Creating the main characters for children’s books

Bringing the main character for a chapter book to life.

When I illustrate books for other authors it is a collaborative process. I want the author to love the characters I create for them as much as I do. Many of my clients send me photos of people they know that they would like the characters to resemble. I say resemble because I don’t create portraits for each page. That would require many photos from many angles of each character and take much too much time to get them just right.

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This is the picture I was given for the young Little D for the latest book I illustrated.Yes, the image was this blurry and very small. From this image I had to create the main character.

Sketches for book

It took many rounds of sketches until I finally found the right look for Little D that I was happy with and the client loved.

On the next blog post, I will show you how the cover is planned and put together to print.

I illustrate picture books and chapter books for publishers and self-publishing authors. If you would like to talk about illustrating your picture book or chapter book use the form below to contact me.

Becoming a chapter book

In my last post titled “The Birth of a Chapter Book”, I talked about the process of breaking down the pages to make sure your story will fit on the number of pages available and to make sure the illustrations are distributed throughout the book.

When I started with the author, Nell Jones, all the illustrations ended up in the first 10 pages. After that, the illustrations popped up every 8-9 full pages of text. Some early chapter books use a small black and white illustration at every chapter heading, but Nell wanted to have full-page illustrations in black and white every few pages.Little Dreamer storyboard

The text had to break at the right places so the illustrations would make sense. I had to figure out roughly how many words would fit on a page and where the page breaks would come. This meant that some of the author’s favorite scenes had to be eliminated and other illustrations had to be added later on in the story so everything would even out.

images of characters

The images the author sent to use for inspiration for the characters.

Before I started the pencils for each spread, the author sent me photos of what she wanted the main characters to look like. My characters didn’t have to be exactly the same, but at least a resemblance to the photos.  In some cases the photos were small and blurry, so I did my best.

My next blog post on this subject will show how the actual illustrations developed from rough pencils to finished.

 

 

 

 

Contact me using the form below if you want to talk about illustrating your book.

The birth of a chapter book.

I am very lucky to be working as the illustrator with children’s book author Nell Jones on a new chapter book Called Little Dreamer. It will be the first book in the Institute of Higher Fun and Learning Series. Many authors I work with prefer to keep their covers a secret until publication date. When that is the case,  I can’t share anything I am working on.

Nell has agreed with me that the sooner friends and potentials customers can become a part of the process the better. Nell’s book will not be published for several months, but we are going to share the process.

You will be able to see the step-by-step process involved in creating a children’s book. Below to the left is the finished cover. To the right is the rough pencil created for the cover

LILD small color cover

little pencil cover

Nell and I have worked together to develop the characters and the scenes. Nell even sent me photos of some people she knew that looked liked her characters. Nell lives in Ogalala, Nebraska and I live in St. Louis Missouri, so this means a lot of emails and phone calls back and forth.

We have been working together since early May. A lot of details about the breakdown of pages and how many illustrations were needed had to be settled before I even started on the rough pencils. Below is an early sample of the method we used to break down what pages would be text and what pages would be illustrations.

LILD sample breakdown

In future blogs, I will continue with our step-by-step creative process of illustrating a children’s book.

Is your your self-published children’s book doomed for failure?

Some self-published children’s books look unprofessional because of the poor quality of the illustrations. It won’t matter that your book is well written, has great characters, and a terrific plot. Customers will only see the cover. All your hard work will be judged not worthy in a few seconds.

Self-published children’s books need professional illustrations. I encourage you to hire a professional illustrator/designer to present your book in the very best possible light. Hiring a professional will give your book an advantage over books illustrated by amateurs. So give your book a fighting chance and find a pro to do the job. It is important for self-publishing authors to choose their illustrator carefully. After all, with a picture book, the illustrator is telling one-half of your story. The illustration on the cover and the cover design will either encourage or discourage customers to pick up and buy your book. The inside illustrations will keep a child’s attention on the story and please the reader of the book.

A beautifully illustrated cover will add credibility to your picture book. Reviewers will be more likely to give it their time. Parents and grandparents will pick your book up off the shelf (or the Amazon page) and want to buy it.

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 1.36.30 PMIf you are self-publishing a picture book you might wonder why children’s books need illustrations. Most authors really don’t want to spend the extra money to hire a professional illustrator. There is one very popular children’s book on the market now called “The Book With No Pictures” by B.J. Novak. It doesn’t use pictures but it does rely on cleverly designed typography to keep kids interested.  The words on the page graphically whisper and scream silly words. A professional book designer was used for the book.

Other than that one book, I can’t think of any other children’s book without pictures. Chapter books have only a few illustrations. The cover, of course, and maybe at each chapter heading. The illustrations are there to just add a touch of interest and break up large areas of text. Lately, there is a movement to add more illustrations to newer chapter books. Some old favorites are being republished with more illustrations. Kids love them.

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Examples of chapter books

Picture books are entirely different. The illustrations in picture books play a major role. The illustrations provide visual clues that are important to understanding the story. On each page, the illustrations act together with only a few carefully chosen words to create a complete story that is understood by children and enjoyed by parents.

Don’t doom your picture book to failure. Contact a professional children’s book illustrator to present your book in the most desirable way.

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Examples of picture books

There are many places to find professional illustrators. Try these websites: The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s website (SCBWI), The Children’s Book ArtistsChildrens illustrators, and Upwork.

I am listed on the SCBWI’s website (Dayne Sislen). I also have a website portfolio: http://DayneSislen.com

Contact me using the form below. I am happy to talk to you about your book. I am a professional children’s book illustrator and book designer with experience with picture books and chapter books. I promise not to share or abuse your contact information.

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A few of the covers I have illustrated and designed.

How to find the perfect illustrator for your self-published children’s book.

Don't Be a Pig in a Panic!

Many children’s book illustrators are resistant to work with self-publishing authors.

As a professional illustrator, I get emails from self-publishing authors all the time. They love my illustrations and want me to illustrate their book. They want me to quote a price by return email. But they don’t tell me anything about their book. Is it a picture book, chapter book or middle grade? How many illustrated pages they need or how many characters? Occasionally an author will say I don’t need a big fancy book, they only want a small book. Don’t spend much time on it, I don’t have much money. How much will that be?  These questions put me in an awkward position. I don’t have enough information to give them a price or decide if I want to illustrate their book.

Mouse artists working together

Some authors want me to just “sketch-up” something fast. “Don’t spend any time.” But they want the main character to look like their niece at four years old wearing the dress they gave her for her birthday. The little boy character to look like the boy on that program on TV (they can’t remember the name of) only change his hair to blond. The house in the background should look just like their Aunt Ethel’s house, they don’t have a picture, but it has shutters. AND of course, the dog should look like their deceased dog Rover (they do have many pictures).  –Yes, people have asked me to do all of these things. None of this is fast or easy for me at all.

I can already tell some authors will take a lot of my time and will not value my experience or expertise. Do I give them a ballpark figure that covers all kinds of books and situations, or do I probe for more details? Probing takes my time away from other jobs.

Some hints about how to find and work with an illustrator:

• Do your research, search Google, Yahoo or Bing for  “children’s book illustrators.” Read their websites and blogs. Go to organization websites for illustrators such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators www. SCBWI.org or ChildrensIllustrators.com

• Here is a link to another post of mine that shows where to find illustrators.

• When you find an illustrator you want to work with be nice when you contact them. Nice goes a long way.

• When contacting the illustrator to get pricing, give all the details they will need to decide how long your book will take to illustrate. What kind of book for children is it? What age child is the book for. Give them an idea of the length of the book,  how many characters, how detailed do you want the backgrounds, do you want spreads or single pages, cover and back cover. Will the illustrator also be designing and digitally assembling the book for printing?

I usually respond by telling them:

Most picture books are 32-pages with approx 14 spreads and one or two single pages illustrated. They also will need a cover, back cover and a title page. If the author also needs the cover and interior pages designed with the text in place that requires more time and costs more. I highly suggest adding and packaging the text be done by a professional graphic designer or an illustrator who specializes in design. Even if your book is well illustrated and well-written, poor design can undermine the entire look and quality of the book.

If it’s a chapter book you will need a color cover, back cover and at least one illustration (color or black and white) per chapter.

Middle-grade books have a color cover and several or no black and white inside illustrations.

I also absolutely positively need to read your manuscript before I decide to illustrate your book and give you a firm price.  I want to know if my style fits the story? Is there enough action in the book to illustrate? Has the author done their homework in preparing the manuscript? Are the illustrator notes too confining?

I fully immerse myself in the current book I am illustrating. My illustrations will make up one-half of the content of the book and I take this responsibility very seriously. A picture book takes me 4 to 8 months to illustrate depending on how complicated the book is and how organized the author is.

This is a business for me, it is a full-time job.  Be sure to set aside time and enough money in your budget to do your book justice. Don’t ask a professional illustrator to spend 4 to 8 months illustrating your book for fun or exposure. Failure to respect an illustrator’s time, and expecting illustration work for nearly free is the reason most professional illustrators will not work with self-publishing authors.

 

Shark Dentists and Other Stories by Vincent Immordino Illustrated by Dayne Sislen

Remember, in the marketplace (bookstore or Amazon), your book will first be judged by its cover.  Do you want your book judged solely by amateurish illustrations and an awkward cover design?

Why am I willing to work with self-publishing authors?

Occasionally I find an author who values my time, talent and expertise. When I read their manuscript I can tell it has been carefully edited for content and as well as grammar. They belong to an experienced SCBWI critique group or they have used a professional children’s book editor. They have taken the time to learn about writing for children and their manuscript clearly shows it. The language and word count are perfect for the age group and type of book which they are writing.

I think children’s book authors are some of the most talented and clever people on earth. I enjoy getting to know them during the months we work together on their book. Contact me below if you want to talk to me about your children’s book.

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I illustrated the picture book spread shown above this blog for the book “Don’t Be a Pig in a Panic!” written by Leila Leidke.

 

Visit my website to see if I’m the right illustrator to bring your picture book or chapter book to life.

What Print on Demand service is best for your self-published picture book?

My SCBWI Banner 2017Left

Your manuscript is finished. You’ve had it critiqued and beta read and proofread several times. Now, what? It can take months or sometimes a year to hear back from traditional publishers or agents. Maybe, you don’t want to wait that long or go through the lengthy process.

So you’ve decided to go the self-publishing route.  There are so many choices, you don’t know where to turn. The information you find online is sometimes misleading. Every site seems to have an agenda, pushing you towards their product.

I hope to make your selection process easier with some comparisons and facts. I have printed books with three of the major Print on Demand (POD) services. I know which ones offer what you need and which ones are expensive. It is very hard to compare services because each service offers something different. These prices are based on printing an 8″ x 10″**- 32-page full-color picture book. The profit is based on using the retail price of $9.99 for the soft cover book.

(Note: It was just announced 8/28/18 that CreateSpace will not be printing books. Amazon’s KDP Print will be taking over. All books now printed with CreateSpace can be transferred over to KDP). I will update this chart soon.

POD chart

All pricing is based on 8’ x 10” full-color 32 page picture books. Profit is based on selling the softcover at $9.99 retail. Purchase price is based on 50 quantity before shipping and tax is added.

**Sizing on Lulu is 8.5” x 8.5” because  8” x 10” is not available.

* Bookstores will not usually stock books unless they are returnable, but they may special order a book. IngramSpark gives you a choice.

***The CreateSpace fee $39 is for the first year ProPlan which gives you better royalties as shown on the chart.

***The IngramSpark $49 set-up fee is credited back to you when you order 50 books.

**** IngramSpark has several choices for discount rate. 40% was used on this chart. Bookstores expect 40% to 50%. You can use 30% if you are not concerned about bookstore sales. 50% with returns if you want bookstores to stock your books.

I prefer working with IngramSpark. I find their quality is better and I love their hardcover books. But, I must point out, they are set-up to work with professional book designers. They are not as easy to use when you are unfamiliar with file types and are trying to use Microsoft Word to compose your book. They prefer files created in Adobe InDesign and converted to correctly sized and formatted PDFs.

CreateSpace is easier to work with, but their printing quality is spotty. Lulu is expensive unless you only sell your books on their website. Compare prices and quality.

I hope I have helped you make up your mind. I am a children’s book illustrator and designer, contact me if you need your book illustrated and/or formatted for print on demand. (I will not share or abuse your contact information)

The Benefits of Picture Books for Building Reading Skills

reading time

This blog is from an EBSCO Post. I thought it was valuable reading for those with young children or teaching young children.

For young readers, picture books are an important part of learning how to read. Usually, this type of format marks the first step in introducing a child to reading and is often the start of language development for many children. Libraries that include picture books to promote literacy to young readers are boosting beginner-level vocabulary skills, introducing sentence structure and developing story analysis. 

Here is the link to read more of this blog about The Benefits of Picture Books for Building Reading Skills.

If you have an idea for a picture book and want to know more about finding an illustrator and getting your book published, contact me. I have been illustrating picture books for ten years. I love to talk to authors about their picture books.

How can you develop your child’s speech, language and communication skills?  — Special Educational Needs Resources Blog

Here is another blog too good to pass up, so I am sharing it with you.

Speech, language and communication are important skills for children to develop. These skills help children to form friendships, engage in learning and develop their reading and writing abilities. But how can you help children to develop them? And what do you do if they are still struggling? Here are my Top Tips: Read, Read, Read– […]

via How can you develop your child’s speech, language and communication skills?  — Special Educational Needs Resources Blog

Self-publishing a children’s book?

Maybe you have Checked out all the newly published picture books in the bookstore and library and know you can do a better job. Maybe you have already written a book you think might appeal to children. Maybe you have children the right age and know exactly what they want. You want to write your own picture book and have it published.

What’s your next step? Should you try traditional publishing with one of the big 5 publishing houses? A smaller publishing house? A vanity press? Or should you consider Print on Demand (POD) and sell through Amazon and/or Barnes and Nobel online and independent bookstores? That’s a lot of decisions before you even get started.

Traditional Publishing

The Big Five

Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster are the publishers with the big names and big marketing budgets. You might think you want to start with them. Why not start at the top?  Most of them require you have a literary agent representing you. Finding a literary agent may be harder than finding a publisher. Many agents don’t want to sign up a children’s book author unless they have published one or two books or have a deal in the works.

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Traditional Smaller Publishers

I’m not going to list all the smaller publishers because there are so many of them. Many of them accept unsolicited manuscripts without agents. But, be warned, they get a LOT of submissions. They have “slush” piles of unread manuscripts and get around to reading them when they have time. There are many legitimate smaller publishing houses that publish wonderful children’s books. The best way to get a pre-screened list of these publishers is to join SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). The SCBWI provides an online sourcebook of valuable hints and a verified list of publishers and agents to their members called “THE BOOK”.

Vanity Publishers

There are also many “vanity” publishing houses that prey on unsuspecting authors. They claim to be traditional publishers, they may have editors on staff to “help” get your book in shape. They will have marketing services and staff illustrators available for you to use. The difference is “vanity” publishers want you, the author to pay for all their services. That’s a red flag, traditional publishers pay you, not the other way around. “Vanity” publishers never call themselves “vanity” presses. They mascarade as traditional publishers and may change their names frequently when word gets around about how they are ripping off authors. Visit Writer Beware to find out about the bad players. Most of these are overpriced and the “packages may include services you don’t need or want. As long as you know exactly what you are getting into and what you are paying for they may be fine for you. Most of the services they offer can be found better and for less money elsewhere.

Self-Publishing

You can self-publish your book by forming your own publishing company (easy to do) hiring your own editor, illustrator and book designer to prepare your book, then use a printer who you pay to print your books. You will then take delivery of 1000 or so books and sell them yourself online or by visiting bookstores to see if they will carry your book.

POD (Print On Demand)

You can also self-publish your book by using an online publisher who doesn’t print 1000 or more books upfront. POD publishers only print books when they are ordered. So you don’t have to warehouse a stack of books in your garage or basement. CreateSpace owned by Amazon and IngramSpark owned by Ingram book distributors are the big players. There are other POD publishers such as Blurb, Diggypod, Lulu, and more.

CreateSpace is the biggest player. Since it is owned by Amazon, listing on Amazon is automatic. There is no fee upfront. You can check to see how much you will make per book on their site. You will make less per book than having 1000 books printed ahead with a regular printer, but you don’t have to store, pack, ship or take care of fulfillment. Amazon takes care of everything and you get paid per book. CreateSpace only prints soft cover books. It will be hard to find independent bookstores who are willing to stock your books because they HATE Amazon and don’t want to have anything to do with them. You will make slightly more selling on Amazon and less selling anywhere else.

IngramSpark Another big player in POD. Ingram is part of the extensive Ingram Group Book Distributors. When you print with them you can take advantage of their network that supplies books to independent books stores, Barnes & Nobel, and libraries. You can also automatically sell your books on Amazon because IngramSpark has an agreement with Amazon. Ingram’s quality is a bit better and a lot more consistent than CreateSpace and they print very nice full-color hardcover books in addition to soft cover. Ingram may charge a small set-up fee for each title. They sometimes run specials where you get this small fee credited when you buy a certain amount of books. You will make more selling to bookstores and libraries with IngramSpark, but a little less selling on Amazon. I have used both CreateSpace and IngramSpark, there are pluses and minuses for both.

Blurb, Lulu, “Diggypod, and more

You will need to visit each of these websites to learn all the details. They tend to cost a little more than CreateSpace and IngramSpark.

Other things to consider

I’ve given you a lot of options for printing/publishing. You will also need to have your manuscript edited by an experienced person familiar with children’s books. I’m not talking about proofreading, but an editor familiar with children’s books to help with development, flow, consistency and story arc as well as basic grammar. You should let people who you respect who are not relatives or friends read your manuscript. If this is a children’s book, you should read this book to children of the appropriate age out loud to see how they respond (not your own children).

You will also need an illustrator.

I can’t stress this enough, the cover of your book will make or break its success. It’s the only thing customers will have to judge the book. Online, it’s just the cover image with a little bit of sell copy. In bookstores, you must have a great cover to compete with all the traditionally published books. Your writing will be pre-judged by the cover you choose. Here is a link to an article about the importance of great book covers.

MY_BookCovers

A few of the covers I have illustrated and designed.

Of course, if you are publishing a children’s book you will also need interior illustrations. It pays to hire an experienced children’s book illustrator to give your book what it needs to fascinate children and encourage their parents to buy. A professional illustrator knows how to create unique characters and backgrounds that take your story to another level.  They will not just illustrate your words but create appropriate page breaks and exciting perspectives. Finding an illustrator who also designs books and prepares the digital files for your printer of choice is a big plus. It will save you an extra step. Having the same experienced person doing the illustrations and incorporating the text creates the most creative books. You can go to the SCBWI website to view the portfolios of professional children’s book illustrators. You can search by region, name, style or media.

Below is a screen capture of my page on the SCBWI website:

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I am a professional illustrator and book designer. I would love to talk to you about your plans for self-publishing.

Please fill in the form below and I will contact you ASAP.

 

 

Building A Writing Community: Children Reading, Sharing And Talking About Writing — Literacy For Pleasure

This is a blog post from the Literacy for Pleasure site that I wanted to share with everyone.

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As part of our ongoing work on building a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy, we have been reflecting on the third principle of our Writing For Pleasure manifesto: Reading, Sharing And Talking About Writing (3) Children are given regular opportunities to share and discuss with others (including teachers) their own and others’ writing in order to give and receive constructive […]

via Building A Writing Community: Children Reading, Sharing And Talking About Writing — Literacy For Pleasure

How important is a book cover?

Your picture book cover will either make or break your book sales.

You’ve spent many months if not years working on your book. Rewriting it over and over until every word is perfect. But customers will not buy your perfect book if they do not find the cover appealing. I can’t stress how important a book cover is to sales and promotion of a book.

Most books are purchased in bookstores and online. The only way a customer can choose a book is by looking at the cover and reading the limited text on the back cover. When you promote your book, what will customers see first? That’s right, it’s the cover. A book cover is not the place to save money. Using an unskilled illustrator or designer on the cover will doom your book no matter how skillfully it is written.

Worst covers4-18

  1. Customers will not purchase a book online with a bad or unreadable book cover.
  2.  Reviewers will not consent to review a book with a bad book cover.
  3.  Bookstores will not take you seriously. Forget about being asked to do a book signing.
  4.  Libraries will not want your book on their shelves.
  5.  You will be at a disadvantage when attending author events.
  6.  Magazine editors will say no to featuring your book on their pages.
  7.  You will not even have success by hiring a publicist. Even they can’t overcome the problem of a bad book cover.

What is the difference?

  1. Professional book covers are easier to read at a reduced size because the title is designed by a graphic designer.
  2. They look professional because they are designed by someone who is trained to work with illustration and text.
  3. Magazines and newspapers love to review them and show them on their pages.
  4.  Customers in bookstores snatch them up.
  5.  Reviewers are can’t wait to review them.
  6.  Amazon shoppers are attracted to them and pop them into their shopping cart.
  7.  Marketing these professionally designed and illustrated books is easier because the cover sells the book.

Which type of cover do you want for your book?

When I illustrate a picture book, I usually illustrate and design the complete book. Below are a few of the picture book covers I have designed for self-publishing authors.

 

If you want to talk about your picture book contact me below:

 

 

 

Children’s Book Week is Coming!

Children’s Book Week celebration is ready to kick off. From April 30 to May 6, bookstores, libraries, and schools across the country will take part in a busy week-long event, as they commemorate children’s books and the joy of reading.

What can you do? Read to your children and take them to local
Children’s Book Week Events. Check what is available in your area.

Mark your calendar! The St. Louis County Public library will be celebrating Children’s Book Week during April 30-May 6. Activities include a visit from Curious George, book-inspired crafts & more! Get the full schedule of events here:http://ow.ly/V3P330j6zC1

Reading aloud is the best advertisement because it works. It allows a child to sample the delights of reading and conditions him to believe that reading is a pleasureful experience, not a painful or boring one.”—Jim Trelease

Don’t forget to read the picture books in all the character voices. When I was a kid, that’s what I liked the best. Make every book special for your children.


If you are thinking about writing your own picture book for children and will be needing illustrations, contact me. I love to talk pictures books with self-publishing authors.

Spring is a time of new beginnings.

Spring is a time of rebirth and celebration. Easter celebrates the resurrection or rebirth of Jesus Christ and Passover celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. The ancients celebrated the return of the sun after a long dark winter.

What does spring mean to our children? Spring means a time of growth and new beginnings. Spring means more daylight hours to play in the sun. Spring and religious holidays can also mean a time to reconnect with family. Getting together with cousins and seeing grandparents again. Family connections are important to children. Children thrive on the feeling of belonging.

Spring growing illo

When children receive love and support in a warm family environment early on, they are better able to take on the childhood tasks of exploring their world and learning new skills. They learn from their family environment how to connect and interact with other people and build healthy relationships. These experiences help them establish more positive peer friendships and teaches them how to interact with other adults.

Reading together is the perfect way to form close bonds with young children. A time should be set apart for snuggling and reading out loud. Even children that have learned to read on their own enjoy being read to during story time with their family.

Have you written a special story for your children or grandchildren and have thought about turning it into a picture book? I love to talk to children’s book writers about the different paths to publishing. Traditional publishing to self-publishing there are a lot of choices to make and a lot of decisions. Fill in the form below with your questions.