The Surprisingly Complex Principles of a Successful Picture Book

This is a re-blog of a wonderful post from Chronicle Books Blog. It explains some of the important things to remember when writing and illustrating children’s books.

If you are interested in Picture book writing and illustration, it will be worth your time to visit their site to read the whole blog post.

The illustration below was created by Silas Neal for “Over and Under the Snow” written by Kate Messner .

Chronicle Books Blog Image

Contact me to talk about your story idea. I’d love to illustrate your story and design your book. My illustrations can bring it to life on the page. Dayne Sislen, Children’s book and product illustrator and designer.


Is children’s book illustrating a real job?

When people I meet asked me what I do and I tell them I’m a children’s book illustrator, there is usually a brief pause. Then they ask, “Is that a real job or just a hobby?” Most people don’t know that artists actually illustrate children’s books as their full-time job.”


Every week I get email requests to illustrate children’s picture books by authors or very small publishers who offer to pay me far below minimum wage to illustrate their books. Because my job is fun to do and I enjoy it, they think it’s not a real job and I don’t need to be paid a fair wage. They know they can’t draw well and it would take them forever. But, they think because I do draw well I should be able to quickly knock out a complete 32-page picture book of full-color illustration in a few hours. They think I should illustrate their book for pennies “for the great exposure” it will give me.

Believe me, exposure doesn’t pay the studio rent or utilities. It doesn’t pay for computers, computer software, art supplies, children’s book conferences to keep my skills up-to-date. It doesn’t pay for my website and blog or the cost of updating my portfolio.


They don’t realize I actually have to read their story several times to fully understand the characters and the story. That I must decide what words will be on each page to build excitement and discovery with each page turn. That I then make a rough dummy book with the text breakdown on each spread and decide what illustration will help enhance the excitement on each page. It’s not enough to simply illustrate the words on the page, I must add another dimension of interest and a back story. The pictures in a picture book tell half the story.

Then I must give considerable thought and drawing practice to each character so I can visualize and draw them from all sides and angles before I start. The traits must be unique for each character. I research period or regional clothes and backgrounds so the book is accurate. I also research the particular genre of the book so the cover of their book will be appropriate but also stand out from others on the shelf. All of this is done before I even start illustrating the story.

At this stage, I then make rough sketches for each page for the author or art director to see to make sure they approve of the direction I am going.


I then proceed to finished pencils with all details and do a few color trials. When everyone is happy with these pencils, I finally get to start the actual illustrations. Most 32-page picture books have approximately 14 spreads and two single pages of illustrations.

When all the illustrations are finished and approved, it is now time for me to set up the digital files for the printer if the book is being self-published. All the text must be in place and any custom lettering or lettering effects added. The final digital file is packaged and made ready for the printer using not only the correct specifications for exact size with bleed but correct specs for color space and resolution as well.

I also do a lot of mentoring with first-time self-publishers. I can walk them through the self-publishing process and help them make the right choices. I help them carefully check the proofs from the printer or print on demand company they are working with so everything turns out exactly as it should.

Theres a Mouse on My Head!_proof

Illustrating a children’s picture book takes between four to eight months from start to finish. But it can take well over a year if the author or art director is slow to respond and make decisions when I send roughs and pencils for approval at each stage of the process.


Illustrating a picture book is a labor of love, but Yes, it is a real job and illustrators should be fairly paid for their expertise and talent.

I love to work with authors and art directors. You can contact me and I will be happy to discuss your book and give you a fair price to illustrate and even mentor you through the self-publishing process.








Gigi and Grandma Remember. A story about memory loss.

cover_gigi-and-grandma-social-mediaSo excited! I just wanted everyone to know, the book I just finished illustrating Gigi and Grandma Remember, is now listed for pre-orders on

Gigi notices Grandma sometimes forgets, but she learns to help by giving Grandma clues to trigger her memory. Their bond is strong and they can still spend a silly and fun-filled day together, despite a few bumps in the road. Gigi and Grandma Remember illustrates how children can engage in normal family activities with their loved ones with memory loss and also gives parents a platform for discussion in an age appropriate manner.

Maggie Konopa is the talented author I worked with on this book. She has been a joy to work with on this project of love. Please read more below about her journey to write this book.

Guest post by Maggie Konopa 

To this day, I still find children’s books captivating and enchanting. I had a strong desire to write a children’s book, but I didn’t know where to start. How do I select which of my many ideas to develop? I decided to move forward with a project to dedicate to my mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  “Gigi and Grandma Remember” was born after researching how dementia affects children, integrating my own personal experiences and imagination.

After too many revisions to count, my manuscript was ready…or so I thought. Professional editors reminded me that an ideal word count for a picture book is around 500 words. My manuscript was close to 1,000 words. Back to the mother of all revisions. The next step was a professional critique. The critique gave me crucial advice. I must trust my illustrator to help me carry the story. This is where Dayne Sislen enters the last leg of my long journey. 



I researched illustrators online after reading how to choose an illustrator. I found her on SCBWI, Behance and then, of course, her website. Dayne’s experience, customer reviews and portfolio won me over.

Dayne is a highly experienced and talented illustrator. She studied my manuscript and began the sketches for my review. It was uncanny how she captured my visual thoughts on the first iteration. Not only was she my illustrator, she also served as a valuable mentor.

Maggie Konopa uses a few of her personal experiences with her mother as an inspiration to write “Gigi and Grandma Remember.” She lives wherever the Army sends their family and enjoys seeking out a cozy corner to write short stories. Maggie Konopa is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Her facebook page is: Preorders are now available on

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Thank You, Jim Trelease! – The Power of Reading Aloud to Children

I believe that reading to your children is one of the most important things you can do to raise inquisitive, intelligent, creative and informed kids. Bravo to Jim Trelease.

Oxford Tutoring

Picture copy.jpg My son, Matt, reading to my four grandchildren.

Reading aloud to my four children is one of the fondest memories I have of their growing up years.  They are all adults now with their own families and busy lives, but I have wonderful memories of cuddling on the couch with them, reading stories together, watching their eyes light up as we traveled to other lands and other times through story.

As a teacher, reading to my children seemed a natural part of the parenting process.  Even when they were babies, they would sit on my lap as we enjoyed books like Pat the Bunny.  As they grew older, we graduated to story books.  Some were fairy tales, some were Bible stories, but all were chances to bond together over printed word. They had their favorites that they asked to be read to them over and over and over. We went…

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Finding the right illustrator for your self-published children’s book.

 If you are planning on self-publishing a picture book using Print On Demand (POD) like CreateSpace or Ingram Spark or an independent printer (that you pay to print your book) you WILL need professional children’s book illustrations. You want to make sure your book will be able to compete with other books in the Kid Lit marketplace.


Finding an illustrator is easier than it used to be before the Internet opened up the whole world as a vast viewing and shopping site. But now there are so many choices it is hard to know where to turn. Many “Full Service” publishers who offer the total publishing package (including illustrations that you pay for) are actually predatory con-artists, just waiting to trick you out of your hard-earned money. Some illustrators ask for money upfront and never deliver the illustrations. I suggest using to check publishers, printers and agents before you send money. Pred-Ed is an unattractive generic website, but it has a lot of good information on dishonest and predatory folks in the publishing business.

SCBWi Dayne Sislen Gallery Page

SCBWI’s illustrator Gallery

For children’s book illustrators, I suggest: The Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators organization’s website You can search for the style and media you prefer as well as illustrators living in a certain area. I would strongly suggest you join the SCBWI. It offers valuable resources to anyone in the children’s publishing fields.

Another good resource: Over 700 professional illustrators are listed.

Children's Illustrators

Children’s Illustrators Website


Fiverr website

A budget source: You always hear about Fiverr for cheap illustrations. Illustrations can be  purchased for as little as $5 each. Now, don’t get too excited, you won’t get much for $5, but you might find someone to work with you on a tight budget. Be very careful you and your illustrator understand exactly what you require. I would suggest using someone who speaks your preferred language. Automated translations can mess up precise communications. I would also suggest having the illustrator sign a non-disclosure when they read your manuscript. The NDA may not be binding in a third world country, but you will have some reassurance they will at least know you are watching carefully if they are thinking about stealing your book manuscript or passing it to someone else.

Before contacting an illustrator:

Have your manuscript professional edited and formatted. Most illustrator will want to read your story. They will be looking to see if you have put in the time and effort to have your manuscript in the correct format and edited to work as a picture book.  Illustrators want to work with authors who are dedicated to making their book a success.

When I receive a manuscript I read it several times. If I feel your story will fit my style of illustration and I can create suitable illustrations that will develop your story for you, I will agree to talk to you about your plans for the book. Picture books are traditionally 32 pages because of economical printing practices. That means I will be illustrating at least 14-16 full spread illustrations or 28 to 30 single pieces of artwork. That’s a lot of work, it usually takes me 4-8 months. This is how I make my living, it is my full-time job. Please set aside a reasonable budget so your book can be illustrated to show off your wonderful story to its best advantage.

An illustrator may ask about your plans for printing and marketing. This isn’t just to be nosy, it’s so we know if you know what you are getting into. Are you going to be willing to market your book? A beautifully written and illustrated book will never be found by customers if you aren’t willing to spend time marketing and promoting your book. Amazon does not do this for you. As illustrators we want lots of people to read the books we illustrate.

I usually start with preliminary pencil sketches to develop your idea and characters for your approval then move into more finished drawings for final approval before committing to color. One-third of the total fee is due before each step of the process. The last 1/3 payment is due when I have completed everything to your approval and it is ready to send to your printer or publisher. I work in watercolor, pastel, gouache, oils and with digital brushes that replicate this media. We can discuss which media will work best for your needs. The illustrations for a whole book are usually worked on together, which actually saves time and money. Once I get rolling with the characters, the storyline and matching colors everything moves much faster and smoother. So doing one illustration at a time, isolated from the whole story will take more time and give a much inferior result.

Publishing package: Putting all the finished illustrations and text together for printing or ebook setup is the last, big step. With my background in graphic design, I can help you here. I am able to deliver art in a publishable format, with the text and illustrations placed properly on the page, all ready for printing. I can create custom lettering and design the text to fit around the illustrations. I also work directly with your printer as a liaison to make sure the final book looks as good as it can when it rolls off the presses.

Book covers are very important!
Never ever let the image that sells you book look amateurish or lackluster. In many cases the cover is all a customer sees before deciding to purchase your book. Below is a list  of the main points for a cover:

  • Be eye-catching
  • Look professional
  • Communicate the message of the book correctly
  • Work well at a small size for Internet sales, catalogs and e-books
  • Fit-in, or standout in a positive way in the marketplace for the specific genre

The perfect book cover design should hit the mark on all these points. Do people really judge a book by its cover? You bet they do.

An important word about picture book length:
Current picture book manuscripts being printed are about 300-800 words. Sometimes even fewer words are preferred. Manuscripts with 800-1000 words don’t sell as well, so write tight to improve your odds of being published. Remember that illustrations will tell half your tale, so you don’t need to be overly descriptive in your text.

If you are worried about showing your manuscript to a stranger. I am very comfortable signing non-disclosure agreements (NDA) prior to seeing your manuscript. So there is no reason to worry about your story. This protects your ownership of your story and maintains confidentiality. I can even provide standard forms, that may be amended to include any additional concerns you may have.

Once we agree on my fee and delivery date, I will send you a plain language contract that spells out the schedule, payment timing, and assignment of publishing copyright for self-published works.

The final step: After I receive your final approval and the final one-third payment, I will place all the finished illustration files for your book in a DropBox* folder and email you a link where you can pick them up. If you have decided I should also be the one to put together your book, package it with all text in place and provide digital files to your printer (Publishing package), I’ll email you an electronic proof of your finished book for your approval. Once approval has been received from you on the electronic proof then your book goes to print using your choice of book publishing services. Your book will then be available for sale on, Barnes and Nobel and other booksellers (should you choose).

1,000 books before Kindergarten

Start your child on the best path
for life-long learning.

I think this movement to encourage parents to read to their children very early in their lives is a great idea. The 1000 Books Foundation is a non-profit charity which was founded in 2013 to promote reading to newborns, infants and toddlers. It seeks to create parent-child bonding through reading.

Studies have shown there is a connection between early exposure to reading and early stimulation for brain development. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to read aloud to their children daily. Reading to your children helps children with literacy and language skills. Spending time with your children each day in a shared activity strengthens bonding and development.

My local library has just started a  1,000 books Before Kindergarten Program. I know many library systems all over the U.S. and Canada have similar programs. This is something you can do with your children to give them a solid start in life. There are so many fantastic picture books and story books being published every year that you can discover together. You can also share your childhood favorites with your little ones.

Visit the 1,000 books before Kindergarten website They have instructions, activities, charts, reading logs, book lists and t-shirts. Start your child on the best path for life-long learning.


Maybe you have a picture book idea you want to publish. Contact me, I illustrate children’s books. I can help you navigate the complicated world of the publishing business.


Children are the building blocks of the human race.

Children’s Books Are My Life. I read them, I study them, I illustrate them and I write them. You might ask how children’s books can capture this much of my time and energy? Children’s books are important to me and they should be to you also. 

There's a Mouse on My Head Children's Picture Book

There's a Mouse on My Head

Picture book I illustrated for Donna Warwick

Children are the building blocks of the human race.

Educating our children to guide them to become the future leaders, innovators and educators of our world is one of the most important things we can do.  Children’s books help young humans form their early outlook on life, their opinions and values. Children’s books expand a child’s world beyond the four walls of their home. They prepare a child for a life of learning and interaction with other children. They help children become open-minded, educated and responsible adults.

Quiet reading time or taking a child to the library or a favorite books store should be a treat. It’s important to foster an early positive love of books and the wonderful world held between their covers. Books should hold a precious place in every home. Our children are our future, we need to make sure they have the best education, wide experiences and open minds to become our next generation of adults.

My love of books has translated into my career. I have always been a creative thinker and a creator. I love the rhythm of words and the look and smell of them on the printed page. I love to take a complicated problem and make it easy to understand with a few simple illustrations and words. My background in graphic design and art direction in the world of advertising gives me an advantage in illustrating and designing children’s books.


Don't be a Pig in a Panic! by Leila Leidke

Don't Be a Pig in a Panic!

Picture book I illustrated for Leila Leidke

I love working with publishers and authors to develop characters and bring stories to life. I use my skills in art direction, graphic design and problem solving together with my children’s book illustrations to help authors develop their characters and design their book covers. I design and incorporate the text into the page illustrations for beautiful spreads. For self-publishing authors, I can create the whole package, working directly with your printer, publisher or POD company, so you get the best results possible.

Visit my web site or my website for more or email me directly:

 Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the playground to get inspired…


Why children’s picture books are so important.

Of course, I’m prejudiced, my passion and my job are to write and illustrate children’s picture books.

But why do I feel they are so important for children? We all want what is best for our children, picture books start the process of learning and appreciating art at a very young age.

Mother and children reading before bedtime.

The illustrations in Picture books help very young children understand the story and encourage them to use their imagination to expand beyond the story.

As children start to learn to read on their own, the pictures help with comprehension and to decipher the meaning of unfamiliar words. The stories in picture books are not necessarily simpler than chapter books, in fact, they are richer because the pictures can tell a lot of the details of the story.

Picture books help children to explore interesting words in language, rhythm and rhyme at an early age. Repetition allows a child to anticipate words and actions, so they become a part of the story. Not only do children hear the story, they see the illustrations and touch the pages. They become excited that they can guess what an upcoming action or sound will be.

Picture books nurture, they can teach useful tools for dealing everyday life. When a child reads and sees  a picture book about a child or young animal dealing with an age-appropriate problem, they learn about problem-solving and cause and effect.

Picture books allow a very close relationship between child and parent or grandparent and child. Picture books are the perfect prop to make together-time and reading time, a special time to look forward to. A time to relax and settle down for bedtime. There is little pressure with picture books, the stories are meant to be fun and interactive.

If you have written a children’s book, contact me we can talk. I illustrate picture books for other authors.

Don't Be a Pig in a Panic!

Don’t Be a Pig in a Panic! written by Leila Leidke illustrated by Dayne Sislen


There's a Mouse on My Head

There’s a Mouse on My Head by Donna Warwick Illustrated by Dayne Sislen

Free coloring sheets and game pages for little your ones to enjoy.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 11.32.12 AMI have prepared three coloring sheets and two game sheets to go with the book, “There’s a Mouse on My Head” written by Donna Warwick.

These will be perfect to keep kids busy over the holiday weekend and rainy days this summer. Just print them out on your home printer and you can have unlimited sheets. Click here for games and coloring sheets.

Have fun and enjoy your summer.

A great exercise to learn how to “show instead of tell” when writing.

Today I would like to feature an author/illustrator’s blog I found very useful:

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 4.38.52 PMAuthor /Illustrator Fred Koehler wrote an amazing article on his blog: about a book he recently illustrated.

Fred is the illustrator for ONE DAY THE END written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. This book is a 2016 Boston Globe Horn Book Award Winner. It is a wonderful, very simple story.

What makes this picture book so unique is the story has very few words and NO DESCRIPTION, the author trusted the illustrator to fill in the story. Fred has not let the author down. He has beautifully illustrated the book and brought it to life.

Fred gives exercises to follow when going through your manuscript to help you zero in on the places where you might find unneeded description in your picture book story. If you have ever wondered how to show more and tell less, this exercise will help you.

Please read Fred Koehler’s blog, it will be worth your time.



2016 SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards Announced

The SCBWI announced the winners of the 2016 Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards for fifteen regional divisions:

I always love to see which books are chosen from each region of SCBWI for this award. This year, the book chosen from my region (the Mid South) is:  “Secret Files World War II, by Stephanie Bearce.  I had the opportunity to meet Stephanie earlier this year at a SCBWI workshop. She talked to us about the joys of writing non-fiction for children.

See ALL the chosen books for 2016 on the SCBWI website. 

A few of the chosen books.

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About the Crystal Kite Awards

The Crystal Kite Awards are given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators to recognize great books from the seventy SCBWI regions around the world.  Along with the SCBWI Golden Kite Awards, the Crystal Kite Awards are chosen by other children’s book writers and illustrators, making them the only peer-given awards in publishing for young readers.

“Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. “

Phillip Pullman makes his point very well in this blog:

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

Pullman Philip 2

Wise words from Philip Pullman, who received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2005:

Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. If you don’t give a child food, the damage quickly becomes visible. If you don’t let a child have fresh air and play, the damage is also visible, but not so quickly. If you don’t give a child love, the damage might not be seen for some years, but it’s permanent.

But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.

It’s true that some people grow up never encountering…

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Reading to Big Kids..Don’t Stop, Be Readin’…Hold on to that Feelin’

Reading with your kids, no matter what age, will help them in later life.

Michelle Eastman Books

I posted this piece a while back…

With my son’s 4th grade year coming to an end, I find this information more timely than ever.


I love picture books, and I often write about them.  In my post, Top 10 Reasons Picture Books Rock, I touch upon the importance of continuing to read aloud to your child even AFTER he/she is able to read independently. Please note that although children may be ready for early readers and chapter books, I implore parents to continue reading picture books with/to your children. There is no better way to connect at the end of a hectic day than to get lost in a picture book together. This ritual is one you can continue well into their teen years (yes, really, I promise). A child should not be denied this sacred time with you, just because he has “grown up”. Reading and/or…

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