How important is Humor in Kid’s books?

Humor is what makes something funny.
A sense of humor is the ability to recognize humor.

Dragon flying a burning kite

There is nothing quite as satisfying as reading a funny book to a child and watching them giggle and respond to the words and pictures. Reading to children increases their comprehension and reading funny books helps them to develop a keen sense of humor. Humor can teach children to become more creative.

Children and adults who laugh together are healthier and less likely to be depressed. A child with a well-developed sense of humor is happier and more optimistic. They have higher self-esteem and are more likely to be immune to bullying.

A happy mouse using toast as trampoline

Next time you visit your book store or library, pick up a few humorous picture books to share with your little ones. You will both benefit from the giggles and laughter that ensue. Happy reading!

Can a professional children’s book illustrator help an indie author sell books?

The cover of your book is the first thing buyers see. From this first impression, they will judge the quality of your writing. This isn’t fair but it’s a fact.

We all know the old phrase, ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover.’ Is it true? The big publishers believe covers sell books. They spend mega marketing dollars testing out covers for their big-name authors. Will a red background sell better than a yellow background? Should the main image be a close-up of the main character or show the character at a distance with a background added?

As an indie/self-publishing author, you probably don’t have the funds or the ability to test market different covers. But ask any author who had a poorly selling book with a bargain basement cover about the turn around in sales when they finally hire a professional cover designer to design and illustrate a new an improved cover. The results are amazing.

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 perfectly written 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. I have not read the bad example books shown below. I’m sure the writing is much better than the cover is leading customers to believe.

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 for an author, I usually design and illustrate not only the cover but every page in the book. That way you know you will not lose your young picture book reader halfway through your book. Each page is designed around your text. Below are a few of the picture book covers I have designed for self-publishing authors.

There's a Mouse on My Head

A Picture book I illustrated for Donna Warwick

Don't Be a Pig in a Panic!

A Picture book I illustrated for Leila Leidke

SPECIAL NOTE:  The above information is for self-publishing or indie authors. If you are thinking about submitting to one of the top 10 traditional publishers and their imprints, you do NOT need to submit your manuscript with illustrations.  The traditional publisher will choose an illustrator for you. They will provide the illustrations and pay for them, but you probably will not have any control over the process. Showing a traditional publisher your manuscript with illustrations may hurt your chances of being traditionally published. I love to work directly with publishers and art directors of these large publishers, but they are the ones who control this process and hire the illustrators.

Best of luck with your publishing journey. Contact me for a bid on illustrating your manuscript if you are interested. I also help self-publishing authors navigate the treacherous waters when searching for a reputable printer and how to avoid predatory publishers.

 

Children’s book illustrator, interviewed by author

Andy Mulberry, the author of YA fiction and middle-grade books such as the Sky Castle Series for Adventurous Middle Graders, interviewed me several years ago. She asked some great questions so I decided to re-blog her interview here for you to read.

Introduction by Andy: As a writer without a lick of talent when it comes to illustrating, I’m especially fascinated by Dayne’s thoughtful approach to bringing children’s books to life. Please join me in welcoming her!

Dayne_w characters

Dayne is a children’s picture book illustrator, book designer, and cover designer. She works with authors and publishers to help them bring their wonderful stories to life on the printed page. She has worked as a graphic designer, illustrator, art director, and graphic design teacher for over 30 years. The last 6 years she has specialized in illustrating children’s picture books and designing children’s book covers. Dayne is a member of the International Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). 

“My mother, father, grandmother, and grandfather were all artists in their own way, so I was given plenty of encouragement and all the right materials to keep me  from drawing on the walls.”

Andy: Please recommend another author’s children’s book for me to read.
Dayne answered: My favorite children’s book is: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I loved it as a child, I loved it when my children were young and I love it as an adult. It opens up a fascinating world to me. I love to escape into books. Of course, I also read gobs of picture books all the time. I’m always in the children’s section of our library.

Andy: What is your favorite dessert?
Dayne answered: Without a doubt, flour-less dark chocolate cake with raspberry sauce. I am an avowed chocoholic, extra dark, please.

Andy: What does your illustrating process look like?
Dayne answered: As a book picture book illustrator I do more than just make pretty illustrations. First I read the authors book carefully, so I understand the characters and the story. I then figure out where each page will break, which pages will be spreads, which will be single illustrations. It’s important that the pages break at a suspenseful moment and a logical place for a change in illustration. I usually make up a storyboard before I even get started.

I then work on developing each character so they fit with the author’s concept of the book. Next steps are the pencil roughs of each page. I make up a dummy at this stage so the author can see how everything fits together. Then we discuss colors for the items on the pages. Finally, I get to start on the actual illustrations. If needed I also design the text to work around the illustrations to emphasize phrases and words that are important.

Lastly, I put all the illustrations together with the text and prepare printer-ready files. I work directly with the author’s printer to make sure all the specifications are perfect and answer all those last minute questions. My background in illustration, as well as graphic design and art direction, makes it possible to put together the whole package.

I started out doing illustrations with pencil and watercolor or pastel. I loved the look of watercolor and pastel.  BUT… I soon found authors wanted to make changes to the illustrations at the last minute. This meant starting all over again or cutting parts out scanning them and moving them around using Photoshop.

I took a painting class in digital media and loved it. I can now replicate, watercolor, pastel, gouache, pen and ink, pencil, oil paint and more with my digital brush. I place the backgrounds on a separate layer, so the characters can be moved around and colors changed. I work on a Wacom Cintiq which is like a large drawing board monitor, I can draw directly on, with a special stylus (brush).

Andy: What authors have inspired you to write?
Dayne answered: I love picture books by author/illustrators. I think when the writer and illustrator is the same person, there is an economy of words and perfect rapport between image and written word. Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Dan Santat’s Beekle and Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, are some perfect examples.

Andy: What are you working on right now?
Dayne answered: I am finishing up illustrating a picture book for a self-publishing author. I can’t talk about the book I am illustrating for someone else until it is published. But what I am most excited about are several stories I am writing and illustrating. I have four dummies finished of my stories. A dummy is a tool to sell a story to a publishing company or to procure an agent to represent me as an author/illustrator. A dummy is a rough of the finished book with all illustrations in pencil and all the words in place. Then I add two or three finished illustrations to give an idea of how the finished book will look.

When I write, I start with the pictures, then write the words to fit the action on the page. That’s the way I think and it works for me. I’ve been driving my SCBWI picture book critique group crazy with all my rough drawings with a few words. They keep asking to see my typed manuscript.

Andy: Love the idea of you both writing and illustrating picture books or an early chapter book! I so wish the illustration fairy had whacked me with her stick too 🙂 I’m looking forward to reading and seeing more about your projects on your blog.

Smart Picture Book Writers Make Dummies

Smart writers, make their own picture book dummies to improve their writing. By making a rough dummy showing the page breaks and illustrated action on each page you can clearly see where page-turn surprises should fall and when there just isn’t enough action to keep kids interested.

It’s important to know what lines of your text will fall on each spread. The best way to do this is to follow a typical 32-page picture book template. I have shown two different templates showing the use of 32-pages in a picture book to give different amounts of space to your story.

Picture book page counts can be confusing. There is a lot of conflicting information about the layout of a typical 32-page picture book. Go into the children’s section of any book store or library and start counting pages. Some picture books are 32, while some are 40, some are 24, some are 28, you get the idea. Why are we always told that 32-page picture books are the standard?

32pageselfendedPage count depends on a lot of different variables. Some picture books are “self-ended” which means the full 32-page count is partly used up by the pages pasted down to the cover and back cover. Some picture books use different colored paper for the pages that are glued down to the cover. This means all 32 pages can be used for your story. Some of these pages will also be used for copyright/publishing information, dedication and title pages.

32page-color-ended

Most picture books are based on 32-pages but some use on 40-pages or even 48-pages. These are usually traditional printed books from the larger publishing houses who have bigger budgets. The page count in books almost always increases by multiples of 8. These are called signatures. Print on Demand self-publishing is more lenient with page counts because they use a different kind of binding on their books.

A dummy will make it easy to pinpoint problem areas in your manuscript. Do you have page after page of two characters standing and talking to each other? This is boring for kids. If all the action happens in one part of the book and nothing exciting or worth illustrating falls on all the other pages you have a problem.

A dummy is easy to make. It doesn’t have to be pretty or fancy, it’s to help you with your manuscript. Take two sheets of typing paper and fold them into eight squares. Cut each sheet into 4 pieces to form pages and put them together. Number the pages. Don’t forget to use the first pages for a title, copyright, dedication, and other front material or if you want your book self-ended mark your paste-down sheets.

Then start writing your text on each page. Think in scenes, not just words. This is not easy at first, you may have to start several times to get every spread to come out even. You may even need to rewrite parts of your manuscript to fit the page breaks. In the end, it will help your manuscript with pacing and visualization. Remember all action on each spread moves to the right. Use stick figures to indicate your characters.

Have fun, hope this helps.

 

As an illustrator, I do page breakdown for each book I illustrate. If you need help with illustrating your picture book, contact me. I would love to hear about your story.

6 Tips to Encourage Your Child to Read

This is an oldie. It’s important to stress the impact of reading to your little ones at this time of year.

Dayne Sislen Children's Book Illustration

These six steps will start your children on the road to a lifetime of learning and reading.

  1. Read to children as often as possible. If you expose them to reading early and often, it will become a pleasurable experience they will want to repeat when they read on their own.
  2. Picture books can help struggling readers to comprehend a story before they can read all the words. Let them enjoy the process, without getting bogged down with the exact words. Let children ‘pretend to read’ using the pictures for guidance.SCBWI_Postcard_sm_sq_WP
  3. Encourage young children to write and illustrate their own stories. Children have great ideas, make sure they are able to express these ideas freely.
  4. Set aside family reading or story time. This can be a read-aloud by the parent or by an older child. As children get older, this time can set aside just for independent reading, for adults (yes, you too)…

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Holiday gift idea for the talented writer on your list.

When I tell people I meet I illustrate children’s books, they almost always say they have always wanted to write a children’s book. Many parents and grandparents already have great children’s book ideas from the stories they have invented for their little ones. Most tell me they have a great idea for a picture book but have no idea where to start.

Don't Be a Pig in a Panic!

“Don’t Be a Pig in a Panic!” picture book I illustrated for Leila Leidke

I work with new authors all the time. I know what it takes to get your manuscript ready for publishing, find and hire a professional illustrator to bring your picture book to life with great illustrations, design an exciting cover, and put everything together ready to print. The printing of the book using Print on Demand services such as IngramSpark or Createspace ( now KDP Print) is practically free. The illustrations for the book do need to be paid for, but it’s money well spent. A good illustrator/book designer can help you navigate the entire process so you get the most professional end product.

What a great gift idea for yourself or someone you love! A chance to bring your story to life in a printed and published book to share with your family and sell on Amazon. You can even arrange to have your book available in your local library and in your favorite bookstores.

Contact me if you want to finally publish your story idea or make a gift of a book illustration package to a talented friend or relative so they can publish their own story idea.

There's a Mouse on My Head

“There’s a Mouse On My Head!” picture book I illustrated for Donna Warwick

Visit my website: http://www.DayneSislen.com

Contact me below.

 

That Thankful Time of Year

Each year I write about thankfulness. We all should be thankful every day of the year. I know that I am, but I don’t always express this feeling out loud. So once a year, I make a point to let everyone know how important they are to me and how thankful I am that they are apart of my life.

Mouse jumping on bread-trampoline

Thankful for my daily bread

First I want to thank my family and friends. In so many ways they make every single day better and fuller. My dear husband puts up with my erratic hours and patiently reads the drafts and dummies of my picture books over and over.  My kids and their spouses likewise make my life full and are very understanding of my flights of fancy. My grandkids are the joy of my life. I am also blessed to have a great group of loving and supportive friends.

As an artist, I am also thankful for the magic of living a creative life. I can’t imagine a life without my art and creative writing. It’s not always a smooth path, there are extreme ups and downs. But I wouldn’t want to live my life any other way.

Give yourself a few minutes this week to stop and think about all that you are thankful for. Your friends and family and special talents all add to your unique life.

If you want to talk to me about illustrating your picture book use the form below to contact me.

 

 

 

Two picture book reviews

I read a lot of picture books. You could say picture books are my “thing.” Every once in a while I run across a picture book I absolutely love. When this happens I tend to tell everyone I know, even people who (you won’t believe this)  never read picture books even to their children or grandchildren.

Last month I was lucky enough to run across two picture books that found that special place in my heart. I would like to share them with you.

With your Paw in Mine Cover

“With Your Paw in Mine” Is a beautiful and well-written book. It’s about baby otters and their moms.

Written and illustrated by Jane Chapman. The illustrations of the precious baby otters are incredible. I just couldn’t stop admiring them.

Miki is an otter pup. She loves to snuggle and nap on her mommy’s tummy while her mommy floats in the water. She learns to swim while holding her mommy’s paw. One day her mommy wraps her in seaweed and tells her to stay put. Miki paddles over to a new friend named Amak. Together they learn to hold each other’s paws to survive the sudden storm. This book is available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNobel.com.

With Your Paw in Mine   With your Paw in Mine


“No Frogs in School” This book is far from serious. It’s about a little boy named Bartholomew Botts who loves all kinds of pets.

No Frogs in SchoolWritten by A. LaFaye and illustrated by Eglantine Coulemans. The pictures are lively and colorful.

Bartholomew loves his pets so much he doesn’t want to go to school without at least one. First, he chooses his Frog, Ferdinand. Ferdinand causes much disruption and chaos in his classroom, his teacher says, “No frogs in School.” Bartholomew takes the teacher’s words quite literally and brings his salamander the next day. A salamander is not a frog. Then, his teacher said no amphibians. Next, he brings his hamster, Horace because he’s not an amphibian.  You get the idea. The end of the book is surprising and extremely satisfying. This book is available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNobel.com.

 

No Frogs in SchoolNo Frogs in School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope you enjoyed these book reviews. What are your favorite picture books? Have you ever thought about writing your own picture book? So far, I have illustrated 11 picture books for authors and publishers, I can make the process a lot easier for you.

Fact: Well designed book covers sell children’s books

We all know the old phrase, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Is it true? The big publishers believe covers sell books. They spend mega marketing dollars testing out covers for their big-name authors. Will a red background sell better than a yellow background? Should the main image be a close-up of the main character or show the character at a distance?

As an indie author, you probably don’t have the funds or the ability to test market different covers. But ask any author who had a poorly selling book with a bargain basement cover about the turn around in sales when they hire a professional cover designer to design and illustrate a new an improved cover. The results are amazing.

The cover of your book is the first thing buyers see. From this first impression, they will judge the quality of your writing. Is this fair? No. But it’s a fact.

Today I want to talk about what goes into designing a cover for the chapter book “Little Dreamer” by Nell Jones. The author and I discussed what she wanted to show on the cover. We considered many scenes some are shown below, but many more that are not shown here. We tried Little D dreaming about becoming an astronaut. And we tried Little D giving a picture to her teacher Miss Amelia. But most of all we agreed that Little D should be dreaming of her future while in her classroom.

Sketches for cover

So the final cover design shows Little D in her classroom daydreaming about her future instead of listening to her teacher Miss Amelia. The caterpillar represents her metamorphosis from a young girl to a young woman throughout the story. The window frame and wall of her classroom have dissolved to reveal the boundless world that is available to dreamers.

Cover art for "Little Dreamer" chapter book cover

Colors were given special consideration. Of course, red, bright orange and green colors jump off the shelf. But in this situation, we felt a softer color scheme would show the dreamy quality best. Just because a bright color jumps out at a potential customer is not the best reason to use it. The color scheme must fit the tone and subject of the story. This is a chapter book, so it has a little older audience. I have shown the artwork on the left and the book cover with all text on the right.

 

If you are interested in talking to me about illustrating your children’s book or designing a cover for you, contact me by using the form below.

 

 

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.

LILd 20

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.