Six Questions with Olga Herrera
Olga Herrera is an author/illustrator. Her debut picture book is The Unwelcome Surprise (Feiwel & Friends, Macmillan). She is the co-founder of Illo Chat, a podcast about Illustration and publishing. Olga is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, has served as a writing and illustration mentor, and has won several illustration competitions. Olga is multicultural, Cuban Ecuadorian, and is bilingual in Spanish and English. She earned her BFA from the Ringling College of Art and Design with a major in Illustration. She lives in Maryland with her husband, two children, and too many pets. Visit Olga's website to learn more about her and her work.
1. How did you begin your journey as an author?
Interestingly, I didn't begin as an author. I started as an illustrator. My first few manuscripts began with a sketch of the main character, which prompted an idea for a story, so I began writing. It took a lot of trial and error and learning how to tell a story in words. I was already telling a story with illustrations. With a lot of practice, joining several critique groups, and working with a mentor, I had 5 book dummies finished, and I began searching for an agent. Here once again, my illustration work opened the door for me. My agent found my portfolio at an SCBWI Conference portfolio showcase. Just like illustrating, writing takes practice.
2. Do you struggle to come up with your next project? Or do you have lots of ideas and find it a challenge to narrow down your ideas?
Coming up with the next project is a challenge not because of the lack of ideas but the taking action part of the task. New ideas pop into my head while I am doing random unrelated tasks. But they can sit in a file collecting virtual cobwebs forever if I don't take action. It takes effort to stay on task. Ideation creation is fun, exciting, and sometimes, a distraction from the real work required to get the initial idea into a submittable project. We all get distracted by the next shiny new thing.
3. How do you know your idea will make a good book?
When I am excited about every revision, and when I can't stop thinking about it. When my critique group's feedback focuses on the same aspects. (that's how I know there is a problem in a specific section that needs fixing) and when my agent is excited too. Sometimes we fall in love with projects, but they fall flat with the audience. That is why having a sound support system that gives honest feedback is essential. Also, always read your manuscript at loud to yourself!
4. Where did you get the idea for The Unwelcome Surprise? What was your inspiration?
I have a dog named Bongo, and he is afraid of everything! One day I was listening to my daughter play the piano, and I noticed how Bongo came into the room and laid down under her feet. This skittish dog was perfectly comfortable under the giant piano, which must look quite scary to him. But since he was next to his girl, he felt safe. That was the original idea for the book. The editor that acquired the book, Erin Siu, requested a rewrite as a baby book, still retaining all the original book elements. Instead of a piano, it was a new member of the family and everything this surprise brings.
5. Was this always the title for this project? If not, what other titles did you consider, and how did you land on this one?
The original title, when it was a book about a dog and a piano, was The New Thing. Later it changed to The Favorite New Thing. Once the text changed to a baby book, we floated a few ideas around. It was a collaborative effort with the editor and her team, and finally, I decided on The Unwelcome Surprise.
6. What's a particularly striking or memorable reaction someone has had to this book?
A picture book can take 3 years to complete. You get to the point that you know all the parts of the book so well that you disconnect from it a little. Imagine, I wrote the first manuscript, then rewrote and re-submitted it. Then edited it with my editor. I moved on to character designing and illustration, then reworking the illustrations, and finally, I sent all the files to the publisher and waited and waited. There is silence for a long time after you finish your part and before marketing begins. You forget how it made you feel when you started working on the book. But when readers chuckle or laugh out loud at parts of the book, it fills me with excitement again. Like seeing an old friend and remembering how much you like them.