Saturday, August 6, 2011

HIGH FIVE #10: Self-Published Debut Picture Book Sells Out

Little Steps, November 2009
Neridah McMullin is the author of several books. Today, she'll be talking with us about her first one, Ponkidoodle. Since then, she has been commissioned by the Collingwood Football Club (Australian Rules Football) to write three Chapter Books about the history of the club including wonderful old characters and famous footy matches. She also has two more picture books coming out in 2012 with One Day Hill Publishing another footy book, and a cricket book. Can you tell she has three sports-mad boys?
Ponkidoodle is a tiny, magical friend who keeps watch over the family home at night. He could be anywhere, in the roof, under the house, in between the walls – this friendly little hairy monster will help your child learn to welcome night time creaks.
Neridah, you have such a cool name. Where does it come from?
Thanks, my name is an aboriginal word meaning ‘Little Flower’. It was cute when I was a little girl, not so cool when I was a teenager, but I’m quite happy with it now. I think it may also have Greek origins (even though I’m not Greek – fourth generation Anglo Saxon aussie), apparently there is a ‘Neridah’ in ‘The Merchant of Venice’? It’s a very long name: Ner–i-dah Mc-Mul-lin (six syllables)! Crickey, I should’ve married a bloke with a shorter surname! Most of my friends and family call me ‘Neri’ for short.

ONE: How has reading picture books to your children made you a better parent?
Knowing that reading to your child helps them learn to speak and read, I guess reading picture books to my little boy made me a more ‘considered’ parent. I knew it was important to read to him every night, and as a writer I really wanted him to love stories and develop a love of reading. Reading picture books to my little boy has been a joy. Snuggling up together at the end of the day is precious one-on-one time. I have loved the experience of witnessing my child learning to read. He has gone from memorizing words, to laughing and clapping along with the rhythm of rhyming verse. He has mispronounced words then learned to correctly pronounce them and finally, when ‘the penny dropped,’ he understood the meaning of full sentences; it was just the best moment.

TWO: I’ve loved reading to my son, too. He’s seven now. I’m still waiting for the love of reading to kick in. (Fifth grade?) So, what are three of your favorite picture books (I know you have more…)?
Yes, I have hundreds. There are so many clever and talented writers out there. At the moment, we love:
  • My Dad Thinks He’s Funny (and he is) by Katrina Germein
  • Beauty by Anthony Browne (we love gorillas & kittens)
  • All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson (a wonderful Swedish writer) at Gecko Press. We love this book as it deals with the loss of a pet.
THREE: How did you come up with the idea for your debut book?
My Dad invented Ponkidoodle for me. We lived on a farm in a big old creaking house. Possums were on the roof at nighttime, mice scurried in between the walls and tree branches brushed against the windows. Ponkidoodle is a friendly little creature that lived inside the roof and he was there to protect me. Ponkidoodle is nocturnal and a little bit clumsy, so any nighttime noises were just Ponkidoodle so that’s why there’s no reason to be scared. I’d forgotten about Ponkidoodle for a long time until my little boy was a toddler, and he didn’t like scary noises at nighttime (good old genetics, eh?). You can read more at the Ponkidoodle launch blog.

What was your road to publication like? 
I self-published Ponkidoodle with Little Steps at New Frontier in Sydney, Australia. I had several rejection letters for Ponkidoodle with one thing in common, they were all positive about Ponkidoodle as a character. I really believed in Ponkidoodle as a character, so I went for it. Self-publishing Ponkidoodle is the reason I’m published now, as my publisher was fascinated with the book I had created. It’s all about timing I guess, and who is reading your ms. I never give up on a ms if I really like it. I find I eventually place them somewhere to be published. It might be in a magazine, but I think having that faith is healthy. You need to place your work carefully: target the right publisher. No point sending a picture book ms to a YA publisher.

How many revisions did your manuscript undergo, if you kept count? 
Too many too count! Ponkidoodle is in rhyming verse so there was quite a lot of word wrestling involved.

Did you have an agent? 
Nope, no agent. I tried to get one but they said, well you’re not published yet, we like your work but not enough to take you on. I deal directly with my publisher now at One Day Hill. I negotiate my own contracts and I have used the ASA (Australian Authors Association) legal people a couple of times to check out my contracts. I think I’m doing okay on my own. One Day Hill Publishing has a great bunch of people.

How many publishers did you submit to before getting an acceptance letter? 
For my next book being published, I originally did multiple submissions (maybe I sent 12 out?). I had two phone calls back from publishers a couple of months later. One wanted me to change all the names of my characters and the ending! I struggled with this. It was based on historical fact and I wanted to stay true to it. I ended up going with One Day Hill because they loved it how it was and I discovered we had very similar values and goals. They’ve been wonderful. They don’t heavily edit your work, which is really refreshing and they believe that what you’ve written is an art form in itself. (How cool is that?)

Did you use any illustrator notes in your ms?
No, I didn’t. I gave my very talented illustrator, Aaron Pocock, a brief about Ponkidoodle. I just wanted to let him know Ponkidoodle was a family character that was still very ‘real’ to us. Aaron loved the character and he just went with it. I’m not really sure that writers should be involved in this process, seeing an illustrator’s interpretation of your story is a wonderful experience. I don’t believe in cramping their creative license.

FOUR: How might teachers use your book in the classroom? 
I have a series of twelve Teaching Resources for Ponkidoodle on my website and with my distributor Dennis Jones & Associates. I didn’t write them; a teacher did, so they’re spot on. They’re really fun literacy and numeracy games for Preps (5 year olds) and Grade 1’s (6 – 7 year olds). I take them on my school visits to schools all the time. The ‘Create you own Ponkidoodle – Roll a Dice Game’ is a hoot. Kids love it.

FIVE: What are some writing tips you can offer to writers seeking publication? 
Never be afraid to re-write, put it away for a month and then have another look. Use manuscript assessors and just keep on writing. EVERY DAY! And reading, this will keep you in touch with what’s happening in the marketplace, and plus that, you can learn heaps of stuff from other writers. I also submit a lot of stories to magazines. Sometimes publishers like to hear that. If somebody else likes it, I guess they might think they’re taking less of a risk on you.

4Thanks so much for joining us today! If you missed the other HIGH FIVE interviews, be sure to take a few minutes to check out their stories. See you next month (September 3, Saturday) for another look into the world of being published for the first time.

Congratulations on a wonderful book, Neridah!


  1. Hi Christie,
    It's wonderful to see my writing blog buddy Neridah on your blog.
    Ponkidoddle is a fabulous picture book and Neridah is such a lovely person!
    Congratulations Neridah on this awesome interview and look forward to seeing you at The CYA Conference September 10th.

  2. Thanks, Renee. It is very cool to see someone you know online. I told my kids (4 and 7) about Ponkidoodle. My 4 year old got scared. It was bedtime. I guess having the book and reading the story would make a huge difference. Have fun at the conference!

  3. Thanks, Christie. I'm really enjoying reading your blog :)


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