In the blog post Harvey and the Moon Bus – initial idea and inspiration for the book (15th October 2018) I wrote about the inspiration behind the book and the development of the story and the characters which eventually lead to a draft manuscript.
It was at this point that I needed some feedback – basically was the story good enough for publication? Did it appeal to children? did they engage with the characters? The best way to do this was to invite a group of family and friends (with young children) to read it and answer a small questionnaire.
So, I put together some basic questions, and together with a draft copy of the manuscript sent it out to a select group of people. When I’d received all the questionnaires back, I read them through and was delighted that both adults and children had enjoyed the story.
It was time to make the next step, to send the manuscript off for a professional appraisal. I’d been recommended The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books, so I posted it to them and waited patiently for a response.
A few weeks later I received an excellent, and very detailed report back. It covered everything – plot, characterization, language, chapters, marketing and specifically how it could be improved ready for publication. Basically, by introducing more dialogue to the story. I took their advice and went through the manuscript again giving each of the characters a voice. I was really surprised what a big difference it made – the book and the characters seemed to come alive. It was almost like they were jumping out of the pages.
I returned the new version of the manuscript back to them for comments, and they were equally impressed with how much it had improved the overall story. They said it was an engaging fantasy adventure story for children in the 5-7 age range and was definitely good enough to be published. I was ‘over the moon’.
It was at about this time that Emily (an artist and friend), and I were working on the illustrations for the book. I had been looking at similar children’s books in the library, to get ideas about the number and length of chapters, the type and amount of illustrations used, and language suitable for the age group.
It didn’t take us very long to agree on how the characters should look, and Emily went away to start work on some initial sketches. When she unveiled them a week later, they were simply perfect. Harvey, who had been modelled on our own Norwegian Forest Cat, Macavity was wearing dungarees and had a big bushy tail just like him. Somehow, she had brought this mischievous and charismatic cat, with an amazing zest for life and adventure, to life as a character in a children’s book.
We agreed on having six illustrations per chapter; the book had six chapters, making a total of thirty-six illustrations. So when Emily had completed all the illustrations we were ready to take the next step. It was time to think about publishing the book.
The Writers’ Advice Centre had given me a list of suitable children’s publishers to approach when the book was ready. However, being realistic, I knew that in todays flooded children’s book market it would probably end up on an Editors ‘slush pile’ for months and more than likely be rejected. For this reason, I decided to self-publish with Troubador, the self-publishing arm of Matador and who The Writers’ Advice Centre had recommended.
The publishing process took a lot longer than I imagined – there’s a lot more involved in producing a book than I had initially thought. Having said that I really enjoyed being involved in the production, editing and pre-publication marketing of it and working with the team at Troubador to produce a book that I could be really proud of. Eventually, we had the final version of the manuscript in our hands, and we were ready to turn ‘Harvey and the Moon Bus’ into a real paperback children’s book.
We decided to go with a print run off 300 copies, and I requested that one box of 100 should be sent to us at home. I had been marketing the book on social media sites and through family and friends for several months leading up to it being published, and had built up a substantial audience that were eagerly waiting to receive a signed, dedicated copy in the post.
Finally, the box arrived one morning by courier and I was excited, but also a little apprehensive about opening it. What would it look like in real life? What if it had any mistakes? I took a deep breath, opened it up and took one out. I checked the front cover, the wording on the back cover, chapter headings, illustrations and then I read it slowly, word by word, waiting for a mistake to jump out at me; but I couldn’t find anything wrong with it, there were no mistakes. It was perfect. Harvey had been born…and his adventures were just about to begin.
The final instalment of this series of articles ‘The first year and beyond’ will be posted up shortly.