Today I’m thrilled to introduce Jeffery E Doherty, author and illustrator of books for children and young adults. He has had a number of short stories and poems published and is about to release his first chapter book / novella, Paper Magic. I talked to Jeffery about the book, his experiences and what the publishing process has been like.
1. Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it? What has the response been like?
There is a line in Paper Magic where Marina’s Nana tells her, “Courage is fragile, like butterfly wings, open them and you can soar.”
I think this is the core of the story, courage and the power of friendship.
Paper Magic is a book about finding that courage. Marina has quite a few challenges to face in her life. Needing a wheelchair to get around is a minor inconvenience when compared to her crippling self-doubt. She has spent her holidays staring out her window desperately wanting to join the children playing in the park. Her stomach does fish-flips at the thought. It is not until Nana arrives and gives her a magical gift that she finds her courage. Marina discovers she can bring the origami figures she creates to life but she learns through her adventures in the park that she doesn’t need magic to be worthwhile.
The inspiration to write Paper Magic initially came from meeting an indomitable young girl called Sarah and later a whole bunch of other amazing children who overcome their individual adversities every day of their lives. They all inspire me to be a better person and they inspired me to try and capture their remarkable spirits in words.
The response to the upcoming launch of the book has been remarkable. I have had so much support from the local primary school where I work. One of the year four classes had a preview when Mrs. Kerr, their teacher read the book to them late last year. I had the opportunity to sit quietly in the class and watch their reactions as the story unfolded. The kids really got the story. It was a priceless experience.
2. You write primarily for children. Why did you decide to target this audience? Do you think that it takes a different skill set than writing for adults?
I don’t know if I consciously started out targeted children as the audience for my stories. When I write a story, I write what appeals to me. Thankfully, I can be very immature at times and the resulting stories reflect that. I read the “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” letter every year because it captures the innocence of youth and longing to still believe. Life crushes the child inside of us if we harden our hearts. Losing yourself in the world of a children’s book nurtures that inner child and writing children’s books gives that inner child super powers.
I think the skill set when writing for adults and children is similar. It is more how the content of the story is dealt with that sets the audience. There is also a balance to children’s books that makes them more challenging to write. The biggest mistake some writers make is to write down to children. They know when you do and it is the last of your books they will read.
3. When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?
I have been writing stories and very bad poetry since my early teens. Mostly, the stories were just for me and like my poetry, not particularly great. I made starts on novels but never managed to find my way to the end. I think it was more about creating the characters and worlds that I liked.
I have had two attempts at taking my writing more seriously. In my mid twenties I had a number of poems and short stories published in magazines and anthologies and finished my first young adult novel. It made the rounds and received quite a few rejections. Re-reading it now, I understand why. I still think the story and the character are amazing but the writing is average at best. One day I will rewrite the thing and finally set the characters free. After the rejections and life getting in the way, my writing went back to being a hobby.
In 2007, I went to my first Festival of Children’s and Young Adult Literature. At the end of a wonderful day of meeting other aspiring writers, editors and some of my favourite authors I decided if I was going to call myself a writer then I was going to have to back up my words and take my writing seriously. That is what I did.
4. Why did you decide to use a traditional publisher? How has your experience been?
If there were Print On Demand (POD) publishers back when I completed my first novel, I probably would have seriously considered self publishing, despite the stigma of being a self-published author. Cost was a big factor too. Getting the price point of a book down to a saleable level meant a large print run and I was never in a position to part with that much money. If I had self-published my first novel, I would be embarrassed by it now because it isn’t good enough to be published in its current state.
However, the main reason I chose to use a traditional publisher is that I really wanted to know someone else believed in me and my stories as much as I did. The process at times has been extremely frustrating. Publishers receive so many manuscripts that the turnaround time for receiving a reply can be glacial. I had one book with a publisher for over ten months. Then a further six months after making the changes they requested, only to receive an abrupt rejection after my second status query. About six weeks later I received a letter from a “different” label – from the same postal address – offering a partnership publishing deal for the book. I sent them an abrupt rejection.
My book, Paper Magic was rejected by a couple of publishers; the second one came with a hand written note from the editor. Although harsh, it was full of wonderful advice and pointed out where the weaknesses were in the text. After reworking the book I submitted the manuscript to a relatively new publisher, IFWG Publishing. The reply, nine days later was, “We love the book and are looking to publish it early in 2013.” I read the email and did a little happy dance. I showed it to my wife and she did a happy dance too.
It all comes down to patience and persistence.
Working with IFWG has been brilliant. Most writers get very little say in the cover design and illustration process of their books. Happily, I had done a couple of illustrations for the company’s speculative fiction Magazine, SQ Mag and they graciously allowed me to both design the cover of the book and do all the illustrations. I have been truly blessed to work with them, especially Gerry Huntman, my editor.
5. What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?
Until you decide to really take your writing seriously, success is not going to happen.
Learn the craft of writing, go to workshop and festivals, do a course, search for articles on writing. Meet other writers and editors; make friends with them on social media sites. If they have a blog, subscribe to it. If they write something you can make a sensible comment on, do it. Get your name known. There is an editor from a major Australian children’s publishing house who has a blog with a surprisingly small number of followers. After making a few comments on her blog, she started following mine and searched me out at one of the Kid’s Lit Festivals. Networking works.
Jeffery E Doherty is a passionate children’s writer and illustrator. He has worked for many years with at-risk and troubled kids. More recently he has been working with students who have special needs or learning disorders. Jeff saw a lot of dark things while working as a police officer and writing children’s stories has helped to ground him and rediscover his inner child.