If I Stay(ed)…


I was going to be late for Jomike Tejido’s talk.

What a dilemma! I was torn between staying at the conference hall where Gayle Forman’s talk was scheduled because I really really wanted to hear her talk (but more than 30 minutes had already gone, and it still hadn’t started) and running down the Expo Centre to the Literature Forum to watch Jomike Tejido’s panel discussion. It was a no-brainer. I decided to support my friend and kabayan, of course. I collected my bags of books and got up, silently weeping inside.

As I half-ran and half-walked to the end of the corridor, I saw four figures silhouetted against the brightness of the Expo hallway walking fast toward me. I stepped out of the way to let them pass.

Oh no, it’s Gayle. I recognized her from her author’s photo in her books.

“May!” the lovely Qurrat, head coordinator for SCRF 2017, today garbed in a golden-hued hijab, stopped me. She clasped her hands over her chest as she smiled widely, eyes twinkling, “You will join us, right?” And before I could open my mouth, Qurrat had already turned to Gayle Forman, who’d likewise stopped walking. “Gayle, I’d like you to meet May. She is an author from the Phillippines. May, this is Miss Gayle Forman. She’d just arrived from the US.”
Was dumbstruck. My heart stopped as Gayle held out her hand. “Pleased to meet you,” Gayle smiled warmly.

“Likewise,” I thought I said, but my mouth felt too dry. “Yes, of course, I am staying,” I said. Was going to mumble that I was pleased to meet Gayle Forman too, but before I could say anything, their little party had already resumed walking fast toward the room that I had just left.

So I went back to the room, trailing them. Gayle was very generous with her writing tips and she shared the stories behind her novels and their characters.

What I learned from her talk:

When you write a novel, Gayle said, you’re either a pantser or a plotter. If you are a pantser, you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” kind of writer. You are the opposite if you are a plotter, because you want to plan everything carefully.

“If I Stay” was inspired by true events. She lost a friend in a tragic accident which killed her friend’s whole family as well.

The characters in her novels are inspired by real people around her. Some of her characters, like Mia, also have aspects of herself in them.

When the talk was over, I asked her to sign my book. She not only signed it, but she asked me when I flew in, when my session was, if I had already done my round of school visits, etc. We chatted quite a bit. I really held up the line. But I took my time. I will only get to do this once, after all.

“Can I take a selfie with you?” I asked.
“Of course,” she smiled warmly.
And I took our pic and I showed it to her.
“Oh, let’s do another one. A crazy-faced one,” she laughs.
“Oh we must hug!” she said. “See you around!”

April 23, 2017

Memories of childhood and old toys

Did you also play with clay pot  and stove cook sets when you were a child, like me and my sister Gigi? We owned lots. And probably as many sets we broke were the times Mommy and Grandma Gregoria bought us these toys. The clay pot sets sold back in the days I was still a child were better made. They really looked like miniature clay pots and stoves.  The pot lids were always just the right size, and the stoves were well-shaped and not deformed, unlike the ones they make now–which are usually distorted and sloppily made. Sometimes, the lids are not even proportionate to the pots they cover. Am not sure if the paint they used back then were lead-free, but I loved the bright red color of the pots which were decorated with tiny white flowers and leaves. We cooked rice, adobo, sinigang, and pakbet so many times in those tiny pots–and we ate what we cooked! Thankfully, my sister and I survived to adulthood, and whatever toxins we ingested with the food we cooked in our toy pots had not seemed to have caused any permanent damage to our brains. The best part was Mommy always played with us. She patiently kindled the fire to light up the charcoal bricks. Gigi and I stirred the stew, added water, or lifted the lid when the sauce was boiling. No other game gave me hours of fun as much as our play kitchen did.  If we happened to play it in the province during our visits to our grandparents, Daddy even fashioned us tents out of blankets tied to chairs, under the generous shade of the ancient caimito tree. We laid out a straw mat where we can nap or lay down while reading our comics. Mommy even sat with us inside our tent! We arranged pillows inside our makeshift tent and pretended they were sofas.

In this album you will find the clay toy cookware I’ve collected over the years. It is perhaps an attempt to recapture my happy memories of childhood. One set was given to me as gift. I’ve used some of these cook sets  as props in my storytelling sessions.  In fact one of these sets was the one I used in my very first storytelling of “Araw sa Palengke” when we launched in in 2008. I got it from the Kamuning Market.


Karapat-Dapat ARTivity Workshop 2019

Last Saturday, some members of Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang INK) including myself helped facilitate an ARTivity Workshop based on the book “KarapatDapat” (CANVAS, 2018) for the children of ATD Communities at the Museo Pambata, to commemorate the 30th year of The Rights of the Child.

What is not in these pictures probably is what’s most essential, because it underscored what is usually neglected in most workshops–inclusivity. There was a kid, whom I will simply call E, whose eye-hand coordination was so bad that I had to prompt him hand-over-hand, especially during Robert’s doodling session. By the time we got to Guia’s paper-cutting session, I also realized that generally he was poor at following instructions, too. But he wanted so badly to finish something, so I cut, while he assembled the pieces. I was the only facilitator at my table. The 4- or 5- year-old girl (the littlest one in my group) beside E must have realized that E was going to monopolize my attention, so cleverly she went ahead, bringing her art materials, to sit beside A, a pretty girl who’s in her teens who’s with the homeschooling group, and asked help from her. At the end of the workshop both little kids looked very happy, and they even allowed me to take their pictures with their finished artworks. Essentially, for the workshop facilitator, inclusivity sometimes simply means just making sure that all attendees feel like they are as important as everybody else, and not neglected. Planning the activities ahead and preparing for contingencies can make a difference.

“Karapat Dapat: Child, know your rights!” 
Edited by Liza Flores and Isa Nazareno
Text and translation by May Tobias-Papa
Art by Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan
Published by CANVAS
Copyright 2018 CANVAS and and Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan



Grab a Bayong*, Will Travel.

Tickled pink and feeling honored. Our book “Araw sa Palengke (Day in the Market)” (Adarna House, 2008) with Isabel Roxas was included in “The World Through Picture Books: Librarians’ Favorite Books from their Country”, a publication of IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions), edited by Annie Everall OBE and Viviana Quinones. The Philippine list was put together by librarian-storyteller Melanie Abad.

Check out the pdf of the publication here.

* a Philippine shopping bag made of woven strips of palm leaves or plastic.

The Emergence of the Author Illustrator in the Digital Age

Consolidating my reflections from my two trips to Sharjah for the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival in 2017 and in April of this year. The first time I attended the SCRF, I went as an illustrator and I participated in a panel discussion entitled “Illustrated Text: Illustrated Stories and Its Status”.  This year, I went as a writer, to facilitate a workshop on picture book-making.

In my interactions with bookmakers from different countries, I was pleasantly surprised that we Filipino illustrators are not doing so badly as our Western counterparts — in terms of being recognized for our contributions to children’s books. We seem to have already started winning the battle. I had the chance to compare notes with international illustrators who were surprised to hear that publishers in a third-world country as ours have already diversified into digital platforms (I heard that UK publishers, for instance, are so conservative and skeptical of new technology) but more than that, because we have a very opinionated community of illustrators, haha, who are assertive and militant in pushing the cause both of visual literacy and the concept of authorship.

Several factors may have made the climate in the Philippines favorable for this development. In terms of experience, local illustrators get projects outsourced from companies like DC and Marvel in the US. Several local tech companies also provide BPO services both as hardware and software developers. In short, we are in sync with developments in the US book industry.

In terms of motivation, it helps that there is the National Children’s Book Award, that gives recognition to books and the synergistic relationship that produced it (the publisher, the writer, and the illustrator). Then, of course, there is our great ally, the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY), the multisectoral organization committed to the development of children’s literature in the Philippines which equally recognizes writers’ and illustrators’ contributions to books with its annual contests, the Salanga Prize for writers and the Alcala Prize for illustrators. Of course, credit also goes to Filipino children’s book publishers, the more enlightened of which (not all of them have seen the light yet, haha), give as much credit to their talented newbie illustrator as their award-winning, older and more experienced writer when they promote their books. The local children’s book industry is very small and tight-knit, and everybody knows everybody (especially because everybody is connected on Facebook!)–and we Filipino illustrators are blessed with the friendship of teachers, storytellers who make sure that our contributions do not go unrecognized. 

For too many children’s books, the illustrator is the unsung hero. While the writer basks in the adulation of fans–parents, children, and teachers alike–whenever a new book is launched or celebrated, often they forget to acknowledge their partner illustrator. And this is sad, considering that it is the critical relationship between text and illustration that makes a book a picture book.


In an ever-evolving digital world, there is, increasingly, a blurring of boundaries between disciplines, particularly in the creative and media industries. The constant emergence of new media and, consequently, new visual language, are continually providing the public with opportunities to read, not only books and magazines, but also film, internet content, apps, TV shows. To be able to respond to these critically, and understand their context and impact, the reader needs to develop visual literacy from a young age. The role of the Illustrator is thus critical in bringing this about.

 From being mere page decorator, the Illustrator is now challenged into taking a bigger role in defining the final product, by adding a second layer of meaning to the text. The role of the Illustrator in picture book-making is now increasingly evolved and redefined to be co-author of content.


Picture books and children’s book apps offer possibly the most significant co-authorship opportunities for the illustrator. Like the author, an illustrator’s personal beliefs inevitably find their way into the public space in the form of a book. Their work allows them to draw from their life experiences and circumstances, and weave their values, beliefs, and advocacies into their work. Thus, content is not anymore the sole territory of the writer. The conventional value placed on text-based literacy almost always excluded the illustrator from authorship. In a world that is becoming increasingly visual, however, the concept of authorship is being redefined.


An Illustrator may wear several hats, depending on the book project they’re working on. These roles may be classified into three basic job descriptions: problem-solvers, conceptualizers, and storytellers.

Illustrators are problem-solvers. 
To be a good illustrator requires doing a lot of homework for every project.

Like the writer they are teamed with, the illustrator is required to do research to be able to have a good grasp and a deep understanding of the topic and subject they are illustrating. Working with a writer, it is the Illustrator’s responsibility how to present visuals to complement and explain the text.

Illustrators are conceptualizers.
Sometimes, however, for certain kinds of picture books, words are too awkward, or sometimes, they can be too much. Good illustrators come up with brilliant imagery and put it to work where words may sometimes fail. A good illustrator can plant the seed of an idea in the mind of the reader.

Illustrators are storytellers.

A good illustrator tells a good story — visually. Devoid of words, a page with just pictures can tell a story and engage the reader.

Undobtedly, there is still work to be done.  It’s about time that the industry and the general public, our publishers and the writers start seeing illustators as co-creators, and not just hands that decorate and beautify pages. Because illustrators do so much more. The new emerging technology that is increasingly visual requires that we are not only text-literate but visually literate, too. For all the hard work and value illustrators put into every children’s book, it’s about time they  to get the recognition they deserve.

How to Publish a How-To Book/ A Guide for Artist-Authors

Yesterday, I was part of a panel discussion entitled “How to Publish a How-To Book: A Guide for Artist-Authors” at the Philippine Readers and Writers Festival, an annual event organized by NBS in cooperation with the local publishing industry. Was honored to share the panel with the young and talented self-taught fashion illustrator Pete Rich, author of “My Fashion Sketchpad” (Anvil Take Five, 2018).

Here were my tips:

Forget about quitting your job…for now. Take your head out of the clouds for the moment. Your dream to publish should not make you neglect or abandon your well-paying job, but instead make you fight to keep it. In the beginning, even if you sign up with a publisher, you will need to put out some money to make your dream book a reality. Authors earn from royalty fees and not salaries. Royalties are computed as percentages taken off from book sales. Royalty rates range, for most publishers, anywhere from 5 to 20%, and the rate is contingent on several factors, like, the roles you played in the book-making: Were you the writer as well as the illustrator? If you just provided the text, then you will have to split up the royalty with the illustrator. Are you a newbie or an established author? Needless to say, a royalty rate lower than 5% is exploitative.

To illustrate: to even make your first million, you’ll first have to sell 5 million pesos worth of books. Say your book costs P500. You will have to sell 10,000 copies to make 5 million pesos sales. And this will only be true if your royalty rate is 20%. A 20% rate is rarely offered to newbie authors. It is a rate reserved for established, tried-and-tested best-selling authors.

Authors may also earn by selling their manuscript outright for a one-time payment. If the book turns out to be a best-seller, though, the author may not have claims on future revenues the book and its subsequent reprints will generate.

So, hold on to that day job!

First, do some soul-searching. Set aside time to do a Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis of yourself. Be very honest with yourself.

What are you an expert at? Whose view is this? Will other people acknowledge your expertise on the topic? Will they agree with you? Will they be willing to write a testimonial book blurb for you if you ask them?

Whatever your topic choice will be,…
You should be passionate about it.
You have been doing it for a considerable time.
You do it very well, much better than everybody else.
You should be able to break down the topic into easy-to-follow lessons.

Look at your bookshelf. Your book collection should give you a good idea of what kind of books your target audience also collects. Why? Because we tend to want people who have the same tastes like us as our audience. Noting this, what kind of book would you like to publish? Have there been books published on your chosen topic? Were you satisfied with them? If it were up to you, how will you improve them? What will you change? If you were happy with them, can you be able to tell what works in the books you like? Note the scope of topic, manner of presentation, design of the book, number of pages, size of book, etc. 

Go to a bookstore and see what books are written about your topic. Is there a book similar to the book you had in mind? Are there too many books similar to the one you want to write? Will your book have a fighting chance against these books, in the mind of your target market?

 Take note also of the different publishers and the kinds of how-to books they publish. Which publishing company do you think is likely to carry your book?

Find a gap.

The gap you identify may be in the form of a book. Or the manner your chosen topic has so far been tackled in books currently in the market. Do you have anything new or revolutionary to offer? Do you think your idea is potentially marketable?

Having done your homework, now you can allow yourself to dream. What mood or tone will your book have—authoritative? friendly? humorous? inspiring?

Visualize your book. What do you see when you flip the pages in your mind?

Now, get to work, and write it down!
It’s like writing your thesis all over again. Decide on the scope and limitations of your topic. Narrow down your topic to a manageable size that can be covered in one book.

 Draft a course outline. This is a good exercise for determining how the book will flow through several pages or chapters. It will help you define and refine the scope and limits of your topic, as well as identify potential snags that can make the writing of your book problematic or altogether impossible.

To further convince yourself that your book idea is viable, try writing and illustrating some chapters. At this stage, you have the opportunity to test the mood and tone of your book, and to refine or revise the text or visuals accordingly. By taking time to do this, you make your work easier, by making your book idea less abstract and more concrete in your mind.

Make your pitch.

 Publishers’ submission guidelines are available online. Look up your target publisher and check out their site. Or simply type the keywords “submissions + publisher name”.

 Understand that every day, your target publisher may receive hundreds of unsolicited emails or letters from people like you who want to be published. Your submission will most likely end up in the slush pile without any guarantee of being considered, much less, read. This is the risk you will have to take. You will have to figure out ways on making your submission stand out.

When putting together your proposal, the publisher will have its basic requirements, and these include the table of contents and sample chapters. Just give a teaser for your book that will pique their interest.

 There are too many horror stories of publishers plagiarizing submissions. To protect your book idea from being stolen, submit only to reputable, established publishers, and even then, it will be good to exercise extra caution: do not include the most important chapters, or vital research documents, and with regard artworks, do not submit high resolution original artworks. Reserve these for when you get a call for a meeting to discuss the book project. Say that you will be happy to show more of your book idea if your can have an appointment with them. And never turn over your manuscript or artworks to them unless you sign a contract. Make sure you get a notarized copy of this contract.

Publishers do not like it when you make simultaneous submissions. But in case you cannot avoid doing this because of the timeliness of the topic, mention this in the cover letter accompanying your submission.

Self-publish. And, in case your book idea never gets published by mainstream press, it is not the end of the world. There is always the option to self-publish, if you really believe in your book.

Consider making your content avalilable online. You can feature sample pages on your personal website or sites like Pinterest, and offer the complete content as PDF or e-book for a subscription fee. 

There are several excellent eBook self-publishing platforms online: CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, Lulu, Google Play, etc.

There are also options for desktop publishing, too. Central Books publishes books on demand. They offer design and layout services apart from printing and securing ISBN for your book.

 You can promote your book online and send to buyers through couriers. Consider non-traditonal venues for selling like the Komikon and Komiket events, as well as coffee shops, galleries, art and novelty shops.

Be patient, and creative. There are several things you can do while waiting for a big publisher to pick up your book idea, and most of them as fulfilling as being actually published. Make good use of social media like Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook Pages, and Twitter to promote your work. Publishers like play it safe and check out pages with huge followings, and they like to buy the rights to content that is trending. Your social media followers are a captive audience for your book, and this opportunity is not lost on the publisher.

Good luck on your book!

I have a dream job. and it really all started with a dream.

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