I have a new book out called The Elephant in the Room. Illustrated by Greg Ure, it’s an ebook only release, available for iPad from the iBookstore, or as a DNL Reader for Windows platforms (desktops and laptops).
The accompanying audio read comes from an IMDB listed actror, famed both for his portrayal of Second Murderer in the 1989 Camberwell Grammar School production of Macbeth (one line – ‘What you egg! Young Fry of Treachery!’), his two line tour de force as St Batholomew in AL Sampson’s The Last Supper (‘Pray tell, mine ears are vestibules for your loving words’), and as Policeman 2 in not one but two separate Tony Martin directed productions.
The Elephant in the Room was written in February 2011. The idea was simply to bring the adult expression to life in a literal sense. There would be an elephant. There would be rooms. Everyone would ignore the elephant in the room. Everyone would also ignore the elephant in the bath, the pool, the tree, the bed, the grass. The elephant would get sick of being ignored, make her way to the sink, fill her trunk with water … do you really want to know how it ends? Do you? I won’t tell, suffice to say the whole family survives and so does the elephant. Indeed The Elephant in the Room 2: The Attention Horde is already at second draft stage, slated for release in 2018.
My Always Supportive Agent submitted the manuscript to my Nearly Always Supportive Publisher. Not since Grannysaurus Rex, (which eventually fell $$986,675 short of a million dollar payday) had I been so sure of a million dollar payday. My Nearly Always Supportive Publisher liked it too, and in May 2011 was set to pitch it to her sales and acquisitions Team.
On the morning of that pitch, I received this email:
I am about to present your fabulous text ‘The Elephant in the Room’ and I was wondering if you would be open to the idea the elephant being changed to a rhinoceros. This would not change the meaning of the story to a child, only to an adult, and the reference would be obvious. What do you think?
Rhinoceros in the Room? I didn’t love it, any more than I’d love ‘Too many Waiters Spoil the Soup’ or ‘A Needle in a Woolshed’. It’s true, kids wouldn’t know the expression, but every parent would. For the sake of publication and the near certainty of making a million dollars, could I allow exactly one hundred percent of parents who read the book to close the cover, kiss their kid goodnight and walk to the kitchen muttering, ‘Rhinoceros in the Room? Why the f*ck did he go with rhinoceros?’
Mind you, my Nearly Always Supportive Publisher hadn’t gone insane. She had a good reason for wanting a rhino on the lino. (Don’t steal that by the way. ‘Rhino on the Lino’ just went into my ideas file):
The thing is that we already have a picture book called ‘The Elephant in the Room’ but because I really love your story and don’t want there to be any reason for the sales divisions to reject it, I’m suggesting the Rhinoceros alternative.
They already had The Elephant in the Room! I hit Google frantically, but couldn’t find my pachyderm rival. Could it be thirteen year old Zachary Kligler and his award winning poem about a dead elephant?
‘And crimson truth would flow from his head/ Pooling around his great corpse’.
It wasn’t Zachary. I dug further, dropped the inverted commas in the search box, and unearthed my problem. The BIG Elephant in the Room by Lane Smith. Lane bloody Smith, who already has his million dollars and New York Times bestsellers and Caldecott Honour books. Lane Bloody Smith, with his prodigious talent and interesting back story about working as janitor at Disneyland.
The tragedy is that I wasn’t trying to copy Lane Smith. I was trying to copy Allen and Janet Ahlberg and their wonderful Peepo, which still stands as the outstanding picture book in the history of the world that captures room by room domestic life.
Sales and Acquisitions ended up saying no, and then another publisher declined too, citing ‘a full slate of elephant books’. Publisher number three pulled out, indicating that she’d ‘liked to have seen something a little cleverer, something that incorporated the meaning of the adult expression’. And still another joined the herd, also warning of a great wave of elephant books migrating its way across the children’s literature savannah.
I shelved the manuscript, figuring that I’d just have to hang on until March the year after next for my million dollars (Emo the Emu, Scholastic, 2014). But then an illustrator named Greg Ure called, asking if we could meet up. Greg is the partner of my Year 9 home room teacher’s son (yes I know, we’re practically family) and so I agreed to lunch.
Like Moses, Greg came bearing a tablet, and showed me the excellent sketches he does straight onto the iPad with a Stylus. He explained that in the absence of a publishing deal, he has been putting his own books up in the iBookstore. We talked about new publishing. We talked about old publishing. We eventually got around to the elephant in the room, which was that I’d been a shit of a kid in Year 9, and my home teacher had sent him to kill me.
No. The elephant in the room was the manuscript that was never even nearly called The Rhinoceros in the Room. I said that it was probably not going to be published, and that I loved it, and that it was all such a travesty. Then I said tentatively, ‘I should let you have a crack at it.’ And Greg said, ‘Why not. I’d Iove to have a go.’ And I said, “I was sort of copying the Ahlbergs. Are you happy to sort of copy the Ahlbergs too?” And Greg said, “I can do my own original artwork depicting suburban domestic life. How about that?’ And I agreed, figuring that so long as one of us sort of copied the Ahlbergs, we’d have ourselves an immediate e-classic.
It took him ten weeks. In children’s book terms, that means my elephant book has had the gestation period of a small rodent. Authors are conditioned to wait years. With Greg, one day it was a suggestion, the next day it was happening. Within a week I had five sketches. Within a month he was emailing finished pages. And within two months we were filling out forms at iTunes, which now allows Apple to come over to Greg’s house and take all his furniture.
Will we make a million dollars? Well, it seems a bit of a formality now. Sure, our marketing and promotion budget is a little skinny, but Greg knows this guy, and I know this girl, and … you know … it’s like how everyone says … the internet! Bam!
I can make one concrete offer. If you post the link to Elephant on Twitter or Facebook, and then come along to the Abbotsford Convent Open Day on November 11, and then visit me on the second floor of the Convent Building, you can have your choice of Players, Making News or The Minister for Traffic Lights for free. What value! And that’s not all. If you hang around to talk about how much the room needs a vacuum, I might even throw in my Boonie doll or some of my kids’ artwork.
It will be interesting to see how this publishing model works. Under the traditional system, for a hardback retailing at $30, the illustrator and author receive $1.50 each. To use a dining metaphor, the author gets a bread roll, the distributor gets entree, the publisher gets main, the retailer gets dessert and the illustrator gets an after dinner mint. With this ebook, Greg and I share entree and dessert, Apple gets main, and we give after dinner mints and bread rolls to people who ‘like’ us on Facebook.
I just had that idea then! Yes, for every retweet or ‘like’ I will track down your physical address, hand write the envelope and send you a mint thin from the House of Ballantyne.
Or Greg will.
Or my Year 9 home room teacher.