Illustrating a Nonfiction Picture Book

Fiction picture books

These books I have illustrated are all fictional picture books.

Nonfiction picture books are different. Up to now in my illustration career, I have only illustrated fictional picture books and chapter books. A fictional story is not strictly true or real.  It’s a made-up story. In fiction, the protagonist has a problem and secondary characters or one or more antagonists stand in the way of them solving the problem until they finally figure it out on their own. For me as an illustrator, designing the characters is the fun part.

Nonfiction picture books are different. There’s subject matter that needs explaining or a question that needs answering. Usually, there’s not a main character in nonfiction, though a guide or guides may walk the reader through the learning process. The book could also have chapters or sections.

I am having a lot of fun with this new nonfictional book. I can’t give away any details because I sign a non-disclosure contract at the beginning of each illustration job. Understandably the author wants to keep everything under wraps until the book is published.

I am working to bring my picture book style of colorful illustrations to non-fiction in a fun way. I can’t wait to share this book with you.

If you have a fictional or non-fiction picture book or early chapter book that needs illustrating, contact me. I would love to talk to you about your self publishing or joint-venture publishing book.

How to find a Children’s Book Illustrator for your self-published book

Why are many children’s book illustrators unwilling to work with self-publishing authors?

I am afraid, a few illustrators have very good reasons for this attitude. As a professional illustrator, I get emails from self-publishing authors all the time, who 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 if it’s a picture book, chapter book or middle grade or how many illustrated pages they need. Occasionally an author will say I don’t need a big fancy book, I only want a small book, maybe 12 pages. How much will that be? These questions put me in an awkward position. I don’t have enough information to give them a price.

Mouse artists working together

They 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 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 hair. 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 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 this author 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

• 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 doing this using a 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 they 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 enough 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. This is why most illustrators will not work with self-publishing authors.

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 for 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.

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

 

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.

Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 10.41.09 AM

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.

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.