The Problem With Puggles: A Case Study
Here's a question for you... do you know what a puggle is?
Even though I’d grown up in the country surrounded by bush and animals, I’d never laid eyes on a puggle until I was a fully grown adult, well into my thirties.
A puggle is a baby echidna.
Oh, you’re saying, yes, I know what an echidna is. EVERYONE knows what an echidna is and what they look like.
But a puggle, a baby echidna looks very different to the adult echidna.
I stumbled across a photo of a puggle while surfing the internet one day. I don’t recall exactly how I found it, but there it was on my computer screen looking like nothing I’d ever seen before.
Pink, plump, bald and totally cute, puggles are born completely without spines.
Why had I never learnt this before?
Did other people know about puggles? I wondered.
I did some research and found video footage of baby puggles in zoos. One video had a voice over in German! I kept searching, trying to learn as much as I could about these shy, fascinating little creatures.
I soon lighted upon the idea that a puggle would make a fabulous main character for a story. At the time (this was 2006) there weren’t really any other picture books out there about puggles. I know. I looked and looked.
Aha! I thought. There’s a gap in the market. Australia needs more books about puggles. Children need to learn about these cute little creatures.
So, I started writing my story.
I knew the story had to be relevant to young children. That’s what picture books are all about, right?
While I wanted people to be introduced to these incredible creatures, I didn’t want the story bogged down in facts. I didn’t want to write a non-fiction story.
That’s why I decided to write a tale where the puggle – and all the animals in the book – were anthropomorphised. I wanted them to talk and interact like humans.
To include some alliteration in the title, the original manuscript was called Gertie Puggle. The main character, Gertie, was a girl puggle whose spines wouldn’t come.
I started writing the story in 2006, writing twenty different drafts of the story and going from 810 words to 530 words before I thought it was ready to send to publishers.
I did some research and found several publishers who I thought might be interested in a picture book with an Australian animal main character.
After fielding a few rejections, I then received a phone call from JoJo Publishing. The owner/publisher, Barry I think his name was, wanted to publish my book. But they wanted me to pay for a marketing report to be done.
Even as green as I was, I became wary of this offer.
Commercial publishers pay the author and illustrator. We don’t have to pay them. I soon realised that what I was being offered was not a bona fide publication deal. It was a vanity publishing deal where I was expected to pay for the publication of the book – potentially thousands of dollars if I agreed to go down that path.
As my singular goal of going into this business was to be commercially published, I declined JoJo’s offer.
Then I discovered a boutique picture book publisher called Wombat Books.
Surely with a wombat for their logo and in their NAME, Wombat Books would be looking for Australian-style picture books that included good old Aussie echidnas… certain that Wombat was the publisher for me, I sent my manuscript off.
A Major Milestone
This was the very first image I ever saw of my baby puggle brought to life visually by Sandra Temple, the illustrator for Puggle's Problem.
Little did I realise that just because a publisher has an Australian animal for their logo, it doesn’t mean they want to publish books about every Australian animal there is.
Still, the story possessed something that appealed to the publisher, Rochelle Manners because she offered to publish Gertie Puggle. Wombat Books’ titles carry important themes and messages for readers woven into their stories. It was the message of patience that Gertie Puggle was teaching that made the story a fit with Wombat’s list, not the fact that the message was being delivered by an Australian animal.
Although Rochelle wanted to publish my story, she did request some edits. Even when you think you’re sending the most perfect, polished manuscript to a publisher and they give you the BIG YES to publish it, there will invariably be changes that need to be made.
Rochelle requested that we change Gertie from a girl to a boy to ensure the story appealed to both genders. Doing this meant we also had to change the title.
I brainstormed new titles and new names for my puggle for days, testing them out in various versions of the story and including each new name in the story as I read it out aloud. Two titles that came close were The Impatient Puggle and Puggle’s Patience.
However, I did feel that both of these titles gave away the storyline a bit so I finally chose Puggle’s Problem to provide an element of mystery that might hook young readers into wondering what the puggle’s problem was and so prompt them to read the story.
After listing about a hundred names for the puggle, I narrowed it down to a shortlist of three:
One of the final illustrations of Pipp Puggle as it appears in the book.
Eventually, I went with Pipp. The name provides alliteration, a pip is a seed, it’s small and needs to sprout into a tree that grows branches and leaves just like my little puggle needed to sprout his spines and grow into an adult echidna. So, we had some layers of meaning developing…
Now the text was finalised, it was time for the draft illustrations.
Sandra Temple was appointed as the illustrator. Sandra is an award-winning wildlife artist. She paints the most amazing images of animals from all around the world. They look so life-like! But for Puggle’s Problem, a picture book for young children, we needed something more simplistic with loads of white space.
I received some initial character sketches in black and white and some draft colour illustrations. I loved these original images and it was all systems go from there.
Sandra completed the internal illustrations and the cover drawings, the book was laid out and design finalised. Sandra used Faber-Castell coloured pencils and black felt tip Artline pens to complete the drawings.
Several months later, after checking the proofs and hoping that I knew what I was doing and didn’t overlook any errors, the book went to print.
Having worked for four years developing my craft, networking, writing, rewriting, submitting and getting rejected, I was super keen to get behind the launch of my first picture book. Even though I’d been offered several other book contracts, including another picture book, Bearly There, Puggle’s Problem ended up being my first book to be published. The entire process from acceptance to publication took twelve months, which is really quite quick.
The long-awaited book launch of Puggle's Problem was held at Berkelouw Books, Balgowlah (Sydney). We had a crowd of about a hundred people turn up, mostly friends and family. I was absolutely petrified to be holding the stage in front of so many people. My son, Riley, who was six at the time didn't seem to have any problems with it though. He's the kid whispering in my ear.
I was very lucky to have loads of supportive friends (both authors and non-authors) and family members who came along to support me at the launch.
Months of planning went into the event. I even arranged for a real live possum named Penny – who was cared for by a WIRES volunteer because she’d been injured and couldn’t be released back into the wild – to come along as my special guest.
I was absolutely terrified to be in the spotlight, to be the centre of attention. I was not used to it at all and couldn’t believe that everyone was there to see ME. Shock! Horror!
With all eyes on me, I half-read, half-recited the speech I’d prepared and been practising for weeks in advance. I hardly remember a thing that I said or did on that night. It really was a whirlwind. All I can say is that I’m grateful that I have lots of photos from the night to help me remember everything that happened.
One piece of advice I’d like to offer other authors is to ALWAYS have a photographer on hand at events like that. It doesn’t matter whether they’re professional or not, as long as they’re capable of taking lots of non-blurry photos of you, your book, the champagne bottles popping and of course your wonderful family and friends who come along to support you.
Friends and family are the absolute cornerstone of any first-time author's book launch. They fill the room, they applaud and support you and they buy copies of your books to make you feel like you're someone.
The birth of your book baby is always a special celebration. Try not to let it be overwhelming and enjoy it. Oh, and remember to breathe, whatever you do!
A never-released-before photo of me at the launch of Puggle's Problem.
Look how nervous I am!!! Oh my goodness.
Penny the Possum worked a treat!
She was a hit on the night and very well behaved.