[Cordelia Note: I am so excited to feature this Quit by my favorite panda fanatic, Anne Belov, whose delightful comics full of panda kindergartens and cuppycakes have sustained me through many a long day of hustling.]
I am pleased and ever so proud to announce the debut of my first picture book, Pandamorphosis. The road has been long, with many detours and potholes, and I came close to giving up more than once.
How pandas entered and took over my life and studio is a long tale for another time. But although this is really not a post about pandas, they have taught me about perseverance, which is something you need in large quantities if you want to write and illustrate for children (or if you are an endangered species).
A Tale of Waiting
I did the responsible writerly thing while working on Pandamorphosis: I shared it with critique groups, teachers and librarians; I signed up for consultations with visiting editors, illustrators, and agents—all the while gathering input, some of which proved to be useful, some of which did not. Because it had finally evolved into a wordless picture book/graphic novel format, I felt I would gain from the experience of doing the entire thing in as final a state as I could, knowing that I might have to do some of the drawings over.
Did I mention that I chose to work in very detailed color pencil renderings? And that there were over 48 drawings that tell the story?
The process took me over four years. In the latter part of that time, I had started submitting it to agents. The prevailing response was “We love your artwork, but…”
Sigh… I began to get discouraged.
Then I took it to a regional SCBWI conference, and was fortunate to get a critique with (insert name of art director at big publishing house here)—and he not only loved it, he asked to take it with him!
Then I waited… and waited… and waited. After seven months, I sent a polite email asking if anything was happening. He responded that he had sent the manuscript on to the acquisition editor, and that was the last I ever heard from them. (Where are my pandas?)
I continued to send Pandamorphosis out: to a relative of a friend in publishing who agreed to look at it (but they passed on it as well); to more agents, more editors. One agent told me my artwork was “too good for children’s illustration.” Really?
Now I was ready to put it in a drawer and move on. I put it in a drawer, but it was hard to move on. The pandas called to me. No, really, they did. They wouldn’t shut up. (Tweet!)
All the while, I was also drawing my panda satire cartoons, which I post on my blog, The Panda Chronicles. The drawing style is completely different from Pandamorphosis, but my fan base of people who love pandas and humor (and pandas being humorous) was growing. Every once in a while, I would post one of the drawings from Pandamorphosis and the response was always the same:
We love this! Is it a book? Where can we get it?
I thought about taking Pandamorphosis out of the drawer and starting to submit it again. I took it to a writer’s conference, and pitched it to an editor, as I thought I would at least get some feedback.
There Is a Happy Ending, But It’s Not the One I Thought It Would Be
I launched a Kickstarter project to get some of the production funding, and my faithful panda fans rallied and I reached my goal in less than 36 hours. I did sign with the publisher I met at the conference, but while we were in the process of designing and editing the book, my editor/project manager was suddenly let go.
Without my editor to champion and protect my book, I felt staying with them would do Pandamorphosis more harm than good. I could have started submitting it again to agents and publishers, but I think I’ll save those efforts for my next undertaking.
It was not my intention to publish this book myself, even though I have published four collections of The Panda Chronicles independently. In the end, I decided that having the book done and published would free me to move on to my next projects.
My brief sojourn with this publisher was not wasted. I acquired an editor/marketing person and a designer, both of whom I was able to hire with some of my Kickstarter funds. I learned more about publishing, and the support I have gotten from my pandanistas warms my heart and gives me strength and courage.
In the end, I’m glad I revived Pandamorphosis and finally let the bears loose in the world. I get a warm, happy, pandy feeling when I look at my completed book, and I am glad I trusted my gut when it told me that publishing on my own was the right thing for right now.
Huzzah for Pandamorphosis! Let loose the bears!
Anne Belov has been drawing and painting since the time she could hold a crayon. After receiving a BFA from The PhiladelphiaCollege of Art, she moved west and, since she didn’t learn everything the first time, went to art school again, receiving an MFA in painting from the University of Washington. She now makes her home on Whidbey Island. There are, to her knowledge, no pandas in her backyard. You can find her panda satire cartoons at The Panda Chronicles.
Interested in submitting a Reader Quit of your own? Check out how here.
Images by Anne Belov.
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