Nothing perks up a Tuesday like getting to meet a debut picture book author!
Pull up a comfy chair, bring along a nice cup of your favorite beverage, and help yourself to an appropriately-themed pancake breakfast 😊
Now! Let’s meet June Smalls and check out her delightful picture book!
Odd Animal ABC’s
written by June Smalls
illustrated by Claire Sedovic
Blue Manatee Press
May 7, 2019
Fiction, ages 3-5
A is for Alligator, B is for Bear, and so on, right? Not in this book. The odd animals are taking over! It’s time to meet Aye-Aye, Fossa, Numbat, Xenops and more curious, yet real animals that are ready for their spotlight. Laugh along as they introduce the letters of the alphabet in their own odd way!
SUSANNA: Welcome, June! Thank you so much for joining us today! Where did the idea for this book come from?
JUNE: I got the idea at a yard sale. There was an animal ABC’s cross stitch with all the same animals as when I was a kid. I decided to use the ABC format to introduce some less popular animals.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
JUNE: It took about 8 months, but I don’t write just one manuscript at a time. Picture books are all about the art, so I had to be mindful that while there are many animals that are interesting if they are all grey rodents then the book would be boring. I did tons of research trying to find odd animals and make sure I had a good variety that were visually appealing. I also wanted mammals, birds, and reptiles represented. Large and small. Colorful and plain. And representing different geographic areas.
It is not non-fiction, but I hope kids check the animals out and then go on to learn more about them.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
JUNE: Since Odd Animal ABC’s is a concept book, and each character is only there for a moment, I didn’t have as many revisions as I typically have. I did swap out some animals that didn’t work or for animals that had better puns/jokes. Maybe a dozen or so revisions?
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
JUNE: When The Kid tells me it isn’t boring… Seriously, after rounds with critique partners or beta readers. When I knew I couldn’t make it any better on my own. When I could read it five to ten times in a row and not hate it.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
JUNE: I spent about 2 years subbing Odd Animals to Agents. While some liked it, I was told repeatedlythat ABC books were a hard sell. After I exhausted my list of agents I subbed directly to editors. I chose editors I’d met at conferences and houses with animal books that I liked.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
JUNE: Well, I got “the email” fairly quick. About six weeks after I subbed it to Blue Manatee Press. This was just a slush pile pick. I’d never met them, there were no contests. I just followed their submission guidelines and hit send.
I had a few agents at the time looking at my body of work. I reached out to all agents that were reviewing my manuscripts, let them know I had a publication offer, and asked for a response in two weeks, or to let me know if they needed more time. I knew even if I didn’t get an agent to offer, I wanted to work with BMP, but I was hoping for help since contracts are scary (to me at least.)
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
JUNE: I had two amazing offers of representation and ultimately chose Rebecca Angus at Golden Wheat Literary. We then made quick work of the – not as scary as I thought with Rebecca’s help – contract. I danced around my house with The Kid until we were both laughing, the dogs were prancing around us, and the cat was openly judging us.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
JUNE: The contract was pretty much what I expected. This is a smaller publisher so there was a small, but reasonable advance, royalties, a few author copies of the book, and right of first refusal on similar books for a specified length of time.
SUSANNA: What can you tell us about the editorial process?
JUNE: I was lucky that initial edits were tiny. More edits came after the illustrator started working and we added some lines for animals she added to certain pages and we removed some things to keep other pages from getting too crowded. With a small press, I was a partner in all of these changes and was able to add two jokes to the story that I LOVE. Proof that the collaboration really creates a great picture book.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
JUNE: The publisher chose illustrator, Claire Sedovic, and her watercolors. I loved the style illustrations they chose. I got to see some sketches early on. When something came up, like, “Hey June, this page is a bit crowded with all the hoofed animals. Can we tweak?” I was able to say, “Sure, and with this set up, we can use this animal/joke instead.”
I tried to be sure never to pretend I was an art director, but I had to point out a few things (for animal accuracy, not personal preference) and they were quickly corrected. The publisher had one question about a page where my art notes mentioned animal dung, but I was steadfast that we needed this particular shapely scat in the book and Claire was able to somehow make it even better than I pictured.
To be honest, I was gushing over the art from early on when I saw a sample and Claire had made an Aye-Aye cute (seriously, Google it…not always cute.) So, I knew I was in good hands. Her art and input created a better final product.
I did have simple art notes. Example:
A – Alligator Aye-Aye
[Aye-Aye speaking] “The odd animals are taking over. Now A is for Aye-Aye. Why don’t you take a vacation? Madagascar is nice. Later gator.”
Since Odd Animal ABC’s had so many lesser known creatures, I had a second version of the manuscript with photo references. This helped since many jokes, like ‘spotting’ a quoll, only worked if you could see the animal is polka dotted.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
JUNE: I haven’t seen advanced reviews yet, but I’ll probably faint or happy dance, depending on the review.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
JUNE: I believe I signed the contract in late February of 2018 and the pub date is April 16, 2019. One year is fast for a picture book. Our first print run is to be between 1,800 and 3,000 copies.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
JUNE: The publisher has sent books out for review and is working with indie bookstores that I am interested in. They are working on blog posts and social media. I know there is more going on behind the scenes.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
JUNE: Blogs and interviews – like this one of course. 😊
I’ve set up school visits, bookstore signings, library visits and a reading at a children’s museum with a visit by a wildlife rehabilitation center that is bringing live animals. Really excited for the live animals! I’m also working with some zoos to see about signings at their gift shops.
I’ve purchased a bit of swag, stickers and pins, for the visits.
I’m also part of the Read Local Challenge. This promotes reading books by local authors and illustrators in MD/DE/WV/VA/DC. It runs from October 1st through May 31steach year. We offer discounted presentations, swag for schools and libraries, and group or individual signings.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
JUNE: About five years. I did sell a book early on, but then the small publishing house was purchased by a larger house and they were going in an educational direction, so I received my rights back on a humorous picture book, even though we’d just finished the illustrations. Such is publishing.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
JUNE: I’m glad I had community. From the support of my Hubby and Kid, critique partners cheering me on and celebrating with me, other writers and illustrators I’ve met along the way who were willing to give advice, and my editor and agent. The journey is better because of the people I’ve shared it with.
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers, June! We all so appreciate you sharing your experience and wish you all the best of luck with this and future books!
June Smalls is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and a lover of literature. She resides in Northern Virginia with her hubby, The Kid, and an ever-growing assortment of animals.
Readers, if you have questions for June, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase June’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 at our children’s schools and our local libraries
– 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!