I never set out to be a children’s book author – it just happened. Had I been consciously trying to write a book, or series of books as it were, things would likely have turned out a lot differently: I would have had a specific plan in mind and probably would have adhered to the rules. Let’s examine what makes Olive a rule breaker, or perhaps more appropriately what makes Olive the woolly bugger unique.
First, the length of the Olive books sets them apart. Typical children’s picture books, for young children who cannot read on their own or are just learning to read, are nearly always 32 pages. Why 32? The reasons for this are physical: when you fold paper, eight pages folds smoothly into what’s called a signature, while any more results in a group of pages too thick to bind nicely. In addition, the 32 pages can all be printed on a single sheet of paper, making it cost-effective. In extremely rare cases, picture books may be 16, 24, 40 or 48 pages, all multiples of eight (a signature); but 32 pages is industry standard. The first book in the series, Olive the Little Woolly Bugger, is 48 pages. Olive and The Big Stream is also 48 pages, and Olive Goes for a Wild Ride tops the charts at 56 pages! Woah, now! What was I thinking?
I’ll tell you what I wasn’t thinking: I wasn’t thinking about writing to a pre-determined format. I wrote as the story came to me, and that was that. Certainly I realized that Olive didn’t fit the mold for a typical children’s picture book, but there was no way to tell the story in 32 pages. Chapter books allow for more writing, but they don’t showcase illustrations in the same manner as picture books. Being an illustrator I wanted pictures to be a big part of the books. So what does one do when a book fits into neither a picture book format nor a that of a chapter book? Run with scissors. Color outside the lines. Break new ground.
The result of my recklessness is a series of books that are age appropriate for a much broader range of children. Youngsters who cannot read to the level of the story still love the illustrations. Therein lies a tremendous opportunity for the parents who love fly fishing to not only endure, but embrace story time with their children. For the kids who can read well on their own the stories provide ample substance to challenge their reading ability, and the illustrations are a bonus for this audience. Even kids who are well beyond the reading level of my books and who no longer need illustrations to entertain them enjoy Olive. Heck, adults like her too. They’re fun stories with fun illustrations. Why do books have to have such stringent guidelines in order to make them appealing? They don’t, nor should they.
Very early on in my journey toward becoming an author, I hired a well-known editorial consultant to give me some feedback on my manuscripts. This particular individual has an impressive resume of having worked as an editor in the children’s book publishing industry for many years. This person even co-wrote a book on how to go about becoming a published author. I do not discount their credentials and when I received my consultation notes from this person, there were many valid points that drove me to work further on my writing. Second in the list of rules that Olive breaks speaks to the characters in the books themselves, and when I heard this it caused me to roll my eyes a bit: “Publishers don’t like stories about inanimate objects that go to school.” I’ll admit, that was a problem because in the first book Olive goes off to Camp Tightloops to learn to become a fishing fly. I decided that I would just have to disagree with this particular comment and forge ahead on my maverick journey. The more I thought about it the more the comment made me realize that some editors/publishers are out of touch with reality. Kids are the audience for children’s books, and these people are not kids. To this day I remain fairly certain that children have wonderful, fantastic imaginations and can embrace a story of a fishing fly come to life that goes off to a learning institution to gain the knowledge needed to become successful. At least I didn’t write in rhyme, because editors really don’t like that.
Next I was told was that publishing house editors wouldn’t be interested in my book(s) because they have a niche market. I agreed about the niche market but I viewed it as a positive thing. My market was clearly defined for me, and I’d done some research and there really wasn’t much, if any competition for kids books in the fly fishing market. I also believed (and still do) that while the books are an obvious choice for the fly fishing market, they can certainly spill over into the mainstream children’s book market as well.
What we have is a 3 book series about a woolly bugger fishing fly and her many friends who go to camp and learn something. Then they set off on a series of adventures that put their schooling to the test. The stories are fully written narratives with full page illustrations that capture the storyline and bring the words to life. The stories are engaging, whimsical and entertaining. They also teach important life lessons and impart some basic lessons in fly fishing as well as conservation-minded angling. They are age appropriate to a broad range of kids.
So no, the Olive books don’t fit into the mold of traditional publishing industry. In the books Olive faces adversity, and yet through perseverance she discovers that she has a unique talent and ends up succeeding. The development of the books themselves parallels Olive’s journey, and while the books have yet to win any high profile awards or make the New York Times Bestseller list, I’ve visited schools and had children tell me they love Olive. I measure success is smaller increments. There is a place for the books as many have come to discover. Kids like Olive. Parents like Olive. My publisher liked Olive enough to sign me to a contract. I must have done something right.
Judge for yourself. Go out and grab a set of books (don’t just buy one- it’s a series). I’m confident you’ll be hooked on Olive.