Friday, July 19, 2013

SMA Interview Series: Author / Illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is a writer and illustrator based in Toronto, Canada.

Her debut picture book, WHERE ARE MY BOOKS?, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in Spring 2015. Her illustrations appear in I'M BORED (NYTimes Notable Book) and NAKED! (2014), both written by Michael Ian Black and published by Simon & Schuster BFYR.

She also has upcoming book illustration projects with HarperCollins Children's (RUBY ROSE books by Rob Sanders) and Random House Children's (MITZI TULANE books by Lauren McLaughlin).
Debbie is represented by Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd. For more info, visit DebbieOhi.com or @inkyelbows on Twitter.



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Q: You are so dedicated to inspiring other author/illustrators with your blog, Inkygirl.com, which has become a hub for some of the most useful information in publishing (for that we are all thankful). What made you decide to start your blog?

Thanks for the kind words about my blog! Answering your question requires some backstory….

I have had a writing resource website since the early days of the Web. My original site was called Inkspot, which began as a resource for children's book writers.

Inkspot got a lot of press back then, and I expanded it over six years to include many types of writing. At its peak, the companion newsletter had nearly 50,000 subscribers and the site had 200,000 unique visitors. I had some excellent columnists, like Lee Wardlaw (who did the ASK THE CHILDREN'S BOOK WRITER column) and Ginger Knowlton (my agent at Curtis Brown did ASK THE AGENT column) as well as hired freelancers and community volunteers. Advertising income supported the site. 

It grew to the point, however, that I was spending far more time managing the site than I was on my own writing. I ended up selling the site to a company in the U.S., who ended up shutting it down soon after because of cutbacks (http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2001/02/41900). Here's a one page summary of my entire experience in the corporate world: http://debbieohi.com/debbies-woodpile-philosophy/

I took a much-needed break, and then turned back to my writing. I also started up Inkygirl.com but have vowed to keep it small-scale and never let it grow to the point where I'm spending more time on it than on my own creative work. I've narrowed its focus to align with my own longterm career interest, which is writing and illustrating books for young people.




Q: How do you schedule your work days/weeks in order to keep up with your blog and projects at the same time? 

Since I was offered my first children's book contract, I've been gradually shutting down or pulling back from various projects. I'll still end up posting and tweeting much more than the average person, I'm sure, because I love online communities. 

These days, I usually check Twitter first thing in the day; it's my equivalent of a morning cup of coffee. I also tend to check social media around lunchtime and then late afternoon.

I'm still in the midst of figuring out what schedule works for me, though. Starting VERY soon, I'm going to be diving into multiple book projects for the next few years, so will  need to be much more disciplined about how I spend my online time.

My biggest piece of advice for those wanting to carve out more time for their creative work: Learn how to say NO.

And for those who love online communities and social media as much as I do, be aware of how much time you spend tweeting, etc. Set a timer. Keep a logbook. I know from experience how easy it is to justify the hours that get sucked into the black hole of social media ("It's part of my work, really!"). Be honest with yourself about when you're working and when you're not.



Q: The SCBWI Illustrator Portfolio Showcase was instrumental to your career flourish! Why should every writer and illustrator join the SCBWI - and participate? 

If I could send a message to my younger self, it would be to attend SCBWI conferences sooner than later. Nothing really happened for me in terms of children's books until I began to regularly attend SCBWI events.

Having said that, I also want to emphasize how important it is to have a clear goal in mind when you attend these events, and to have a plan that will help you achieve this goal.

The goal needs to be realistic, else you're just asking to be disappointed. “I'm going to get a book contract” is not a realistic goal. “I'm going to introduce myself to at least 20 people in the industry” or “I'm going to find out what editors are looking for” or even “I'm going to have fun” are much more reasonable goals.

My friend Maureen McGowan (author of YA series, THE DUST CHRONICLES) compares publishing success to getting hit by lightning. You may not be able to control when lightning hits, but you can build better lightning rods.

And you never know what might happen when you attend SCBWI conventions. My children's book career certainly got its jumpstart at the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference (http://kidlitartists.blogspot.ca/2010/09/how-rejection-got-me-book-deal-my.html), when I was offered a picture book illustration contract (I'M BORED) from Simon & Schuster, as well as winning an Honor Award and a Mentorship Program Award in the overall showcase.


I have also made so many wonderful friends through the SCBWI. One of your members, Christina Forshay, is one of them!



Q: How did you get up the courage to network at conferences before you were familiar with so many writers, illustrators, and industry professionals?

Many people who have met me in person don't realize this, but I'm an introvert. I am perfectly content working at home alone all day in my little basement office, and would far rather spend the evening curled up on the couch with a good book than at a crowded party. 

Debbie's office in Toronto!
Despite my introvert leanings, I made the decision to start attending SCBWI conferences regularly in 2009 because I was tired of rejections. My rejections had been gradually improving in quality, evolving from the "don't call us, we'll call you" form letters to more personal notes, especially after I got an agent. More and more often, my mss would get past the first reader and be shown to others, only to be shot down later in the process because it was too similar to another book on the list, or too similar to a book that was coming out, or because it wasn't quite strong enough to stand out in the marketplace.

At first I was way excited to be getting so close. Surely this meant that I would be offered a book contract any day now! But the weeks turned into months and months into years, much to my frustration and growing depression. I started asking myself, "What if I never get past this stage? What if I'm just not good enough?"

Up to that point, I had been highly resistant to the idea of networking. The word "networking" had such negative connotations for me. It should be about the WORK, not about schmoozing, I had told myself. Forget about the networking, just focus on your craft. Eventually, your work will find the right editor.

Plus I was also terrified at the idea of having to spend an entire weekend trying to network with strangers, especially since I felt like I was a nobody. I dreaded having to walk up to people and insert myself into conversations.

What I found: people at the convention were friendly and just as interested in meeting others as I was. Much to my initial surprise, I had a lot of fun! And by the end of the convention, I was seeing familiar faces in the hallways and session rooms; we'd greet each other and catch up on our favorite speakers so far, what we learned, and so on.

I have some comics for SCBWI conference newbies, for those interested: http://inkygirl.com/inkygirl-main/2012/1/23/comics-for-scbwi-conference-newbies-or-any-writingillustrati.html




Q: A big theme on our blog is how to get out of creative ruts! What do you do when you get stuck?

I go for walks. I usually never listen to anything during these walks, to give my subconscious a chance to turn things over. Almost always, I'll come up with an idea for a new creative project, or a way of getting past some challenge in a work-in-progress.

Something else that helps: Going to my local bookstore or library and looking through the children's books section. 




Q: You're always smiling! How do you maintain your positive attitude?

Heh, not sure my husband would agree about the "always smiling" part, but thanks.

Answer #1: Chocolate helps. :-)



Answer #2: So does having a support network. I feel very lucky to have the family and friends that I do.

Answer #3: See my guest post on Robert Lee Brewer's blog about happiness: http://robertleebrewer.blogspot.ca/2012/02/when-i-learned-to-actively-pursue.html



Q: Would you mind giving us a list of all the places we can all find you online? 

It would be too embarrassing to list ALL the places where you can find me online (there are way too many) but here are a few:

Twitter: @inkyelbows

DebbieOhi.com http://DebbieOhi.com 

Inkygirl: For Those Who Write & Illustrate For Young People http://inkygirl.com 

KidLitArtists.com  kidlitartists.blogspot.com - SCBWI Illustration Mentees

MiG Writers http://migwriters.blogspot.com - My critique group


Facebook (personal): https://www.facebook.com/inkygirl

Facebook (professional): https://www.facebook.com/DebbieOhi


Debbie with art director Laurent Linn and editor/publisher Justin Chanda at Simon & Schuster Children's.



Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your fantastic journey with us Debbie!


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I have a magnet on my refrigerator (a place I frequent!) with a quote from Winston Churchill that reads: "Never, never, never give up." As small as that sounds, it's the best reminder to keep pursuing my goals.

A real life story of perseverance is a little long to paste on a refrigerator. However, after reading Debbie's story, it will definitely stay in my memory bank and resurface every time I read that quote.

It's hard work, but if you love what you do, persevere, and you embrace your peers (*kidlit artists and writers are the FRIENDLIEST folks in all the land*) - you could find yourself as lucky as Debbie and be really, really, really...Bored...and NAKED!

(NOT LITERALLY YOU GUYS!) :) 





    7 comments:

    1. Thanks so much for interviewing me, Renee! I had fun answering your questions, and am honoured to be included on such a wonderful blog as SIMPLY MESSING ABOUT. :-)

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    2. This is an awesome story, Debbie! I had no idea about your Inkspot past! See you in LA?!

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    3. An inspiring read.. thanks so much, Debbie and Renee.

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    4. Carter: Yes, will definitely see you in LA!

      Julie: Thanks, Julie. :-)

      Sylvia: I'm glad you enjoyed the interview, Sylvia!

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    5. Incredibly inspiring. I love Debbie's enthusiasm. Whenever I'm feeling "out of creative sorts" I head over to her site because it is brimming with inspiration. Thanks for a terrific interview!

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