Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Who'da thought, me an author?

This afternoon I read my Bill Traylor manuscript for the first time in several years. It won the Lee & Low Books New Voices Honor Award for 2005, and it was acquired by the publisher in 2008. I received an email from my editor today, with final revision requests (well, maybe not final, this is publishing). I've shared the manuscript with friends, but other than that, I haven't had a reason to read it; I've been writing other things.

My editor sent two versions of the manuscript. One was the original manuscript, following our last round of revisions nearly three years ago. With the other, she'd made editorial changes and cuts.

I read my original manuscript first. Reading it felt strange. Somehow I felt detached from it, like I was reading the work of another author. Do other authors ever feel this way? Maybe it was because I hadn't read it in so long.

I read the second version next. My editor had made a few cuts, and she had changed a few phrases, but it looked good. The cuts were necessary to get the word count down (I'm a man of few words, except for when I write). I do plan to rewrite the phrases she added, using my own words. This book will have my byline on it, so every word will be mine. Thankfully, in no way did she change the story, which, because it's a biography, probably can't happen anyway.

The title of the book and bylines read like this:

When Bill Traylor Started to Draw
by Don Tate
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Reading this was both exciting and bizarre. Seeing my name as the author? And not the illustrator? I wouldn't have believed it possible a few years ago. Me, who stumbles through the spoken word, and who routinely uses bad English like, "I'mma go git me some sammiches." Or "Happy Birfday?"

People often ask if it's awkward for me to have another illustrator illustrating my story. And the answer is . . . well, no and yes.

When I wrote the story, there was no question in my mind that I could adequately illustrate it. What I didn't know is if I could actually finish a first draft. Make revisions. Or sell it. So I removed my illustrators hat, and popped on my writers hat, and I focused only on writing the best story I possibly could. I thought about what the visuals might be, of course, but I was more concerned about getting my words right. I submitted the manuscript with a note to the editor, stating that if the manuscript was acquired, I'd be fine with another artist illustrating it.

After the manuscript had been acquired, I had second thoughts. I wanted to illustrate it, too! I submitted illustration samples, but that's when things started to get complex.

First, I already had one book in the works, Ron's Big Mission, and I had received offers to illustrate two more. Originally, Bill was to publish this year. Second, my editor wasn't sure if she wanted to use my stylistic, whimsical illustration style, or go with something edgier, grittier. Time was running out, a decision hadn't been made, and those other advances were talking to my empty bank account. So we mutually agreed to go with another illustrator.

I do feel incredibly lucky that my editor let me choose the illustrators we would approach to illustrate the story. And I'm so pleased that Greg signed on. When the book publishes, it will be perfectly clear why Greg Christie was the perfect artist to bring this story to life.

Still, yes, a little bit awkward. But all is good.


Zetta Elliott said...

You have a very enlightened attitude, Don! I also admire your determination to make sure they're YOUR words, and not someone else's...can't wait to see the book!

Christy said...

You have many many talents Don. Congratulations on your published written work.