Behind the Scenes: Layla and The Bots

Vicky Fang with Scholastic editor Rachel Matson

As I approach the book birthday of Layla and the Bots: Happy Paws, I want to take a moment to say thank you to many of the awesome people that helped make my debut book happen! I’ll share a peek at how this particular book came to life, and at some of the amazing people behind it. (I am SURE that I will miss many people in this post, so this will be a sliver of what happens from my point of view as the author!) Here goes…

The Idea

The first tangible evidence I have of the idea for Layla and the Bots is a small snippet that I wrote in November 2017. In a document called “Random Starters”, I typed one line: “Meet Beep, Boop, and Bop.” At the time, it was meant to be a picture book about three collaborative robots, but it never came to life.

At some point in early 2018, I asked my agent (the brilliant Elizabeth Bennett at Transatlantic Agency), what she thought I should write next. She pointed me to the Scholastic Branches series and suggested I try an early chapter book. I gathered some of the Branches books, studied them, and then it clicked! The idea for Layla and the Bots took hold.

The Draft

Surprisingly, this story flew out of me quickly. I knew the characters already. My years as a product designer informed the STEM concepts I wanted to include. And the early illustrated chapter book format gave me the room to tell the story I wanted to tell. Over the course of the month of July, I completed a draft and several revisions of Layla and the Bots.

My critique partners loved it, Elizabeth loved it, and after refining some more, we went on exclusive submission to the Scholastic Branches team in August 2018.

And then, we waited.

Several months later… Katie Carella and Rachel Matson made an offer on the first four books of the Layla and the Bots series!

Several months later… (in April 2019)… it was announced!

Making the Book

There is so much that goes into this part of the process and so many people involved that I couldn’t possibly cover. But in terms of my experience directly, I had the honor of working with the most amazing team!

It just so happened that in mid-2019, I decided to take a break from Google to spend more time with my family and my writing. (Spoiler: I never went back.) I jumped on the chance to travel and flew to New York.

I got to meet my brilliant editors, Rachel Matson and Katie Carella. Their guidance has taught me so much! From plot and story arc, to line edits, to transitions, they are so good what they do – which is clear from the quality of the Scholastic Branches and Acorn lines.

Vicky Fang with Scholastic editors Katie Carella and Rachel Matson

I got to take an awesome selfie.

Vicky at the Scholastic offices

And I got to see illustrator Christine Nishiyama‘s sketches and book designer Maria Mercado’s early layout of the first Layla and the Bots book. Their work is fantastic (I can’t wait for the world to see the final product!) and I was so thrilled to see my book as a whole for the first time!

Early sketches and layout of Layla and the Bots, by Christine Nishiyama and Maria Mercado

We continued through revisions and reviews, until we finally finished Book One. As you can see, it took an amazing and talented team and more to make this book happen.

Launching the Book

So, here I am in May 2020, just a few days before my launch, in the midst of sheltering in place due to a global pandemic. Go figure.

Luckily, the kidlit community and the team at Scholastic are amazing, and both have helped me feel the love online.

At Scholastic, my wonderful publicist and marketer and school event organizers have been working hard to get the word out. Sometimes, I’ll suggest ideas and they’ll find ways to support (for example, the Layla STEAM activity blog post) and more often, they’ll have ideas and I’ll find ways to support (for example, the Scholastic Spring 2020 Online Preview video).

My picture book debut launch group, the Soaring 20’s, has been hugely supportive and provided tons of advice about what to expect, how to cope, and ways to be proactive about marketing. (I’m part of this group for picture book, Invent-a-Pet, but as a debut group, their help has been extremely helpful for me with Layla and the Bots as well!)

My early reader launch group, the New Readers Rock 2020, has helped me connect to other authors in the early reader category, many of whom have published before and have helped me with their experience and support.

And of course, my dear critique partners, Christine Evans and Faith Kazmi, continue to be my cheerleaders, my advisors, and my friends.

Vicky Fang, Christine Evans, Faith Kazmi

The Feels

I’m so excited for Book One to launch! But I’m trying to set my expectations based on the experience and advice of other authors, who have suggested that the launch year can be stressful and emotionally draining. I’m also trying to do the hard work to make the entire series a success. I’ve just finished a draft of Book Four, Making Waves! And of course, I’m writing more books.

With that, I’m wishing Layla and the Bots a wonderful journey into the world… with a huge thank you to all of the amazing people who have helped make it happen… and I look forward to sharing more of the series with the next books!


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