Wendy Ulmer wrote and Sandy Crabtree illustrated THE TWELVE MAINE CHRISTMAS DAYS, one of three books that won SCBWI's 2014 Spark Awards!
Here's our interview, and see below for your chance to win a copy...
Lee: Congratulations on winning the 2014 SCBWI SPARK Award!
Wendy: Thank you. I would like to express my gratitude to SCBWI for recognizing the work of independent and non-traditional publishing.
Sandy: Thank you to everyone for this amazing recognition.
Lee: Please tell us about My Twelve Maine Christmas Days.
Wendy: I was a music and English teacher and those two passions tend to merge in my writing. I was doing a book signing with my previous books in a Maine based store during the holidays. A familiar carol began to play in the background and as I looked around I saw a stuffed moose, blueberry jam, a sand dollar wreath, etc. That was the beginning – I wrote the first draft during the signing. From the very beginning, watercolor illustrations seemed the only choice and Sandy’s watercolors were perfect to illustrate the gifts of Maine.
Sandy: I have always loved the original song and enjoyed creating the new images and having them reflect places and traditions that are such a wonderful part of Maine life. My family has always loved the outdoors and collected shells, picked blueberries as well as appreciated such an unspoiled place to live in. Winslow Homer's quote "The sun will not rise nor set without my notice nor my thanks." has always given me inspiration to love the gift of each day. Also being able to use some of my family members as subjects in the pictures was a lot of fun.
Lee: The SPARK Award is to recognize excellence in children’s books published through a non-traditional publishing route. Tell us about the journey to getting your book published.
Wendy: I published three books through traditional publishing and am very happy with them. I had a vision for this book that entailed the verses, watercolor illustrations, and specific back matter. I felt the only way to fulfill that vision was to publish it myself. My editor from my previous books opened Book Bridge Press to help authors publish children’s picture books. I met with her and decided it was the right place to fulfill my vision for the book.
Lee: Did doing this picture book outside of traditional publishing allow the process to be more collaborative between you as author and illustrator?
Wendy: Interestingly, Sandy and I were requested not to talk with each other during the production process. Although it was difficult to not talk about it when we saw each other, not discussing the illustrations definitely resulted in a better book. I saw all the stages of the art work, but didn’t talk directly with Sandy about any changes or questions.
Sandy: I don't know how traditional publishing works but I loved the interchange of ideas thru e-mail between the author, art director, editor, and me. I felt my input was valued and sometimes very humorously corrected and that Wendy and I followed the rule of not talking to each other for three months to keep our friendship free from critiques we might not have agreed with but actually didn't know whose input it was. We are dear friends and still are thanks to this kind of think tank approach.
Lee: Did the book have a designer and/or editor and/or other experts involved, or was it just the two of you doing everything?
Wendy: We worked with Book Bridge Press in Minneapolis, MN. We had an editor, art director, copy editor and print manager. Because all of the folks at Book Bridge worked in traditional children’s publishing for many years, we received excellent advice throughout the entire process.
Sandy: Actually four of us were involved and although it might have taken longer to get all the sketches approved, we all had a say with Wendy being the final vote.
Lee: What do you see as the biggest challenge of publishing independently?
Wendy: The biggest challenge for me has been the marketing. In addition to social media, it is face to face marketing that gets a book placed in book stores and gift shops. It helps to think about other possible venues, like museum shops, toy stores, etc. Another challenge is learning the business side of publishing – bookkeeping, inventory control, etc. Both the marketing and business work take time from writing. That is difficult to deal with at times!
Sandy: For me, as the artist, the time to get all the sketches okayed left me with only two and a half months to do twelve paintings and that was the most difficult part.
Lee: What’s been the best thing about publishing this way?
Wendy: The best thing about independent publishing is being involved in every aspect of the book. From the original vision through to holding the book in your hand, there is hard work, great joy and a deep sense of accomplishment.
Sandy: Wonderful people, amazing ideas and challenges.
Lee: How long have each of you been involved with SCBWI, and has that helped you on your professional journey?
Wendy: I have been a member of SCBWI for over 20 years. The regional conferences provide a wealth of information and inspiration as well as giving authors a chance to network and learn from each other. I encourage anyone interested in writing for children to join SCBWI!
Sandy: I have only joined this year, thanks to Wendy.
Lee: Anything else you’d like to share about the adventure so far?
Wendy: I couldn’t be happier with the adventure, so far, and I’m ready for the next chapter.
Sandy: Having the backstory on each subject and including actual approximate locations has been really appreciated by people. Some have been inspired to go there and in the case of three blue lobsters/Fort Popham have been surprised by the lighthouse in the painting that does not exist there... I've had many discussions about my "artistic license" as a result.
Lee: Thanks so much, Wendy and Sandy! And once again, Congratulations!
Wendy: Our thanks, again to SCBWI and the Spark Committee for recognizing independent publishing.
Sandy: Thanks again for this wonderful honor.
Leave a comment below for your chance to win a copy of MY TWELVE MAINE CHRISTMAS DAYS. We'll randomly choose our winner from the comments in one week.
Illustrate and Write On,