Like a Maccabee: The Birth of a Book, Part 3

Like a Maccabee: The Birth of a Book, Part 1
Like a Maccabee: The Birth of a Book, Part 2

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The first two illustrators I talked to were busy with other projects and couldn’t take on a book. Also, due to the nature of the book, its target age, and my financial limitations, I wasn’t looking for picturebook-style illustrations. I wanted something that would look good in black and white, something to which kids could relate, and an artist who could also do a full color wrap-around style illustration for the dust jacket.

I also wanted someone who understood kids, who could share the vision of this book. Immediately, I thought of an artist with whom I’d worked peripherally on some children’s programs through our synagogue.

I called Anita White and to my delight, she was available and interested. I’d already talked with Barbara about how many illustrations we wanted (within the parameters of what I could afford) and for which scenes. We also talked about the cover and whether it should highlight the Hanukkah aspect of the story or the soccer aspect. With that list, I gave Anita a copy of the manuscript and she produced some sketches. I scanned in the sketches and e-mailed them to Barbara, feeling a little nervous.

The reason for my anxiety was timing. It was now November 2005 and part of my standard book contract was that the author (Barbara) and I had to mutually agree on an illustrator. In other words, if she disliked Anita’s illustrations, she had the right to reject that choice of illustrator and I’d need to find someone else. There are some other protections built into the contract so the author and I wouldn’t spend forever choosing an illustrator, and after a set time limit without an agreement, the decision would be solely mine. But fortunately, that was unnecessary.

Anita was very taken with the story and wrote, “I see that the feelings between the characters is what matters most… because of the relational nature of the story… and I trust that my drawings will convey that…”

There was some hesitation at first. Would this style of illustration be too sophisticated for the target age? Would the fact that it was less traditional “photographic” pencil drawings and more Chagall-like be an asset or a liability?

Then this from Barbara: “…my first thought was that Anita’s work was very Chagall-like, and he is one of my favorites. I loved her work right away [and] it would be great to inspire our readers with lovely illustrations! I am also thrilled that Anita is so passionate about the story. I did show Anita’s samples to some artist friends and they thought her work was fabulous, which added to my enthusiasm.”

On December 11, I sent Anita a publisher/illustrator contract to review.

Meanwhile, I had contacted an editor with whom I’d worked before on another book project and asked about her availability and interest. I really wanted Leslie Martin to do the editing in part because I trusted her instincts, but also because she has a daughter who – at the same age as Ben in the book – played soccer. As a “Jewish soccer mom” and professional editor, I thought Leslie would make the perfect choice. Leslie accepted in early November and on November 7th, I sent her a copy of the manuscript.

All was going well. Leslie was reading the manuscript. Anita was reading the manuscript and doing research to draw the soccer game illustrations and she and I were in the process of negotiating contract terms. It appeared that by the end of the calendar year, the manuscript would be undergoing editing and being illustrated and I could focus on choosing and purchasing licenses for fonts and deciding on an interior design.

And then I was rear-ended by a large pickup truck and suffered injuries to my neck, back, and shoulder.

I was determined not to have this slow down production. That was a bit of a challenge while on some serious pain medication, and working around physical therapy appointments proved to be a bit stressful, but work continued, albeit often with an ice pack and sometimes one-handed.
Anita delivered the illustrations on February 16, 2006 and I e-mailed scans of them to Barbara for her input. Even if there were a few minor changes needed in the illustrations, I figured the editing was nearly (or completely) done and we could get advance reader copies (ARCs) printed as soon as April. With an October release, this would give me plenty of time to get ARCs to prepublication review journals a good 4-5 months before the pub date.

One thing I’ve learned in publishing: consider nothing a done deal until the customer walks away with a published book and their check clears the bank. And even then there are occasional issues that have to be addressed in the next printing.

On February 21, Leslie said the editing on Like a Maccabee was done and she wanted to touch base with me before talking with Barbara. Since most of the editing changes were copyediting types of things and not major changes, I set up the layout, created the front matter (title pages, copyright page, dedication, etc.) and used the most recent version of the manuscript to see where I’d place illustrations.

And that’s when I realized to my horror that we had a problem. A big problem. The manuscript, as it stood, was only about half as long as other comparable books. I hadn’t done the number-crunching (total # words in manuscript / average number of words per page = number of pages) until then and a 70+ page manuscript does NOT translate into a 70+ page book once in layout. Even with big type.

My heart was in my stomach when I e-mailed Barbara to tell her the news. At best, we could squeeze out about 65 pages in layout. We needed closer to 100, and preferably more, to compete with similar books in this age range.

It was the first time in this process that I thought seriously about changing careers.

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Read Part 4!

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