Last Thursday, our advance copies of Ten Thousand Stories arrived from Chronicle. But we weren’t ready to open the box that day. Nor the next day. We kept busy enough over the weekend to keep our minds off the contents of the box, but there it was on the work table, waiting for us still on Monday morning. We briefly considered opening the box (after all, we’d have to do so eventually) but still felt not quite ready.
For a long time, we weren’t really sure why we didn’t want to open it. But then we started to look back and realized that the box contained a story seven-and-a-half years in the making. Which is to say, there was a lot more than a book in that box. Before we’d feel ready to open it, we needed to spend some time reflecting on all that led up to it.
The story goes back to the fall of 2006, when Robbi and I decided to quit our jobs in Baltimore, sell our house, and move to our barn in Chestertown. We had no real plan other than to do what we had always wanted to do, which was to make books together. We thought we’d do it until we ran out of money and had to return to the real world.
A few months later, in December of 2006, we made our version of Ten Thousand Stories. It looked like this. We loved the book. It was just what we wanted to be making. And that was the entire point of our enterprise: to make what we wanted to make on our own terms. We were convinced that this state of creative bliss wouldn’t last forever, so we were determined to make the most of it.
So we kept on making books together, collaborating at every step.
When the first year ended, we had ten books under our belts and hadn’t run out of money, so we kept on going, sending ten books a year to our subscribers.
Eventually, we started taking our show on the road, going to book shows so that we could get our stuff in front of other people.
One weekend (I think it was the spring of 2009), we hauled all our books up to the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art festival in New York City,
That afternoon, a guy from Disney came to our booth.
We did everything we could to get his attention.
But as it turns out, it wasn’t Robbi’s hot bod that caught his eye. He picked up a copy of our mix-and-match book After Everafter. A few years later, he took it to a production meeting at the publishing company Little Brown.
Little Brown’s children’s book imprint LB Kids was doing a mix-and-match book in the Super Hero Squad series and wanted us to write and illustrate it.
And so we did.
Suddenly, we were getting paid to do the thing we loved the most. Almost. The words were my words and the illustrations were Robbi’s illustrations (except for the characters themselves, which were mined from a bank of Disney-approved clip art), but the characters weren’t our characters. It wasn’t our universe. It was exciting to be published, but we didn’t get the same wild thrills of creative freedom we got from making our Idiots’Books titles.
There was a moment when “the box” containing our copy of The Super Hero Squad Flips Out arrived from LB Kids.
But it wasn’t quite the same. We opened that box right away. Because there wasn’t quite as much inside.
But that’s only part of the story.
And so I did.
The review caught the eye of a poet/critic/talent scout named Tess.
She told her boss about us.
Her boss became our agent.
A few years ago, our agent met with an editor from Chronicle and showed her our big stack of Idiots’Books.
The editor’s name was Bridget. Several of the titles piqued her interest, and one title in particular captured her affections.
That title was Ten Thousand Stories. An offer was made. Some papers were signed.
We have a hunch that if we had tried really hard to get Chronicle to publish Ten Thousand Stories back in the winter of 2006, it probably wouldn’t have happened. Chronicle is, after all the greatest publisher in the world, and we just lowly wiener dogs yipping at its mighty heels.
Instead we just made a lot of books that we wanted to make and said yes when opportunities presented themselves. Out of that, this amazing opportunity presented itself.
And that opportunity was to have a publisher that we respect more than any other publish work that we love, that we believe in, that represents Robbi and me at our best. It’s the perfect collision of commerce and art. I guess it remains to be seen if the book is successful in a commercial sense. But in our hearts, it is a perfect example of what we set out to do at the beginning of this long and indeterminate journey.
And so we are back to the box. By Tuesday afternoon, finally convinced that we had reflected long enough, we decided to open it.
The box was very well taped.
But I was undaunted.
In the box were two copies of our book. Lovingly protected in bubble wrap.
Seeing the cover for the first time…I must admit, I got a little emotional.
But emotion gave way to wonder.
It was absolutely beautiful.
And why not? Everything Chronicle makes is exquisite. That’s what makes them Chronicle.
We checked the fine print to make sure that this was, in fact, a Chronicle book, but there it was, the humble proof in black and white.
Eventually, I let Robbi touch the book, too, and together, we admired it.
From the spine…
…to the cover…
…to the dedication…
…to the bio page.
There it was at long last, our Chronicle book.
We were thrilled.
We were rhapsodic.
We were a little turned on.
None of this would be possible without the vision and hard work of a handful of people who believed in us: Thanks to Bridget Watson Payne, our fearless editor (check out her lovely blog; behold her mighty tweets). Thanks to Kathy, our agent who went out on a limb to represent two weirdo nobodies. Thanks to Bridget’s assistant Caitlin, who put up with our nonsense and shepherded us through the treacherous waters, and thanks to Kristen, the amazing designer who came up with that gorgeous cover.
And thanks to Seiko and Bob, who opened their barn to us, making space in their busy lives for the big footprint we inhabit. Thanks for their love and support. It was Seiko who helped us bind the first 20 copies of Ten Thousand Stories back in December of 2006 hours before our first-ever public appearance at Bookplate. She was so proud of us that night. As I know she is at this very moment.
I told you there was a lot in that box. The amazing weight of it is still swirling around in this room.
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