Day 3 of our countdown! A quick reminder that today (Oct. 2) at 8 a.m. EDT the website is open for pitches. All pitches to the website must be added before 11:59 on Oct. 4 to be included in the website pitch event. They won’t be visible until 8 a.m. EDT on Oct. 5.
Sally Morgridge is a senior editor and Holiday House Publishing working with chapter books to YA. You can find out more about Sally here and here. Today, Sally is sharing her insights into graphic novels and what made her fall in love with Mossy and Tweed, Mirka Hokkanen’s upcoming graphic novel. Mirka is also featured in this article and is giving away an original watercolor and pen drawing of Mossy and Tweed, so please see the details below to enter.
What was it about Mirka’s pitch or proposal that made you want to publish it?
The #1 thing that drew me to Mirka’s initial pitch was the wonderful character design. When working on a graphic novel for any age, I think you need a love match between the editor and the main characters. You can ask a creator to work on changing the plot, the writing, and smaller elements in the art, but in my opinion you shouldn’t ask a creator to rethink the character design.
So it needs to be a perfect fit for your taste as an editor right from the start—especially for something as character-driven as this project. Luckily, I fell head over heels for Mossy and Tweed’s adorable outfits and odd-couple humor. I found them completely irresistible and felt like they had a ton of kid appeal.
I’d say the #2 thing that attracted me to the story was the charming woodland setting, and the #3 thing was the lighthearted goofball dialogue. I love funny writing, and Mirka had so many funny lines in the dummy.
What advice do you have for GN creators on pitching a graphic novel to an agent or editor?
I’m not sure I have any groundbreaking advice for aspiring graphic novelists, but I agree with other folks who suggest reading 20-30 books published in the same genre/format as your project. And that’s an absolute baseline number. Read as much as you can, ideally published in the last 2 or 3 years and created by artists of all ages and backgrounds. If you are hoping to break into the industry, it’s crucial to have a sense of what works for today’s publishers and today’s customers. There is so much exciting new talent in comics right now! It’s disappointing to get submissions that comp the book to bestsellers from many, many years ago.If you have kids in your life, you might also ask about what graphic novels they love. Why do they love such-and-such’s books? Who are their favorite characters in comics? Kids can make excellent pseudo focus groups. 🙂
Is there anything a writer-only can do to interest an editor in a graphic novel script?
It’s definitely possible to sell a graphic novel script, but I’d suggest that a writer should be reading twice as many contemporary comps to hone their craft. (And in particular, reading graphic novels that have separate writers/artists.) Writing a script is so, so different than writing a novel.
It’s also a lot more work for an editor to acquire a book with a separate writer and artist. Many editors I know just aren’t able to take on that extra work, particularly if they work on many other formats. I haven’t done it yet myself, and it does intimidate me! But for the right story, I would take the plunge.
Where do you see the GN market heading in the next few years?
I don’t know where the whole format is headed, but I know I am excited to see more early reader graphic novels in rhyme, an increase in graphic memoirs, historical fiction, and nonfiction, and (fingers crossed) more and more underrepresented voices. I was lucky enough to go to San Diego ComicCon this year and it was a treat to walk the floor and see new creators promoted alongside the old standbys.
Any other tips you’d like to share with KidLit GN creators?
My last tip for creators who are currently querying/submitting is to have as many sample pages (with art, whether it’s sketches or color art) in your pitch as possible. I can only speak for myself and what I’ve heard my fellow Holiday House editors say, but I/we really need to see your dialogue in action. I’d rather see more sketched pages + a synopsis than read a full script with limited sample pages.
Now we get to hear from Mirka, the other side of this dynamic duo, and the author-illustrator of the soon-to-be-released early graphic novel, Mossy and Tweed: Crazy for Coconuts.
How did you come up with the idea for Mossy and Tweed and decide to make it a graphic novel?
We were living in Hawaii, when I had the idea for Mossy and Tweed. Coconuts are common there, but in contrast, I grew up in Finland, where coconuts were very exotic. At the produce aisle at the grocery, I often found myself humming a Finnish kids song* from my childhood, that had to do with a person trying to crack a coconut and destroying their property in the process. With my past and present experiences colliding, it was unavoidable that a book about coconuts was in my future.
I like reading and writing funny, over-the-top, action for kids, so I thought cracking the impossible coconut would be a fun premise for a book, with lots of potential for zany action. I spent some time debating on what kinds of characters would fit the story, and eventually settled on two forest gnomes who have never seen a coconut before.
Mossy and Tweed: Crazy for Coconuts started out as a picture book concept. I had written a pitch/synopsis for it to show my agent, but because of the amount of action in it, she suggested that maybe it needed more room for action as a graphic novel. I agreed it was a great idea, and here we are 2 years later!
What ages are you writing it for and how did that inform your word and art choice?
My kids are all fairly young, so I write to the audience that I’m most comfortable with and read to daily- for PB audiences between 3-8 years old. Because the idea originally started as a picture book, it was easy to keep the art and dialogue at the same level. It was important to me that the illustrations are not too busy, so a kindergartener can easily read the action and setting even if they can’t yet read the words. The text was originally a bit more nuanced, but we toned it down one more notch to make it fit into Holiday House’s I Like To Read Comics early reader series. Sally was really helpful with those edits and making sure the language was easy enough for young readers.
What advice do you have for GN creators wanting to write for young audiences?
The best way to learn what kids like and how they talk is by spending time with them. They will be very forthcoming in telling you what they like and don’t like, and you can pick up on the way they speak and what makes them tick. Kids are fun to be around because they don’t have the social filters that we build up as we get older, and their authentic selves shine through. Second, I encourage you to read and study what you want to write. Make note of themes, word choices, page count, artistic choices and start molding your own ideas to fit into the same space. For example, a young child does not have the visual sophistication of a teen, so you have to keep paneling and art simpler so they can follow your story. With word choices, unless you are doing a leveled reader, I would stick to the general guidelines that apply for picture books in the same age range. For graphic novels, to avoid reading fatigue, I prefer to have less and shorter dialogue the younger my audience is and let the action do most of the talking.
When is the book hitting the shelves and where can we find out more?
Mossy and Tweed: Crazy for Coconuts is releasing Jan 10th, 2023.
You can find pre-order links at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/714408/mossy-and-tweed-crazy-for-coconuts-by-written-and-illustrated-by-mirka-hokkanen/ .
I will be doing a blog hop before the book comes out, with planned giveaways, and will have free digital activity sheets and downloadables for teachers, librarians and parents. You can sign up for my mailing list at www.mirkah.com or follow me on social media to stay up to date: Instagram.com/mirkadraws twitter.com/mirkahokkanen, or Facebook.com/mirkahokkanen
The sequel, Mossy and Tweed: Double Trouble will release later in 2023.
*Original English language song: I’ve got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gddUeMGn3E and the Finnish version: Kuinka Saisin Rikki Kookospähkinän https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2UpFPL-CIo
To win a copy of Mirka’s original watercolor and pen drawing of Mossy and Tweed, please reply with your name below (US mailing addresses only). If you share on social media, reply to your first comment with the link where you shared it for extra entries. The contest will end Oct. 7 and the winner will be selected shortly after. Thank you, Mirka! THIS CONTEST IS DONE AND THE WINNER IS BRIAN GONSAR! CONGRATS, BRIAN.