Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How I became a published author

In 1995, I was working my first job after college—a marketing assistant at Abbeville Press in New York.

The company was known for its coffee table books (particularly art monographs) but had recently launched a children’s imprint.

One of the most popular titles in that imprint was Letters from Felix, a picture book translated from German.

Before I started, the marketing department had developed a simple promotional series of activity sheets based on the book that they sent to bookstores. The publisher wanted to create an entire book of activities. He announced this at a marketing meeting.

I volunteered to write it. Somehow, no one sniggered.

I forgot what happened next (though I did keep a journal at the time, I am relaying this story solely on memory).

Six or so months later, on the Friday before Labor Day weekend, the publisher called me into his office.

“Remember when you offered to write the Felix activity book?”

I said yes.

“Well, if you were serious, the job is yours.”

“Are you serious?” I was 23 with no credits to my name. I now know why at least in part why that was actually attractive: it meant I came cheap.

I was partnered with a friend who also worked in the marketing department. We were hired independently of our day jobs and were not supposed to work on the book in the office. Because my friend was also one of my bosses, she had more responsibility and therefore could devote less time to the book. I (gladly) ended up writing the majority of it and at her prompting (she was a good egg), we adjusted our financial arrangement accordingly.

I remember doing my research, all the old-fashioned way: books only. The Internet (at least as a significant research tool) was still a couple of years off.

Once we had some activities done, I focus-grouped them at Long Lots Elementary in Connecticut at which the sister of another of my bosses taught.

That sister is now a principal and I did an author visit at her school in 2010.

The Felix Activity Book came out in 1996.

I did my first bookstore signing that fall, and a couple more afterward. In 1999, the sequel Felix Explores Our World came out to zero fanfare (except in my mom’s condo).

Then Felix and I parted ways, amicably. But I will always be grateful to him (and Abbeville) for giving me my first break in publishing.

Felix may have been the one writing letters, but I was the one who became an author.

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