Today, we welcome Audrey Vernick to EMU’s Debuts. Audrey isn’t a novice at this whole publication game. She has both fiction and nonfiction picture books already published, and yet, she is about to be a debut author all over again this fall, with the release of her middle grade novel, WATER BALLOON. So, she’s here today to talk about being a debut-author-who-isn’t-really-a-debut-author-but-is-all-over-again. Phew, hope I got that right!
So, Audrey, your picture book TEACH YOUR BUFFALO TO PLAY DRUMS is just being released. As your fourth picture book to hit the shelves, and with more on the way, you are hardly a novice at this. Reflecting on your fist sale, how has the process changed for you as you’ve moved from debut author to picture book Grand Master?
Maybe this will change when I grow up, but every book feels like the first, from submission all the way through sweating out the reviews.
And can you give us an estimate on when you are planning to grow up?
Yes. I would say that will be another six years. Thanks for asking.
But seriously, has anything changed in how it feels over time?
Well, there’s been one mark of progress: I’ve gotten a tiny bit better at dealing with my impatience at the glacial rate of almost everything related to publishing.
WATER BALLOON is the story of Marley Baird, living through a truly difficult summer. Her parents are recently separated and it’s the first time she’s spending more than a couple of days in a row with her dad—one whole long month. Her best friends are starting to hang with an older crowd, leaving her behind. And Marley’s dad signed her up for the worst summer job in history. But she – and her dog – seem to have both developed a crush on the boy whose backyard borders her dad’s yard.
The day I finished writing this generic-sounding synopsis, I received my first review, from Kirkus. And it’s really nice! It’s such a relief to get at least one good review. I find myself feeling slightly less insane.
It really is nice. Among other things, Kirkus said:
“Vernick makes a very auspicious fiction debut here with her breezy, briskly paced tale, well-portrayed characters, authentic relationships and keen ear for realistic dialogue. The sweet, swoony young romance doesn’t hurt either, and preteen female readers will eat this up.”
I love that they called it a “briskly paced tale,” because you’ve shared with us a few weeks ago that you struggled with getting rejections based on it being a “quiet manuscript.” Did that, or anything else surprise you about the review?
I think what I mainly feel is embarrassment that I’m very quick to dismiss Kirkus when they’re nasty, but swifter still to embrace them as uniquely insightful when they’re nice.
Kirkus will no doubt be thrilled to quote your review of them as “uniquely insightful.” But enough about them, let’s talk more about you. How is writing different for you in the middle grade versus picture book genres?
While I’ll procrastinate writing of all kinds, I don’t dread writing picture books. But my paralyzing fear about sitting down to write a novel is really something to be reckoned with.
For picture books, when things line up well, it doesn’t take long to get a first draft down. I usually wait a couple of days, and then start revising. Novels! Novels kill me! It takes so long to write a novel! I always question myself when I start: hey crazypants, wouldn’t you rather write about an adorable cross-eyed chipmunk or something? But I also feel more vested in my novels. It’s almost like a picture book is my book and a novel is me.
Have you/will you consider writing a novel about a cross-eyed chipmunk named Crazypants? Because I think that has real potential.
I’ll put it in the idea bowl. (A gift given to me by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, in case you’re wondering if it’s a literal thing. It is.)
An idea bowl! What an idea! But tell me more about how the editorial/publication process has differed for a novel versus a picture book.
I can hold a picture book’s text in my head—I can see it shape, know everything that happens and how it’s affected by changes I’m considering. I can’t do anything like that with a novel. I have a hard time feeling its shape, keeping track of its wholeness.
In terms of publication, the biggest difference is that everything has seemed far more incremental with picture books. We choose an illustrator, see early sketches, revised sketches, early art, final art, art and text together, cover possibilities, etc. With the novel, there was some revision. And then, shockingly, a cover.
I was stunned by my cover. With all my picture books, I’d seen the internal art first, so I had some idea what the cover might look like. With a novel, suddenly this character I’ve known for many years has a particular face, and it’s not the one I envisioned. I adore the cover, but it took me two weeks to really wrap my brain around it.
You’ve had some great tie-in publicity opportunities with your picture books, signing SHE LOVED BASEBALL at the Baseball Hall of Fame, for example. How do you see your marketing/event efforts as similar or different with Water Balloon? Do you feel you are building on your name recognition from your picture books, or are you finding yourself “starting over” in your promotion efforts?
Oh, I think I’m totally starting over. And without a great sense of what I need to do. I’m hoping to figure out how to help position the book for mother/daughter book clubs. And how to reach both my audience and the gatekeepers (librarians, teachers, parents) to that audience. It would be very nice if my name recognition—if I have any—carries over. The truth is: I’m staring down the steepest part of the novel promotion learning curve. Wish me luck.
Good luck, Audrey, although I think you and WATER BALLOON will be a BIG success (I had to get just one size joke in. Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.)
I don’t understand. What are you saying? Not all readers know I’m short, you know. Well, all readers of this blog do. Now.
Um. Yeah. See the picture above folks. But don’t let her size fool you. Audrey Vernick is gonna be BIG!