“Friend” doesn’t even begin to describe the dear Ann Whitford Paul. She opened her heart (and home!) to a newbie writer, eons ago, and I have adored her ever since. As far as I am concerned, she is the queen of the picture book format (make sure you check out her craft book, Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication, Writers Digest Books). Today, we are celebrating the launch of her newest title, If Animals Said I Love You, a companion to the adorable If Animals Kissed Good Night, both illustrated by David Walker and both from Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers. Pour yourself a cup of Ann’s favorite beverage, hazelnut decaf coffee, and sit back and enjoy!
Since IF ANIMALS SAID I LOVE YOU just came out, I thought you might enjoy learning its journey to publication.
Years ago, my kids and I used to play a game. We would hold our arms like elephant trunks, stretch our necks tall like giraffes, squirm on the ground like snakes, and kiss good night. I wrote the story just like it happened, between Mom and a kid, but an editor labeled it, “incestuous!” I had to revise, deleting Mom and the kid, changing it into a concept piece, adding a sloth character to hold it together, and writing it as a poem.
That book, IF ANIMALS KISSED GOODNIGHT, illustrated by the amazing David Walker, sold well, when much to my surprise, my publisher took it out of print. Equally surprising they reissued it in 2014, with a new cover, as a board book.
Soon after, I was heading to New York and although my previous editor no longer worked there, I gathered up courage and arranged to meet my new editor, Janine O’Malley. During that visit, I learned the board book’s sales were climbing. Fast. Janine suggested I think about a follow-up.
I went home and wrote two!—IF ANIMALS BATHED IN A TUB and IF ANIMALS WORE CLOTHES. She rejected both—just days before Christmas! Talk about a holiday downer. In her e-mail though, she suggested I write IF ANIMALS SAID I LOVE YOU.
I couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t that too similar to IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT?
Depressed and discouraged, I was convinced I couldn’t do it. But timing can be everything and my husband and I had plans to visit our son and his family in South Africa. What better time to try it?
Soon as our plane took off, I started reading animal books on my kindle and making notes. Our trip included several safaris and a trek to see the elusive gorillas. With notebook in hand, bouncing along in land cruisers, I jotted down thoughts, images, and rhymes. I wrote of the usual lions and ostriches, but also added unusual secretary birds. Because love can (and should) be expressed to many, instead of just writing of parents and offspring, I added grandparents and cousins, friends and siblings.
I’d just finished the manuscript, when Janine sent an e-mail, suggesting I write the story using animal sounds instead of actions. After all my work! I waited until my emotions calmed, and wrote that I liked that idea, but already had a completed manuscript for her to see. In just one day she responded, “I love it.”
She loved it so much, she asked me two write two more books in the series. IF ANIMALS SAID MERRY CHRISTMAS will be out Fall 2018 and IF ANIMALS WENT TO SCHOOL, Fall 2019.
As you can see, luck and timing have as much to do with publishing success as a strong manuscript. I wish your writing career will include lots of all three!
Ann Whitford Paul is embarrassed to say how many years she’s been writing (inspiration came initially from her children, and now comes from her grandchildren) but she still loves doing it. She’s published over 20 books and is currently working on an updated version of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication. Check out her website at www.annwhitfordpaul.com. Sign up for her monthly newsletter here.