I'm a children's author, wife and mum in no particular order. I perform these jobs simultaneously and I love them all!

Tuesday 15 July 2014

From an Idea to a Publishing Contract - the journey of 'Dandelions', my first picture book publication

I remember very clearly the morning I ran out of the shower dripping wet with a towel around me. I had to type up a new story idea before I could forget it. It was the 26th July, 2012 and my story was titled ‘Dandelions’.

I roughly knew the cycle of the dandelion plant, but when I started researching, I became fascinated. I learnt they were edible, their leaves can grow up to 25cm long, pigs love eating them but sheep and horses prefer not to. I no longer dig them out of our lawn and I’m often found in random gutters picking puff balls for my children to blow. I love the shape of their leaves with their jagged teeth and the fluffy softness of the petals and puff balls. I often imagine sleeping covered by a doona full of dandelion fuzziness!

There is a cafĂ© in Newcastle that serves dandelion tea. The waitress advised me it is an acquired taste. One day on a special occasion I’m going to go and sample this intriguing brew.


I have become so fascinated by the dandelion plant, I’ve made a pinterest board full of dandelion images, craft ideas, artwork samples and jewellery. You can have a sneak peek or follow it here: http://www.pinterest.com/katrinamckelvey/dandelions/. You’ll also see the odd dandelion photo popping up on Instagram.

In October 2012, after many drafts, I decided to start sending my new manuscript to Australian publishers. By November the rejections started filling my mailbox.

• Unfortunately yours has not been chosen
• Unfortunately, we do not feel that your manuscript fits with our current publishing list
• Unfortunately we cannot find a place for it on our list
• And so on and so on. OUCH!


But I received some golden feedback:

• I read it with interest
• It is well written with some lovely imagery
• You have a great writing style
• Dandelions is a very imaginative description of a young girl’s love of dandelions
• This is a beautiful, descriptive piece

This rare feedback gave me some hope even after all the rejection. I was left wondering what to do next.

The opportunity came for a manuscript assessment through the NSW Writers’ Centre with Margaret Hamilton. I sent her two manuscripts and went to Sydney to hear her wisdom. Margaret didn’t like my first one (which will remain nameless) but she offered some great advice for ‘Dandelions’. I’ll never forget her saying this manuscript ‘had potential’. We worked on the text a little and then she wished me well.

A new version of ‘Dandelions’ was entered into the CYA Conference Unpublished Picture Book Competition around the same time. It came 59th out of 148 entries. Not bad. I received some more priceless feedback:

• There is something beautiful and ethereal about your work
• I enjoyed the poetic phrases you incorporated
• Something else to consider is whether there is a problem at the heart of your story or not
• A lovely idea for a story, incorporating an element of science and empathy for nature
• Some work on the ending will transform this manuscript into one that will stand out from the slush pile.

From this I could see a few things clearly. I had a little feeling in the back of my mind I would have to break my main character’s heart. So I rewrote ‘Dandelions’, added a new character and I broke that little girl’s heart (which translates to my husband breaking our daughter’s heart). As I wrote the words, I cried. I was completely emotionally attached to this manuscript now.

Sadly, I decided to shelve ‘Dandelions’ for a while. I still don’t know why exactly. But looking back, it wasn’t the right time to continue to fight for it. I needed to distance myself from it for a while.

One year later, a little writing competition popped up on my computer - ‘The Hub: KBR Short Stories’ competition. It was part of the Kids’ Book Review website (http://www.kids-bookreview.com/). In November, 2013 the monthly theme was ‘yellow’. From the website:
As part of KBR's brand new Literary Hub initiative we are putting out the call for creative short stories aimed at children aged 4 to 10.

That's right. We want your short stories to share with our KBR readers, who just happen to comprise a rather impressive array of children's book industry professionals, from Australia and around the world. Want your work to fall under the watchful eyes of publishers?

I was intrigued. I could enter. I was tempted. The website went on:
Each month, you will have until the 25th day to get your stories in, to the THEMES listed below. We will choose and publish four stories per month, with each one appearing on the Friday mornings of the following month. In the case where there are five Fridays in the month, the stories will commence on the second Friday.
Which stories will we choose? Will one of them be yours??

You will also have the opportunity to provide a short bio and a link to your chosen website. How exciting is this?

Yes, very exciting! I was hooked. Dandelion flowers are yellow. What would I have to do? From the website:
• short story text must be no more 500 words long (501 words+ are ineligible)
• be sure your story fits the central theme and doesn't just 'include' it
• stories must belong to you, be original, and be unpublished anywhere else, in part or in full
• anyone can enter, anywhere in the world, so long as they are over 18
My story was less than 500 words. My story fitted the central theme. My story was original and unpublished. I was definitely over 18.
So, on the 15th October, 2013 I woke up a sleepy ‘Dandelions’ manuscript and sent it. This manuscript had been quiet for too long. By the 28th October, ‘Dandelions’ was chosen as one of the four stories that would be featured on the KBR website for November. Happy days!
But this journey doesn’t end there…in fact it is just the beginning.
On the 4th November my world flipped. I received an email from a publisher who was linked to the Kids’ Book Review team. She was interested in my ‘Dandelions’ story and was interested in publishing lots of children’s picture books. She said she was hoping to hear from me soon. How soon? I thought. Was today too early? A publisher had emailed me? What? WOW!
A week later ‘Dandelions’ was beautifully rejected – again. This time I was given very specific reasons why. But I was close – very close.
But my mind went crazy. Rejected again? I thought she loved it. I’m confused. I was quite emotional for 24 hours. I only let myself get upset for one day after a rejection. I believe it’s ok to be upset but there’s no need to let it consume you. Then it was time for the question – what next? Move forward.
I gave myself a week to rewrite it using the guidance supplied and then resubmit it. I had nothing to lose. I sent it off with a broken-hearted little girl and a new ending just perfect for a magical illustrative impact.
I’m proud to say it passed through acquisition and distribution meetings with the full support of everyone in the publishing team.
In the meantime, my friend Kirrili was being considered as the illustrator. Is it possible we would be working together to bring my little story to life and into the hands of children? Could it really be possible for a new author and illustrator to be contracted together as a creative team? On the 16th April, 2014 we found out it is very possible.
In the foyer of the National Library in Canberra, on the eve of the CBCA National Conference, Kirrili and I toasted those 350 words with champagne having found out only hours earlier our dream had come true. 
Photo: Tania McCartney

With the opportunity Kids’ Book review offers new authors, and with Anouska and the EK Books publishing team believing in my story, my children’s author career has begun. I have privately expressed thank you to so many people who have been involved in this publication journey so far. The list is endless. Big public acknowledgments will come later.
With contracts now signed and exchanged, I’m proud to say ‘Dandelions’ by Katrina McKelvey and Kirrili Lonergan, published by EK Books (imprint of Exisle Publishing), will be released early 2016. It will be colourful and magical. It will touch your heart and make you see relationships in a different way - all thanks to a couple of dandelions and years of patience and persistence!
You can follow the rest of the ‘Dandelions’ journey on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/katrinamckelveyauthor