Workshop

Can I do a workshop for you?

As a published author and illustrator, graphic designer, and experienced public speaker, I am available to do a presentation on Self-Publishing 101 for Children’s Books.

I would be more than happy to educate your group on all that is entailed in self-publishing a children’s book. Workshop contents include critical points such as:
* Idea/concept
* Story
* Importance of a dummy
* Design
* Illustration
* Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

Interested? For complete details please contact me and inquire. I’d love to hear from you!

Please note that workshops need to be in reasonable travel distance from my home. Thank you!

Self-Publishing VIII – New Challenges

A recent self-publishing project has been my second with author, MJ Zonfrillo. The Boy Who Found His Talent is a picture book story of a boy who’s bored, but doesn’t know what he wants to do, and his journey to finding what that is. It’s always great working with someone I’ve worked with before; it makes the whole process easier and more fun.

Let’s look at some of the successes and challenges in creating this book. MJ does a great job of doing a dummy, but … it was put together for me after the illustrations were done and that created some missed opportunities.

The illustrator, who is very talented, never did a picture book before. Sandy’s forte is animals, so a complete book with humans presented some challenges, but MJ had taken care of all that before the art was presented to me. One of the things I would have liked to see done differently would have been a much more extensive use of 2-page spreads. In this book, there are only two.

The result was that there are too many pages with an illustration on one side and the opposite side has only a few lines of text, (see above.) This misses the opportunity to use full color throughout, but also gives the child reader far less to look at.

Another issue was not apparent until I received the art and that was that the artwork itself was not painted out far enough to provide for the full bleed for the page size. In some cases, the illustrations could be slightly enlarged, but in others, it meant my having to paint in areas to provide the needed bleed. Also, the scans, which had been made by a print shop, had a somewhat greenish cast to them, and much color-correcting had to be done.

The last challenge was that the illustrator had not been asked to do a separate image just for the cover, so MJ and I were left to figure out which interior images might be used for this purpose. As it turned out, this was pretty do-able and we were able to use one for the front cover, and a different one for the back cover.

All in all, it still went quite smoothly, and having a client who’s great to work with makes it all so much easier (and fun!) The Boy Who Found His Talent looks great with attractive front and back covers, and plenty of interest on the inside portraying a solid story, which also includes photos of the main character in his various theatrical endeavors.

What could have been done differently? As mentioned in earlier posts, there is a great advantage to working with the designer early on, and before giving the assignment to the illustrator. This could have provided many more 2-page spreads and a better use of the 4/color availability for picture books. This way the illustrator understands exactly what’s expected of him/her, especially if they’ve never done a picture book.

My second recommendation is to utilize an illustrator who has experience in picture books and understands all that is required to give me properly sized, finished art so I can just pop it in on the page. I spend more time than should be needed in correcting things, which adds to the final cost, and which would have been avoided if an illustrator experienced in picture books was hired.

So that’s it. Another great collaboration and another beautiful book finished!! Ready to start your self-published book? (Or other graphic design project?) Reach out; I’m happy to help!

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.

Is This Your Year to Be Published?

It’s a New Year, and it’s time to think about where you’re headed. So many people have a dream of being published, of actually having a book in their hands that has their name on the cover as the author, and maybe the illustrator, as well. You may have that dream, too, but perhaps feel compelled to keep it a little quiet. After all, isn’t that a bit of a luxury to go and have yourself published? Maybe not.

Do you have something important, something relevant, or just plain fun, you’d like to share with children? Some part of your life experience that might make a difference to someone? Something you know or feel or dream about that could bring knowledge, a smile, or enlightenment to another. I believe we all have something to bring the world, and perhaps a book is the avenue for you to express it.

If you think you would like to be a self-published author, I’d be happy to help you achieve that dream. Above are just a few of the books I’ve had the privilege of bringing to life; each one has a post about it here on this site where you can read more. You can also find out more of what self-publishing is about on any of the tabs up top.

Is 2022 going to be your year to be published? Let me know!

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!

 

 

 

Growing in Our Fields of Interest

One of the things that’s important in any field we care about is growth. Are you growing in what you do, in what you care about, in where you want to go?

Based on the true story of the author’s Frenchie who defied the odds in agility

To this end, I think learning more and being involved is important in our being the best we can be, no matter what our interest, professional or otherwise. I am a regular attendee at SCBWI events (more on this sometime soon), but recently had the pleasure of being a guest speaker on a panel for an Animal Writers Workshop. Obviously, the commonality shared by both speakers and participants was our love of animals and writing. My fellow speakers shared their experiences in their writing process, road to publication, inspiration, and the difference in writing for a non-fiction vs. fiction reading audience and more. I spoke on the importance of good graphic design in self-publishing.

Flyer/program cover for the workshop, my design

With so many aspiring writers and illustrators turning to self-publishing nowadays – in addition to or instead of traditional publishing – there are new challenges to be faced. One of them is the importance of a well-designed product, which is where I, as a graphic artist, come in. My talk focused on some of the elements of good graphic design and how they come together to create an appealing book, and especially an appealing cover. I stressed how hiring a good graphic designer is every bit as important as a good illustrator, editor, and printer in publishing.

An adult novel from the point of view of the horse that changed the author’s life.

In a highly competitive field, now expanded due to self-publishing, you have literally seconds to grab the attention of a potential purchaser. A good portion of my talk included show-and-tell using examples to make my points. I brought along a bunch of particularly attractive children’s books from my own collection, had my fellow panelists hold up their well-designed books, and also showed a couple from my local library where I had tasked our librarian to find me some samples of poorly designed covers. I knew we had the right examples when I held up one of them and there were audible gasps from the audience!

It was a fun talk to an interested and interesting audience, with more opportunity for discussion afterwards at tables in an Authors Alley. Panelists and additional writers were  set up for book signings and a get-to-know with attendees.  What made this event so much fun was the sharing of experiences with fellow writers whose passion was our love of animals. Certainly, I had plenty to share, but I also found plenty to learn. And that’s what makes workshops and conferences both fun and important in our lives.

One of the books published by the event coordinator and moderator

If you have a dream, a passion, I encourage you to find opportunities to expand your knowledge and connect with others who share that passion. You will grow in many ways, some unexpected, and be inspired. Of course, if I can help you bring your dreams into fabulous visual format, just contact me and I’ll be happy to help.

 

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.