tDLaTS – Q&A

I opened my inbox to questions about The Dark Lord and the Seamstress, and here are the questions I received, and my answers!

Q: What is your criteria for success for TDLatS? How does self-publishing shift your goals in this endeavour and what, if anything, do you miss about traditional publishing, here?

Criteria for success: That I actually manage to get the book out! I’ve never done anything on this scale before, and I’ve certainly never done a picture book before. I love this little story, and of course I love Jennifer’s art, so what I would really call a success is people enjoying it. Either with their kids or not, if people are talking about how fun and pretty it is, if they’re having a good time with the book, then that’s all I really ask. I just want it to work.

Shifting the goals: This who publication journey has been less a race to the finish as it usually is for me, and it’s really taught me patience with the publishing process. Not that I’m a nag – I hope! – to my editors, but once the book has been bought and edited and turned over, from the author side it feels like a whole heck of a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. There are huge gaps of time when you hear nothing from the publisher because they’re very busy getting on with the process of turning your manuscript into a book with a marketing plan. And that silence can sometimes make me antsy and impatient, especially when all I have to look toward is the moment I hold the book in my hands.

Instead of one big goal at the end – hold the finished book – my life is now filled with lots of little goals, all of which are necessary and have to happen in a certain order to make sure the book comes together properly and on time.

And of course, it’s my first picture book, too, so that makes things doubly nerve wracking and weird. I have to learn so much. It’s wonderful, and fascinating, but it’s certainly changed what I consider a goal and a success to be.

What I miss: I’ve had things published through my agency, with their arm FastForeword, which is not self publishing, but is a lot more hands-on than most traditional publishing. I’ve also been pubbed small press, and I’ve put a few shorts up on Kindle. Nothing I’ve done so far has really been on the large-trad-publisher scale, so I’m used to having to do a lot of marketing on my own, and being far more involved in the process of turning a manuscript into a book than large-scale publishing generally invites the author to be. The only real difference here is that at the very end of the process, someone isn’t going whisk away my MS and magically return a book to me. I will be sitting with a student interior designer and we will be muddling through the process together. Thank god for CreateSpace templates, that’s all I can say!

The nitty gritty things like getting the book registered for an ISBN and getting it up online in all the stores, and contacting the brick-and-mortar stores, and paying for the editing, and interior design, and cover art, and cover design… those are things that are all part of the process that I am very happy to never be a part of, and as the author in trad pub, never gets put into my hands. I fear I’m dropping the ball and forgetting something important every single time I turn away from the computer!  So, in short, I guess I miss not having to worry about the small process items.

On the other hand, I’m learning a lot about books now, and so when I sell my next trad pub book, I’ll have a much greater understanding of what I, the author, can do to make everyone else on the team’s jobs easier.

Q:For the visuals of the book, did you decide what the Dark Lord and the Seamstress were wearing, or the illustrator, or a combination of both of you?

Oooh, good question.

Here’s one of the first concept sketches Jennifer did. I don’t recall the exact conversation, though I’m sure I could dig it up somewhere, where we both agreed that something quintessentially fantasy-medieval would be perfect.

This was Jennifer’s final sort of attempt, after we’d had lots of discussions about their size difference (what would be enough to be silly but not enough to be unrealistic, if the Dark Lord had wings, and what kind, or if the Dark Lord had horns and what kind, etc.)

I really like the look of this style of overdress, so Jennifer found a way to translate that into the look, and after a bit more discussion about what would be period appropriate yet still easy enough for her to draw over and over again for the Seamstress’ hair, Jennifer sent me some character finals and that was that!

It was actually a pretty painless process, because she’s very professional, and listens very actively, but also pushes back when my suggestions are unworkable or unrealistic.

I think we have an excellent dynamic, and I’m lucky. That’s partially because we used to be forum and fanfic buddies back in our DBZ days, and that’s helped because we have a common history and departure point.

Q: Who is your favorite character in TDLatS and why?

I should say the Seamstress, of course, but I really like the Dark Lord and his complete lack of style and inability to dress himself! And his pout is adorable.

Of course, the narrator is a pretty awesome lady, too. *hint hint*

Q: Can you talk a little bit about what inspired TDLatS?? Even if you don’t want to be too spoilery!

I was working in a children’s library, re-cataloging and re-barcoding every. single. book. in the place. This was 2002. I kept stopping to read the picture books because they were so colourful and fun, and I was so BORED.

One afternoon, I was scanning, sticking, scanning, sticking, and thinking, and wondering if I could write a children’s book. At the same time, I had been reading the collected works of Byron on my off time, so I had a lot of epic-length poetry on my mind.

The line “Once upon a time, oh yes, so very long ago, there came to be a lovely girl, who came to learn to sew” jumped into my head and I wrote it down. From there the story really just unfolded and told itself! I think I had the whole thing jotted down in about forty minutes. I don’t know why the poem had to be set in hell, exactly, except that I liked the idea of a Devil who can’t dress himself. He’s always shown all dolled up and dapper in pictures/TV/Film, but what if he just has really terrible fashion sense?

The hardest part was getting all the scansion right. That took me a few weeks of trial and error to figure out. When it was done I shared it with some friends, but I didn’t know what to do with it, so I wrote it in a book and put it on my shelf.

I’d very nearly forgotten about it until recently, and decided now that I was a hybrid author, I should do what I’d always dreamed with the poem, and make it a picture book! Luckily,Jennifer Vendrig, my illustrator, and I knew each other waaaaay back in the day, and she was one of the ones who read the poem in 2002. We had talked about doing the poem illustrated before, so she had some sketches ready, and we made up a contract, shook virtual hands, and here we are!

Have a question you want to ask about the book or the process? Ask in the comments below, on my Tumblr, on Goodreads, or via Twitter.

JM FreytDLaTS – Q&A