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First Book: Ecstasy and Panic
Anna Grossnickle Hines
SCBWI Bulletin July/August 1983
At last I am holding my first book in my hands. Here are the words, the lines, the colors I agonized over for months. This is MY BOOK. I finally did it! I think back over the months and still feel the thrill of that first phone call.
"Hello, Anna? This is Susan Hirschman in New York. We'd like to publish Taste the Raindrops at Greenwillow if you are willing to make a few changes."
It was Friday the thirteenth, November 1981, an auspicious day, to say the least, and one I'll never forget. After eight years of rejections, eighteen from Greenwillow alone, THEY WANTED TO PUBLISH MY BOOK!!!
I called my husband, my mother, my friends, jumped up and down, ran around the house unable to contain myself. I couldn't believe it! Had I made it up? Maybe I'd fallen asleep over my drawing table and dreamed it. A phone call is so elusive. I had nothing tangible, no letter that I could re-read to assure myself that it was true. And I had so many questions. I hadn't even thought to ask Susan if she wanted me to illustrate it!
Days stretched into weeks before the letter came with the changes Susan wanted me to make in the text. I studied the pencil lines through my carefully written phrases. Ouch!
I thought about them. Yes, maybe this was a bit much, and I could do without that, but why change this? I was to call her to discuss the revision.
I looked through my closet. What does one wear to talk with a New York editor? Silly! I called. Yes, I would make the changes. Yes, she wanted me to do the illustrations. Yes, I agreed to the terms of the contract. Yes! Yes! Yes! We're off!
No! Wait! I've never done a book before. I don't know enough. I'm not ready. It was like jumping into the ocean after learning to swim in the bathtub. I alternated between ecstasy and complete panic. Now that I had the opportunity to do what I'd always wanted I was terrified. But I had to start, one step at a time.
I revised the text, made a new dummy and sent them off. I talked with Ava Weiss, Greenwillow's art director, who welcomed me warmly. She and Susan both asked good questions about my work. They guided me by challenging me to think, to see more clearly what I wanted the book to be. I felt reassured. I was in good hands. They were going to help me. Together we would produce a good book.
Sizes and colors were decided and I was to do samples as I wanted the illustrations to look. I did pages of samples. I did samples until I didn't even know what I liked anymore. None seemed good enough, but I selected some, and sent them off with a page full of questions. They came back with a page full of answers, suggestions and encouragement to keep going.
Meanwhile I had signed the contract and received a check for the advance. Money for doing what I wanted to do!
I worked up samples for every page and sent them for approval. They came back with many little critical comments and warm words of encouragement. Again I felt safe, knowing that Susan and Ava were not going to accept anything less than the very best I could do, and I was going to have to make that best better and better!
I did many more sketches, working for consistency in the characters and an anatomically believable dog. When I had the characters, sizes and proportions worked out, I made a pencil master for each page. These were my guides as I worked on the pen and ink drawings for the book. I did pages and redid them, over and over.
I often wished I could pack up my work and drop in to ask Ava or Susan about this or that. Sometimes it seemed I had looked at the drawings so much I couldn't tell what was good and what wasn't. But New York was too far away, mail not immediate enough, and one couldn't look at a drawing over the phone. I kept working.
Finally, the pen and ink work seemed to be done. I spread them out in my studio as I had many times before and checked them all over together. None stood out as weaker than the others. The line seemed consistent, the characters the same from page to page. Good. I would enjoy Easter vacation with my family and then start on the color separations.
That night I had a dream, nightmare actually, that I changed the dog from a dark curly-haired animal to one with a long shaggy coat. I got up and went to my studio to look at my work again. The dog was rather dark, but since he was in every picture, changing him would mean doing every drawing over! No, I decided, the dark dog would be fine once I added the color. After all, I had a deadline to meet.
We took a holiday trip and the work sat for a week. When I returned to it fresh I knew I had to change the dog as I had dreamed. He was too dense for the lightness of the rest of the work. So ... I practiced a shaggy dog and started over.
By then it seemed that I'd done some of those pictures about thirty times, but I didn't mind. I was too excited and too anxious to do the best book I possibly could, to be bored by the repetition. I felt I might be able to make them even better if I did them again, but the June 1st deadline was approaching and Jane Yolen, with whom I'd had the good fortune of studying the summer before, passed on a bit of wisdom. "Don't be doing your next book by re-working this one," she said. "You'll always feel you want to do better, but you have to know when this book is done, and go on to the next."
She was right. Letting it go was hard, but I knew I had to do it. I did the overlays for the color separations, packaged my work carefully and took it to the post office where I asked that the package be traceable and insured. It was disturbing to leave my precious parcel. For the next few days my "off-spring" would be in the hands of unknowing and uncaring strangers. Susan knew it was on its way and promised to call as soon as it arrived. The wait was agonizing. To make matters worse, it didn't arrive when I expected it to and I learned to my dismay that I hadn't been specific enough in my mailing instructions. It had gone third class and would take ten to fourteen days to get there! I was terribly upset with myself but at last the work arrived, safe and in good condition, and a few days ahead of the deadline.
Then I waited to hear if the work was acceptable. Had I done the separations correctly? Were the drawings good enough? At times like those it seemed that the hardest part of doing the book was waiting. A couple weeks passed. I received proofs of the text and a note to check them over and call. It was exciting to see my words set in type, along with Library of Congress cataloging information and everything. So official! Taste the Raindrops was going to be a real book!
But I still didn't know whether Susan and Ava were pleased or disappointed with the drawings. Somehow, in the confusion of being in and out of town, each had assumed the other let me know. They were fine. No problems were foreseen, but it might be November before I would see proofs. More waiting!
I kept busy with other works, receiving several painful rejections from Greenwillow meanwhile. Obviously, I'd managed to get one right manuscript to the right publisher at the right time, but hadn't discovered a surefire secret to success. I kept working and resumed submitting to other publishers as well.
Near the end of August a surprise package arrived from Greenwillow. I opened it curiously and pulled out the press proofs. I was overwhelmed by emotion. Pride, embarrassment, joy, fear; I seemed to feel everything all at once. All the flaws jumped out at me and I was horrified. I folded it up and put it back in the envelope. Minutes later I pulled it out again. It wasn't bad. Nice colors. Had I done-this? I put it away again, pulled it out, put it away. This was my work. Soon it would be out for all the world to see. I would be exposed. I felt vulnerable, excited but frightened, too.
A couple of months later I received an unbound copy of the book, and questionnaires for publicity use. Then, on Christmas Eve, an advance-advance copy of Taste the Raindrops, a real book!
Since then there have been newspaper interviews, a radio reading, visits to schools and autograph parties at the local bookstores. I even spoke at a Children's Author Tea at the invitation of local librarians and teachers. And in November I sold Come to the Meadow to Clarion and Maybe a Band-Aid Will Help to Dutton. All of it is exciting and wonderful, more than I ever dared imagine, but nothing equals the thrill of holding that first copy of my first book in my hands for the very first time.
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