Hello, my friends!
I realize that we’re still kind of in the middle of Halloweensie, since, due to unforeseen circumstances I have not been able to devote myself to the judging as I should (though I PROMISE I am working on it – do not blame my fellow judges, it is all me holding up the works!) But meanwhile, Tuesday has rolled around and so I have to bump Halloweensie from the top of my blog to make room for today’s wonderful Tuesday Debut. I put links on all the mentions of Halloweensie so you can hop yourself back to it easily if you still want to read entries!
But for the moment, let’s take a little Halloweensie break. I am thrilled to introduce today’s debut-ess, Gela Kalaitzidis, and her gorgeous debut picture book, OZZIE & PRINCE ZEBEDEE!
Title: OZZIE & PRINCE ZEBEDEE
Publishing House: Flamingo Books
Release date: Oct. 11, 2022
Age Range: 3-7
Ozzie & Prince Zebedee is a tale about the burpy repercussions that arise when you accidentally swallow your best friend in anger and a story of love, forgiveness, and empathy.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Gela! Thank you so much for joining us today. I got one small peek at your art on Instagram one day and was instantly smitten, so I’m delighted to have you here to show your work to everyone! Where did the idea for this book come from? / How long did it take you to write/illustrate this book?
GELA: In one way, I would say it took me 33 years to write this book. When I was around 16 years old, I wrote a similar story. It was about a boy suffering from insomnia and while he was walking around at night, he ran into different creatures. Among them were a dragon and a prince. Many years later I remembered that story and rewrote it. My critique group helped me see that the heart of the story was with the bickering side characters, and slowly the manuscript evolved into what it is today.
(An illustration sample from 1989 and the final spread in 2022)
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
GELA: This book has been through hundreds of revisions. I’ve taken the manuscripts to endless amounts of writing classes, retreats, critique groups, and conferences. I also paid for a six-month mentorship with Giuseppe Castellano through the Illustration Department. I believe it was money well spent having a professional Art Director guiding me through my first picture book. When I finally sold the dummy to Flamingo Books (Penguin Random House) there were almost no changes. My editor (Margaret Anastas) had a few brilliant ideas for some text changes and my art director (Kate Renner) added one spread, but that was about it.
text and illustration copyright Gela Kalaitzidis 2022, Flamingo Books
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
GELA: My agent Deborah Warren at East West Literary Agency found my art portfolio at the SCBWI summer conference 2019. A week after the conference she contacted me and asked to represent me as an illustrator. It took me a while to show my dummy to her, I wanted it to be perfect before sharing it. Nowadays I submit more unfinished work and we brainstorm together around the manuscript and illustrations.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”, which these days is more likely to be “the email”?
GELA: Deborah Warren sent the dummy to maybe eight/nine publishers before I got the final YES! I don’t recall ever giving up hope on the book. A lot of the rejections were very thoughtful and inspiring. I was already working on other projects so Ozzie & Zeb’s submission process almost felt like their own journey, not mine. That’s why I was so surprised when Flamingo Books and Margaret Anastas finally gave me an offer.
SUSANNA: How long was it between getting your offer and signing your contract? And how did you celebrate signing?
GELA: I got the offer in October 2020 and signed the contract on March 2021. If I remember right, I think there was a bottle of something bubbly shared with my husband to celebrate. It was a big party for the whole family!
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author/illustrator copies etc.?
GELA: I had worked so hard on the creation of the book so I had never really given a future contract a thought. I’m very glad that I’m represented by such an experienced and talented agent as Deborah Warren. I know that she fought for the best deal a debut author could expect. The original delivery date happened to coincide with an important family event so I asked Deborah to renegotiate the deadline. She also did some changes in the contract to royalties, foreign world rights, etc. I was included in all the negotiations but had very little input. I was just happy to get my book out in the world.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
GELA: My agent and editor shared the Kirkus review slightly before it was published and I was beyond happy. Getting positive feedback from the picture book industry felt like a major accomplishment.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
GELA: I got the offer in October 2020 and held the first copy in my hand exactly two years later. The print run was announced at 50,000 copies. Since it’s my first book I have nothing to compare these numbers with. It sounds like a lot of Ozzies and Zebedees to me.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book? / Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
GELA: The marketing and promotion were a complete mystery to me. I never had a meeting with a publicity team so I created my own little animated book teaser, I made a batch of small online banners that I used through different platforms. I also posted behind-the-scenes photos and tried to be seen and heard online as much as I could in the months leading up to the book’s birthday. I had the most fun with two cut-outs of Ozzie and Prince Zebedee that I kept with me on my summer vacation. I posted small social media updates with my main characters “on tour”, it was very well received. But the biggest marketing efforts probably happened on PRH’s side I just never really knew what they were doing. Somehow, my book reached the Barnes & Noble best picture book of the 2022 list. That was huge!
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 artists?)
GELA: I’m pretty sure that Ozzie & Prince Zebedee would never have reached the bookshelves if it wasn’t for my amazing critique group. I believe sharing your work with friends and family who can give you honest and supportive advice is one of the most valuable things in this career. Another lesson has been to focus on what I can do, and not to stress about the things that are out of my control.
Author/Illustrator Gela Kalaitzidis
IG & Twitter Handles: @gelakalaitzidis
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for spending some time with us today and sharing your journey to publication, Gela! Such a wonderful opportunity for everyone to learn! Here’s wishing you all the best with this and future titles!
Readers, if you have questions for Gela, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Gela’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)