The Sydney Harbour Fridge

Frank out in the cold

My self-publishing picture book journey


So the journey so far.

I thought of the idea for my picture book, The Sydney Harbour Fridge, a few years ago. It was born from an hilarious evening of punning with my husband and included such gems as The Sydney Opera Mouse and Centrepoint Flower (that shows you how long ago it was). I wrote the story, loved the idea, then began a period of time when I would send off the script to various publishers. Not many, because each time I sent it off to a publisher I would wait several months to hear back. I never heard back from any publisher. I then tried a couple of agents. Same deal. So I put it on the backburner for a while. At the beginning of this year I tried another publisher and my husband said why don’t I self-publish?

The relief was immense. I could choose my own illustrator. I wouldn’t have to cut the book down to 500 words (the industry standard when I started writing the book was 1000!) And, most importantly of all, I wouldn’t have to wait anymore – waiting with no guarantee of finding a publisher or an agent.

I have read heaps of articles – advice about how, firstly, to get a publisher or agent; how to self-publish – the pros and cons; the business side. I continue to do this as I discover more and more aspects I knew little or nothing about. The internet is truly amazing!

I had never written a picture book before. I have written plays – 19 of them – all professionally produced – and no need or serious desire to get them published. About half of these were performed by children’s theatre companies – in schools, theatres, around Australia. I did have one idea – Boswell, the Intrepid Sheep – a little a la Jonathan Livingston Seagull – and started that one, even longer ago than The Sydney Harbour Fridge.

First steps

I wrote several more drafts. I found an illustrator (a professional illustrator who happened to be my best friend’s son’s partner) whose work I love. When I sent the script to her she made several suggestions regarding the script. I wrote another draft, resulting in a much better script, and then decided I needed an editor, a truly outside, objective person. I found two editors (…..) and sent the script to them. Obviously it was still early days and didn’t need a final proofread. In any case I knew I could proofread it myself really just needed feedback on the language for my target audience (4 – 7 year-olds).

The first editor (cheap at $150) loved the story (yay!) and had few suggestions to improve it.

The second editor (still cheap at $350) also loved it but had heaps of suggestions. These suggestions were very thought-provoking. I had to seriously consider her ideas and I did change the script somewhat. She said that if I wanted to send it to publishers it would have to be 500 words or so and said in any case it could do with some cutting. 

I was very pleased that neither editor thought the language was inappropriate. Having had responses to my plays sometimes that “but children won’t know who Oscar Wilde is!” I was concerned some comments like that might pop up, but they didn’t.

Second steps – a slow jog.

I did a mock-up of the book. This was great fun! I spent days working on the pictures – all the time making it clear to the illustrator that I wanted her ideas, her drawings – and after I’d done the first few I realised it was taking too long and that, actually, I wasn’t an artist! (I knew that but love drawing and am not too dusty an amateur.) So I finished the rest of the mock-up more quickly, more sketchily, and sent it off to my illustrator. (Did I mention she lives in Manchester at the moment?)

My illustrator, Alisha, has been fantastic throughout this early process. In no particular order, she has:

  • Sent me samples of her work
  • Sent me samples of different possible art mediums
  • Agreed to the payment terms (another period of time spent on finding out what would be a fair price)
  • Asked things like – size, spreads, bleeding
  • Formalised the process
  • Discussed timing
  • Checked with an illustrator friend of hers about the process – she hasn’t illustrated a full picture book before
  • Told me to find a typographer/typesetter

and much more.

Third step – quickening the pace (starting to lose more kilojoules)

Where will the words go on each page? Which words will go on each page? Which picture/s will go on each page?

These are decisions I have to make before Alisha can get started.

Throughout this process I have been reading many picture books. Now I am really concentrating on the layout. So many possibilities!

Three art teachers offered to help with the formatting of words and pictures. We spent an afternoon doing this so now I have to decide how this will work. I am considering contacting a typographer before I do this as I’m not sure when the typographer would be involved.

Currently – still jogging at a medium pace

I have looked into printers, distribution, reviews – each step an intricate one needing heaps of research – so I was pleased when Alisha said unless she started straight away (which would need a final formatting of the words and pictures) why not postpone the launch until next year instead of this Christmas? It would take her about six months to do all the illustrations (with the various drafts we’ve agreed on for her to do). The relief!!! I had actually started thinking it would be too soon and too difficult to get this done this year. I have a show in the Sydney Fringe and one in Canberra for National Science Week so I’m pretty busy (also working to pay for self-publishing the book – which I at first estimated – based on research – at six to eight thousand dollars, but now think it will be more, and with less return).

So, the current step is still finalising the words and picture layout. I give myself about two months for this.

In the meantime, I have major research to do, including:

  • Finding a typographer
  • Finding a printer – cheap enough, but I want a good-looking, glossy hard-back. I’ve read so many potential pitfalls about printing and I also have to navigate the ones who seem to think self-publishing means just a few copies. I think I’ll need more like 400 copies.
  • Finding people to review the book – comments I can include on the front cover – so this will have to be before the book is printed (when??? – what do I send them?)

I have written this blog in one go so far. I am astounded at how much I have already done, and how much there is still to go. There are many gaps in what I’ve written above and if you would like to know any more please email me at

I will try now to update this blog regularly so anyone can read my self-publishing journey.

October 28th

I’m going to continue this as posts so please check them out. I might then copy my posts and put them here, but I want a better timeline check and posts are the way to do this!