Interview with Author Debbie Dadey

debbie-dadey-goalWelcome to the stage, author and co-author of 166 traditionally published children’s books, Debbie Dadey, a former teacher and librarian. She lives in a log cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, with nature to inspire her writing.  Her first book, co-authored with Marcia Thornton Jones, Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots turned into the series, The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids.  Ready, Set, Goal! is the newest in Debbie’s Mermaid Tales, a multi-cultural series from Simon and Schuster.   Each Mermaid Tales book has an enchanting story couples with non-fiction components where readers learn about ocean creatures and plants.  To learn more about Debbie as an author, please visit her website www.debbiedadey.com; like her at www.Facebook.com/debbiedadey; and follow her on www.twitter.com/debbiedadey.

1. Debbie, thank you so much for doing this interview! Your publishing journey is fascinating. Let’s start at the start. You’ve mentioned previously on The Writing Bug that your writing journey began with a simple yet witty post card after a year of querying. Did you ever feel hopeless during that year? What encouraged you to keep writing and keep submitting queries?

Oh yes! There were many times (and still are) where I was ready to pull my hair out and give up. Writing is an incredibly difficult, disheartening, and depressing way to make a living and yet it can also be an exhilarating, uplifting, and a joyful experience. I was lucky enough to have a writing partner, Marcia Thornton Jones, when I started out. We encouraged each other through all the rejections. We also formed a critique group that was another great source of support. Although I’ve lived all over the country, I’ve almost always been lucky enough to find or form a critique group of fellow writers who been great sources of not only support, but inspiration. Sometimes the SCBWI helped me find a group.

2. Many aspiring authors and illustrators don’t try to harpoon a big fish like Scholastic in the beginning of their journey. What led to that decision in your mind, that Scholastic would be the best place for your early manuscript Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots rather than a children’s book literary agent?

Dumb luck had a lot to do with it! We didn’t know much about agents at the time, but we did know the kinds of books that Scholastic published. Marcia and I thought our story would be a good fit and lucky for us it was! So knowing the market is very important and that can only come by studying newly published books, publishers website or catalogs, and reading reviews.

3. Let’s talk numbers. Everyone loves numbers, especially when the numbers are BIG. You’ve got over 42 million copies sold and describe yourself as a professional writer who doesn’t have time for writer’s block. At what point did you realize you could write for a living? How did your family react as your writing career took off?

After Marcia and I sold our sixth Bailey Schools Kids book, lots of things were happening in my life. I remember standing in the doorway of my blue house with Marcia. We cried and hugged, knowing our writing career together was over because my husband, son, and I were moving to Texas for my husband’s job. Then Scholastic asked us to write four more books in our series and we knew we’d have to come up with a way to work long distance. When I found out I was pregnant a short while later, it was a scary decision to try writing full time. I’d like to say there were never any conflicts with my family when I needed to take a trip for my writing career, but I’d be lying. I’m not complaining. I know I’m blessed.

4. Do you think the publishing industry is fair? Does it only take a good, unique manuscript to get the foot in the door? From your personal experience and that of aspiring writers and illustrators you know, how important are relationships prior to getting a book deal or agent?

Marcia and I didn’t know anyone! Our unique book title did help us get a read and the fact that we were educators helped as well, since at the time writing about vampires was sketchy.

5. Let’s circle back to your family. You’ve got a smart scientist husband, grown kids out of school, and pets. Many authors struggle in their quest for a quiet place to write. How did you manage a “writing place” when your kids were young? How do you manage every day distractions now?

Distractions are a constant struggle for any writer. Carving out a personal space is very important I think. My first office chair was the spare bed and my first desk was a side table, but I could close the door and work. When I was working full-time, I worked in the evenings after everyone else fell asleep. Then mornings became most productive for me. I won’t say it’s always been easy, I’ve literally written books with a baby on my back! Now, I try to set goals for myself by listing what I want to accomplish. There’s something very empowering about crossing something off a list!

6. Many children visit your website and read your interviews. Let’s speak to them for a minute. What should children learn about writing books when they research you? Is there anything children can be doing now to become professional writers or illustrators later in life?

I love to read and as far back as I can remember I’ve always loved books. I probably didn’t treat them as well as I should have-I read under the covers, in the bathtub, and with the book in my lap at the supper table. But I’m sure all that reading helped me to become a better writer. Reading is the best classroom a writer can have.

7. As such a prolific writer, you’ve come across so many stories from other authors. There are good ones and bad ones. Despite the subjective nature of personal tastes, what makes a captivating story? What makes a horrible story?

The strange thing is that what makes a wonderful story for some could be quite boring for others. It’s quite rare to find a story that everyone loves. But I think the best stories are those where the underdog somehow finds a way to succeed, hopefully with friends helping along the way. A horrible story to me is one that gets so bogged down with the big picture that if forgets to zero in on the action (or moments that are important).

8. Many people reading your interviews are new to the publishing industry. You’ve built incredible connections with publishers, agents, editors, and illustrators. What characteristics would define a successful relationship between an author and any of the above? What warning signs should aspiring authors and illustrators look out for?

My first book came out almost 30 years ago. Be assured that almost all the editors I knew then have retired or moved on. Publishing is constantly evolving. It is a fluid industry, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When our Scholastic editor moved to Hyperion, she asked us to write a series for them. It’s very easy to get upset when the story you’ve poured your heart into is rejected, but getting mad at an editor will not get your story published!

9. In your interview with Jolene Haley, you describe the tight bond you have with your long time friend and frequent co-author, Marcia Thornton Jones. With such an early connection writing stories together, is it more difficult working on separate projects where you can’t or don’t bounce ideas off each other? With humans being naturally rough around the edges and having unique perspectives, how did you and Marcia conquer differences in decision making? What about differences in plot or story directions?

When Marcia and I began writing together, we didn’t know what we were doing! If one of us felt strongly, the other figured she must be right and we tried it. I know that I probably wouldn’t have continued writing without Marcia’s encouragement, so I’m eternally grateful for her hard work ethic.

10. We are increasingly becoming a connected, global society. With one Tweet, Instagram, Facebook post, Snapchat, or blog we can be engaging with people on the other side of the world. What is your view on the importance of having a mentor? Did you have any mentors in your writing career and are there any you would like to name here for recognition? Are you open to people asking you to be a mentor in the writing space?

Marcia and I struggled together all those years and in a way we were each other’s mentor. But we’ve always wanted a wise Yoda type mentor! By the time we came up for air, we’d sold so many books people were looking to us for advice and we were still learning. I am doing a free writing clinic at the end of this month, as well as two SCBWI conferences this spring. I’m hopeful that I’ll help someone on their writing journey.

11. Debbie, what can we expect from you over the next 1-2 years? What about 5-10 years down the road?

I’m excited to have three more books coming out in the Mermaid Tales series in the next two years. The Fairy Chase comes out in May of 2018, The Secret Code of the Sea Unicorn and The Winter Princess in 2019.  My writing goal has always been to write books for reluctant readers, no matter what the age. But I must admit I’ve always loved writing chapter books for kids who are in between picture books and novels. I hope to continue writing them for a long, long time!

Debbie, you have such a fascinating journey as an author. Thank you for taking the time away to share your story with us and provide such successful insight.

To the reader, do you have a unique story to share in the publishing space? You could be interviewed next! Contact me here or on social media to find out how you can be an encouragement and guide to aspiring authors and illustrators.

Interview with Illustrator Katy Halford

katy-halford-great-adventureWhat a cool job I’ve got interviewing amazing people like Katy Halford. Katy is a children’s book illustrator and also works in art licensing and commercial markets. Her love of drawing started when she was small and she continued to study ‘the arts’ at school, and then went on to graduate at Loughborough University with a degree in Illustration. She is currently working with various publishers on children’s books. When she isn’t glued to her seat impressing clients, she likes to go for long walks in the countryside. She also enjoys a good cup of tea and a nice slice of cake. Who doesn’t?! The best way to keep up to date with her work is through Instagram, Twitter, or her website.

1. It’s easy to tell you’re already a very successful illustrator with a strong portfolio of previous clients. How did you begin transitioning your passion for drawing personally into commercial projects and how difficult was it to gain exposure as an artist in the professional realm?

I used to draw pen doodles everyday and started up an account on Instagram and a page on Facebook. I would post photographs of my drawings when I did them and gradually my following got bigger and bigger. It did take time and persistence but I love to draw so it was totally worth it. As an illustrator, it’s so important to draw as much as you can. You are always developing as an artist and now, with social media exposure, you never know who may see your work. It might just be your dream client. Eventually, I attracted a variety of commercial clients, such as Feel Unique and Cafe Nero. I have worked closely with 2 local theme parks over the past few years illustrating their park maps and updating the latest rides etc.

2. You website describes you as a freelance illustrator, yet you’re partnered with Plum Pudding Illustration Agency. How does this business relationship work and what does it mean for authors who would like to work with you on their projects?

I worked as a freelance illustrator for a few years previously, and I then signed up with my lovely agent Plum Pudding Illustration spring last year. They represent me as an illustrator and work requests regarding children’s books and licensing go directly through them. I tend to work on a variety projects with different agents from Plum Pudding and work closely with the publishers. I’m always happy for people to get in touch with me if it’s just to say hi or have any questions about my work. You can get in touch via my contact form on my website.

3. Your professional illustration experience ranges from characters to worlds, maps to magazines and many things in between. If you had to pick one (maybe two) areas illustration products that excite you the most, what would it be? What is one area you hope to grow experience in?

My favorite areas in illustration to work are children’s book illustration and art licensing for the gift market. I chose children’s book illustration because it’s so fun to come up with characters, what they will look like, what clothes will they wear and then to illustrate the world they are put in. Every project is new and exciting! There’s nothing like seeing your work printed as the finished product. I get great satisfaction from seeing people enjoying my work too.

As a second choice, I’d choose licensing for the gift market, I love creating decorative designs and the use of simple color palettes to design many patterns or motifs for cards or gift wrap. I only started in the children’s book world last year so this is an area I hope to grow much more experience in, I’m always learning and can’t wait to learn more about it as I progress.

4. There is often a disconnect between less experienced authors (clients) and more experienced illustrators in terms of how projects develop from concept to final design. How would you describe the illustration process from your perspective?

As an illustrator, I work closely with the publisher, not directly with the author. So, when starting a children’s book I will first be given the story to read through. I tend to read through it a few times to really get to know the characters and concept. A series of thumbnails (very small rough drawing) are typically drawn up for the spreads; this may be full page illustrations, vignettes or half page illustrations. This allows the illustrator and publisher to discuss any art direction on which compositions and ideas work best to suit the story. Roughs are then drawn up at a larger scale and the work goes on to coloring. After the rough stage the publisher may show them to the author also.

5. How would you describe the perfect illustrator/client relationship? What are some aspects that have worked really well to deliver a great product? What are some negative aspects you hope not to experience (again)?

I think it’s always good to make sure you communicate, I find speaking on the phone or better as you can have a real conversation and bounce ideas off each other. The same goes for commercial projects too. I haven’t had any negative experiences yet, so hopefully it will stay that way.

6. As a children’s book author, I often have a specific illustration style in mind when I begin placing words on pages. Often times, a publishing house or agent also have illustrators in mind when they examine a manuscript. Does the same exist from the illustrator’s perspective? Is there a style of writing, intended target audience, or specific authors/clients, that you would love to receive an art request for? What is one of your dream projects?

I guess not so much for an illustrator as the story is typically presented to the illustrator. There’s lots I would love to be requested for, anything with great character and adventure! I have a love for history, mostly king and queens, so maybe a book about great kings and queens. I just love all their over the top fancy clothing, hairstyles and there’s some great characters! I think they would be great fun to draw and also to inject some humor. My dream project would be to write and illustrate my own stories. I have so many ideas and know it’s only the beginning for author-illustrator projects.

7. Illustrating is a very subjective endeavor. It’s easy to find fresh talent crushed by rejection. How do you cope when someone in the industry doesn’t appreciate what you’ve created to the same magnitude you do?

Yes ,sometimes this can be crushing, but I always try to think in life it wasn’t meant to be so it didn’t go ahead. I understand that the illustration didn’t turn out right for the job, unfortunately that’s how it works, but you can always learn from it as feedback is given. I also always think of things as another piece for the portfolio and something else will come up!

8. If you could speak to all the up and coming artists out there, what would you say to them? What do you wish someone said to you when you first set out on your professional illustration journey?

Try to draw as much as you can! Your work is always developing and you are always learning. Don’t worry about thinking that you don’t have a ‘style’. You do, even if you can’t see it yourself, other people will. Be yourself with a vengeance! Don’t try to be anyone else – it won’t make you stand out because that person is already out there! Enjoy it!

The design process has its ups and downs like lots of other processes. It’s all about learning on the way. New ideas are always exciting but once you get through to other side, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing something beautiful and unexpected. I know every new piece I do for my portfolio or a client I learn something new about myself.

9. Most illustrators have a list of artists (or pieces of art) they admire. Who are your artistic role models?

There’s so many illustrators I admire. I don’t really have a favorite as I’m always finding new illustrators or inspiration. To name a few, Lauren Child – I just love her characters and the childlike quality to her drawings. Quentin Blake – he’s just awesome! Him and Roald Dahl made my childhood. Janet and Allan Alhberg – perfect duo. I also love collecting postcards and random stuff for my office. Oh, and many people I have connected with through online courses and social media.

10. Tell us about some active projects you’re working on. What can we expect to see from you in the next 1-2 years and how can readers stay most informed about your activities?

All my current projects are top secret! So sorry, but that’s the industry for you! But you can expect to see some more picture books coming your way in the next 1- 2 years. I do try to draw in my sketchbook as much as I can in my free time, although it’s very little at the moment. My current theme is characters and I’m trying to draw more people. You can keep up to date with my work and informed on my social media feeds and website.

Thanks so much, Katy! It’s so great seeing industries through the eyes of people so genuine in their craft. I have no doubt you’ll continue to be a successful illustrator. The moment you free up some time to do author-illustrator projects, the sky will be the limit!

To my readers, if you’re an aspiring illustrator, I know this was insightful for you. Reach out to someone like Katy if you’re unsure of the path you should take. There are so many wonderful people in the industry who would love to help you grow and develop. What are you waiting for?