Self-Publishing VII – More on Illustration

Let’s take a moment to talk about the importance of illustration – good illustration – when self-publishing your book.

Here is an example of spectacular illustration, and I can proudly say that this – Where Do Butterflies Go at Night? – is my own debut picture book, and yes, it is traditionally published. But …

… this illustrator provides amazing art to both publishers and individuals alike. In fact, she, Stella Mongodi, has illustrated more picture books for self-publishing individuals than anything else.

One of the things I often see in self-published picture books is less-than-spectacular art. Why is that? Many first-time authors are excited about being published and appearing on Amazon, but when it comes to the art, they want to save money. I have come across this numerous times. The result? Not the best looking book!

The question is, do you want to sell your book? If you do, you will need to be prepared to pay a good illustrator and a good designer. You are competing with many, many other titles whose artwork is both eye-catching and professional. And those are the books that sell!

Next, you ideally want an illustrator who has some experience in picture books, or who can render illustrations to the size you require. If you’re doing an 8 x 8″ book, they should understand how a 2-page spread will lay out, how the art will fit in that format, and know what a bleed and a gutter is. As a children’s book designer, I spend a lot of time, which must be charged to the client, fixing and adjusting artwork that could have been done correctly initially. A good illustrator is so important, and It also helps greatly when you work with a good designer from the beginning.

The takeaway here? Do things in the proper order if you’re new to all this – a designer first to help with a dummy, book size, etc., and illustrator next. When the artwork is done, the designer will pull it all together for you. And be willing to invest what it takes to make your book shine and stand out in a crowd!!

Pictured here are the bookmarks I designed for my book. If interested, Butterflies is currently available for pre-order on bookshop.org, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

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.