Hello, my friends! Welcome to Tuesday Debut!
In this world of supply chain delays, many a book is arriving at its publication date… only for there to be NO BOOKS! Such is the case with today’s debut. So frustrating for author, illustrator, and publisher! Especially with a debut! But no reason not to jump right over to your favorite bookstore and pre-order a copy. The latest update promises they’ll be in stock in a week or two. There are links to the book at Amazon, and Barnes & Noble (Indiebound not available) at the bottom of this interview so you can be sure to get your copy the moment it’s available. 😊
But now, I am thrilled to introduce you to John Bray, debut picture book author of THE END!
Written By: John Bray
Illustrated By: Josh Cleland
Starry Forest Books, August 30, 2022
Fiction, Ages 3-7 (and adults, too!)
SUSANNA: Welcome, John! Thank you so much for joining us today! We are all very excited to learn about your journey to publication with THE END. Where did the idea for this book come from?
JOHN: My main inspiration was Semisonic’s late 90s “Closing Time” (written by Semisonic frontman, Dan Wilson). Specifically, this line: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” I know it’s a Seneca quote, but reading philosophy is certainly how I picked up on it as a teenager.
My life went through a host of big endings and beginnings in 2015 and that lyric was in my head the whole time. So, I owe a lot to Wilson’s excellent songwriting. The idea was mostly fully formed from the start. My final manuscript remains closely tied to my original draft. In fact, the beginning and the end are almost verbatim.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
JOHN: When I sat to draft it, everything came out on the page in just a couple hours. But the total process, including revising and revising and revising, took a couple years. I was fitting it in around client projects (and probably procrastinating far too much) but kept coming back to it with fresh eyes until it reached its final form.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
JOHN: Yes, I revise multiple times. The End saw more revisions than I can count, but probably about 3 major revisions before I decided it was ready for submission. The first draft, for example, was about 3 times longer than its final form, so a couple revisions were me ruthlessly cutting to reveal the core of the story. That’s been a constant practice for me. I tend to overwrite, so learning to cut is important.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
JOHN: When it was 90% ready and a good friend said, “ship it.” I’ve come to accept that I’ll never think they’re truly ready, but when I think they’re almost ready and they’re grammatically polished, they’re probably ready to go. Sometimes you just need to believe in your effort or you’ll be revising forever.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
JOHN: I’m currently un-agented and seeking representation and, while querying, I pitched The End for #PitMad on Twitter. Unfortunately, #PitMad ended about a year after my book made its way to Starry Forest Books, but I think there are similar initiatives in place. I tweeted my pitch in September of 2020, Allison Hunter Hill (my editor at the time) “liked” it, and I sent her the manuscript. So, The End is a #PitMad success story.
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”?
JOHN: From me first sending in my manuscript to receiving a publishing contract was about four months. That included a set of heavy revisions (one last rewrite to edit middle) and a lot of waiting because publishing is a busy world.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”, which these days is more likely to be “the email”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
JOHN: Yes, it was an email (I probably would have let a call go to voicemail), and it came in two days before Christmas 2020. I looked at the email in my inbox for a few hours before I even let myself open it. I think I still have a screenshot of the unread email saved on my phone. It had been about 6 weeks since I sent the revisions and, as December drew on and holidays approached, I told myself I probably wouldn’t hear until the new year, if at all. Then there it was, landing in my email on a Wednesday afternoon.
SUSANNA: How long was it between getting your offer and getting your contract to sign?
JOHN: I can’t remember exactly, but I remember this being a quick process. A week or two maybe?
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
JOHN: In all honesty, I didn’t really. Historically, I haven’t been great about celebrating accomplishments because I’m always looking on to the next thing. I’m getting better at that. Slowly.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
JOHN: Yes and no. But I only say that because I didn’t entirely know what to expect. The advance was lower than many of the highly publicized advanced you hear all about, of course, but it felt fair. Royalties were very new to me but, with a bit of research and a second set of eyes from a friend who worked in publishing (sales), they seemed fair as well. However, I think it’s always okay to negotiate, and that’s exactly what I did. As a result, the advance and author copies increased along with some of the royalties. Author copies were important to me because I’m very actively marketing The End and author copies are helpful with outreach.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
JOHN: The process was straightforward. The biggest revision came because of feedback from my wonderful editor. That revision involved completely rewriting the middle 6-8 pages or so. That’s not what she asked for, but after spending time trying to rework the existing writing without any real progress, I deleted everything on those pages and started fresh. That’s what I should have done to begin with. I think having the old writing in front of me hindered my ability to see new ideas and help them take shape.
After that edit, the remaining revisions were small in scale (punctuation, word usage, and sentence placement on a given spread) but always up for discussion. And very, very detailed. Allison was great about talking through things. We even have an email thread that explored the etymology of the word “boredom.”
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
JOHN: It was a great experience. My input was welcome when discussing the overall feel for the book as we thought about potential illustrators, and I was looped in throughout the process after Josh Cleland came on board. I saw early sketches and spreads and passed feedback to Josh through my editor. However, it’s worth mentioning that most of the feedback was very minor. It was a bit of a nerve-wracking process knowing that my manuscript — a story that has lived only in my head for so long — would be read and visualized by someone I’d not met or spoken with, but Josh did a phenomenal job bringing The End to life.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc?
JOHN: Yes! Kirkus gave a starred review!
SUSANNA: Congratulations! That is a real accomplishment! How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
JOHN: From offer to first F&G was about 18 months. But I also had the opportunity to see a final, hardcover copy when I attended the American Library Association Annual Conference in Washington D.C. in June 2022. I spent a lot of time flipping through the pages, admiring the colors, etc. It’s beautiful.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
JOHN: Starry Forest Books arranged for me to attend ALA for a book signing, sent copies for reviews, and continues to do a lot of outreach to influencers (social media and otherwise). They’ve also created bookmarks, assembled classrooms packs, made countless social graphics, and designed activity sheets. It’s been a real team effort, constantly tossing ideas back and forth with Kirsten Drew and Amy Dixon (in marketing at Starry Forest Books). They’ve both been incredibly helpful, and they’re always interested in hearing and supporting my many ideas for possible marketing opportunities.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
JOHN: A good friend of mine, Sue Campbell at Pages & Platforms, helped steer many of my own efforts and has helped some of my ideas take shape, as well. On my end, I continue to engage in outreach to bloggers, podcasters, social media influencers, and others to try and spread the word and get The End into as many hands as possible. I’ve created stickers and an activity book, have reading events planned locally, and am working with librarians and teachers in more far-flung places to schedule events (virtual and in-person). A local bakery (Tiny Kitchen, also owned by a friend of mine; launching a book takes a community!) will also be making custom cookies for some of my upcoming events.
SUSANNA: Wow! So many great ideas! How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
JOHN: A good 10 years. Part of that is because I wasn’t actively trying to sell for the first several, but it was still a long, long road. I have a big pile of rejections.
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?)
JOHN: Sit, write, repeat and remember one thing: Rejection does not mean you’ve done something wrong; it means you’re in the game. It’s part of the process. The only guaranteed way to avoid it is by not putting yourself out there. Knowing that might not soften the blow of a rejection, but it does help you move forward. A stack of rejections means you’re putting in the work.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
JOHN: Everyone will approach The End differently. That’s the nature of books. It might be the best part about them. But I think it’s worth nothing that The End wasn’t written to teach kids about endings and beginnings. It wasn’t meant to be a lesson. It was meant to be an exploration of the concept, maybe a conversation starter, but, above all else, a fun story to read aloud.
Newsletter (with a free book — a creative collaboration with a friend of mine from several year ago — at sign-up!): johnbraybooks.com/newsletter
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers, John! We all so appreciate this opportunity to learn from you and wish you all the best with this and future titles!
Readers, if you have questions for John, please post them in the comments below and if he has time I’m sure he’ll respond!
You may purchase John’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)