Self-Publishing VI – Illustration Layout Challenges

Every story being self-published has a story of its own for the designer. What made it fun and appealing? What presented challenges? How were they resolved and could they have been avoided?

Doctor Whisper and Nurse Willow is an 8×10″ picture book by Susen Edwards, illustrated by Lindsey  Johnson, and had two interesting challenges – one that is not so unusual for a first-time author and a first-time illustrator, and a second which, surprisingly, was due to the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic.

Susen, the author, was a delight to work with, and she had found a young illustrator with a charming and simple style, though no experience in picture book layout. The story is about two cats, who, in the face of their little boy being ill, transform themselves into Doctor Whisper and Nurse Willow to provide the special care that our animal companions so often provide.

What I sometimes find with first-time picture book illustrators is that they are not aware that their 2-page spread drawings have to accommodate the gutter in the center of the book. Once the book is bound, a portion of the illustration is lost in that fold, so the artist has to plan the elements of the illustration carefully. In this case, a couple of Lindsey’s illustrations had  cats placed across the middle of the drawing .

This is where a designer able to work in Photoshop is a great asset. In two cases, I literally moved one of the cats to another location on the left or right page, where no one would ever know they’d been “cut and pasted” with a new background “painted” in  where they had been. 

The two halves of the original illustration with Dr. Whisper across the middle, baseboards not lining up, and gray at the edges of the drawing from the scanner. Moving the images closer left the illustration not wide enough, and Whisper still in the middle. (White area is for text.)

After some work in Photoshop, we now have Whisper on the bed close to Bobby, the center section cleaned up and the baseboards aligning properly. Now neither cat’s image will be lost in the gutter.

The other challenge, which no one could have anticipated, is that when Lindsey took her illustrations to the local copy shop to be scanned, the shop was closed because of COVID. Her only recourse was to scan them on her own smaller scanner bed in two parts. This presented a problem because when lined up as 2-page spreads in Photoshop, they occasionally were a little “grayed-out” at the edges and didn’t always match up. This, unfortunately, left Susen with some unanticipated extra design time while I had to enlarge a little here, reduce a little there, and do a little extra Photoshop work to make the illustrations “whole” again.

Another example of the finished spread where each cat is now on its own page. The original drawing had Nurse Willow across the gutter with her head right next to Dr. Whisper’s. In Photoshop, I moved the entire cat to the left page, and re-created the center portion. 

The result, however, is a very lovely picture book, and the Photoshop work was actually an enjoyable challenge. I had fun with the cover in choosing a light, Victorian-style wallpaper which complimented the drawing style plus a frame for our two main characters. What could have been done differently?

As for the scanning? Nothing. This was just an unfortunate turn of events that no one could have predicted. The image of the cats getting lost in the gutter? That could be remedied by working with a designer who is familiar with children’s books (such as myself!) where a dummy could be put together before illustrating began, thus assuring proper placement of all pictorial elements. The key here is a dummy (and the subject for another post.)

Doctor Whisper and Nurse Willow is suitable for young children, ages 3-6, and can be found on Amazon.

If looking for a skillful job in bringing your picture book to life, feel free to inquire.

 

Self-Publishing V – Picture Books

One of the best parts of any design project is the opportunity to create something new, unique, and appealing for your client and their audience. But it can be an exciting challenge to stay within certain parameters, such as size limitations, when you are provided with  a variety of elements created without those parameters in mind.

Such was the case in designing the picture book “The Little Girl Who Lost Her Words” for author MJ Zonfrillo. This was MJ’s first foray into the world of self-publishing. While she had devoted a great deal of time to her manuscript and hired an excellent artist in Sue Griggs-Bailey, the combination of a beginner’s level of experience and a portrait artist  who had never worked in children’s books presented a few challenges.

Let me first say that I am so appreciative of those people I work with, like MJ, who are so willing to learn and want to do everything they can to make the project go smoothly. Thank you to you all.
MJ had a dummy assembled in a looseleaf binder and came ready to work. The illustrations were provided on a flash drive in a suitably-sized jpg. format. However, because the dummy was created after the illustrations were completed – the reverse of the usual order of things – I had to sometimes work a bit in reverse. Also, the illustrator, being an accomplished portrait artist, provided a number of similar-appearing images in portrait style that would need to be presented in different ways so as to provide the variety needed in a 32-page picture book.

Above right is a beautiful image Sue had drawn of the main character, Ava, looking wistfully up at some butterflies. But this needed to be a 2-page spread — what was the best way to go about this? I could have used the image on one side of the spread and used the opposing side for text, but there was another option to make it more interesting. See below, the final spread, using Photoshop, and incorporating Sue’s own background to extend the image.

MJ had chosen an 8.5 x 11″ format.  Some of the images supplied worked wonderfully as single page images, and there were others that worked well as spreads. Very few were provided with an awareness of where the gutter would be and how it would affect the look of the spread. Others needed a variety of cropping, others needed to be made to work in page-and-a-half size, and in some cases, Photoshopping to make them work in the chosen format. This is where my being an artist, not just a designer, comes in handy!

Pictured above is the original art for a two-page spread. It would have been perfect for a horizontal format, but our final size for a 2 page spread is 17″ wide by 11″ high – quite a difference. What I needed to do was first trim the drawing down to clean edges all around, then see what I could afford to lose from the left and right sides. Next, I had to piece the two together overlapping, then eliminate a swath down the middle to fit the above dimensions, and paint the two together in Photoshop to create a continuous image so the finished piece looked like it had always been that way. Voila!

One of the things MJ learned from this experience is the proper order of: finalized MS, dummy, then illustrations. With such beautiful artwork and MJ’s trust in my design ability to modify Sue’s art respectfully when needed, I was able to bring it all together to make a beautiful finished book that all of us are really proud of. With such a lovely first book, I look forward to working with MJ again on whatever her next project might be.

Self-Publishing IV – Chapter Books

When I was approached by a children’s writer to do a chapter book, my first inclination was to say `no’. Really, I much preferred to stick with picture books because that’s what I think I’m best at and what I enjoy most. But wait … I’ve never designed a chapter book before, how would I know? And that was the start of working on The Last Rhino with  Deb Stevenson.

A chapter book is different than a picture book in many ways. The interior is in black and white with color on the cover only; it appeals to an older child; it is significantly longer and broken into short chapters; and sets up differently as it most resembles a small novel.

One of the things I have loved about working with the authors I have is that they care. In this case, Deb cares about the fact that the rhino is slowly becoming extinct, and is donating a portion of the book’s proceeds towards rhino conservation.  (Read more about The Last Rhino.) My job was to create a book that didn’t depend on bright, colorful illustrations, but invited children to read this touching story and to appreciate the wonderful art of the illustrator, Morgan Spicer, in black and white. Morgan’s drawings were sometimes full page, and sometimes partial, sharing the page with text.

The Last Rhino was more of a collaborative effort than other projects I’ve worked on where I was the only one with a background in publishing. This was sometimes a challenge, but ultimately a good experience in working in a different environment.

Likewise, I was challenged to learn new skills in preparing files for press by the online printers, particularly Ingram Spark, whom Deb chose for some of the copies of the book.  This publisher had requirements that I’d never met before in all my years in file prep and printing, and so I searched, learned, and conquered!

The placement of Morgan’s full and partial page illustrations was largely determined by the text, but utilizing her art here and there as spots throughout the book  and on the back cover (the front all but designed itself), was a really enjoyable part of doing the layout. Designing chapter divisions and setting up the backmatter section was also a pleasure.

As it turns out, my concerns about what might be difficult in designing a chapter book  were completely unfounded. Like any new project, it required me to think a bit differently than I had on other books I’d done in the past and, in the end, I have the knowledge of what designing and setting up a chapter book entails. We are all thrilled with The Last Rhino in every way, and it is now another skill that I can confidently offer prospective clients.

Have a chapter book you’d like to bring to life?  Contact me and let me know because I can now promise you a stunning chapter book!

 

 

 

Self-Publishing – III

One of the major differences between self-publishing and being published by a mainstream publisher can be in the imagery. When you sign on with a publishing house, you, as an author, will be paid for your story and unless you are an author/illustrator, they will make the arrangements and hire someone to provide the artwork. When it comes to self-publishing, you’re pretty much on your own to provide the images.

If you, as an author, wish to pay an illustrator you will find that it’s not an inexpensive proposition. Creating art takes time – and talent, of course – and may be beyond the financial wherewithal of the average author. For this reason, particularly in picture books where images are critical to not just the look and feel of the book, but also the understanding of the story, there is a preponderance of photography used in the self-publishing world.

So what can one do about that? Why not be creative with the photographic images? Pictured here is Daniel, Dog Camp Champ! by Loren Spiotta-DiMare, a picture book for an older picture book reader. Loren wanted more than  straightforward images cropped to accommodate the square format, so I had some fun with them and used a variety of techniques in Photoshop. Most of them were quite simple, but made all the difference in the variety of images from one page to the next.

In the image above, I used two simple techniques – I silhouetted the two dogs on the top, dropping out the background of the photo, and softened the edges. I placed the image low on the page, giving the feel of the dogs sleeping on pillows on the floor.

Another technique I used here and there throughout the book was to combine photos which were not originally related. So on page 9 we have our energetic Welsh Springer Spaniel having a great time romping on the shore of  the lake at the doggie agility camp. Was he ever there? Not at all. but with some handy silhouetting, combining,  and juxtapositioning … he is now!

Silhouetting can also be a very powerful tool in evoking a feeling from an image. Daniel, our little Dachshund hero, is fearful of participating in the agility challenges. Each time he tries one of the obstacles, he becomes afraid. He is more comfortable watching from the sidelines. I think silhouetting this particular photo is a strong way of showing that Daniel is not just looking on but may also long to be a part of the fun. It also removes background that may have nothing to do with the scene being written about. Again, I’ve used the soft edges as I have through much of the book.

This was a fun project to do. I had the opportunity of playing in Photoshop and designing a book that relied on photography have more of the look and feel of illustration.

The cover, at top, was also fun. Daniel, the trophy cup, and the biscuits were all separate photos combined for an image that tells a story by itself, but even the title font added some playfulness.

One could go and purchase a wood-y font that looks like summer camp, but why, when you can create something similar in Photoshop? Photoshop is any artists’s dream tool and with minimum effort, the letters can look like carved wood. This isn’t any major magic, just playing around with some of the program’s variables to get a result.

For those who are self-publishing a picture book but do not have the availability of an illustrator, consider the photos you plan on using – might they lend themselves to some creative effects to make your story more attractive and readable? If you think so and are looking for overall lovely book design, please contact me and we’ll talk!

p.s. Should you wish to talk design in person, I will be a guest speaker and panelist at the Animal Writers’ Workshop to be held on April 28th in Oldwick, NJ. There’s still time to register and tickets are still available. Read about the Workshop here.

 

 

Self-Publishing – II

As discussed in an earlier post, print-on-demand has allowed more people than ever to see their dreams of being published come true. And while it has given many this opportunity, it still hasn’t changed the responsibility of putting something worthwhile out into the world. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

Certainly, well-crafted writing is still in demand, and putting forth a product that is visually appealing and which appropriately complements the text is critical. What makes someone want to pick up a book?  I think most would agree  —  it’s the cover.

Not long ago, a writer friend and I came across a self-published book written by someone we know. I don’t know who did the cover, but it did a huge disservice to the writer, so much so that neither of us were really excited about knowing what the book was about. It was actually off-putting. And that’s where good graphic design comes in. Your cover – and the graphic design of your book – can make or break you. Want someone to open your book? Make it look good.

The book featured here is one I designed for a client who wrote it for an older child reader. She wanted to make it look less like a typical picture book, even though it is rich in photographs. It is about a northern water snake named Bo. He lives by a pond where all his animal friends have families of their own, what Bo dearly wishes for himself.

Everything in this 32-page book has been carefully thought out from the title page (right, top), to chapter beginnings (bottom), to every page in between, whether there is one or multiple images. All elements serve to create a coordinated look that moves the reader along seamlessly from page to page, and allows them to enjoy each of the photos.

I really enjoyed working on this project for the same reason Becky created it – to appeal to an older child reader. It looks more grown up with the novel-like page layout and the 6″ x 9″ format, clearly not a book for a 5 year-old. I was excited, also, by the many beautiful photographs I had to work with, and even to research a few more that really enhanced the story.

It takes a lot to bring a book to life, and a good graphic designer is one of your best investments if you plan to self-publish. If you want your book to draw people’s attention, please contact me and let’s see what we can do together.