Working on now…

kellanI’m currently working to illustrate a book for an author from North Dakota. This is her second book, and both were written for her grandchildren. I’ll share the link when it’s finished…probably in about 6 weeks.
It’s so much work to illustrate a book!

I love doing it, but some nights it’s just hard to come home and be creative after working a full day as a creative designer…but it’s something I really love to do. Hopefully one day I can illustrate full time. For now I just do it for the love…because it certainly doesn’t pay the bills.

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In my sketchbook…

So I’m a doodler. I love to have a black marker pen or crayon in my hands. I do it throughout meetings when there’s rarely “real” notes to take. I do it while I’m on a conference call (any phone call, honestly). I do it while I’m watching the hockey game. I do it while my youngest daughter colors along side me.

This is a small progression with a pretty funny, (albeit somewhat creepy-looking), end to it…

A poor pen drawing of the little girl, here in bunny slippers by a sunny window.
A poor pen drawing of the little girl, here in bunny slippers by a sunny window.

So I have this very rough idea in mind for a children’s book. (Very rough…like just developing some fun characters I want to know, and hoping a story pops up). The first character in my story is a little girl. She’s 9 or 10. She’s cute but plain. Lonely. And just found that her mother left a very disappointing note on the kitchen table. I generally just start drawing without really paying close attention, until I come up with something I like, then I develop and go from there.

An OK first attempt, but I thought she was way too tall. I should maybe make her stouter, more cutesy.

Much cuter, but this nightgown looks like she should be a waitress at a truck stop.
Much cuter, but this nightgown looks like she should be a waitress at a truck stop.

Maybe she needs to be a little more plain.

Not going to the right direction here either...
Not going to the right direction here either…

Nope. Too plain. Too young now.

She should perhaps look a little more despondent.

Did you just have a good cry, little girl?
Did you just have a good cry, little girl?

Nah. Try…Irked?

I also came up with a better name than Zou Zou...maybe.
I also came up with a better name than Zou Zou…maybe.

She just looks miffed.

Hmm. The brows could be interesting. Expressive. That's easy.
Hmm. The brows could be interesting. Expressive. That’s easy.

So does she.

A couple of attempts...the window is back for practice...but neither of these are the little girl that can pull off this story...she has to be stronger maybe.
A couple of attempts…the window is back for practice…but neither of these are the little girl that can pull off this story…she has to be stronger maybe.

Maybe make her a little Darker. No, maybe Dressier.

Better dresser. ooh. Do better eyes.

Sleepier eyes.
Sleepier eyes.

…and let’s consider her sidekick I have in mind. A little goat guy named Botis.

Here comes trouble.
Here comes trouble.

A Cocky Botis…

botis2

…and here’s one of the little girl that I started, and then Presley took my pen and worked on her while I stepped out of the room.

Exhibit A: Kids always get into your stuff. It's why you can't have nice things.
Exhibit A: Kids always get into your stuff. It’s why you can’t have nice things.

Darker! Angrier! Yes! Make this story something parents might tell other parents about. Darker…

darkerEmbrace the dark!

scary

Well now she just looks like a child who would hurt a pet.

What about something looser…just in silhouette….

That note her mom left is really having an effect on her mood...
That note her mom left is really having an effect on her mood…

Okay. That’s creepy. But kind of fun. Add in Botis, the window..you know…

Presley strikes again with the marker. "I love mama".
Presley strikes again with the marker. “I love mama”.

Gah! Time to work on a different project…

 

 

Self-publishing with Amazon

I am frequently asked about how I publish my books…specifically, who is my publisher. I’ve used Amazon’s Createspace for everything. My experience with it has been great. Would I like to sell more books? Sure, but apart from my facebook page and some half-hearted blogging, I rarely do much to self-promote. I think this is one component of self-publishing that many people aren’t prepared for. I think some people believe if you just throw something online it will sell. I can tell you from my experience, this is not true at all.

My book, “What I Want You To Know” was written specifically for new or expecting parents of a child with Down syndrome. I set up a kickstarter.com project to raise some money. When the book was complete, I used the funds to purchase a sizable number of copies, and pay the postage to send them out to loads of Down syndrome advocacy groups, clinics, and organizations about North America. I went on television a few times. I was reviewed by small magazines and a couple newspapers. I did public readings and book store signings. I created tiny ripples in the small pond of people who might actually be interested in my book.

This was really the only time I promoted a book I’d made. The rest just sit on an Amazon server somewhere, waiting for their number to be called.

Createspace publishing is all done POD, or “print on demand”. When someone orders a book of mine, the magic elves in South Carolina print and bind a copy, and ship off the order within about 24 hours. As someone who’s worked in publishing for 15 years, this is a beautiful technological feat. Here’s why it’s awesome: I don’t have to come up with $10k in advance and print a thousand copies I then haul around in my trunk for 3 years. I don’t have to invest a dime, and I don’t have to deal with inventory and shipping out orders. If I want copies for myself, I can buy them for a significantly reduced price per copy.

They let me pick the price. They direct deposit (30-day lag) all royalties each month. They give you virtual store you can create discount codes you can pass along to “fans”, allowing them to buy copies for cost or near-cost.

My books are also available throughout Europe.

What people gripe about mostly are the hardships of being an island. There’s no publisher to set-up a book tour for you. You have to navigate and figure this out yourself, and then be savvy enough to work it. Your book isn’t going to magically appear on New York’s bestseller lists, like I guess some people expect. Your book isn’t going to at Barnes & Noble because you call it your “new release”. Barnes & Noble and other (primarily) brick & mortar stores stick to what those major book publishers tell them too. I’ve found the only way to get into a brick & mortar store is to go there and meet the owner or manager. Give them physical copies of your book. Kind of a huge disadvantage for us unsigned authors. It really limits your distribution.  It’s like a band making their own CDs and selling them shows, as opposed to the major label artists’ CDs showing up at every retail store in the country. Then again, you obviously weren’t “discovered” and assigned an agent yet, which is why you’re considering this route to getting published in the first place.

If you’re someone who’s written their life’s novel, and you’re looking to making it available to the masses, you’ll also have to consider setting up the files and designing a cover. This can’t be underestimated, and I say if you’re going to even remotely have a shot at a book that sells, you need to spend some money. Find a good designer. Ask around. Don’t settle. Be fair on your price. Designers are generally a “get what you pay for” occupation. Give $50 to your best friend’s 16-year old daughter and I can almost guarantee it will suck. Look at other book covers in your genre. Let them inspire you. You really can often judge a book by it’s cover.

Also, Comic Sans will likely make your children’s book fail and 12-point Times New Roman will probably destroy the quality of your brilliant murder/mystery. Why? because they look unprofessional and low-brow to anyone with an eye for these things.

You’ll want friends to proofread it once you get a hard copy proof. Proofread the thing, set it down for a day or two, then proof again. I suggest asking friends (who are readers) to help you with this. Often times when we’re really involved in a project, a huge glaring error can get through because we have just looked at the project so many times, we quit “seeing” it after awhile.

Back to createspace.com. It’s really straight-forward to use. It walks you through every element. It will give you a free UPC code, which will also save you money. The caveat to this is that you can’t say “Published by Jim Smith Publishing, Akron, Michigan”. You have the option to pay to purchase the “imprint”, which is publishing talk for the little microtype copyright/publisher info that appears in the front pages of all books. That said, it might not matter much. Regardless if you purchase the imprint or not, you are the author/publisher, and retain all rights to the book. So say your amazing book is discovered by a huge publishing house who wants to republish/rework the rights, you can do that. You are under no obligation to keep your book available to Amazon. You still own it.

Since my books are all heavily illustrated, making them available on kindle doesn’t make sense, but it’s a free option here too. Again, don’t imagine you’ll be SEO, unless your topic is very specific and limited. Use tags. Write your author bio. Don’t skimp on the book synopsis.

There are several other POD book publishers these days. Initially I investigated a few, and found the info available on the message boards and through Amazon/createspace the most clear-cut and helpful. I’m sure you can discover their names with a quick google search of POD publishers, but since I’ve never used any others, I’d hate to steer you towards them. I found createspace first and have been very happy with the whole process. The final product is of high quality; I personally have never heard of issues with the quality of the book binding, paper, or printing. Since it’s 100% guaranteed, should any misprints occur, they will redo or refund.

It’s low risk, and low/no cost. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to get their work published but has never been able to afford it.

If anyone has had a different sort of experience, I’d like to hear your story as well.

Inspired by my youngest daughter…

image
Presley made this with her self-proclaimed "best friend" (and nanny) Jessica. I get inspired by their fridge art.

As you probably know, our youngest daughter has Down syndrome. My new book, “Aaaaaaagh! Spider!” (which should be out in a couple of weeks), was totally inspired by Presley’s obsession with spiders. She will check out books about tarantulas from the library, but refuse to open the books. It’s a funny joke, I think. She will also seek out spider videos on YouTube, then hit play and run to the far corner of the room to watch as the video plays. Absurd.
I included the url for http://www.r-word.orgr-word.org on the dedication page of my new book. I think it’s a great movement. I would love to see language and attitudes take a positive shift in our lifetime. She is the reason for that nod and this whole book.

The new book…

I am hard at work and in a heavy production cycle for my newest book called “AAAAAAAGH! SPIDER!”. I will hopefully be completed by early February 2015, and the book should be available about that time.

A first-draft of the cover
A first-draft of the cover

I am thinking that maybe I should do a kickstarter.com campaign. The hard work is done, now the rest is just having a budget to get out and promote it; making a media kit and sending it out. It might seem like no big deal, but everything from printing to postage costs money…money that is hard to scrape together yourself sometimes on an artist’s salary!
Maybe I’ll do the social media thing for awhile, hope it takes off, and test the waters.

I am really proud of this book. I think it’s funny and clever, and hopefully other kids and parents will like it. It features a spider, which is my youngest daughter’s (Presley, 8) obsession.