icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

True Story Blog


Illustrator Gina Perry grew up being the smallest in her class and in her family. But on August 1, something big is happening—her author/illustrator debut! Today Gina shares the story about creating #firstpicturebook SMALL.

Q. You worked as an illustrator before SMALL. How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?
A. I tinkered with story ideas for many years, but made writing a priority when I had my children. I knew juggling hectic illustration deadlines and babies was not in the cards for me, so I became my own client. I paid myself nothing, but demanded that I write as much as possible and never quit on my ideas. The “kidlit” community is full of amazing resources once you open that door.

Illustrating my own books is amazingly different. I am still adjusting to the idea that I am in control of all the little details that were previously dictated to me by an art director. I have really enjoyed working with an editor to keep pushing my work to be it’s best. It feels far more like a partnership than any of my previous illustration assignments. Although, to be honest, I have been extremely fortunate in having nothing but great experiences with my illustration clients.

Q. Was SMALL the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first
picture book you wrote and what happened to it?

A. The first picture book manuscript I wrote was called TOO MUCH! NOT ENOUGH! It will be published Summer 2018 by Tundra. I first had the idea, starting with that refrain of the title, ten years ago. Did I mention that I never quit on my ideas?

Q. What inspired SMALL?
A. I was the smallest child in my grade until high school and also the smallest kid in the family. I was quite shy, even until my thirties. I wrote SMALL as a poem in a small sketchbook (but of course!) in a waiting room. The first draft was personal but I felt like I had something special right away.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I might ramble on in real life and interviews, but I generally like to pare down my writing to the barest structure of words possible. I had a few longer variations, but it eventually seemed that SMALL was just the right fit.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I wrote several versions of SMALL by hand. I will often jot down titles or rough ideas in sketchbooks or even in my phone’s note app. Once I am ready to really flesh a story out, I will write and revise on the computer.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I think my favorite part of the story is when she sings big. I love all her big moments, but that one hits me hardest. I love music and singing, but would never have been so brave to sing alone in front of a crowd at that age.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. It flowed out of me in first person, so I never imagined it any other way. I also hoped that it would allow children to place themselves in her shoes and feel big along her journey.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SMALL?
A. I knew it would be about a small girl but was completely blank on the plot for at least a year.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I sketched out several different concepts for the story, and there were some wonderful images that were lost to revisions, but each draft helped me understand the character better.

Q. Did SMALL receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. My agent smartly knew that SMALL needed a revision but I felt so confident in that version that she sent it out. I think I needed the kind, encouraging rejections to assure me that I did need to revise. I took some time to revise and resubmit, but it was 1000% worth the wait and work when it found a fast home with little bee books. I did have to revise the text before I received an offer, but it was a really positive process.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SMALL.
A. I was in a parking lot and had my daughter in the car with me. It felt perfect that it was just the two of us (plus my amazing agent, Teresa Kietlinski, on the phone!). I am TERRIBLE at reacting big to good news! I think it took a long time to absorb the awesomeness of that moment. I have definitely teared up about a million times between then and now. Never before had I worked so hard and long on a goal in life, knowing there was no guarantee that I would reach it.

Q. How long did SMALL take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it
was printed?

A. It was two years from accepting the offer until publication. As luck would have it, I had just accepted another book job as an illustrator and I couldn’t make the original deadline for Fall of 2016. SMALL had to wait another year, but I was glad to not feel rushed for my author/illustrator debut.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something
later that you wanted to add?

A. Actually, the revisions I made with Jenna were to add more text and another spread. In a very old version I showed the main character brushing her teeth where we just see the top of her head and eyes in the mirror. I really loved that moment, but it actually shows up in a similar way in my next book. I love being an illustrator and using discarded ideas in new ways.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read as many picture books as you can haul from the library as often as you can. And read them aloud, preferably to an audience. I always knew I loved the images and the stories, but until I was reading to my own children I didn’t realize how much I loved the performance of reading picture books. It might seem like obvious advice, but I think it’s an easily overlooked part of the process.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. If at all possible, find a debut author/illustrator group for your first book. I am incredibly grateful for the support from Picture The Books 2017. This is an amazing, but quirky and frustrating field, and you’ll need all the support you can get. I found mine by being active on social media and answering a call for new picture book authors and illustrators. We work SO hard to get published, and then get tossed into entirely uncharted waters to market our books. Friends in the same boat will be your informational and emotional lifeline.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I recently finished final art on TOO MUCH! NOT ENOUGH!, out Summer 2018, and will be starting another picture book with Tundra this fall.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. http://www.ginaperry.com/
 Read More 
Post a comment