Children’s book writers: Switch it up to improve.

All of us tend to find comfort in doing the same things over and over. We are good at these things. Why change? I love to illustrate picture books. I love meeting new people and working with them to make their book the best it possibly can be. I think children’s book authors are the most creative and fun people on earth. But is that enough?

There's a Mouse on Your Head

This is a page from a picture book I illustrated for Donna Warwick.

I know many authors also fall into this practice of doing what comes easily. If they were successful writing in rhyme, they continue to write in rhyme, even though everyone tells them agents and publishers don’t want to see rhyme. Those who write in prose keep doing the same thing. Non-fiction writers tend to stick with what they know.

Why not mix it up a bit? First of all, I am an illustrator, but in my spare time between illustrating books for others, I write. I have lost count of all the stories roughs and drafts I have written. I have computer files full of them and notebooks bursting. I have pages filled with new story ideas. Not all these ideas and book drafts deserve to be turned into picture books, but I am glad the ideas keep on coming. I want to both write and illustrate children’s books eventually, so I work at it when I can find time. It helps keep me fresh to illustrate other author’s books for now.

My suggestion for you is to branch out, follow your dreams. If you write fiction, try non-fiction. If you usually write in rhyme, try prose. Try your hand at illustration, it just might help you visualize your story. I suggest authors make storyboards. It’s the way I start all my stories. I am a visual thinker so the pictures come first. Layout your story on a storyboard template of 32 pages for a picture book. Below is an excellent template from Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Inkygirl.com website. She did such a great job, no need to re-invent the template.

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Debbie Ridpath has some excellent information on her website about making storyboards.

Inkygirl website.

I like to start picture books on a single page, so I often use the second copyright page, page three, for the first page. You don’t have to be a great artist to do this you are just going for the action and flow of the story. Use stick figures. You might even learn something about your story. Maybe your story doesn’t have enough action or all the action happens on one or two pages and the rest of the book is just two people talking. Boring. Now is the time to fix those problems.

Lastly, join SCBWI (Society of Children’ Book Authors and Illustrators). Attend as many workshops, conferences, and critique groups as you can. It helps to see what others are doing and to have more experienced eyes critique your work. Don’t work in a vacuum.

Email me, I like to talk to self-publishing children’s book authors and illustrators about their stories.

I hosted a Q&A: “Ask an Illustrator” forum today

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Today on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Dayne.Sislen.Illustrator/ I hosted a 4-hour Q&A period “Ask A Children’s Book Illustrator.” I answered questions about illustrating children’s books; how to self-publish; advantages of each POD company; how to find an illustrator; when you don’t need an illustrator and more. I enjoy talking to children’s book authors. Below is a transcript of some of the questions and answers. If you don’t see an answer to your question, I am always happy to answer questions using the form below on this page.

#self-publishing, #picturebooks, #kidlit, #kidlitart, #illustration, #POD.

Kathy Marie Hi Dayne! I have been contemplating my book and whether to try again. I think my biggest question would be which format to pursue. We had talked about print versus digital. At this point, I would probably need the simplest jumping off point. What is your suggestion for me to get started again? Thanks!

Dayne Sislen Illustrator The easiest way would be to forget about personalizing each book (Kathy and I talked about this earlier). Personalization is very expensive and difficult to do. You can self-publish for almost no cost up-front (because you already have your illustrations) or submit your book to traditional publishers and if they chose to publish your book, they pay you.

Kathy Marie Yes, I’ve given up the idea about doing the personalization. But I was exploring the idea of making the book an app. So just self-publish printed would be the best route?

Dayne Sislen Illustrator If you decide to self-publish, I would suggest Print-on-demand. The books are printed as they are ordered you get the profit. Very little upfront costs for you.

Kathy Marie Okay, thanks! And is there a print-on-demand option that you feel is the best?

Dayne Sislen Illustrator An app or e-book would certainly be cool to do. With Amazon CreateSpace and KDP you can do both an e-book and soft cover. Apps are a different matter and designed completely differently. Usually, they are best if there is a lot of interaction.

Kathy Marie I will start doing my homework and research again…and you know I’ll be back with more questions later. Thanks for the help! If I actually get this off the ground, will I break the record for the longest wait you have had to see your work published? 😀

Dayne Sislen Illustrator I like to use IngramSpark for hardcover books. You can use all three, CreateSpace, IngramSpark and KDP if you like.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator Yes, You will break the record for the length of time taken for a book to be completed. (The illustrations for Kathy’s book were finished many years ago) I would love to see your book published. It’s such a great idea and it has such a wonderful built-in market.

Kathy Marie Alrighty…another goal then. I like breaking records! 😀

Kathy Marie Thought of another question…will I need to work through my LLC to self-publish?

Dayne Sislen Illustrator I would suggest you do this. It’s not hard to do online on your state’s website. Don’t pay a lawyer to do it. I took a course with the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in my city. They walked us through the process, it’s very easy and very cheap. It’s fun to think up your own publishing house name.

Kathy Marie Okay, thanks. I would look to resurrect my old LLC, which I assume is still technically mine. I closed the business bank account on it years ago, but I don’t really know how the rest of it works or if I still even really have the LLC. Another piece of homework I guess. Thanks again for your time and this was a fun and helpful idea!

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Barbara Schuermann Stock Stuckey Hi Dayne, first of all, thank you for your kindness, in giving your time, to share your knowledge with us. My question would be – who would you recommend to publish my book? I have been looking at Ingram Spark and Create Space. The book was designed on Shutterfly and I would like to use that exact format. Can that exact book be converted to IngramSpark? Also, where should I purchase my ISBN number? My preference for Ingram Spark has to do with their return policy and also the 55% discount. I am so confused, thank you!

Dayne Sislen Illustrator Thanks for asking this question. I have used both CreateSpace and IngramSpark. Each has their strong points.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator CreateSpace is easier to use and slightly cheaper. They do not have hardcover books. When you publish with CS your book will never be listed as out of print by Amazon. You also make a little bit more on each on each book sold on Amazon, but much less on books sold on B&N and independent bookstores.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator I like the hardcover books at IngramSparks. It only cost a small bit more to publish your book with IngramSpark and you can set your price and percent of discount. Independent books stores will be able to order your book and you will make more per book. You will make a tiny bit less on Amazon and your book may be listed as out of stock occasionally.

Barbara Schuermann Stock Stuckey This is my first book. I am leading toward Ingram Spark then also I have heard about Lightning Source, do you know anything about them? As a first time writer who would like to write sequels to my book, what would you suggest?

Dayne Sislen Illustrator IngramSpark and Lightning Source are the same company. Lightning Source prints for IngramSpark, as a small self-publisher you should use IngramSpark. Their website is very user-friendly, you can figure out how much your books will cost and how much you will make on each using their charts.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator I also suggest you publish your soft cover books with CreateSpace and your hardcover books with IngramSpark. That way you have the best of both. You will always be listed as in stock on Amazon with CreateSpace and if you want to sell through B&N or an independent bookstore, you will do better with IngramSpark.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator CreateSpace is very easy for a non-professional to set up using MS Word. IngramSpark works best if you use professional software like Adobe InDesign. If you hire a professional children’s book illustrator and designer they can set everything up for you. If you want to also have an e-book CreateSpace and IngramSpark can convert your files. I have no idea what the quality is like.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator Be sure to buy your own ISBN number. Get them directly from the source Bowkers, http://.myidentifiers.com. Do not buy them from CreateSpace, Amazon will be your publisher of record. You really don’t want that.

Barbara Schuermann Stock Stuckey My book is all photographs, would that be something you would work with?

Dayne Sislen Illustrator Printing your books is really the easy part. The hard part is marketing them. Be prepared for almost a full-time job. Amazon makes the books available, but you have to get customers to Amazon. If you become a top seller in your category, Amazon will give your book a boost by suggesting it to customers.

Barbara Schuermann Stock Stuckey Wow, glad to hear you say that! It seems to be the hardest part for me. I have been marketing my book for years. I have read for schools, daycare centers, Barnes and Noble in Wisconsin and Barnes and Noble in St. Louis, all with very favorable reviews. I just can’t seem to get it printed. 🙂

Dayne Sislen Illustrator You also asked about taking you book as is from Shutterfly and using the files on another service. I am not familiar with Shutterfly, but I think you put it together online using their online tools. If that is correct, you will not be able to switch it over directly. But, you now have a very good idea of exactly what you want. Each POD service has their own method to prepare files.

Bowker | Identifier Services

My Identifiers is the only official website of the U.S. ISBN Agency. We provide you with the products and services to make your books more discoverable. Get your ISBNs today!

MYIDENTIFIERS.COM

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Abby Lamb Mathews Hi, Dayne! I have a few questions. 1. I want to self-publish the middle grades book I’m working on. I would like to put up a landing page announcing my book, and I would like a simple illustration with three of the characters. Where is the best place to start looking for an illustrator? I’ve found a few on Etsy and Instagram that I like and would love to work with. Is there a protocol for approaching an illustrator? And 2. (And I probably know the answer to this one, but may be surprised…) Would you recommend looking elsewhere (besides Etsy, Instagram, etc…) for someone who has specific experience illustrating children’s books and can guide me, rather than just hiring an illustrator whose work I like? I’m actually looking more for an illustration or two for my web page and then eventually the cover art. So since I’m not concerned with needing as much illustration as a picture book, is it ok to shop by “style” rather than by book experience.
Dayne Sislen Illustrator Another great question. Since you do not need the complete package as you would with a picture book. You won’t need as much technical publishing direction. It is important to find an illustrator who understands the middle-grade genre to design the cover. It’s not just the cover illustration, it’s the complete design. The font and how it’s customized and how the cover competes with other middle-grade covers.
Abby Lamb Mathews Is there a place where middle grades illustrators gather? Or how do you go about finding someone who is middle grades specific??

Dayne Sislen Illustrator I would look on the SCBWI.org website. There is a listing of illustrators who are members. Find one who’s work you like or find one close to where you live.

Abby Lamb Mathews I saw that on your website just now! That would be an awesome group to join, period! Thank you for your guidance! Glad I found you on Twitter!!
Dayne Sislen Illustrator I don’t know of any middle-grade specific illustrators. Go to your bookstore, find out who illustrates the covers you admire. I think a picture book Illustrator can do a good job on a middle-grade book if they study the competition and keep the ages of the characters shown age appropriate.
Dayne Sislen Illustrator Yes, SCBWI is a fantastic organization. It’s world-wide in scope, but there are many local chapters in each state. You should attend a workshop or conference. There you might just meet and make friends with the perfect illustrator for your cover and website illustrations. Good Luck.
Abby Lamb Mathews I am officially a member! 😉
Dayne Sislen Illustrator Good for you. You won’t regret it. I hope you make as many supportive good friends as I have.

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Angela Coulson
Hi Dayne, thanks for chatting. If I am shopping my book to traditional publishers, should I already have illustrations completed?

Dayne Sislen Illustrator Good question. If you are submitting your manuscript to traditional publishers or agents DO NOT pay an illustrator to illustrate your books before submission. If your book is selected for publication, the publisher will choose the illustrator and pay for the illustrations. You only need to get your own illustrations if you are self-publishing.

Angela Coulson Thanks for clarifying. Good information to know.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator You are welcome.

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Dayne Sislen Illustrator If you have more questions and I didn’t get to answer them today, visit my blog: https://daynesislendesign.wordpress.com/ and my website: http://DayneSislenDesign.com. On the blog search for past posting in the archives. On my website look under “Questions.” I like to talk to authors about their stories and how to get them published.

6 Steps to self-publishing a picture book

 

manu-girl_finalCongratulations! You have finished your picture book manuscript and decided you want to self-publish.  What’s next?

When self-publishing a children’s book you will need to have illustrations prepared by an illustrator and the book designed and assembled by a designer. It is your choice whether you choose a professional illustrator/designer or a non-professional. A professional illustrator/designer with experience in self-publishing will able to help you step by step through the process. They make the process as smooth and painless as possible and work with your printer to give you the best-printed results. They know what kind of cover will stand out on Amazon’s pages or a shelf in the bookstore. They will carefully read your manuscript over and over until they perfectly understand your characters and can see them clearly in their mind.

Never forget, your readers (or in this case the parents of your readers) buy books because the covers and the blurbs on the back cover appeal to them. If the illustrations in your book are not professional, they will reflect directly on the perceived quality of your book. You can have the most well written and clever book in the world, but if your cover and illustrations are amateurish, your whole book will be judged of as such.

1. The first step is to have your manuscript edited and/or critiqued by someone experienced in writing for children’s books. Modern children’s picture books are rarely longer than 800 words for ages 3-6. They are usually 32 pages long. Chapter books vary as to age range in length and number of illustrations.

2. If you choose me to illustrate and design your book, I will read your manuscript to determine if the story will fit with my illustration style and to decide if it’s a story I am interested in spending 6 months of my life working on. Yes, children’s books picture books take between four and eight months to illustrate. Illustration fees usually run between $5,000-$14,000 depending on the number and complexity of the illustrations. A simple contract will be created and a payment schedule set-up for 1/3 payments at the beginning, final approval of pencils and finished delivery of illustrations.

If I illustrate your book, I will work closely with you on your characters and style of illustration. As the author, you will have a chance to have input. I will prepare the rough drawing of your pages and prepare a dummy to show page breaks. Page breaks are very important for a story’s arc, suspense, and surprise. You will have a chance to approve preliminary work at each step. A preferred color palette will be developed before I start the finished illustrations.

3. You will be responsible for acquiring your own ISBN (International Standard Book Number) from Bowkers and setting up a “fictitious” name for your publishing company so you can have a separate checking account. Be sure to buy more than one ISBN ( one $125 -10 $250), you will need them for each cover type and edition of your book. You may also want to set up an LLC in your state. This is easily taken care of online (there is no reason to pay anyone to do this for you). You should own your own ISBN if you are self-publishing. Do not get a free ISBN from CreateSpace. If you do they will be the publisher of record for your book. Bookstores do not particularly like to work with Amazon. Your book is best published under your own publishing company so you have control. Have fun choosing a creative name.

4. If you are doing printed books, I suggest using POD (Print on Demand) either Create Space (Amazon) or Ingram Spark (Ingram book distributors). They are both very reasonable with very good quality. CreateSpace only prints soft cover books. IngramSpark prints soft cover and hard cover books. There are advantages to both. With CreateSpace, you make a little more selling on Amazon, but they don’t play well with Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores. If a bookstore will accept the book, you get a very small percentage. IngramSpark also sells on Amazon, you will make a little bit less on Amazon, but with IngramSpark you will have the advantage of not only hardcovers, but access to Ingram Books distributors access to independent bookstores and Barnes and Nobel with a better percentage.

5. If you are thinking about an e-book, the options are different and the art preparation is different. It is more challenging to do a children’s picture e-book because of the different screen sizes of the reading devices and the ability to change font sizes. CreateSpace and IngramSpark have an e-book conversion option, I have not heard particularly good things about these services. Perhaps, if you are not picky, this may work for you.

6. The biggest job you will have is marketing and selling your book. Just because your book is listed on Amazon doesn’t mean it will sell. It takes a LOT of promotion on your part. Be prepared.

Hope this helps. I like to help authors with their books. I would like to read your edited manuscript.

A New Year and new picture book beginnings for me.

Usually when the holidays and New Year come around, I am deeply involved in illustrating a picture book for someone else, because that’s what I do for my living. This year I finished one book in the late fall Fall, then the book I that was scheduled for the early winter into Spring was canceled. I was not totally disappointed, I always need a few days or so between books to clean up my studio and rest my mind so I can give a new project my full attention.

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This extra free time this year gives me an opportunity to work on some of my own story ideas. I have about four or five drafts of picture books and chapter books I have been working on in-between illustrating books for other authors. I now need to work hard on perfecting these drafts to get them to the point where they are ready for submission to agents and editors. My SCBWI critique group has seen most of these drafts. They have helped me to see where there are weaknesses in the story and character development. I strongly suggest everyone join a critique group of knowledgable writers.

Pen_sketchesBMost children’s book authors start their books very differently than I do.

Because I am an illustrator, I always start with a story idea, then do all the rough illustrations in dummy form. I only add the words when I am satisfied with the flow of the pictures. This is the exact opposite from the way most children’s book authors work. It’s not a perfect way to work so I don’t suggest it to everyone. I need the pictures to think the story through, but when I later add words there isn’t always a smooth flow.

Because I have carefully thought through the visuals in my mind, I know so much more back story than I can possibly show or write about in a 32-page picture book. I’m trying to work through this dilemma and get these stories in shape.

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Every year I participate in Picture Book Idea Month also called PiBoIdMo. I sign-up on Tara Lazar’s website to dream up 30 new ideas for picture books. I been participating for four years now, so I have lots of ideas. This year the challenge is called StoryStorm, Tara Lazar is the organizer. It’s starting right now. I think everyone should sign-up. Hurry the decline is soon.

 

It’s New Year’s resolution time again.

tree_growingEvery year I try to come up with some new goals to strive for. Something to enhance my life and others. In past years I have resolved to be more proactive with my career. To take more creative chances and try new things.

This year, I want to try to help others using my talents. I have gained a lot of knowledge and a lot of experienced through the many years I have been a graphic designer, teacher, children’s book illustrator and children’s book writer. All through my life others have mentored me and helped me to succeed. Now is my turn to pass on this knowledge. I want to share what I have learned with others to help them succeed.

Right now I am mentoring three young people. They all have an interest in illustrating and graphic design as well as writing. Their enthusiasm and creativity inspire me. I hope we can help each other become better artists and people.

I also love to talk to new self-publishing authors about their children’s books. I can help guide them to make the correct decisions to produce the best children’s book at the most reasonable price. Visit my website to read more about illustrating your children’s book and the services I can provide.