An ongoing series of posts, capturing the making of a children’s graphic novel series The Island of Magic & Mystery

Once I had flushed out most of my initial ideas for the books I was going to create, going far and wide in my explorations, I began work on the actual materials needed, in order to pitch my book series to publishers. In my research to gain knowledge about the children’s publishing industry, I visited book stores, read online articles, and purchased a copy of the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. As a rookie entering the publishing world, I needed to understand how the market functioned in order to plan the upcoming process properly. At first, I assumed that one just comes up with a great idea, sends it to the right company, and voilà, the book is purchased by a million people around the world. At the start, I believe this extreme naivety allowed me to dream big and without constraint, however, once I gained further knowledge of the publishing process, it brought my dreams down to reality and gave me focus. Initially, if I had know all the intricacies of the business, plus how hard it actually is to get your work in front of someone that matters, I think I would of planned a four page book about a little frog that jumps into a pond for a swim. However, as with most of my personal creative endeavours, my tendency is to GO BIG, or go nowhere. With reality a distant vision, I had jumped into this project with grand ideas and wild dreams.

At the start, I believe this extreme naivety allowed me to dream big and without constraint, however, once I gained further knowledge of the publishing process, it brought my dreams down to reality and gave me focus.

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Sample spread 01: Nouf arriving at the mountain cabin of Norvard

After establishing a list of materials to work against, in order to submit a proposal package to potential publishers, I began to form an initial understanding, and a detailed list, of the children’s publishing landscape. The next step was to understand how each company deals with new book proposals, and that’s when I ran into the first roadblock. Most of them don’t. Like I mentioned, I had assumed that if one has a great idea, that idea would open all the doors for you. However, most large, and well-known publishing houses, do not accept unsolicited proposals, and instead deal with publishing agents. These agents represent writers, and together with them, pitch book ideas to a select network of publishers. I assume in some sense this must be a good model, especially for publishing houses, as the world is filled with thousands, if not millions, of aspiring creative writers, ready to take the world by storm with the stories. If publishing houses spent their entire time dealing with millions of manuscripts, we would never see a new book on our shelves again. Ok, so where does one get an agent then?

I went back to my research, scouring the web and that wonderful book I mentioned earlier, forming an understanding of the agents who handle both writers and illustrators for children’s books. The process from there on was more or less the same as approaching publishing houses. Compose the required materials that demonstrate your idea, and pitch your story to your chosen agent. Each agent, or agency, which houses multiple agents that specialise in various literature markets, has their own submission requirements listed online. This usually includes; a book manuscript, a selection of finished sample pages from the book, any supporting materials, and cover letter. Considering this is what set out to complete, I was in good shape, I just needed to pivot slightly.

The final months of 2016, and the first few months of 2017, were spent refining the manuscript for book 01, polishing the artwork, and completing all the supporting materials that would outline the full potential of my adventurous story. In my case, I needed to carefully explain the intended audience of my story, dive deeper into elements of the world— such as the vast landscape of characters and their history—elaborate on the themes that were important to the books, plus outline the various story arcs running through the complete series. There was a lot of detail which I felt was critical to highlight, but I also needed to be conscious of creating a package that was easily digestible by someone who spends a lot of time reviewing book proposals. Less is more, but sometimes more is needed. It’s a tough balance which I am still trying to figure it out.

I had in front of me, a package that I was incredibly proud of and excited about.

Finally the moment came, I had completed the full package of materials I was going to send to select publishers, and many more agents. The timing of this milestone was perfect, as my first kid—daughter Mia—was born only a few days after I had sprinted to finish all the proposal materials. Obviously, not all the work was done, as I now needed to shift my focus on shooting out an array of emails. However, completing the proposal materials was a huge milestone. I had in front of me, a package that I was incredibly proud of and excited about. A package, that not only, allowed me to view the entire creative scope in one piece, but a package that brought me one step closer to making my dreams a reality.

Some months went by, as I changed nappies, slept very little, and composed emails. I also reached out to my own network of friends and colleagues, harvesting any lead that could connect me with a person who worked within the publishing industry. At this time, I also began a conversation with a highly successful independent publisher, that happened to be located near me in London. I knocked on their front door and dropped off the materials in person. Fortunately for me, the person answering the door was company’s founder.

As for the emails, I eventually began receiving replies. Unfortunately, most of these included generic phrases such as, “not at this time”, or “not what we are currently looking for”. However, my local knock-on-the-door approach, and a LinkedIn connection, led to some positive conversations that provided focus for moving forward.

I learned a great deal about what to expect in terms of publishing deals, editorial assistance, agents, and working timelines.

The first of these conversations came when the local publisher contacted me back and invited me in for a chat about my proposal. They saw the potential in my “unconventional” story, and loved the illustrations. We discussed various aspects of the story, and they provided me with some important insight into how they deal with book proposals. I learned a great deal about what to expect in terms of publishing deals, editorial assistance, agents, and working timelines. They also provided some initial feedback on some key aspects of the story, ideas that I could use to improve the overall narrative in order create a deeper connection with the reader. During the first phase of creating my story, I had focused extensively on crafting a massive breath of detail in order to create a believable world, but I had lost touch with the basic elements of a story that are key in capturing the hearts and minds of the readers.

The second conversation came from an agent on LinkedIn, who saw my post about the proposal that a mutual friend had shared forward. My conversation with them was also very positive and inspiring, and provided insight from a slightly different perspective to that of a publisher. I learned about the process of collaborating with an agent, along with additional feedback about my story which aligned with the conversation I was having with the publisher. I also received interesting feedback about my writing style and the prose. The later aspect was something that I realised could be an issues as I do not have a strong background in writing. Nonetheless, I was eager to soak in all the feedback and returned to the proposal materials in order to plan my next steps.

Key things to consider during your journey in publishing are; researching the market extensively, expecting that things take time, being open to a variety of feedback, continuing to refine the work, and discovering ways to connect with people within the industry.

Diving head first, and with a healthy dose of naivety, I had set out to get my story published. I was always aware that there were going to be challenges along the way, as well as moments of great learning. The first connections I made, proved to be deeply insightful in gaining an understanding of the full process ahead, and how to collaborate with various people in order to realise your ideas. It is not enough to just have a great idea. Key things to consider during your journey in publishing are; researching the market extensively, expecting that things take time, being open to a variety of feedback, continuing to refine the work, and discovering ways to connect with people within the industry. Unless you already know people that work within publishing, you should go out of your way to meet new people face-to-face. Treat them coffee, knock on their door, climb in through their window… ok that last one might be considered creepy, unless it is “figuratively speaking”.

Back to the drawing board. Back to Felwild.

Written by

Creator of the graphic novel series The Island of Magic & Mystery. Follow my progress here on Medium!

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