Mary Grand Pre’

So, Mary Grand Pre’ (the illustrator for the American version of the Harry Potter books) is in town! Well, she’s not in MY town…she’s in Cedar Rapids. For the next three months, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art will be hosting an exhibit entitled Mary Grand Pre’: Harry Potter and Beyond. There’s a gallery walk today from 1:00 until 2:00, where she’ll talk about some of the pieces in the exhibit and then she’ll sign books after that.

Last night a friend of mine in Cedar Rapids hosted a dinner for her, people from the museum, and a bunch of children’s writers and illustrators from around the area. She even invited my younger son, who has writing and illustration interests himself. Here he is with Mary:

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She was very interesting…and like just about everyone else I know in children’s publishing, also very sweet! So now when I do school visits and someone asks me if I know J.K. Rowling, I can say, “No, but I HAVE met Mary Grand Pre’!” (I wonder how often people ask HER if she’s ever met J.K. Rowling???)

She said she turned down the assignment (for the first Harry Potter cover) when it was first offered to her. She was in the middle of another project and just didn’t think she had time. But the art director really wanted her…he sent her the manuscript, which she really liked, and then he was “very persuasive,” so she eventually took it. But back then she had no clue how big Harry Potter was going to be.

Would you believe she doesn’t get royalties? (She doesn’t just do covers…there are spot illustrations at the beginning of every chapter.) And you know that trademarked lettering for the words Harry Potter? That was hers! Nobody told her to do it like that or to make the title part of the illustration like she did…she just did it on her own. And now that’s the Harry Potter label. Warner Bros. bought it…it’s on all the toys and other merchandising. She created it, but she never saw a penny for it. Can you imagine?

I do some work-for-hire (it’s part of how I’m able to actually make a living as a children’s book author)…I pick and choose what I do very carefully. i.e. NONE of this is going to be really huge some day, so I’m not losing out on potential income…I see it as “a job.” (Plus there usually isn’t room for negotiation on some of these things) But maybe that’s what Mary thought when she signed that first contract? I guess that’s why it’s nice to have an agent, too…there WAS a project I wanted to do about a year ago that I was hoping she could negotiate a decent deal out of. But she couldn’t…and even though I loved the project, turning it down was the right thing to do because it was the kind of thing that COULD have gotten big…and if it did, I would’ve been left with nothing but my original fee (which wasn’t very much).

Anyway…aside from all the business stuff (which, like I said, was VERY interesting), she’s still just a regular person with a family and a life, just like the rest of us. And she’s very gracious, too…she actually made a point of engaging my son in conversation. Children’s book people really are some of the best people you’ll ever meet!

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