FAQ: How did you get into books?

The Last Viking book launch, June 24th, 2011. (L-R) Norman, James, Kris Williams, our editor Cate Sutherland, and Director of the Children's Literature Centre Lesley Reece
The Last Viking book launch, June 24th, 2011. (L-R) Norman, James, Kris Williams, our editor Cate Sutherland, and Director of the Children’s Literature Centre Lesley Reece

To the pre-published, the children’s book industry can seem like a secret club. How do you get to be one of those people on the inside, who have their stories and illustrations published professionally? It’s something I get asked a lot.

So, how did I get into books?

In my early twenties I sent illustration samples to a bunch of publishers. My work wasn’t good enough yet and it was rejected many times. So I practiced for five or six more years. I joined SCBWI and surrounded myself with amazing inspiring talented people. I kept practicing, made connections with editors and publishers and experienced professionals, and in the next three years got my first two book contracts.

Once I got my first contract, it was another two years before the book was finished, printed, distributed, marketed and then finally for sale in bookshops; I wasn’t an ‘overnight success’. Things move slowly in the world of children’s books.

So if you’re wanting to get into this industry, prepare yourself for a long and challenging creative journey to get to your first book contract. And then get ready for the even greater challenge of completing that first book! Don’t give up though; it will be worth it.

I’ll go into a bit more detail about my journey below. I’ve also written a more detailed version that you can read here.

My journey (the short version):

In 1994 I was in year 7 and got my first award for writing and illustrating.

In 1999 I graduated high school with a bit more skill but not enough to be published, and I didn’t have much confidence in my work. I still dreamed of being a writer and illustrator one day.

By 2003 I’d gotten better. I was published as a freelance cartoonist, but I still wasn’t ready to illustrate books. I sent off illustration samples but they were mostly rejected. I kept writing and illustrating, and much of what I made was not good enough to be published, but I improved little by little.

By 2008 I’d gotten better again. I joined SCBWI. I made my first contacts in the children’s book industry; I met other fledgling creators who became my support network; I started coming up with one or two workable book ideas.

In 2009 I collaborated with fellow SCBWI member Norman Jorgensen on a picture book idea called The Last Viking, which was picked up by Fremantle Press. This was my first book contract.

In 2010 I had a picture book manuscript critique with the publisher at Walker Books. My story was called In The Lion. Sarah liked the story and offered to publish it.

In 2011 The Last Viking was published.

In 2012 In The Lion was published.

In 2013 I had built up enough contacts and work with schools, local councils and libraries to go full-time as a children’s writer/ illustrator, speaker, educator and workshop facilitator.

Ever since, I’ve tried to have at least one book published per year. I spend about a quarter of my year making a book, and the rest of the time visiting schools and libraries, attending writers’ festivals, doing freelance work and community projects, and volunteering for SCBWI.

You can read a more detailed recount of my journey here.

In summary:

I was not published overnight.

Most people working in the children’s book industry are not overnight successes either; we all worked at our craft for years and years before getting published (and we’re still working at it). Be prepared to put in many years of work before you get to where you want to be.

Good luck!

Author: James Foley

James Foley makes children’s books for children who read books. If you’re a child and you’re eating his books, you’re doing it wrong. His books include Brobot, Dungzilla, Gastronauts, Chickensaurus, Toffle Towers, My Dead Bunny and There's Something Weird About Lena. James lives in Perth with his wife, 2 kids, and a labrador. He is a massive Marvel movie nerd and comes from a long line of queuing enthusiasts. Follow him on FB/twitter/insta/youtube @jamesfoleybooks, or at www.jamesfoley.com.au .

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