When it comes to publishing a children’s book, most publishers request just the text of your story. If they decide they want to work with you, they pair you up with an illustrator. Since my book involves a Mass, it was important to me that whoever illustrated my book understood the details of what that looks like. The priest’s vestments look a certain way. There’s a tabernacle behind the altar. The architecture of the church should be ornate. I also wanted the illustrator to be as invested in the project as I was.

For this reason, I submitted Candle’s Great Feast only to Catholic publishers. Some rejections I received within days, informing me that while they liked my story, they receive up to 3,000 proposals a week and only publish 3-5 a year. Some rejections were more generic, stating that the story was simply not what they were looking for.

I’ve never been a proponent of self-publishing. Until taking the journey myself, I saw it as the route people take when they can’t get a publisher—the rejects, the impatient, or the not-as-good writers.

Well, here I am. Thanks for keeping me humble, Jesus.

I’ve since learned that self-publishing is for a lot of other people too: those with projects for a small audience, those who feel they have a platform to market well enough on their own (and thus keep more royalties), and in my case, those who want complete control over their creative process.

I was surprised to find that I wasn’t that disappointed when the rejections came. I was realizing that I had a particular style in mind for the little candle, especially once I started perusing the Catholic Illustrator’s Guild website. There I found an image of Mary holding Jesus. Everything about them—their facial expressions, postures, colors they wore—radiated joy. Imagining my book in that style refreshed my love for the story. I felt that whoever was behind that artwork was not only talented but joyful, and joy was something I was lacking amidst the endless research and rejections.

I bookmarked the website and scrolled to that image now and then until I finally decided to send the artist an email. To my dismay, the website was suddenly under construction, and the image and contact information for the artist were gone.

At first I thought this might be God closing a door, telling me I should be looking elsewhere. I had no idea what I was doing anyway. Was I pursuing self-publishing? Was I even looking for an illustrator? Or should I keep submitting to publishers? I knew self-publishing and hiring an illustrator would cost money, and once I started investing, there was no backing down. Once I had my own illustrations finished, I likely would need to self-publish. It wasn’t the route I wanted in my ideal world, but that image was really, really great.

I scrolled to the bottom of the Catholic Illustrator’s Guild website and sent an email to the generic email you often find at the bottom of websites—the one I doubt anyone checks. I sent an email that went something like this: “Yeah hey, so the other day I was on this site and saw this awesome artwork of Mary holding Jesus. It’s very joyful. I know that describes half the artwork on this site, but I’d like to contact the artist. Please help. Thanks.”

Someone replied the next day with the name. Virginia de la Lastra.

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