learned by Liz Pichon
Here are some MYTHS about writing a children’s book
- Children’s books take no time at all to write. They are easy peasy.
- You can write a children’s book by accidentally brushing up against your computer in your lunch break.
- Because your children think the story you wrote is hilarious – EVERYONE will love it.
- Don’t bother listening to those pesky publishers and agents – what do they know?
- Once you’ve written your story – sit back, relax and watch your bank account fill up.
Here what it’s really like to write a children’s book.
- Your idea might come in a F L A S H – but getting it down onto paper and working in the right format can take a lot longer.
- More work goes into making a children’s book then you would imagine.
- Editors are essential and (for me) a huge and important part of the process or writing a book.
- You might have to compromise on something – pick your battles. As long as it’s making the book BETTER.
- Don’t assume once you’ve handed your book into your publisher, your work is all finished – It SO hasn’t. (This might come as a shock.)
I don’t want to put people off writing a children’s book, but anyone who thinks it is the easy option might be in for a shock. It’s taken me a good few years to get to this point in my career with the Tom Gates books.
My first job was working for Jive records designing album covers. It was fun but a MASSIVE learning curve being thrown in at the deep end. After nearly three years I left to go freelance and become an illustrator. (My parents were delighted about that!)
But I managed to get some regular magazine work and did greeting cards, too. Then a publisher commissioned a series of baby board books based on my card characters.
One job led to another and I began illustrating other people’s stories, which gave me the feel of how a book gets put together. I began to write my own stories so I could illustrate a FUNNY book and it meant not having to wait for someone to give me a job which was far too stressful.
By then I was married with three young children and my husband was also a freelance producer/engineer and in a band; it was all quite a hand to mouth and precarious existence! But my picture books were doing OK so I kept doing the cards and other design jobs as well. A lot of late night writing and painting went on over that time. Books always took longer and were more of a long-term commitment.
Tom Gates started of life as a picture book idea and it took three or four different drafts and formats before it became the book that eventually got published. I would give my rough mock ups to my agent Caroline (who I’ve been with for well over 16 years now) and she’d take them to Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Then she’d come back with comments from the publishers like:
“The format was good – the story just OK.”
“Not sure if they both go together.”
Then back to the drawing board I’d go – quite a few times.
It would have been SO easy to have given up and thought, “Oh well, I tried.”
But I just had the feeling there was a germ of a good idea lurking in there somewhere. Then one day I sat down and imagined that my character Tom was writing in his school exercise book about family life and homework excuses, with added comments from his teacher. I used different fonts to help tell the story and the style of illustration was based on what I thought Tom would do.
Basically I wrote a book that at that age I would have loved.
I always wanted to put doodles, drawings, loads of creative stuff and music in them, too.
I gave the mock up to Caroline who said, “Have you heard of Wimpy Kid?”
NO! I hadn’t – and my heart SANK. If someone else had already done a book like mine – who’d want another one?
Caroline sent out my rough draft and within two weeks we had offers from seven different publishers. And that’s when I really panicked.
I’d never written anything more than twelve double page spreads for a picture book before. So suddenly being offered a three book deal was a bit daunting. I had no idea how to even present my story or how the editing process worked. I just wrote and illustrated the book I wanted and tried really hard to make it as funny as possible using that picture book – TAH DAH! – page turning moment where ever I could.
I kept expecting there would be LOADS of changes every step of the way, but the only thing we changed was the cover.
My fab creative director held up the first version and said, “It doesn’t stand out – we need it to really *POP*!”
So I made it *POP* and that’s the cover and style that’s on all the books now. At my publisher’s request I became L. Pichon – so boys would read the books.
(Hence me saying, “pick your battles” – if it was OK for J.K Rowling, it was fine for me too.)
No one has been more surprised than me at the success of the books. Being told by parents, teachers and kids that they love the series has been brilliant. Especially when they’re reluctant readers – I get A LOT of those letters and emails.
Tom Gates is in 36 different languages and who knows what else will happen? I’m busy writing book 9 and still loving it just as much. Over the last four years I feel like I’ve had a complete change of career and I’ve loved every minute.
So GOOD luck if you are writing a book and KEEP GOING.
L. Pichon says that when she was little, she loved to draw and, according to her mom, was very good at making messes. She adds that both of these things are still true today. She studied graphic design at Middlesex Polytechnic and the Camberwell College of Arts, in London, and has worked in the music industry as a designer and art director. Her work as a freelance illustrator has appeared on a variety of products, from beach towels to fabric, calendars, mugs, games, and greeting cards. She is the author-illustrator of several picture books, including My Big Brother, Boris, which won a Smarties Book Prize Silver Award. The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, her debut book for middle readers, has been a bestseller in the U.K. and received several prestigious awards there, including a Roald Dahl Funny Prize, a Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, and a Red House Children’s Book Award. L. Pichon lives in Brighton, England, with her husband and three children.