Welcome to Tuesday Debut, Everyone!
Have you ever thought about writing a picture book. . .
. . . with someone else?
Today we have a special treat!
Until now, all our Tuesday Debuts have been single authors. Today, for the first time, we’re highlighting a collaboration! Amy is a debut author. Elisa, her co-author, has released one children’s book through traditional publishing with LOS ANGELES IS… and self-published a non-fiction set of travel guide series called “Guides for the Eyes.”
Pull up a pool noodle and get ready to learn a thing or two about writing and selling your first picture book with a partner, a whole new kind of writing journey! Let’s dive in!
Written by Amy Duchene and Elisa Parhad
Illustrated by Anne Bentley
SUSANNA: Welcome, Amy and Elisa! Thank you so much for joining us today! We’re all very excited to hear about the process of debut publishing with a collaborator. Where did the idea for this book come from?
AMY: Elisa and I met in a swimming pool at roughly age 3 and have been friends ever since. We swam together on a club relay team that broke a city record (Seattle Summer Swim League shout out!). We’re also both writers and have been in a kidlit writing group together for over half of a decade here in Los Angeles. We had talked for a while about co-writing something and had never quite landed on a story or topic. And then, one day in summer 2018, a fun rhyming couplet came to my mind: “jump, hop, bellyflop” along with the proposed (and now real) title “POOL PARTY.” I think I emailed Elisa at that exact moment and plead her to consider co-writing a story with me about summertime fun in the pool.
ELISA: Of course, I said, “YES!”
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
AMY: The original seed of the idea was summer 2018. At the time, Elisa was traveling out of the country, so we paused working on the story for a few months. We actually sat down to brainstorm together in person at the start of 2019, and we submitted the query to the publisher by fall of that same year.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
AMY: The actual text is short (~150 words). Yet people may be surprised to know that we had at least a couple dozen rounds of revisions. I think part of this has to do with the fact that we collaborated. Our process was that one person would take the draft and write/edit/etc., then pass it to the other for a revision. So we were constantly trading the draft back and forth for little refinements. We also used cloud-based collaboration tools to keep a copy that we could work on simultaneously. The process was very fun. There were truly many times where I stood in my kitchen cooking dinner and looking at our shared doc on my phone, working out little couplets.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
AMY: Does one ever really know?! We polished the heck out of this manuscript, with fantastic support and input from our writer group (shout out to Marlene and Rachel!). I also read the manuscript aloud to my husband and cats more times than I can even count. Because the book is short and rhyming, we had to be merciless with the meter and the rhymes. The words needed to be spectacular – not obvious rhyme choices. There is a structure behind the manuscript that took multiple tries to sort out, too. In the earlier days, we toyed with whether to submit the book as a board book or picture book; we created digital dummies with page count estimates to ensure there was enough content for either.
ELISA: With rhyming text we had to be sure we could read through without even a moment the words didn’t roll perfectly off the tongue. We probably had a few weeks of rereading it over and over without needing changes before we knew it would be ready.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
AMY: We are both unagented, so we knew we had to approach publishers that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. We wrote a query and sent it to two publishers—one being the publisher that is releasing the book (Cameron Kids). Elisa had already worked with them with another book.
ELISA: After my Los Angeles Is… book came out with Cameron Books, my editor there encouraged me to send her any other manuscripts. So, they were an early obvious place for submission. I have to say, it was a relief to have at least one place where we knew the manuscript would actually be read and not get thrown in the slush pile.
SUSANNA: How long after you found out about your book going to acquisitions (if you did) or after you submitted were you told it was a “yes”?
AMY: This part of the story truly shocks me. I have been on a journey to publish kidlit for nearly a decade, and my ‘rejection list’ is well over 200 queries/pitches. POOL PARTY, on the other hand, was given its first positive response within the first 24 hours of query. I guess when things are meant to be, they go fast!
ELISA: We got that email right back that said, we want to take it. It truly was shocking. I think it helped that the editor was a swimmer and completely “got” it!
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”, which these days is more likely to be “the email”? (Best moment ever! ☺)
AMY: I was at lunch with another writer group member, Marlene, and I got a call from Elisa. She said, “You have to check your email.” My heart beat so fast at that moment.
SUSANNA: How long was it between getting your offer and getting your contract to sign?
AMY: Our greenlight email was in Nov 2019, and the editor advised us we would start the contract process in the early part of the new year 2020. Yet of course, due to the pandemic, we paused for at least six months while the world was attending to much bigger priorities – staying healthy and safe. We finally signed the contract in Nov 2020. Because we are unagented, Elisa and I took on the process of reviewing and marking up our contract ourselves – with a little consult from some lawyer friends. I’m so proud of us for that!
SUSANNA: Wow! Good for you! I would find that fairly intimidating! How did you celebrate signing your contract? (If you care to share ☺)
AMY: Oh my gosh, due to the pandemic it took us until Dec 2021 to actually get together and toast ourselves. No joke! We shared many excited texts and emails and phone calls but it wasn’t until a full year later that we sat down over a table and clinked glasses.
ELISA: It was too long! I feel like we still need to celebrate more, getting a children’s book published is such a feat for anyone.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
ELISA: Our contract was very standard. We got a $3,000 advance paid out at signing and acceptance of the material, and a standard royalty rate. Because we are co-authors, we share any earnings 50/50.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
AMY: Our editor (also named Amy) is fantastic. She ‘got it’ with our book immediately and her edits were the best kind – essential but perceptibly light. We had a couple rounds of changes.
ELISA: Amy, our editor, really refined the words and structure, but minimally. I love the editing process because even when you think you are done, there are always improvements to make. And good editors will clarify, improve or expand in ways that authors often cannot see.
SUSANNA: That has been my experience as well. What was the illustration process like for you two?
AMY: I really didn’t know what to expect in this process. I’d heard that authors and illustrators are typically kept separated, but was pleasantly surprised that we received an intro email welcoming us to Cameron, plus sketches as well as full-color comps during the illustrator’s development process. It was really neat to review the image comps with Elisa, too. We were each able to review the imagery, provide notes, then come together to confer about our observations and provide collected notes. One of my absolute favorite illustrations within the finished book is the end paper. Anne Bentley truly captured the watery beauty of a pool’s interior tiles.
ELISA: We got digital files from the publisher and they were so receptive to new ideas and changes. It was exciting to see how someone else brought the story to life! We mentioned some very minor elements to tweak, such as making sure that the swimmers were diverse and well representative of different genders. And, we noted that just females/mothers were in the background, which was addressed to showcase more equal parenting. I think these details in illustration are really important and it truly takes a village to assess illustration for a broad audience so I was glad to have a supportive team, including the editor, publisher team and Anne, our illustrator, surrounding visuals.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
ELISA: We got a review from Kirkus. A Google Alert popped up with my name, which is how I found out. In relation to what was said about making tweaks to the illustration, the reviewer brought up the miss of only including able-bodied swimmers, and I agree that that was one oversight that we didn’t catch.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
AMY: Just over a year. In fact my first copy arrived the day after my birthday, so it felt like an extra present. Opening the envelope and seeing my book in hard copy was flooring, to be honest. I kept thinking (and saying) “it’s real!”
ELISA: We heard in 2020 when we signed that the book would be out in 2022 and it seemed so far away! It was shocking to get the book in the mail because it felt like a moment we had waited so long ago was finally here.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
ELISA: The publisher has submitted to SLJ, Kirkus, Children’s Book Review as well as applying for a signing time at the LA Festival of Books and reached out to a handful of book bloggers/bookstagrammers they work with.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
ELISA: Aside from the general postings on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, Cameron has also provided support for us to work with local bookstores to send out signed books and counseled us on Instagram giveaways. We also sent press releases to other book bloggers and bookstagrammers, as well as regional parenting magazines.
AMY: The publisher has been open to our ideas, too! So we have been brainstorming ideas and sharing them with the illustrator and publisher. For example, we have some ideas about in-person events at local stores (and pools!) planned for later this summer. I work in marketing all day for my day job, but it’s completely different – and challenging – to think about ideas for my own book.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
AMY: About 8 years. My first official kidlit training was through a children’s writing course at UCLA Extension taught by another working kidlit author, Michelle Markel. That class was short but comprehensive – essentially a survey of the various age groups and genres of kidlit. From there I wrote and submitted and queried a multitude of stories, some which had interest but eventually didn’t materialize. What a thrill to see POOL PARTY accepted and come to life! Truly, I’ve been a writer for my entire professional career and had work published in print and online, but having a picture book published is a career highlight.
ELISA: About 4 or 5 years. My first book, Los Angeles Is…, I starting toying with in 2012 and it was published in 2018. But I believe I signed the contract in 2016. Children’s publishing is a long haul! But worth the wait, always.
SUSANNA: What is the most important/helpful thing you learned on your way to publication? (Or what is your most helpful piece of advice for up and coming writers?)
ELISA: The amount of time we spent on the text —which is only about 150 words, mind you—is truly shocking. How can such a short poem take so long to finish? The takeaway is that making a manuscript that is simple, clear and enjoyable is really, really hard. It takes loads of time, effort and skill. I’m so grateful I was able to tackle it with Amy—collaboration in this case was such a delight! We really worked well with each other and pushed each other to really nail each line precisely. Even though it would have been nice to take a shortcut, ensuring that what we submitted was perfect got us quick results.
AMY: For me, it was all about the enjoyment factor – insisting on that. Because life is short, and I didn’t want to spend time working on something that brought me down. (I did a lot of that leading up to this manuscript/book!) If I wasn’t having fun writing a line or working on a part of the project, I either had to stop what I was doing/change direction or find a way to enjoy it. As it turns out, even the contract process became something I enjoyed because I challenged myself to learn something new and essential to the publication process. And yes, couldn’t agree more about working with Elisa. Talk about enjoyment factor! Writing with a friend is simply the best!
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
AMY: The process of creation and writing (and revisions) can be so isolating. For many, many years I slogged alone and wanted to give up writing on several occasions. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and took the joy out of the craft for a long time. But end to end, working on POOL PARTY has been an absolute delight. I’m continually awed and elated that this is the book that broke through first. It feels like such a nice way to start my publication journey.
ELISA: This process was so enjoyable that I wish every book was a collaboration. Part of that, perhaps, was that we took it as a creative journey together and the feeling always was, Let’s try this and if it doesn’t work we can bail. It just kept working and I’m so grateful that it turned into something beautiful we can share with the world.
SUSANNA: Amy and Elisa, thank you both so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers! It has been a real treat for us to hear from a pair of collaborators – what an opportunity to learn! We all appreciate your time and expertise and wish you all the best with this and future titles!
Readers, if you have questions for Amy/Elisa, please post them in the comments below and if they have time I’m sure they’ll respond!
You may purchase Amy and Elisa’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!
Karen Kiefer – Drawing God (religious market)
Theresa Kiser – A Little Catholic’s Book Of Liturgical Colors (religious market)
Lindsey Hobson – Blossom’s Wish (self pub)
Julie Rowan-Zoch – Louis (picture book illustration debut!)
Gnome Road Publishing (publishing house debut)
Julie Rowan-Zoch – I’m A Hare So There (author/illustrator debut)
Nancy Derey Riley – Curiosity’s Discovery (author/illustrator self-published debut)
Kate Allen Fox – Pando: A Living Wonder Of Trees (nonfiction)
Rebecca Mullin – One Tomato (board book)
Cynthia Argentine – Night Becomes Day: Changes In Nature (illustrated with photographs)
Anne Appert – Blob (author/illustrator)
Karen Condit – Turtle On The Track (hybrid publishing)
Renee LaTulippe – The Crab Ballet (picture book poem)
Beverly Warren – Have You Seen Mouse? (author/illustrator)