How to get published as a first-time author
Aspiring authors, meet Priscilla (Pris) Pho. She's Ethicool Books' third children's author and she sailed through the submissions process with one of the most perfectly crafted manuscripts we had ever seen.
Here's a little insight into just how she did it.
When it comes to realising your writing dreams — which, for many of us, is delighting children forevermore through enchanting kids’ books — we all want to know how to do it. With the publishing industry becoming more and more challenging to crack, there’s definitely a place for comprehensive guides on exactly what to do. (oh, yeah: if this is what you’re looking for, we’ve created the best one yet, and you can read it here.)
But sometimes, what you really need is to hear how someone else did it. Someone whose backstory you can understand, and relate to. Someone who also thought their dream of becoming a published children’s book author was just a faraway dream, until it happened. Someone like you.
Here is everything you ever wanted to know about the delightful, Priscilla Pho, and the journey that took her from being a journalism graduate, to an English teacher in Japan, to a soon-to-be children’s author with Ethicool.
So Priscilla, you’re about to be a published children’s book author! Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
Sure. I live in Melbourne and studied journalism, but right now, I’m doing my Masters of Teaching. I love learning different things so my hobbies change a lot, but recently I’ve been spending a lot of time playing the ukulele for my niece (who I’m spending isolation with) and learning how to code.
Like a lot of other journalism graduates, I struggled to find a job straight out of uni, so I tried a bit of everything. I’ve been a radio producer, a bank teller… I’ve even had a few telemarketing stints.
I also went overseas to teach English in Japan for a few years because I’ve always been interested in foreign policy and immigration, and I knew living abroad would give me a different perspective to write from.
When I came back to Australia, I worked as a reporter for SmartCompany. But right now, I’m focusing on my studies so I can also work as a teacher, something I discovered a passion for while I was in Japan.
I’d like to go way back now. Many authors say their inspiration to write started when they were quite young. Is there anything from your childhood that comes to mind here?
Yeah. When I was younger, I was painfully shy and even when I got my first job, I struggled to talk to strangers, which was a problem considering it was in retail and every customer was a stranger.
So, I’ve always felt more comfortable expressing myself through writing than speaking, so when I was growing up, my main motivation was more about communication in general.
Most authors seem to either love or hate school. How was your experience, and do you think it helped you get where you are today?
I don’t know if I loved school, but I definitely found learning fun. My best memories of school were always about the people there; my classmates or the nice teachers or the people I was in band with.
I did like English class. It was a relaxing class, but one of my teachers once told me to work hard and to not rely on talent to get by, which was an important lesson.
Will Just a Rabbit be your first ever book in print?
Yeah, I’m excited!
Pitching a book is often the hardest part. Can you tell us a bit more about how you pitched this book?
I wrote the book, Just a Rabbit, a few years ago when my niece was first born. And I thought I’d make it into a book just for her as a side project, but I never had the time so it’s just been sitting on my laptop.
That is, until recently when I saw an Ethicool’s Instagram ad, looking for authors. So I clicked in, read about Ethicool and found their article, which gives advice for aspiring authors.
It seemed easy enough considering I already had a story written up, so I formatted my book, following the instructions, and sent it in.
Why do you think your pitch was successful? What would you recommend other aspiring authors do in the pitching process?
Quick disclaimer: I’m no expert. This is my first book and my first pitch, so this is just my very-limited, personal experience but I think research helped. I was careful to follow all of the instructions and I clearly explained my motivations in my pitch email, too.
Your debut title, Just a Rabbit, will soon be published with Ethicool Books. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
It’s a story about a rabbit who lives in a forest and desperately wants to see the moon, but can’t. When the rabbit tells the other animals they want to see the moon, one-by-one, the animals all say rabbits are too small.
There’s a nice twist at the end, but you’ll just have to read it to see 😉.
The creative process is something a lot of aspiring authors struggle with. Can you tell me a bit more about your creative process for Just a Rabbit?
When I wrote the book, my niece was born. I was also a teacher at the time, and a lot of the pre-school kids I taught loved storytime. So, when I was facing a frustration that I thought my niece might come across one day, I decided to write a book about it for her.
Once I worked out the message, writing the actual story didn’t take very long. It’s a very short story with lots of repetition so it was done in a day.
Ethicool Books is a special publisher that promotes understanding of the issues that matter. What is the issue you hoped to highlight with Just a Rabbit? Why is that particular issue important to you?
The book touches on how to respond to unequal opportunities.
It’s not uncommon to feel like the odds are stacked against you. I’ve personally experienced people telling me it would be harder for me to reach certain goals simply because of my gender or my ethnicity. A lot of those people weren’t saying it to discourage me, but because they wanted to prepare me for what they consider to be reality. Regardless of their intention, hearing “you can’t do it” is always frustrating.
I hope this is something that will change by the time my niece is old enough to work on her dreams, but if she does come across people saying this to her, I want her to be able to respond with grace and grit.
That’s such a beautiful and inspiring motivation! So then tell me why Just a Rabbit is a must read for every child.
For the same reason that all Ethicool books are must-reads, really: because it’s a difficult topic to introduce to children, but the book makes it really palatable and cute.
Illustrations are so important for children’s books. Can you tell us what you look for in an illustrator to work with?
As a teacher, I read a lot of picture books with a lot of kids. Pop-up books are fun, but they were always the first to be destroyed. Really abstract pictures can attract kids’ attention initially, but then they can get bored of it after a few reads.
So, I’ve always preferred simple and timeless styles that don't distract from stories and readers can come back to as they grow.
If you can share this… are you working on any other books at the moment? Tell us!
I’m always working on something creative on the side, but I’m not working on any picture books at the moment. I have a nephew as well, so I might have to write one for him too one day.
Are you a reader? If so, what are you reading at the moment?
I love reading but I find it hard to make time for fiction. I just finished American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which was great.
Other than that, my reading list is a bit dry right now: I have a lot of readings for my university course and I’m reading a guide to coding.
Who inspired you? And what is your all-time favourite children’s book?
I feel like this is everyone’s stock answer but, for me, it really is true that my mum is my inspiration. She goes through life challenges without bitterness and she’s a really lovely, hard-working person.
I have too many favourite children’s books, but you can’t go past the classics like Where the Wild Things Are.
And lastly, what is the number-one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring children’s book authors?
Again, this is my first book, so I would take this with a grain of salt, but I think knowing your audience is really important.
I wrote this book when I was still teaching the target age group, so I could imagine how specific kids of that age would react or understand. Then I sent it to friends who were also in regular contact with this age group, and they read over it with the same lens of whether the kids they knew would understand and enjoy the story.
It seems like — for children’s books anyway — it’s easier to write a good story than it is to make it age-appropriate, so maybe get a few testers once you’re done writing!