Monday, 20 February 2017

How the Pig Got Published • John Dougherty

A big THANK YOU to guest blogger John Dougherty for this post that shows how perseverance can pay off in picture book publishing.



Like many children’s writers, I used to be a teacher. And like many children’s writers, I probably wouldn’t be a professional author now if I hadn’t been a teacher first.

A week of my pre-teacher training course classroom observations was spent with a teacher who told me, “If you're going to teach children, you need to read children’s books,” and who sent me home with some reading: Gene Kemp; Dick King-Smith; a different author every night. On the course itself, an entire module examined ways to use children’s books in our teaching, introducing me as it did so to the likes of Anthony Browne, Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross. It wasn’t long before I found myself devouring children’s books and thinking, “These are great - I wonder if I could write one?”

Teaching being as all-consuming as it is, I was, for a while, too creatively drained to be able to try any actual writing. But in my third year, my imagination was given a nudge by my pupils and some of their idiosyncrasies, and I ended up writing a number of what I hoped were picture-book manuscripts. My favourite of the bunch was inspired by Suganthi, a sparky little girl with a very snorty laugh; I’d taken to teasing her that she had a pig up her nose, and this prompted a story of a girl who, well, had a pig up her nose.

The reaction from publishers and agents was fairly consistent: these made us laugh, but they’re not what we’re looking for at the moment. But one editor - Sue Cook at Random House - went on to say, “I like the flavour of your writing, and I’d be interested in seeing anything else you’ve written.”

To cut a long story short, that was my break. Over the next few years Sue gave me feedback on everything I sent her, suggested I have a go at writing chapter books for newly emergent readers, and finally, when I sent her Zeus on the Loose, offered me my first deal.


I love being a published author, and I’m very proud of my work to date. But I started off trying to write picture books, and for years I wondered why none of the picture book manuscripts I’d written had ever been published. I’ve still got a growing pile of them, and every now and then my lovely agent Sarah would send one of them out… but nothing. Just an addition to the great big pile of nope that I keep under my desk. Until a couple of years ago, when, Sarah having retired, my new lovely agent Julia asked me, “Anything in the bottom drawer we could try sending out again?”

Well, to cut another long story short, Egmont - the very first publisher to whom Julia sent There’s a Pig Up My Nose - went mad for it. Absolutely loved it; made us an offer; secured the services of the fabulous Laura Hughes to do the illustrations. And since publication in January, it’s been getting all the love - a great review in The Guardian, Nicolette Jones’s Children’s Book of the Week in the Sunday Times… 


I have no idea what made the difference. Why did it get virtually no attention from anyone twenty-one years ago, yet an almost instant deal and broadsheet reviews all this time later? I can guess, of course, as can any of us, but there’s really no way of knowing. Perhaps ridiculous humour was just unfashionable in children’s publishing then, but is in vogue now. Perhaps it just landed on the right person’s desk this time round.

Whatever the reason, it’s another reminder of the lesson most of us, as authors, keep coming back to: persevere. If you believe in a story, don’t give up on it, because some day someone else may agree with you about it.

Of course, Suganthi and the other children in that Year Three class at Hillbrook Primary school will be all grown up now. But I hope that some of them will come across There’s a Pig Up My Nose in a bookshop or a library somewhere, and recognise my name, and read it to their own children. And I hope that whatever they’re doing, they too will have learned the lesson of persistence.



John’s website is at www.visitingauthor.com and you can follow him on Twitter @JohnDougherty8. There’s a Pig Up My Nose, illustrated by Laura Hughes and published by Egmont, is his latest book.

17 comments:

  1. What a lovely, encouraging story! just right for a very dreary looking Monday morning - thanks, John!

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  2. Thanks for a great post, John. It's definitely the case that fashions change in picture book publishing and stories that are rejected by publishers one year – or one decade – may well be accepted in another. A publisher has just taken a book that I wrote in 1999!

    Having said which, I think it's important to recognise that you need to be careful about what you resubmit – publishers/agents will just get annoyed if you keep re-submitting EVERY text you have ever written. I wouldn't dream of re-submitting most of my early stories, but there are a handful that, when I re-read them today, feel as strong as the stories that made it into print. And those are the ones I give a second chance to.

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  3. That's a great story to publication! So grateful There's A Pig Up My Nose was rediscovered, it's given us plenty of giggles!

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  4. That is so heartening, well done!

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  5. I agree, Jonathan. I'm lucky to have an agent as good as Julia, who I know wouldn't let me oversubmit the same story - but I do have a few more in the bottom drawer which I'm still hopeful for.

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  6. Very good to hear this. Hope you see Suganthi again some day!

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  7. I love this story - thanks for sharing it, John!

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  8. Lovely story, John - well done for being so persistent! It just goes to prove you should never throw anything away, just in case...

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  9. Thank you for sharing this! I'm never going to delete anything again!

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  10. Oh, I DO hope Suganthi finds the book and recognises the story! Thank you for a really encouraging publication story, John, and let's hope this turns into a best selling prize winner to make the story even better!

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  11. Aw, thanks, all. It would be lovely to bump into Suganthi again.

    I heard recently from one of the TAs at the school, whose son Joseph was in the class (and is namechecked in the book). Apparently he's now training to be a teacher...

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  12. This is such a heartening story, it reallly reminds me how much patience and perseverance you need in publishing. Congratulations on There's a Pig Up My Nose! and thank you for sharing your experience.

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  13. Beautifully hopeful story and also I love imagining Suganti in a bookshop snorting with laughter and buying a copy for her kids whenever she has them.

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  14. Thanks, John, for this wonderfully encouraging post.

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  15. When my sisters and cousin saw this book, we thought you'd somehow managed to plagiarise our childhood! Our favourite insult was always, 'you've got pigs up your nose!' Then eventually, the pigs took on a life of their own and we'd refer to them as our nose pigs. When we met up with our cousins, who lived far away, we would always enquire, 'how are your nose pigs?' So for us, it is hilariously strange that you have written this book! I look forward to reading it to my son. And your publishing story seems to confirm no childhood plagiarism, more a form of convergent evolution! Great to read about it!


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  16. Really good to hear your story. Thanks, John.

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