Hello, my friends!
It’s Tuesday Debut Day once again!
If you haven’t voted for your favorite HALLOWEENSIE CONTEST FINALIST yet, you still have until 7 PM Eastern this evening! Please hop over HERE and vote – we need all the votes we can get to break ties!
Thanksgiving is behind us and the holidays are coming which is just perfect for today’s debut picture book, THE GIFT SHOP BEAR, and debut author/illustrator Phyllis Harris, who has graciously come by to share her journey to publication with us (including a glimpse of her lovely work space which will have you all goggle-eyed with envy 😊)
So let’s meet Phyllis and have a look at this sweet holiday book! She is kindly offering a giveaway copy (US residents only) so if you leave a comment on this post, you could be a winner!!!
GIVEAWAY WINNER DRAWN DECEMBER 6 – ELEANOR ANN PETERSON!
THE GIFT SHOP BEAR
Author/Illustrator, Phyllis Harris
WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group
Fiction for ages 4-7
All year long, Bear watches from his spot in the attic as the seasons change, waiting for the first snowflakes that signify Christmas is coming. You see, at Christmastime, Bear gets to join his special friend, Annie, in the festivities in her grandma’s gift shop. But this year is different–the gift shop is closing and Bear’s future seems uncertain. Will Bear see Annie and Nana again?
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for joining us today, Phyllis! We are thrilled to have you and your beautiful debut picture book which is so perfect for this time of year! Where did the idea for this book come from?
PHYLLIS: I was babysitting my granddaughter when she was 3 or 4 years old and we were looking through her mother’s old toybox and came across her old teddy bear. She immediately felt so sad for this bear because her had been left alone in this dark box for all these years with no one to love and care for him. At that moment, I knew I had a new story idea!
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
PHYLLIS: The story idea came about when my granddaughter was 4 and it was just published last October when she was 8 years old so it took about 4 years to publication. However, that also included finding and signing with my agent, Adria Goetz and then us working through edits to prepare it for submission. Once it went out on submission it took 10 or 11 months before we got the offer.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
PHYLLIS: The actual writing process included many rounds of revisions with the help of my critique partners. Also, it didn’t start out as a Christmas book. The original setting was a book store but when I realized the store would be closing, it was too depressing to have a book store go out of business so I changed it to Nana’s Gift Shop closing because of her retiring which made for a much kinder plot and that’s when I realized it had to be a Christmas book!
Phyllis’s gorgeous work space and her work buddy, Brinkley. (Named after the dog in her favorite movie, YOU’VE GOT MAIL. 😊
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
PHYLLIS: I knew it was close to being ready when I got the interest of my agent on a Twitter contest. That gave me the boost of confidence I needed and then after I signed with her, we tweaked it a bit more before it went out on submission.
Phyllis working in her art studio
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
PHYLLIS: My goal was to be an author/illustrator of picture books, so when I had a few stories ready in book dummy form, I decided to try some of the Twitter contests. I entered #PBPitch and #FaithPitch since one of my books was faith based. Fortunately, I had some interest from a few agents and an editor and that’s when my agent first showed interest in my faith-based book and wanted to see what other books I had to offer so I sent her the book dummy for THE GIFT SHOP BEAR and she loved it. She didn’t offer representation right then but gave me the invitation to send her more once I had more to offer. Eventually a year or so later, I did have more to offer and after getting interest from 3 agents, I decided Adria Goetz was the perfect fit for me.
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”?
PHYLLIS: We got an email from Peggy Schaefer, Associate Publisher of WorthyKids, asking if it was still available on June 10th and then were told it was being submitted to the next acquisitions meeting and we got an offer July 22.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”, which these days is more likely to be “the email”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
PHYLLIS: It truly was the best moment ever! My agent called with the news of the offer and I remember seeing her name come up on the caller ID and trying not to lose it when I answered. She had previously shared with me via email that it had gone to acquisitions but I also knew that lots of books go to acquisitions and don’t end up getting acquired so I was trying to prepare myself for whatever the outcome would be.
Peggy Schaefer, Associate Publisher at WorthyKids had shown interest the previous year but couldn’t make an offer then because they weren’t ready to start acquiring for their new list yet and she didn’t want to hold me up in case I had other interest. I had illustrated several books for WorthyKids over the years, including ON CHRISTMAS DAY by Margaret Wise Brown and MAVERICK AND ME by Katherine Schwarzenegger so I already had a wonderful relationship with them as an illustrator.
I also had a request for a revise and resubmit from Little Brown during the submission process and even though I didn’t get an offer from them, I feel like the book became even better because of the revision request.
SUSANNA: How long was it between getting your offer and getting your contract to sign?
PHYLLIS: We got the offer in July and signed the contract 5 months later in December.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
PHYLLIS: My husband had purchased “good” champagne previously and was saving it to celebrate my debut offer as author. He thankfully had confidence in the story, too. We shared that bottle with our daughter and son-in-law and of course our granddaughter had the non-alcohol version. 😊
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
PHYLLIS: This is when it is so helpful having an agent who has your best interests in mind to handle all of the negotiations. Adria is so wonderful at getting the best possible terms for her clients and is so knowledgeable about all involved in the contract.
WorthyKids offered very fair terms and I was pleased with their final offer.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
PHYLLIS: Since this was my debut as author- illustrator, this was unique experience for me.
I had submitted a book dummy with all of the illustrations roughed out so I already had the overall vision for the book in place. I eventually added a few new illustrations and a new cover design to fit in with any new edits but overall, the art ideas did not change too much. I then went on to create each piece in final art form where I used traditional materials such as watercolor and some charcoal pencil and then scanned them in and added digital touches. Normally, art directors want to do the scans in house but since I had worked with this publisher before, they were aware that I provided quality scans and so they trusted the final files regarding the resolution, etc. Many artists don’t have good enough scanners to be able to do this so it may vary for others.
text and illustration copyright Phyllis Harris 2021, Worthy Kids
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
PHYLLIS: This was one of the only disappointments besides having my book launch during a pandemic. I didn’t get any book reviews from Kirkus, SLJ or Horn. Possibly because it was a Christmas book from a smaller publisher.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
PHYLLIS: My book was actually published a lot quicker than most in traditional publishing these days. Since I was both author and illustrator and it was a Christmas book, once we worked out the schedule, I started working on final art during the peak of the pandemic which was so wonderful to have something to work on while in lock down. If possible, the publisher wanted to fast-track it if I were comfortable with the schedule and I was. I didn’t want to wait another entire year for its release so I buckled down and got it accomplished.
Even with the pandemic shipping problems, which delayed my release date by 3 weeks, I had my first author copy about one year after I got the offer. The initial print run was 11,000 which I thought was great for a first-time author.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
PHYLLIS: I was assigned a marketing team for my book and we had several zoom meetings talking about their strategies and plans for the marketing. They did a virtual booth at Picture Book Palooza, hosted by School Library Journal where I answered questions via live chat.
They reached out to bloggers and influencers from lists that I provided and posted on social media.
They also provided these fun activity sheets! https: //www.hachettebookgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Gift-Shop-Bear-Activity-Sheets-2.pdf
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
PHYLLIS: I was planning on doing a book tour but because of the pandemic most book stores were not allowing in-person book signings. I have to admit, that was pretty disappointing.
I created a book trailer and posted it on youtube and shared it on social media. You can see it here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AaRKWlsPik I also reached out to local newspapers and TV stations and was so excited that the KC STAR did a feature article.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
PHYLLIS: Probably about 3 or 4 years. I dabbled with the writing for over 25 years but because I was so busy and invested with the illustration side of books, I never took the time needed to work specifically on my craft of writing. That is my one regret, that I didn’t take the time to really work on my writing craft, earlier.
The first time Phyllis saw her book on the shelves at a Barnes & Noble! 😊
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?)
PHYLLIS: If you want something bad enough, you have to put in the time. Take the writing workshops. Go to conferences. Find critique partners. Read, read and read more. Especially the kind of books you want to write. And most importantly, start writing, even if you feel it isn’t very good. We all have terrible first drafts and book ideas that remain in the drawer but the more we write, the more likely one of them will be the ONE that gets us going in the right direction. And you are never too old to dream a new dream! I am sixty, and I am just getting started!
SUSANNA: Phyllis, thank you so much for stopping by today to share your journey to publication! We are all so grateful and wish you the best of luck with this and future titles! Readers, if you have questions for Phyllis, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Phyllis’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)
Amy Duchene – Pool Party (collaboration/co-writing)
Carrie Sharkey Asner – Blueberry Blue Bubble (self published)
Gela Kalaitzidis – Ozzie & Prince Zebedee (author/illustrator)
Caroline Perry – The Corgi And The Queen (nonfiction)