Illustration, Projects, Publishing

Audience participation

Today I spent the morning engaging with my audience, something that I haven’t done for a while. I spent the morning with children in school, reading my book to them, talking to them and showing them original artwork. It was great fun.

When I am concentrating on my work, at my desk in our spare room, focussing on deadlines and which editor or author needs what cover or book interior next I often forget that there are actual children out in the world who are the true focus of my work.

Getting out into the world and talking about myself is not something I love to do. I am quite introverted like that, so I find an outfit that will make feel confident and warm, and get me out of Imposter mode. I also put on my amethyst necklace, which helps me to feel peaceful and protected. With these tools, I can go out and meet my audience.

Today, four classes of children listened beautifully as I read them Reynard the Fox. We talked about the story, and why I wrote it. We discussed how long it can take to make a book, and how long it can take to make the pictures and how I made them.

Children ask the most wonderful questions. Some of my favourites today were around whether my book made me happy, and which pictures made me most happy. Another child asked me which artist inspired me, Eric Ravilious – look him up – his artwork is beautiful.

One of the things that I really love to do when I meet classes of children, is get the original illustrations out for them to see. The illustrations in Reynard the Fox are all A2 monoprints – so they are large and they are colourful. Each illustration is in a protective plastic sleeve, and I get them out and pass them round or put them on tables to look at. You might think I am mad letting a whole class full of children free on a set of original artworks. I probably am, but I think the interaction for all of us with real, tangible objects is vital. This is an opportunity for children to hold and examine pieces of genuine art.

When I decided to make children’s books, one of the biggest draws for me, was that picture books are a child’s first step into the world of literature and fine art – works of art that they can keep and hold and love. I wanted to be a person who introduces that appreciation too – a world of colour and texture and rhythm – just as other authors and illustrators introduced that world to me.

As I get the illustrations out, I can see the children engaging with these great big papers filled with colours and shapes. The more they see, the more they wish to see. How amazing is that! A story that they have just listened to has come to life in their fingertips. They are asking me which ones they can look at and how many more there are.

It is a lovely feeling, and makes me very proud. Thank you children, today you reminded me why it is so good to take some time away from my desk, and to really look and appreciate the art in the world around us.

Design tips, Publishing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a self-published book is difficult to get into a bookstore

I love making children’s books. It is something I wanted to do since I was very little, and through a good mix of luck, determination, stubbornness and maybe even some talent too, I can say with confidence, that this is my job.

You name it, I have worked on it. From picture books and novelty books, to magazines and annuals, fact books and activity books, e-books and lots and lots of primary school learning content! Mostly these are books that I create for other authors and publishers, but I also have a head bubbling with ideas for books that I intend to write, design and illustrate myself.

One of the big discussions that often comes up for me at networking and mastermind groups, is, why don’t you just self-publish? I have done this successfully (incidentally you can find my first picture book, Reynard the Fox here). Or, do I go down the traditional route of hopefully finding a publisher to get on board.

Self-publishing is definitely a more dependable option. Once the decision to publish has been made, it is simply down to me to make that happen. I could publish a book next week if I wanted to. However. I have decided against this, for several reasons:

Fresh eyes, Many hands, Light work
I want the fresh eyes of editors and publishers to give me their opinions and feedback. I want to take in their comments and resend the book in its updated and improved form. I want designers and art-directors to look and tell me if the colours are working ok, and whether the point-size of the font is too big or too bold. And then I want to rejig those things and send it again, feeling confident that it is revised and perfected a little more. I also want the marketing team of the publishing house to guide me with how best to advertise and sell my book.

Production Quality vs. Mass availability
One of the reasons I decided not to publish Reynard the Fox with any print-on-demand services, such as Blurb or Amazon’s KDP, is because the quality of the printed books is not good enough for me. I don’t feel that their stock options print books that can sit on a shelf next to traditionally printed books. Their quality can work for a novel I think, but for a children’s picture book, which is meant to be read, and re-read many, many, many times over, needs to be something stronger. And the paper needs to be able to show the colour of the artwork at its vivid best.
I must say here that I did achieve excellent production quality with Reynard, as I did much research and chose UK book printers, Biddles. I couldn’t have been more pleased, and I am so proud that my book looks and feels as lovely as any traditionally published title.
The downside of this though, is that my book is not widely available. I have to rely on traffic to my site here, and doing an awful lot of promotion, which I don’t spend enough time on, therefore my sales figures are not what they could be if my book was more readily available through Amazon for example.

Bookstores don’t often like self-published books
This is the big one. Any author who has self-published will know how tricky it can be to get a physical bookstore to stock your title. Unfortunately as self-published books are an unregulated entity, anything and everything can be turned into a book. This means that books worthy of the Booker prize may be self-published, but also books that are of much lesser quality.
And as a self-published title may also lack the production quality of its traditionally published counterpart, most bookstores simply won’t consider your self-published work.
Again, I must say here, that because I was so determined for my book to be ‘the real deal’, my local bookstore has taken copies of Reynard. For me, this was an incredible achievement. And one of my proudest moments as a creator of children’s books, to see my title sitting proudly alongside some incredible names in children’s publishing.
But one can easily understand why this is not the norm though. Physical shops have to work hard to keep their place on the high street, and stocking titles that are lacking in content or production quality would not be a sound business move.

I feel that I must now explain the purpose of this blog post a little. I have nothing against self-publishing at all. It is a method that works – especially as a way of getting an author’s work into the public domain. Many authors now begin by self-publishing, and then secure book deals later on. And for me, self-publishing was a great option for Reynard the Fox. I knew from previous feedback that it was never going to be suitable for the mass market, but there was still a market for it. So a traditional publisher would be unlikely to go for it.

What I will offer up is this: When you are self-publishing, work with as many publishing professionals as you can. Get editors to sub-edit and proof-read. Get designers to storyboard your artwork and style the covers. Commission illustrators to bring your text to life. And above all, listen to their suggestions. All the publishing professionals that I know, love their craft. Our collective goal is to make every book that we work on, the best book it can be. So work with us. Yes, that means we cost money, but know that we are experienced and are here to help.

For me, my next career goal is to find a traditional publisher. This is something that I want very much, for the reasons stated above, but also it is my dream.

For you, if you are an author and looking at your self-publishing options, do get in touch. My specialism is children’s publishing, and I can assist you personally there. But I also know talented people who work on grown-up stuff too. We can help you create a book that will be worth its place on your favourite bookstore’s cool book shelf.