You do something a little different with your “about you” page on your website. Instead of just having a head shot photo and a short blurb about being a writer and where you live, you have more of a scrapbook page with pictures of your life. What made you decide to make it more personal and like a journal?
I wanted kids to be able to go to the site and understand it, so I thought my childhood was a good place to start. The experiences I wrote about have defined me in some way. They are at the core of who I am. My hometown is dear to me and every one knows I'm from Fall River from the time we meet.
When people ask where I am from, I say I'm originally from Fall River but I live in Sandwich now. The memory of my grandparents' home is still a source of peace, and my Mom's work ethic is ingrained in my bones, so I wrote about those things in a way that kids can understand.
In your bio you said as a librarian for a children’s library you liked to go to the V section. What is a V section? Who are some of your favorite picture book authors?
It's simply the place where books by author's with a "V" last name reside. Chris VanAllsburg's illustrations were a huge inspiration to me, so I was always happy to find one of his books on the returns cart where I could sneak a peek at it.
I was not a librarian at the time but a "page", which meant all I did was shelve books. I was 21 at the time, and didn't realize children's illustrations could be so rich. That little room was the birth of my dream to illustrate books. I also love Peter Sis and Mordicai Gerstein.
Tell me a little about your writing history. When did you write your first story?
All people start out life as artists and writers, but I remember my first illustrations much more than my first writing. When I was very young, seven maybe, I used to sit for hours at my grandfather's house and draw scenes from holidays. There were all sorts of humorous things happening in those drawings and I loved them.
I always wondered what happened to them, until my grandfather died, and we were clearing out his apartment. He owned very few things in life, but he had kept my drawings safe in his bottom drawer of his bureau. I always felt I was born to draw, but I never was published.
Working full-time and being a Mom, I still found time to submit to publishers, and I came close enough to have one of my books proposed to the publisher of a well-known publishing house, but the stars never aligned. Now that my kids are older, and I have more time, I decided to pursue my dream on my own. I loved my characters and wanted them to come to life for kids, and not wait for that magical moment when a large publisher might say "yes".
That would still be nice though. My kids are my critics, and they are so good at it. I heed most of their advice on books. Since they are kids they have a great sense of what works and where I might fall flat on my face!
Salty Pond Publishers is your own imprint. Prior to self publishing, did you contact any other publishers to produce your book? How/why did you decide to go it on your own?
I began to submit to publishers many years ago. For a few years, I only received postcard form letters back, but then I began to receive personal responses which to me was thrilling. I did submit Martin to one editor who gave me some great advice about my sketches, but I was at a point in life where other obligations took over. About a year and a half ago I decided to go all out and do full-color illustrations for all of the pages, and tackle the learning curve of self-publishing. I'm so glad I did.
Did you ever consider having someone else do the illustrations? Which do you consider yourself more of a writer or an illustrator?
I struggle more with words than pictures. To me, everything is an image. I remember faces not names, and in movies I am constantly looking at the background, and the placement of the elements on the screen.
How did you put your artwork to press?
Every picture starts as a watercolor. Then I scan the art into Creative Suite to match colors, remove any areas I don't like, (I even swapped out a face I don't think worked that well!), or add something I think belongs in the picture. For the most part it remains true to the original art. From there, I organize the pictures into a pdf and send them online to the printer, and they work their magic. Of course, I needed to get an ISBN number and register my trademark before I sent it out. Versa Press, my printer, was very professional.
What pitfalls/frustrations did you run into with putting together this picture book? Since it was my first book, I wasn't sure how my illustrations would translate onto the printed page. I had actually drawn the text at first, instead of using a digital font, and when I received my first proof I saw it really needed to be crisp, so I added the new fonts and sent it out. My printer was very attentive and cared as much as I did about the quality, so it was no problem.
Who were your mentors?
The mentors I found were on blogs or forums about anything and everything from file formats to character development. Thank you internet! I didn't have any in-person mentors, but since July I've met some wonderful self-published authors who have given me great advice about promotion and marketing.
After all the work in putting it together and the money do you feel satisfied with the results, the final product?
When I put the product out, it had to be something I would be proud to put my name on, so my standards were high. I was satisfied with the story, the characters and how they interact, the quality of the binding, etc., but as you probably know, authors and illustrators are usually never satisfied completely! I always find a line I could have drawn better, an area that's too weak or strong. The next book will be even better because of it.
What has been one of the more gratifying responses you’ve had either from a parent or a child in response to your book?
I travel with a pint-size Martin and visit libraries and book stores to read-aloud and do an illustration demo. Kids love to meet the character and it gives me time to connect with readers. They'll shake Martin's hand and read along with me, shouting out the words on cue. That makes all of the struggle and the waiting and the late-night drawing marathons worth it.
What do you know now about after publishing your first book that you wished you had known earlier?
Now there's a question I haven't had much time to think about, but maybe there is my answer! I wish I knew how to balance my time more, but I am learning. Promoting and marketing the book take time, but I also need creative time. It's like food to me. So, I'm working on better time management.
What advice would you give someone who wants to write children’s books?
I say go for it. There are so many avenues that were not available ten years ago. On a creative level, let yourself go! Don't follow too many conventions in the beginning, since they'll drag the story down before it gets going. Instead, create from the heart, and try to put away that little voice over your shoulder that critiques everything you do. Be yourself on the page, and the authenticity will come through. You can always put the voice back on your shoulder when you're ready to edit.
Do you have any other books in the process now?
I always do! I have the sprouts of a story with Martin and sister (people can help pick sister's name on my Facebook author page survey) and some story board sketches, but I tend to keep things to myself to make sure the story is authentic. I tend to listen to people's advice and ideas, but when I'm being creative, it's better to just let things flow.
That’s all for today’s interview. If you would like to learn more about Jess and her writing here are some helpful links…