Around this time of year, we’re often thinking about the many things in our lives we are thankful for. In my case, this year, I’m especially thankful for a particular decision I made early on in my career- the thing that led me to meeting my editor, Jonathan Eaton of Tilbury House Publishers, and becoming the illustrator for MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN: REMEMBERING CHINESE SCIENTIST PU ZHELONG.
It is well known in the children’s book industry that being a member of the SCBWI definitely has its perks and rewards. So when I began my journey to publication, back in 2009, starting a membership and putting together an artist profile was at the very top of my priority list. At first, I was very involved in keeping up with all the news and going to the conferences. But then over time, life got a bit busy, and I had all but forgotten about it.
A few years ago, I received a surprising email from an acquisitions editor at Tilbury House Publishing. She had asked whether I was interested in illustrating a picture book for them. I was in absolute shock. I hadn’t sent anything to Tilbury House prior to receiving this email, of which I could recall. We arranged a telephone interview. I was SO nervous! It turned out that she was very easy to talk to, and I felt more comfortable by the time our conversation had ended. It was then that I learned how she found me- through my SCBWI Illustrator Profile! She had been browsing the site and came across my art and felt that it would make a great match for a book they were publishing.
She asked me to read their current manuscript and that I should send some sketches and sample spreads, and she also asked for any other projects I’d like to submit for their consideration. I was thrilled! Their story was Non Fiction, and there were many topics I needed to do a bit of research on before I could even consider doing proper sample art. Hours of research, thoughtful planning, and sketching ensued.
And then I was told the project was to be put on hold! The story needed additional research and editing to make the story truly shine.
Although I was bummed, I figured it was for the best. I believe that every story deserves every bit of hard work and research to make it the best it can be. So I worked on other projects, traveled, planned to start a family and started shopping around for our first home. Two years later, I was in the middle of doing all of those very things when I received a phone call from a mysterious number. My husband answered the phone, and his eyes were round as saucers when he handed it to me. “It’s a PUBLISHER. A REAL PUBLISHER!” he whisper-screamed.
I answered, and it was Jonathan Eaton from Tilbury House! He explained that their story about the Chinese entomologist was finally ready to be illustrated. He asked if I would be interested in taking on the job!
I couldn’t believe my luck! I wanted to say yes right away! But now I was an expectant mother, and in the middle of moving into our new home. Would the timing be right? How often does the very same opportunity arise more than once in one’s life? And where on earth was I supposed to DO all of this painting? My studio was packed away in boxes!
Needless to say, I did say yes. And I am ever so thankful I did so! Furthermore, my editor was absolutely amazing and very understanding of my changing circumstances regarding my home life and pregnancy. I somehow managed to move into a new home, have a baby, and illustrate a picture book all in a year’s time.
I couldn’t have pulled it off without the help from my editor Jonathan, my supportive family and friends, and my awesome critique group! (Tune in to Jeanette Bradley's post on the 23rd to hear that magical story!)
Oh... and let’s not forget SCBWI!
Melanie Linden Chan
MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN: REMEMBERING CHINESE SCIENTIST PU ZHELONG by Sigrid Schmalzer, illustrated by Melanie Linden Chan
Tilbury House Publishers. February 6, 2018.
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