It’s about time.

I try to write a blog post or reblog a post every few weeks but that doesn’t always happen. In the last month, I had two major events. I gave a presentation to the Missouri Writer’s Guild and University of Missouri’s ShowMe Writers Masterclass and attended an SCBWI conference.

There were about 140 people total at the ShowMe Masterclass in Columbia Missouri. There were many presenters. My presentation for writers was about finding and working with a children’s book illustrator on a self-published children’s book. The members of the group that came for my presentation were all interested in self-publishing children’s books. I hope I helped to direct them on a route to success. I discussed the types of publishing, how to stay away from predatory publishers, how to find an illustrator in your budget and how to work with the illustrator you choose to get the best results. A lot of these subjects are covered in my past blogs so you can search my archives to learn everything I talked about. (See below)

I also attended an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Kansas City. This is always a time of seeing friends who share my interests and renewing my love of children’s books. Publishers and agents from major traditional publishing houses come together to give presentations and critique our work. It’s nice to be able to connect faces and personalities to the big names in publishing.

I am now working to perfect two picture book dummies that have been in the works for a while. These are books I have written and illustrated. I will be sending them out to the publishing world very soon. I got some feedback during my critique with an art director from a major publisher, hopefully, I can make them even better.

 

 

Just finished illustrations for a nonfiction picture book

Oh, the joy of finishing a picture book illustration job and sending it off to the printer on its way to meet the world. It’s sort of like sending your child off to preschool for the first time. It’s a bittersweet moment. The editor, Stephanie Krell and I have worked so hard for so long and now it goes out to meet its destiny. Will parents and grandparents buy it? Will readers love it? Will kids want it read to them over and over?

Shark Dentists and Other Stories by Vincent Immordino Illustrated by Dayne SislenShark Dentists and Other Stories uses playful characters from the natural world to explain and illustrate the careful planning of a loving Creator. From a busy termite to a friendly monkey, children will learn about the world around them and how it came to be. Most of all, they will read how they are unique among all of God’s creation. The book includes a study guide for use in home instruction and other teaching settings, along with parent references.

It took me five months to complete all the illustrations for this book. I worked very closely with Stephanie Krell, the editor to visually bring her grandfather Vincent Immordino’s stories alive on the page. Working with Stephanie was a delight. She knew what she wanted and was excellent at making quick and wise decisions about every step of the creation process.

As a result, Shark Dentists and Other Stories will be available in late November. I will have more information regarding pre-sales in the near future and a direct link to the Amazon page.

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.

 

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.

New SCBWI postcard design entry

The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is having a postcard illustration contest. Each card must incorporate a kite in some way. (The SCBWI’s Logo is a kite) This is my  postcard entry. It shows the young dragon Whiff and his friends. I adapted an illustration from a book I am writing and illustrating. As you can see, I have also used this same character on the header on this blog. Whiff hasn’t quite figured out how to use his unique talents.

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7 Steps to get your self-published children’s book illustrated.

 How to choose an illustrator and get your book finished.

 

Funny Cat by Dayne SislenStep one: Choosing the right illustrator.

For professional children’s book illustrators, I suggest: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators organization’s website SCBWI.org. 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: Childrensillustrators.com. Over 700 professional illustrators are listed.

“Remember the illustrations tell one-half of the story in a picture book. You want to present your book to the world in the best possible way. An inexperienced illustrator can make your excellently written picture book appear amateurish and awkward. Most people buy a book based on its cover.”

 

A budget source for illustrations: You always hear about Fiverr for cheap illustrations.  https://www.fiverr.com. 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.

Step two: Before an illustrator can give you a price on illustrating your book, they must see your professionally edited and formatted manuscript. If they feel your story will fit their style of illustration and they can create suitable illustrations that will best develop your story for you. They will agree to talk to you about your plans for the book. Picture books are traditionally 32 or 40 pages because of economical printing practices. That means your illustrator 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  4-8 months. This is how professional illustrators make their living, it is a full-time job. Please set aside a reasonable budget so your book can be professionally illustrated to show off your wonderful story to its best advantage.
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This is my process:
Step three: When I work with a children’s book author, one-third of the total illustration fee is expected before I start.My fee for illustrating picture books usually runs between $6,000 and $12,000 depending on complexity.
I read your manuscript over and over until I am very familiar with the characters and can see them clearly in my mind.  I also might want to add a pet or other background interest to add to the story. I design character sketches for your approval. We also discuss illustration style and colors. We work together on these until you are pleased.
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Step four: I then do rough “thumbnails” of all the pages in the book to see how the action flows from page to page.  This is very important if I skip this step, the illustrations, while nice, will not flow from page to page visually. The illustrations will still be rough at this stage but you will already know what the characters look like (step two). I will need your approval at this stage and the second 1/3 of the total fee.
Step five: Now, I do full-size roughs of all the pages and work on refining the backgrounds. The interior and exterior details in backgrounds will now come into place. At this stage, you should know exactly what the book will look like minus color. I will need your approval again at this stage.
Illus for There's a Mouse on my Head! Illus. by Dayne SislenStep six:  Now I start final linework and the color. I will send you updates as I go along to make sure I’m going in the right direction and you are pleased. At this stage changes become time-consuming and disruptive. Minor changes can be made, but major changes will require quite a bit of work and I will have to charge an extra hourly fee to make them.
I work on all the pages at pretty much the same time. Colors must match from page to page and the style must be consistent. I scan in my drawings and do the painting on my computer. I use Adobe Photoshop with custom brushes that replicate, watercolor, pastel, oil, gouache or acrylic paint. I sometimes use textures to add interest. When all illustrations are complete and you are satisfied, it’s time to put it all together.
 Step seven:  Digital packaging. If you choose me to do this stage, I can package and format the book so it is ready for your printer. I do this for you by designing a custom font that works with the illustration for the front cover and the back cover. I set the text for the inside of the book, doing custom fonts and type treatments where needed.
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I then format the digital file to the exact specifications your printer needs. I am always available to work with your printer to make sure everything prints correctly. When all my work is approved and ready to send to the printer or directly to you, I ask for the final 1/3 of my fee.
51af87b93bb5b9fe7517283ad27efd36How long it takes:
If we are able to communicate very quickly when I need feedback and we work smoothly together, The shortest time, start to finish is usually 5 to 6 months. If there are complications or time laspes between steps and approvals, it can take much longer. The shortest time a picture has ever taken me to illustrate, design and package was 5 months, the longest 3 years (the author would disappear for months). It  usually takes 6 to 8 months with 8 months being the safest to plan for publication date.

I hope this blog helps you to make the right choices for your picture book.
I would be happy to talk with you about illustrating your book. I can also help you make the right decisions about printing your book and the business side of publishing.

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

There's a Mouse on My Head

Picture book I illustrated for Donna Warwick. POD by IngramSpark

 If you are planning on self-publishing a picture book using Print On Demand (POD) like CreateSpace or IngramSpark or an independent printer (that you pay to print your book) you WILL need professional children’s book illustrations. You will 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 http://www.pred-ed.com 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 SCBWI.org. 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: Childrensillustrators.com. Over 700 professional illustrators are listed.

Children's Illustrators

Children’s Illustrators Website

Fiverr

Fiverr website

A budget sources: You always hear about Fiverr for cheap illustrations.  https://www.fiverr.com. 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. Another source is http://upwork.com, they have illustrators and book designers available for slightly more money.

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 Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobel and other booksellers (should you choose).

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: http://freddiek.com/writing-between-the-lines/ 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.

 

 

7 Steps for Marketing a Children’s Picture Book

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Back Cover, There’s a Mouse on My Head!

Everything I’ve read says it’s a lot of work to market any book, much less a self-published children’s picture book. Donna Warwick the author of “There’s a Mouse on My Head!” and I, as the illustrator, are starting down this long road to what we hope is success.

The first copies of the book have been printed and shipped. They haven’t arrived yet. We need to make sure everything is perfect before we release them to the public. Publication date is set for August 10. Our book will be available on Amazon, B&N, and other Internet bookstores. Brick and mortar book stores can special order it for you directly from Ingrams. “There’s a Mouse on My Head” will also be available at the Jewish Book Festival Book Store this November. We are making hardcover books as well as soft cover books. Later we plan an e-book.

1. We are working on an author’s website. I am setting it up and doing the graphics, Donna will write all the text.

2. A Facebook fan page is in the process of being set up.

3. A Twitter account needs to be started.

4. We are also working on teacher materials, and activity sheets for parents to download from the website for their kids.

5. Donna is working on a trailer to promote the book

6. She is also working on the presentation we will give at the Jewish Book Festival luncheon in October.

7. In the Fall, both Donna and I will be setting up grade school, pre school and library visits.

So much work and so little time. Wish us luck and abundant creativity.

6 ways a professional children’s book illustrator can help self-publishing authors

Whiff_dragon_420Having a professional children’s book illustrator create custom illustrations for your self-published children’s book can help your book compete with traditionally published books. I love to help authors bring their words alive on the page with illustrations.

How can a professional illustrator make so much difference?

1. Books are judged by their covers. It’s a fact. In a bookstore or on an Internet site like Amazon, the only thing a buyer sees is your cover. There are thousands of books that your book is competing against for buyers. It’s important to present your book professionally. Having an inexperienced illustrator illustrate your book makes your book look amateurish. That’s not the image you want to project.

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. Your cover image and typography are what customers use to judge the value of your book.

Below is a list  of the main points for a cover:

  • Be eye-catching
  • Look professional
  • Be easy to read
  • Communicate the message of the book correctly
  • Work well at a small size for Internet sales, catalogs and e-books
  • Fit-in, or stand out 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.

2. A professional Children’s book illustrator will actually read your book ( yes, we do) and help decide which pages need illustrations.  Authors, are sometimes too close to their stories to make  the best choice about what parts of the story need illustrations. Professional illustrators have the experience to help the author decide where page breaks and illustrations work best to best move the story forward and create suspense.

3. A professional illustrator with work one-on-one with you to develop character studies for all the unique characters in your book. Generic stock characters you can buy online are unworthy of all the hard work you did to write your original story.

4. A professional Illustrator knows about file types, resolution, bleed and sizes necessary to make sure your illustrations look great in your book.

5. A professional children’s book illustrator will make sure you have the correct size images  for cover image marketing views on Amazon and any additional promotional materials you may need. An illustrator who also has design experience like I do, can also design posters, bookmarks, business cards and other publicity and marketing materials to match your book’s brand.

6. Most importantly, a professional illustrator will work with your printer to make sure your book looks the best possible when printed. Each printer has their own specifications to ensure quality reproduction.

Read the other pages on this blog to learn how we can work together to create the best-illustrated book possible for your story. I also have an illustrator’s website with a lot more information and a portfolio site on Behance

I would be happy to assist you with your book. I love to develop unique characters and fun backgrounds to fit each story. I work very closely with authors to make sure their voice is heard. To contact me, use the form below.

Rejected Postcard Design

This was my entry into the SCBWI PAL postcard illustration contest. It was not chosen. There were a lot of wonderful illustrations in the running. The judges were agents Lori Kilkelly & Paul Rodeen & author/illustrator Lauren Castillo (Caldecott Honor winner for NANA IN THE CITY)

I like this character, she might find a place in a chapter book I am writing.SCBWI_Postcard_good_rgb

Book I illustrated finally printed

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I illustrated this 32 page 8 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ book for Leila L. Leidtke last year. It’s about three little pigs and their adventures in the wild. It’s a rough scary jungle out there! Right now this book can only be ordered from Friesen Press, later it will be available in many bookstores and Amazon. Click here to order.

It seems like I have waited forever to see these books printed. It does give me a good feeling seeing something I worked on so long to finally be completed. I am very happy with the color and the quality of the paper.

I love working with self publishing authors, contact me to talk about your book.

Snowed in & Working on Pencil Sketches for Children’s Picture Book App

I love being snowed in. When everyone else is trying to shovel their way out and fretting about being stuck at home, I’m happy. My studio is now in my home so I always have so many fun things to do. Today I worked on some full size pencil roughs for the book “Round” by Shervonne Taylor. I will be doing a picture book app first, then a printed picture book with the same art. So all the art must be made larger than it normally would for a picture book application for iPad. When I do the final illustrations everything will be on different layers, so the characters and backgrounds can move separately.Illustrator_pencil_roughs

I worked out the character sketches and the dummy earlier, so I know what each character will look like and what happens on each page, but it is so much fun seeing the main character doing her thing in each scene.

I love working with Children’s book authors. Each book is so different and so much fun to illustrate.