Welcome! Welcome! one and all, to the greatest show on earth – the one and only Tuesday Debut!
Each week, writers who have heroically spent thousands of hours BIC (Butt In Chair), bravely offered their literary darlings to the editor’s ax, and defied all odds to capture the highest prize – a publishing contract! – join us here to celebrate the moment of their picture book debuts and kindly share the benefit of their experience so that we too can dare to dream of joining their ranks!
Stories of kindness! Stories of strength. Stories of. . . worm poop???
Yes, you heard me right! Our guest today makes her publishing debut with a book about the goings-on at the tail-end of a worm!
Please join me in welcoming today’s debut-ess, Polly Owen, as she shares her journey to publication with DARWIN’S SUPER-POOPING WORM SPECTACULAR!
Title: Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular,
Author: Polly Owen
Illustrator: Gwen Millward
Publishing House: Quarto Kids, Imprint: Wide Eyed Editions
Date of Publication: 5th Jan 2023
age range: 6-9 year olds
“This is a disarmingly silly read that manages to share cool worm science with a light and easy touch.” – Book of the Month ― BBC Wildlife
SUSANNA: Welcome, Polly! Thank you so much for joining us today! I think I speak for everyone when I say where in the wide, wide world of sports did you get the idea for this book?
POLLY: The idea came from my daughter. She loved nature and minibeasts so my mum bought her membership to the Earthworm Society. My mum also told me about Darwin’s book about earthworms. At first I thought it would be a heavy read, as it was a subject I knew nothing about and written during the Victorian period, but I was very wrong! Darwin was a great writer and his experiments were so fun and visual, they seemed perfect for a picture book. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been done before. I think children and grandparents are great inspirations for books, in different ways.
Polly’s daughter in the garden (left), Darwin’s book about worm poop (right)
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
POLLY: I recently found my first draft and realised the whole process, from first draft to publication was three and a half years!
Broken down as follows: The first draft was in 2019, where my wonderful critique groups (yes, I’m in two!), gave me lots of useful feedback. Many edits later (Nov 2020) I booked a one to one session with an editor, through ‘I Am In Print’ (who provide great opportunities for authors). I met an editor from Quarto, who liked my story and asked for some changes. I did more edits with the help of my critique groups and my agent, Emily, before going to Quarto’s acquisitions meeting (July 2021). Amazingly, it got the green light and I signed the contract in Oct 2021. Quarto suggested Gwen Millward as the illustrator and I was thrilled when she able to join us. One year later (5th Jan 2023) the book was published! I really didn’t notice how long the process was as I kept working on other stories.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
POLLY: Around 50. Sometimes very little changed from one version to the next but it was a long process and the last draft was very different to the first. My critique group helped a lot with their different skills and perspectives, which I am very grateful for. My editor helped direct the overall theme and style. She wanted to highlight the poo aspect (It was originally called ‘Darwin’s Worms’) and bring out the silliness as much as possible. I think I’ve done that now!
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
POLLY: I felt my manuscript was ready when my critique group said “This is ready now!”. But you have to feel confident in the text yourself, and able to imagine other people buying it and liking it. It’s hard to be objective when it’s newly written, so don’t rush it. I usually go through a process where I write something and love it, then days/weeks later I hate it, then I come back and think ‘actually, it’s okay!’ and I give it a good edit! You definitely need distance.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
POLLY: I have an agent but I also snap up any opportunities for 121’s with editors or any competitions. This book came about through a meeting with an editor, set up by ‘I am in print’, a community and resource for writers. We met via zoom call and last week (3 years later) we met face to face for the first time!
I often enter your competitions, Susanna, which are great for motivation and word count discipline! (as well as the wonderful community).I came 3rd in Halloweensie one year, but I have many more stories that originated from taking part.
SUSANNA: Oh, yay! I’m so glad you like the contests, Polly! It is always my hope that they will help writers along their journeys as well as be lots of fun! 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”?
POLLY: Shortly afterwards I think. Although it was bumped off the agenda a few times until it got its chance! And then the contract needed agreeing and signing. So the whole process is fraught with potential danger!
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”, which these days is more likely to be “the email”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
POLLY: There were lots of exciting moments but I got a formal offer via email in July 2021 and in answering this question and finding that email, I’ve just relived it all over again! Lots of exclamation marks, especially as they had also suggested the illustrator they wanted. So it was all very overwhelming!
SUSANNA: How long was it between getting your offer and getting your contract to sign?
POLLY: I got the offer in July 2021 and the contract was signed in Oct 2021. So around 3 months.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
POLLY: Going on about it endlessly! And a glass of champagne.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
POLLY: I’ve never seen another author’s contract, but in terms of what I’ve read, I think mine was pretty standard for a debut author. And as I had an agent I was glad I could leave all that up to her. There are different royalties for every conceivable situation, country, format. Anything you can think of! I was happy with my advance and a few author copies. I was also pleasantly surprised that the estimated publication date was only about a year away.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
POLLY: My story had around 50 versions from start to finish but only two with the editor. The editor had a very clear vision which wasn’t too far away from the text I submitted. It just involved pulling out certain threads. The poo aspect, the silliness, the underdog angle. It gave me areas to focus on which really helped elevate it, and push back some of the less relevant detail. I loved the conversations we had. It was easy to make the changes because I thought they were great suggestions. But getting the changes right was tricky and that’s where my crit group and agent helped a great deal.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
POLLY: I had seen the illustrator’s previous work so I had an idea of her style, but I was still blown away by what she achieved, and how she added to the story. I did not have any detailed pictures in my head, so she really brought the story to life, even for me. I saw the illustrations pretty near the end of the process, as full colour pdfs, and I was thrilled.
text copyright Polly Owen 2023, illustration copyright Gwen Millward 2023, Quarto Books
I had included a few illustration notes in the document, mainly facts that I had not mentioned in the text e.g. ‘The worm container is placed on top of the piano as he plays’, ‘the leaves the worms eat are cabbage, horseradish, celery, cherry and carrot’ etc.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
POLLY: I saw reviews around the time I was published from Kirkus and it was a huge relief! Seeing those first few reviews on Goodreads and Netgalley was terrifying but they were all largely positive. After the first few weeks I started to relax a little.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
POLLY: I got my first copy in Sep 22, so around a year after the offer.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
POLLY: My publishers ran a competition for schools, giving away a book and a wormery. Lots of book reviewers on Instagram featured my book along with teacher bloggers and websites for teachers. I was in two UK national newspapers: The Guardian and The Observer, in their section for children’s books, and I found out yesterday I was ‘Children’s Book of the Month’ for BBC Wildlife Magazine (March 2023). Which I’m thrilled about!
The marketing team have done a massive amount and probably much more than I’ve seen. They have reached around the world, which would have been impossible on my own.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
POLLY: Well, it’s early days and I’m still learning. I’ve written a few blogs, including for the Earthworm Society. I’ve done three bookshop signings where my daughter made a worm costume and gave out badges and bookmarks!
She also did a great photo shoot/video with her dolls which had a really good response.
I joined a group of debut authors who promote each other online and do joint posts. I ran a competition on twitter where I gave away jelly worms and a signed book. I’ve also joined up with some nature organizations to support the competitions they are running. I’ve also made a few animations/videos to promote my book
Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular: Youtube Promo Video
as well as lots of general posts. I had to learn how to use Instagram (I already used Facebook and Twitter), and I attempted TikTok but gave up. I might revisit that in the future!
I’m just starting to do school visits. There are always so many things you can do, it’s trying to work out where it’s best to spend your time, and still have time for writing.
My advice would be: think ahead about days in the calendar that link to your book. Before being published you could make a few posts for those occasions, e.g. how to dress like your character for world book day. Many of these things you can do in advance, as they are surprisingly time consuming!
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
POLLY: 10 years! I got more serious and more experienced as time went on. During the first few years I had two young children so time was tight but I started getting placed in competitions and making progress. Opportunities were few and far between, so really hone your stories for these occasions.
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?)
POLLY: Just write what you love. Write for yourself and those you love. Take any opportunities you can find. Join a critique group for support and experience. And enjoy it!
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers, Polly! We so appreciate your expertise and your willingness to share with us! Best of luck with this and future titles!
POLLY: Thank you, Susanna! For the opportunities, competitions and everything you do for other writers.
Author Polly Owen
Facebook: Polly Owen Author
Readers, if you have questions for Polly, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Polly’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
– reviewing their books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and other sites where people go to learn about books.
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 HERE!
And join in the fun with Week #3 of the 2023 Mix ‘n’ Match Mini Writing Challenge already in progress HERE!
49 thoughts on “Tuesday Debut – Presenting Polly Owen!”
I love this series with debut authors and this is a particularly interesting post. This books sounds both hilarious and informative. I love that Darwin had a wormery on his piano. I also love to hear stories about curiosity, stories that encourage children (and adults) to wonder and be curious about the world. What a winner.
Thank you Norah! Yes, Darwin never stopped being curious and childlike. And discovered so much as a consequence. He is such an inspiration!
I agree, Norah! And I love seeing what topics different people find interesting enough to write about, and how they find just the right angle to make it appealing to kids!
And adults too! Working with young children is a pleasure. They keep one learning and curious too. (Sadly, I’m no longer working with them, but it’s still in my heart.)
What a cool book, worms are awesome!! Thanks so much for sharing, Susanna 😀 And congratulations on your debut, Polly!
Thank you Catchandi! They are certainly are, and I have my daughter to thank for opening my eyes to them.
I’m so glad you enjoyed Polly and her book!
Polly, your book is beautiful!! I can see it being used for teaching science units, in the library, and on the bookshelf of every science kid! What a joy it will be to read your book!
Thank you so much, Palpbkids! That would be a dream! I do hope you enjoy it!
Dreams come true :)!
There is nothing like actual information presented in an irresistibly fun way, Phyllis! I agree that this book will find a home on a LOT of shelves!
For sure :)!!
Congrats to you!
Thank you for stopping by to read and support Polly, Sylvia!
Thank you Sylvia!
Ha! This is so much fun! I’m constantly blown away by how captivating some of the NF PB’s are now. How cool is this book!? Great idea and I can’t wait to pick it up to learn all about our wiggly friends. Also, Polly…. your daughter sounds awesome. Great costume. Great photo shoot 🙂
I feel the same way, CJ, about how creative writers are coming up with interesting topics and making them really fun!
Thank you CJ! Gwen the illustrator is amazing! I was very luck to get her. And my daughter is also amazing! Non-stop ideas and creativity. I hope hope you enjoy the book 😊
Your honest post is inspiring for all authors, especially pre-published ones like me. You seized a unique idea, embraced your daughter’s enthusiasm, and did the hard work of crafting a clever story. Bringing nature’s tiny creatures into the spotlight will help us heal our planet and its inhabitants. Kudos to you and to your daughter! (Love her ingenuity in crafting such a cute costume.) I’ll make sure our local county library obtains a copy of your debut book for its shelves. (It helps that I’m a Board Member. LOL). Your encouraging words and insights are a real boost to our spirit. Thank you! Sending you energy and inspiration for your continued success…
Thank you Marshaelyn, your words are very kind. I am so glad you found it encouraging. And thank you for obtaining a copy for your library. I wish you much success with your writing journey. I can see you have a wonderful way with words. 😊
Thank you so much for your enthusiastic support for Polly, Marsha! So kind of you to get it for your local library! I am also a Board Member for my local library, but we are in the process of starting our library from the ground up and are not at the stage of getting our collection yet, but you can be sure when we are I will be making sure all kinds of books from this community get selected! 😊
Great opening para, Susanna! You are the greatest. 🙂 And great information and encouragement in the interview. You never know which idea will be a winner. Worm poop – who knew!
Haha! You certainly don’t!😀 My name will forever be associated with poop but I don’t mind a bit! Glad you found it encouraging!
I’m glad you enjoyed it, Wendy! 😊 And you are so right about never knowing what idea will be a winner, but I can see why worm poop has its appeal to kids, as well as to environmentalists 😊
Congrats on your debut book, Polly. It sounds fascinating. Always loved those wiggly worms as a kid. Who knew there was an Earthworm Society or that Darwin had devoted a book to them? Look forward to getting the full scoop on these critters and their poop. Great intro, as always, Susanna. Thanks for another informative post.
Thank you Marty! I know, it was news to me too! I hope you like the book 😊
I know, right, Marty? An Earthworm Society?! That makes me think there should be an Earthworm Debutante Ball 🤣 So glad you enjoyed the post!
Thank you so much, Susanna, for having me on your Tuesday Debut! What a lovely intro! And thank you everyone, for all the lovely comments. xx
Absolutely my pleasure, Polly! I am looking forward to reading this book! 😊
What fantastic, fresh idea – congratulations Polly! I love your daughter’s worm costume!
Thank you Laura!
It is certainly a fresh idea, Laura! Just goes to show that if you look around, there ARE new ideas out there!
Polly. congratulations! Looking forward to reading your book! The worm costume is perfect! Thanks Susanna for sharing this PB! 🙂
My pleasure, Susan! I hope you get to read it!
Thank you Seschipper! I hope you enjoy the book and I will pass on your comments about the costume! 🙂
You had me at ‘worm costume’! Amazing!
She had me at poop 🤣🤣🤣
How fun to promote your book with gummy worms! Thanks for sharing your wormy journey to publication.
It’s such a perfect idea, isn’t it, Deborah? Who doesn’t love gummy worms? 😊
I think I got lucky there! Thanks for reading!
Congratulations Polly! Curiosity with a topic and persistence with publishing – 10 years! Giving me hope:)
I’m so glad you found it encouraging, Patti! This business is hard, but there is always hope as long as you keep writing and submitting! The next thing you write could be the story that lands you on Tuesday Debut in a couple years! 😊😊😊
I’m so pleased. I definitely needed hope while I was writing. But I also accepted just writing for enjoyment, so the pressure was off. I wish you lots of luck x
Congratulations, Polly! Thank you for sharing your author journey so far. I look forward to reading this with my little ones!!
I haven’t gotten to read the book yet, Sarah, but I feel certain when I do I’m going to find it very appealing for kids! 😊
Thank you Sarah! Thanks for reading, and I hope your little ones enjoy it.