agents, authors, conferences, critiques, Debbie Ohi, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, how-to, illustrator tips, illustrators, Inky Girl, InkyGirl, middle grade, picture book, SCBWI events, SCBWI members, writing tips
Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates books for young people in Toronto, Canada. Her first solo picture book, Where Are My Books?, debuted from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2015. Her illustrations appear in picture books by Michael Ian Black and in Judy Blume chapter books and middle grade reissues, as well as many others. She gave a challenging and insightful keynote at this year’s SCBWI Los Angeles Writer’s Day as well as a “master class” on social media for authors. She was kind enough to do a follow-up interview with Kite Tales to share her perspective on being an introverted author, networking, and how to attract that magical publishing lightning.
Sarah Parker-Lee: Your keynote address at this year’s SCBWI Los Angeles Writer’s Day, “Introverts, Rejections, and Lightning Rods: 30 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Pre-Published Self,” was full of useful tips, ideas, encouragements, and cautions. As a fellow introvert, we are in the majority when it comes to writers and illustrators. What is it about writing and illustrating that draws so many of us?
Debbie Ridpath Ohi: I think that so many writers and illustrators are introverts because we love spending time alone in creative hermit-mode.
I strongly recommend that introverts out there (or extroverts who want to find out more about introverts) read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking. I loved how Susan points out that while introverted traits tend to be looked down upon in business, talented and motivated people should be encouraged to work alone because they’ll be more creative and efficient that way.
This is so true in my case. As much as I enjoy chatting with people at conferences, it takes a lot of energy out of me and it’s always a relief when I can go back to my office cave and immerse myself in creative work again.
SPL: It’s no secret that, once a manuscript or portfolio is ready to query for an agent, publisher, etc, introverts have to leave their comfort zone and head out into the networking world. You reminded us that networking isn’t a bad word and it’s possible to “fake” extroversion in order to meet the right people and make the best contacts. What tricks do you use for that?
DRO: Learn how to talk about yourself and your work. Know what to say if an agent asks you in a quiet moment at a conference, “So, what are you working on?”
If one of your goals is to meet certain people at an upcoming event, research them online.
For in-person networking events you’re not looking forward to, set a time limit. Tell yourself you’re only going to be hanging out for xxx amount of time; that will help take the pressure off.
Practice when you can. The more you do it, the easier it will become. When you find yourself at an event (like a wedding, for example) where you don’t know some of the people, don’t just talk to people you already know well. Wander around and start up conversations with others at the event. Look for those who are standing alone and introduce yourself.
Learn how to sound confident, even if you don’t feel confident.
Be kind to yourself. Resist the urge to berate yourself later for what you did and didn’t say. Give yourself leeway to make a few mistakes and gradually learn.
SPL: Conferences and other events can be very intimidating, but they can also be full of promise. One of your “30 Things” was a caution to set “realistic, achievable goals” when attending SCBWI events like Writer’s Day. What are some examples of these realistic goals?
DRO: Examples of some realistic goals:
“I’m going to meet three new people at this event.”
“I’m going to go up and introduce myself to <some person you want to meet>.”
“I’m going to learn one new thing that will help me improve my craft or business.”
If you set an unrealistic goal like “I’m going to get a book contract” or “I’m going to sign with an agent” as you head into an event, chances are good that you’ll end up disappointed and frustrated.
SPL: The publishing industry is based on persistence and luck as much as talent. And, like it or not, we are usually not in control of when that magical publishing lightning strikes. So, how do we build a better lightning rod?
DRO: Everyone’s lightning rod differs, depending on their own situation, goals and personality. What works for one person might not work for others. But here are some suggestions on how to build a better lightning rod:
– Start going to more events where you can meet industry people face-to-face.
– Figure out what can help set you and your work apart from the rest.
– Be aware of what’s going on in the industry.
– Network with others in your local writing and/or illustrating community. Exchange ideas, encouragement, support.
– Improve your social media skills, figure out how it can help you achieve your goals.
SPL: Just getting to a completed first draft of anything can be quite a trek for some of us. You are a self-diagnosed member of the “Obsessive Compulsive Editing Disorder Support Group.” How do you break the cycle of endless edits and get your work “out there?”
DRO: I have a tendency to edit as I write. While some authors can pull this off, I tend to over-do it too early in the writing process. As a result, I tended to write sooooo slowly because I’d do a ton of editing and rewriting along the way. Then I’d get to the end of the first draft and realize that I needed to throw out or rearrange big chunks of what I’d written, but then would agonize because I had spent so much time and effort perfecting some of those bits.
For this newest novel, I’m trying a much different process. I’ve a more detailed outline than I usually do and I’m also forcing myself to resist the urge to go back and revise until I’ve finished the draft. So far it’s going well! My first draft is going to be REALLY rough and not something I’m going to show anyone; I have text placeholders throughout for bits that aren’t essential to the plot but that I can fill in later (e.g. “description of xxx’s messy bedroom here”). I’m also resisting doing online research unless it’s essential; that way I’ll be less likely to fall down the Internet rabbit-hole.
I also plan to ask my sister, husband, MiGwriter critique group, and some other friends to be my beta readers, to get their feedback. When I first started writing, I used to be horrified at the idea of letting anyone read my writing before I sent it out to an editor (“What if they don’t like it?”). Now, I can’t imagine sending anything out before I get it critiqued.
Of course, there’s also the danger of hanging onto it too long. I know my subconscious urges me to do this, to prolong the writing and revision phase for as long as possible. Because once I send it out into the world, after all, it might get REJECTED.
How do I know when something is ready to send out? When I find myself doing too much nitpicking and minor tweaking, and I have to face the fact that it’s time to let go. Then I send it to my agent and see what she thinks.
SPL: You encouraged us to not be so focused on our end goals – agent deals, publishing contracts, etc. – that we miss out on enjoying the journey. What are some of your favorite moments from your journey thus far?
DRO: Talking to young readers in person and via virtual visits, getting letters from them, hearing from parents and teachers and librarians. Here’s one of my favorite reader letters, which I’ve posted up in my office. Whenever I find myself getting caught up in publishing angst, for whatever reason, I look at this letter to help ground myself and put things in perspective in terms of what matters.
SPL: With your busy schedule, how do you find time to enjoy your journey? What are some ways you take care of your inner introvert, even when you’re on the road?
DRO: No matter how crazy my life gets, I try to always make time for creative play. This is one reason I started doing found object doodles; I wanted something fun and quick and low pressure. I especially love working with perishable items like parsley and strawberries and flowers. There’s a certain freedom, creating art that you know can’t be preserved, that may only last a few minutes at most. It lets me experiment more, not be so worried about making mistakes. I enjoy encouraging young artists to experiment with found object doodles for this reason. I show more examples and explain in detail on my Look Again page.
When I’m on the road, I find it’s important to build in some quiet spaces here and there so I can recharge.
SPL: Any new work, speaking engagements, or anything else you’d like to plug, shamelessly of course?
DRO: I’m VERY excited about working on my second solo picture book for Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers (working title: Sam and Eva). I’m in the early creative stages, figuring out what the characters are going to look like. I’m also figuring out my third picture book as well as working on a middle grade novel.
This year, my illustrations appear in two new picture books: Ruby Rose, Off To School She Goes (author: Rob Sanders, HarperCollins Children’s, June 21/2017) and Mitzi Tulane, Preschool Detective: What’s That Smell? (author: Lauren McLaughlin, Random House Children’s, July 12/2017). I’m so looking forward to seeing these two books on the shelves!
More recently, I’ve been finishing up the art for Sea Monkey and Bob (author: Aaron Reynolds, Simon & Schuster 2017), the second Ruby Rose picture book, and the second Mitzi Tulane picture book.
And I’m looking forward to attending the SCBWI Summer Conference this year, of course!
Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks she shares new art, writing and resources on Twitter: @inkyelbows and DebbieOhi.com. She blogs about reading, writing, and illustrating children’s books at Inkygirl.
Sarah Parker-Lee is managing co-editor of Kite Tales, reviews books for Dwarf+Giant, & writes for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs. She also writes YA alt. history & sci-fi. Her humor blog, Dogs and Zombies: A Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, shambles towards your tasty brains Summer 2016. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel
Andrea Mack said:
I really like how Debbie has social networking goals as well as writing ones. Very helpful! Thanks for the interview.