The Birth of a Picture Book I

I have been extremely lucky to have an exciting project to work on during the quarantine. It has given me a reason to jump out of bed in the morning eager to start a new day.

Picture book cover, The Cow Cocoon
The finished cover of The Cow Cocoon

Rachel Nolen and Maria Price came to me with the darling manuscript for The Cow Cocoon. Our first meeting was at a local park. We wore our Covid-19 masks and kept socially distanced. I could tell they had given The Cow Cocoon story, characters, concept, and marketing a lot of thought. They were excited about the project and their excitement very quickly got me onboard. Rachel and Maria made a great team and I wanted to be part of their journey.

View from Windegger Shelter in Tillis Park
View from Windegger Shelter in Tillis Park
  1. We worked on a brief together so I could understand exactly how they envisioned the characters, the target audience, the marketing plan, and their plans for printing and distribution. After working out the details of what they wanted me to do for them and their time schedule. I wrote up a simple contract in plain English that explained each step, the costs involved, when they were due, and the time schedule. A contract is important to begin each job. It protects the author and the illustrator. This way there aren’t any ugly surprises in the process. The first 1/3 payment of my total fee is due at contract signing.
  2. Character Design. Now the fun began. This is the most important step in illustrating a picture book and the one I love the best. The characters in a picture book drive the story. The characters are what attracts readers to the book and make the story come alive. The words themselves will make them want to read the book over and over. We worked back and forth to develop the personality of each character.
Characters for the book: THE COW COCOON
A few of the characters for The Cow Cocoon

3. The book layout or dummy is the next step. This is the hardest step for me. I must figure out how each spread will break so the story has excitement with each page turn. Sometimes this breakdown is not evident by reading the manuscript alone. I like to make a tiny 32-page dummy out of two sheets of folded and cut typing paper (see picture below). This gives me an idea of which pages are next to each other and if the action is lagging or too repetitious. I also do a storyboard which is a scaled-down flat version of the book. Below is the rough dummy storyboard from another book I illustrated several years ago for Donna Warwick called There’s a Mouse On My Head!

A tiny dummy made out of typing paper.
A tiny folded dummy to show page breaks.
Breaking down the page turns for a picture book
Storyboard, breaking down the page turns for another picture book

Seeing the story sequenced on each page helps identify areas of the story that need more action or excitement. I suggest authors try this with their manuscript to help them pace their story. At this time we sometimes need a meeting to adjust the manuscript slightly to best serve the page breaks. This can usually be done by moving a few sentences or changing the location where the action takes place.

I will continue this picture book journey narrative in my next blog post, Friday, December 18, 2020. See The Birth of a Picture Book II and the third installation on Monday, December 21, 2020, See The Birth of a Picture Book III

Cover for The Cow Cocoon picture book

The Cow Cocoon picture book can be purchased after February 1, 2021, at: www.cowcocoon.com

If you have a picture book in need of illustration and design, contact me through my website: DayneSislen.com

Message to self-publishing picture book authors

Are you having a hard time finding a good professional children’s book illustrator who’s willing to work with you on your book?

Why would illustrators turn you down, when you’re giving them an opportunity to illustrate your fantastic book, that’s probably going to be a best seller? Why are they not clamoring to work for you? Why are they not returning your emails?

I am afraid, some illustrators have very good reasons to turn down self-publishing authors as opposed to a publishing house. As a professional illustrator, I get emails from self-publishing authors all the time. They 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. 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. They say, “Don’t spend any time.” But they want the main character to look like their niece at four years old 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. 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 Blackie (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 pretty quickly tell when an author will take up 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.

Here are 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 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 (word count),  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 or is someone else doing that job?

I usually respond by telling them:

Most picture books are 32-pages with approx 12-14 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 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 you 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. The 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. Professional illustrators do not illustrate self-published books for royalties, they have no way of knowing how many books are selling or even if you will try to sell the books. Illustrators are paid, usually in one-third increments. One third to start, the second third when roughs are approved and the balance right before the approved files are turned over to the printer or publisher.

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 when other illustrators aren’t?

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.

 

Finally Illustrations done, “Don’t be a Pig in a Panic!” picture book

After illustrating this book for the author Leila Leidtke for the last 7 months, I am happy to say it is almost finished. I can now draw pigs snakes and tigers with my eyes closed. I loved illustrating the pigs, what really bogged down the process were the jungle backgrounds. You can’t fake a jungle background. Regular landscapes can be a sweep of green with a few strategically placed trees, jungles on the other hand are very complicated. I started out with very complex backgrounds, but as I went along and the characters count increased on each page the backgrounds got more and more simple. I’d much rather illustrate pigs any day.

I’m ready to move on to the next project. . . Ballerinas anyone?

My contact information: www.daynesislendesign.com

Just a few of the 16 full color spreads without the text in place.

PIGS_2-3_smPIGS_6-7_smPIGS_10-11_smPIGS_14-15_sm PIGS_18-19_sm PIGS_20-21_sm PIGS_24-25_sm