Six Questions with Mirka Hokkanen
Mirka Hokkanen is a Finnish-American author and illustrator who loves to create humorous books with quirky animal characters. Mirka works mainly in children's books, but also licenses her work, sells on Etsy and teaches on Skillshare and YouTube. She has worked with Clear Fork, Pomegranate, Candlewick, Holiday House, and Odd Dot among others. Her early graphic novel, Mossy and Tweed: Crazy For Coconuts (Holiday House), released earlier this month. When Mirka's not in her studio, she likes to knit, sew and explore the outdoors with her three kids. Mirka is represented by Laurel Symonds of KT Literary. Visit Mirka's website to learn more about her work.
1. How do you know if your idea will be a good book?
In general the books I like to read and write are humorous and on the commercial side, and I spend a lot of time reading picture books in that niche. Once you have a feel for what is being published, it will also guide you on judging how your own ideas measure up.
In addition to lots of reading for research, I use self-imposed guidelines to try to give my books the best possible chance at making it out into the world. Some of the goals that I try to hit are interesting/cute characters, an evergreen underlying theme, told from a new perspective, building in 3 to 4 hooks/layers, and trying to fill in a gap in a niche. If I can hit all those notes, then I feel like the book has a good chance of catching an editors eye.
2. Do you work on multiple projects at the same time?
Yes! I am always working on a bunch in different projects in different stages. I think that works well for me, because I can take a break from one project if I feel stuck or bored or am waiting on feedback from an editor, and then come back to it in a month with fresh eyes. While writing this, I've recently finished final illustrations for a book, and I'm starting to promote a book that's just launching. Then I have a book in the middle of editing that still needs a few more illustrations and back matter finalized, and then I have a new book manuscript on the backburner needing to be written this month, and several new ideas germinating. My current books are all series, so I'm also working on sequels for them.
3. Which comes first: words or pictures?
Once I settle on an idea for a book, and work to add all my layers to it, I try really hard to work on the words first, because the illustrations take a lot longer to make. If I make illustrations first, and then have to change the text after, then I have to re-draw my illustrations which wastes a lot of time. So I've created a system where I create the book "visually" with written descriptions for each spread (without drawing more than a loose thumbnail), and then I work on the text. That way I figure out all the action and illustrations in my head, and then I write the manuscript to match that. And sketches and final illustrations come last. Usually the illustrations carry a lot of the storytelling in my books, so it makes sense for me to figure out the pacing and plot points visually as art notes before I write the text, which is almost more in a supporting role to the illustrations.
4. What was the process or timeline for Mossy and Tweed: Crazy for Coconuts, from idea to publishing?
I got the initial idea for this book several years ago. It was originally an idea for a picture book, but turned into a graphic novel in 2021. I started actively working on putting it into a submittable package beginning of 2021 and it went out on submission in May 2021. We sold it in a few weeks and I started working on it with Sally, my editor at Holiday House, in July 2021. By February of 2022, I had turned in final art, and started working on the cover and title pages.
There was lots of back and forth with little tweaks for the final illustrations. In August 2022, we finally finished all the details for the cover and the files were sent to the printer. Around August 2022 we also started working on marketing and selling the books, and Mossy and Tweed will finally launched this month!
5. What was the most challenging thing you faced while writing/researching this book?
This book went from a picture book into a graphic novel, and that was a very tall learning curve. To figure out how to write a full script, instead of a 500-word manuscript, using a new drawing program, and learning how to pace panels and draw in a graphic novel style was all new to me.
6. Who should read this book?
I created this book for young kids, 5 to 8 years old, who are learning to read and for the reluctant readers in your life. A lot of the action and story can be read from the illustrations, so it's easy to follow along even if you can't read each word yet. The language is simple, to encourage working on reading skills while the humor and action carry the story and will get littles to turn the pages and finish the book. I think the cute gnomes, forest setting, action and humor appeals to girls and boys equally.
If you're a traditionally published author or illustrator of a picture book or middle-grade book and you'd like to be considered for an upcoming SIX QUESTIONS feature, drop an email to mary@boonewrites.