It’s the first Tuesday Debut of Spring, and we’re headed for alligator territory down in Florida! 🙂
Today’s debut author is an accomplished poet whose work I have long enjoyed whenever I see it online or in my writing contests. Not surprisingly, BJ Lee’s first published picture book is in rhyme.
Let’s have a look at Old Gator! 🙂
There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth
Written By: B. J. Lee
Illustrated By: David Opie
January 28, 2019
Ages 2 – 8
Down in the southern swamps a hungry gator swallows a moth. Of course, he swallows a crab to get the moth! The gator predictably continues swallowing bigger and bigger creatures until the unexpected happens―all over the page!
SUSANNA: Welcome, BJ! I am so thrilled to have you here today, at last celebrating the release of your first picture book! Where did the idea for this book come from?
BJ: I had been working on several There Was an Old… parodies, when my husband and I saw a juvenile alligator riding waves in a local lake. He was completely cute and it struck me that the Gator would make a great MC. I went home and put the other parodies on the back burner.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
BJ: It took about a year and a half to write this book. It took a while to figure out the right animals to use that had the best rhymes. Plus, it went through my critique group a few times.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
BJ: I went through many, many revisions. Initially this book was called, There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Skeeter. I really wanted it to have this title; however, I was less than pleased with the rhyme for Skeeter, which was “sweeter.” There was an old Gator who swallowed a Skeeter. What could be sweeter than a silly old Skeeter. I didn’t like this rhyme for two reasons:
- It implied that the Gator ate the Skeeter. I didn’t want the connotation of eating, just swallowing.
- It didn’t suggest any action. With “moth”, I had the slant rhyme “cough”, which would come in handy at the climax of the story.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
BJ: I knew it was ready when I had the feeling that I always got when my college papers were ready – that feeling of I can’t work on this anymore. It’s as good as it can be and I believe I will get an “A.”This feeling that I had in college usually resulted in an “A.”
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
BJ: I submitted this directly to one publisher, Pelican Publishing, because I felt that it had the best chance of getting published with Pelican.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 🙂 )
BJ: I sent this manuscript to Pelican Publishing on March 3, 2016 via snail mail. Fairly quickly, I heard back from them asking me if there were any other Florida versions of the story that I knew of. After researching this, I told them that I did not know of any other Florida versions. But no acceptance came.
On July 28, 2016 I heard back from them asking me about school visits that I had done. I replied to this but still no acceptance.
They kept coming back to me with questions about my platform, why my blog was “quiet” (it was quiet because I was taking a hiatus and doing a lot of guest blogging). After each one of these questions was answered, it had to go back into the owners’ meeting for discussion. It was taking a long time. They were checking me out!
On November 1, 2016, Pelican told me that they wanted three months exclusivity. I agreed to this because I could see they were very interested, and because this book had such a regional flavor, I thought I had the best chance for getting it published with Pelican.
I status queried on February 1, 2017 and received an acceptance on April 15, 2017.
I received the acceptance by email and opened the email just as my husband was coming in the door from work. I was trying to scream out, “Gator, gator!” but the only thing coming out of my mouth was a croak. My husband rushed in because he thought something was wrong with me. There was! My debut picture book had at last been accepted. What a moment!
SUSANNA: Wow! That is very interesting. I think you’re the first author I’ve run into who has been quite so thoroughly checked out as to your school visit potential and social media presence before a manuscript acceptance. Now I’m curious as to how regular this is, and/or whether it’s specific to regional publishers!
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
BJ: My husband and I went out to a local restaurant that serves alligator – Café on the Bayou – but I couldn’t bring myself to *swallow* any alligator as I am mostly vegetarian, or at least I was at the time.
SUSANNA: I think I’m glad you didn’t swallow any gator 🙂 Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
BJ: Yes, the contract is what I expected as a debut author. I’m not comfortable discussing my advance or royalty structure but I can tell you I received five author copies plus Pelican will send out five or more copies as giveaways.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us about a little about the editorial process?
BJ: There were no changes to the story, except punctuation. Yes, I felt that the editor had a great vision for the story.
SUSANNA: How was your experience of the illustration process?
BJ: Because Pelican had taken a year to accept this book, they offered to let me suggest an illustrator. I gave them two suggestions but neither one of them worked out because the illustrators were not available due to contractual obligations. As this process was going on, Pelican told me they thought they had found the perfect illustrator. When they sent me David Opie’s name and I looked at his website and saw all the alligators he had drawn, I was glad that the illustrators I suggested had not been available because David Opie was perfect for this project.
I got to see the character sketch first, which was very valuable to me because I could see that Pelican’s vision and the illustrator’s vision aligned with my own for the book. After that, I got to see all the sketches, which pretty much blew me away. I also got to see proofs and the final e-galley.
I appreciate that David Opie got my humor and nailed the character of Old Gator. He’s an extraordinary visual storyteller. I couldn’t be happier and there is nothing I would change.
I did not have any art notes in the manuscript.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc?
BJ: I did not get to see any advance reviews.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
BJ: It took approximately one year and 10 months from offer to first copy in hand, although it took over a year to get the acceptance.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
BJ: I know that they are sending out books for reviews and contacting bookstore reps. Honestly, I don’t know all of what they are doing. Thank you for reminding me to touch base with my publicists about it.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
BJ: I have done a ton of marketing for my book. I have made bookmarks, postcards, coloring books, individual coloring pages, an alligator craft, mini-posters, mini-notebooks, and business cards with the book cover on them which I hand out liberally to people I meet. I have done and am still on my blog tour. I stretched it out rather than do it all in one week or two weeks. I have done giveaways. But perhaps most importantly, I arranged a wonderful book launch at Boyd Hill nature preserve with the help of my local bookstore, Tombolo Books. It was a lot of work but it was definitely worth it and the illustrator, David Opie, was here for the event, which happened on March 10, 2019. I have also had two radio interviews.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
BJ: It’s taken me 10 years to get a picture book accepted for publication since I started writing seriously for children. However, I have had poetry published/forthcoming in 17 poetry anthologies from such publishers as Bloomsbury, Little, Brown, National Geographic and Wordsong, to name a few and eight adult poetry anthologies.
SUSANNA: BJ, thank you so much for joining us today and taking the time to share your experience with all of us! I know I speak for everyone when I wish you the very best with Old Gator!
Here is my website and also my social media links:
Readers, if you have questions for BJ, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase BJ’s book at:
(all links below are book-specific)
We can help our debut authors successfully launch their careers by:
– purchasing their books
– recommending their books to friends and family
– recommending their books to our children’s teachers and librarians
– recommending their books to our local libraries and bookstores
– suggesting them as visiting authors to our children’s schools
– sharing their books on social media
Thank you all for stopping by to read today! Have a lovely, inspiration-filled Tuesday! Maybe today is the day you’ll write your debut picture book 🙂
Missed any previous Tuesday Debuts? Check them out!