As many people know, my blogs (like my life) cover many different topics. I have mentioned the children’s book (Wise BearWilliam) my friend Arthur Wooten has written on here before, but really wanted him to share what the experience of publishing a children’s book has been like. I’m so glad he had the time to give us some insight into this world.
Welcome back to my blog, Arthur! I know this is your first children's book, but tell us your background in writing/performing for children.
When I first arrived in NYC in 1975, hoping to make it in show biz and carrying my little valise full of all my worldly belongings and a pair of tap shoes (I kid you not), the first show I landed was a children’s musical. It ran at the Provincetown Playhouse on MacDougal Street and it was called Dirtie Ferdie Comes Clean. Ferdie had to fight germs and disease and I was cast as his friend and hero, Lester The Laundry Bag. Yes, they dressed me as a laundry bag. Actually, it was very cute, ran forever and was my first introduction to children’s theatre. Performing for children is tough. They are a brutal audience. If they love you, you’ll know it. If they hate you, you’ll know it. If they question you, you’ll know it. I remember during the run of the show, a kid sitting in the front row of a matinee performance screamed out to me, “Are you girl or a boy?”
Performing for children is such a great look into what kids want. So when was William ‘born’ after that & what has been his journey?
It wasn’t until 1988 that I wrote my first children’s story and it was Wise Bear William. Teamed up with my illustrator, Bud Santora, from the very beginning, we created a giant black and white dummy book, landed an agent surprisingly quickly and she spent about a year trying to sell the project to publishing houses. The tone of the book, more classic in storytelling with rich, saturated illustrations, was not the flavor of the year. It wasn’t the flavor of the next decade! But Bud and I knew we had “something”. In 1992, Phylicia Rashad discovered the project, fell in love with it and optioned it as an animated feature film with music. It was shopped around Hollywood and ended up at Paramount. Ultimately they did a “demographic” of the project and we discovered once again that it just wasn't the right time for this type of story. 1995 a television producer entered the picture and optioned Wise Bear William but it never materialized. A couple of years later, a literary agency discovered “William” and for about two years aggressively tried to market it as a book again, but they fell short. In the meantime, Bud and I had gone on to other projects and we put the project to sleep.
One can never say something was born overnight with you! You have really stayed with the project and how wonderful it found a life in 2011.
I'd say it was the success of my novels and with the world in a post 9/11 mindset and the US in a very tentative state and clearly in a recession, Bud and I sensed this may be “William’s” time. It’s a story of patience, hope and integrity. It demonstrates that if you hold onto your beliefs and do good in the world, you’ll be rewarded. So we published Wise Bear William: A New Beginning as a children’s picture book in December of 2011 and we’re both thrilled with the results.
What were some challenges/differences in publishing a children's book?
I thought publishing my novels was a task but creating children’s books is a huge challenge. Creating them to our standards. Bud works in “illustrator” and “photoshop” and has created luscious and intricate illustrations that are, as we found, tricky to translate to publication, both as a book and eBook.
Tell us about the book version.
With novels, you format your manuscript into the required format, create the cover…and that’s about it. With a children’s picture book there are so many things that can go awry. Bud could have created a “simpler” version of the book but a big part of what really makes the story work, is the way each page is literally framed and behind the frames is a repeat “wallpaper” that is really tricky to line up when printing. Color has to be perfect and type and quality of paper plays a huge factor. Softcover versions, the paper tends to absorb more of the ink, whereas hardcover is a glossier paper eliminating that problem. However, many publishing companies were hesitant to create hardcover versions of our work because it’s a very expensive venture. “Wise Bear William” is available in hardcover – but by specialty order (meaning they can get one by contacting me directly). The publishing company will not distribute him, I guess, fearing they may not make their money back. I’m here to prove them wrong.
So many things we never think about in dealing with print. eBooks must be difficult for picture books as well?
Can you spell “nightmare”? The bottom line is Kindle can’t support what we have created. Maybe that’s why we see so many children’s books, in print and eBook, with simple line drawings and little “vignettes”. But Bud and I had a vision and we stuck to it. We tried a million different ways but Kindle couldn’t handle it. However iBook could. And “William” looks glorious on iPads, iPhones and iPods and is fantastic for parents traveling with their children. New specs are out from Kindle enabling viewing of full color children’s books with their new devices but still, the experience is limited because the Kindle itself is so small. I’m sure they will come up with a solution to compete with iBook.
It sounds as if Bud was always there working with you so images were in your head, but did you write the story first?
Yes, Bud was working side-by-side with me on this project from day one. And that’s rare. Often, in traditional publishing, the house will pair up a writer with an illustrator and you’re stuck with whom you get. Bud and I worked off each other: his illustrations and ideas influenced the manuscript, my ideas are reflected in the illustrations.
|The real Blanket Bear|
But the story was there first. In fact, it’s based upon a stuffed toy I have called Blanket Bear. Made from my Scottish grandfather’s World War I army blanket, I often wondered what memories must be woven into him. It was decided that the character’s name would be changed to Wise Bear William but Blanket Bear does appear in earlier stories of “William”. His characters name is changed to Old Teddy Tartan.
Having read the book, I love hearing the back story on William! What differences do you see in writing for children?
It was very clear, during the editing and proofing phase, that writing for children is really a challenge. I scoured the script, word by word, making sure everything was perfect. Although “William” is few pages in length, it’s a huge story. And children hang onto every word you write. It had to be perfect. One wrong choice and it could throw the entire tone and message off.
Have you found marketing to be different from those of your adult novels?
It’s not really different than marketing my novels. You just have to find your audience. And one of the most powerful ways of doing that is through “bloggers”. Powerful bloggers. And some “mommies” out there are powerhouses! And with some research, you find the right magazines and publications to approach. But basically, for me, the formula is the same.
Will there be more adventures for Wise Bear William?
There are ten books in the Wise Bear William series. Wise Bear William: A NewBeginning is the last chapter in the series. The previous chapters lead up to this story and there’s the possibility we will start with the beginning one, First Night In The Attic and continue in a linear fashion or we may jump a bit. Bud and I are still meditating on it.
But we are also going to create a Halloween book and possibly some others based around holidays. There is a Christmas book already lined up. On my end, the manuscripts are done. For Bud, there is so much work involved. He needs more time to catch up with me. And we’re hoping that Hollywood will come knocking again. We both believe, and with the help of the success of the books, that the movie version, The Life And Times Of Wise Bear William, will become a realization as well.
Such great information from a truly prolefic writer. Check out Arthur at www.arthurwooten.com or follow him on twitter at @ArthurWooten