Illustration, Mindset, Parenting

Moving forwards … And reflecting too.

I’m trying to determine what week or month of lockdown we are now in. In truth, I’m not sure where we are … It’s basically three months since the lockdown began, in fact, are we even still in ‘official’ lockdown?

In my last post we were trying to decide whether or not to send Sidney back to school. We decided against. Too risky for our setup we felt. And in the last 24hours we have decided to cancel our holiday to North Wales too. No matter what cleaning protocol the holiday cottage hosts have, how much would we be able to relax, and what would be open? I feel not a lot. Better stay at home and stay safe.

However, where does that leave us? At the moment, I am having daily conversations with myself about staying safe at home in our bubble, but also, acknowledging that we must put ourselves back into the outside world at some point.

We support our local high street as much as possible, and the children are diligently putting their masks on and trying not to touch things in shops when we pop in. But there’s the other part of me that just wants to order things we need online, and just wipe down the parcel when it arrives, or leave it on top of the cupboard in quarantine for a few days.

I went to see my lovely osteopath this week. That felt a little scary on the way, and I considered cancelling. But I was mightily glad I went. I felt very safe the whole time I was there, and I felt much better when I came away. And with the announcement of hair salons opening from July, I will be waiting out to hear my phone ring from Shelly, who has been cutting my hair for the last 15 years. I can’t wait. Even though that may feel a little scary too.

So changes are happening. All be it, small, tentative ones. I think thats all I can manage if I’m honest. My work has lulled this week for the first time since lockdown began, and it’s given me some time to think through some confusing mental and emotional blocks. I have some real confidence problems in calling myself an illustrator, and I’m not sure why. I think because I work with so many talented illustrators, whose work always seem effortless (though I’m sure its not!), I can’t seem to place myself alongside them.

However, I am working on an image at the moment, which I intend to enter into a local open art exhibition in a couple of week’s time. That’s a big step for me. The theme is ‘reflection’ and a drawing I made of the children a few weeks ago is what I feel sums up what I want to reflect: There have been many ups and downs to this time. Extreme stress and anxiety. Loneliness, resentment, tiredness and overwhelm.

But this has also been a time for personal and emotional growth. Watching the friendship between Sidney and Harriet really grow has been a joy. Of course they argue, but they have become much closer too, and help each other and comfort each other in the most loving way. I am incredibly proud of how we have all survived this time. We bake every week (we never used to), we dress up and hang bunting on birthdays (we didn’t bother doing that before), we make treasure hunts and go on adventure walks from our doorstep. We have grown loads of flowers from seeds, and had to buy lots of new pots to put them in.

This has been an incredibly difficult time, and there has been much sadness and grief for many. When I started writing this post, I was feeling very sad, but now I can also see the growth and the opportunity … As together, we move forwards, just a little bit, and reflect a bit too.

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.

Projects

Space: My next frontier

It has been many months since my last blog post. A lot has happened in our house, including a rather hefty total kitchen and pretty-much-the-entire-downstairs of our house update; Sidney, my eldest, has started primary school. Harriet is out of nappies and embracing pants, and I have taken to journaling in a big way.

So what, of all of these things shall I begin by writing about? Well … None of them today. After fab success with my first self-published picture book, Reynard the Fox, I have been looking for a new book project to work on. I want to go through the traditional publishing route this time; get myself an agent, and work with them to get my book to print.

For a long time, I had planned to create a bedtime book about British Birds – something that would entertain and educate both grown-ups and little ones – as I adore the birds that feed in our garden. My favourite books to read to my children are the ones that entertain me as well as my little listeners. However, I finally admitted to myself that though I feel this a worthy project – to break into the mass market with a book only marketable in Britain – would probably not be my best idea.

Then an idea presented itself in the best way possible. Sidney, not far off 5 now, loves Space. He has a couple of Space books, which are both lovely (including one I have already designed for a client) but have a little too much information for him to take in. They are aimed at children aged 7-11. Here, I noticed an enticing opportunity!

After doing some searching, I couldn’t see a Space fact book aimed at pre-schoolers, or first-readers. So, my new book is going to be exactly that. The text will contain bite-sized facts that children can easily absorb and remember, with colourful, engaging illustrations of our amazing universe, and it will work both as a bedtime book or something that can be dipped in and out of. The fonts will be easy to read for first-readers and I hope it will engage children to learn and find out about Space.

I am really excited about this concept, as I know that it could also work as part of a series. I have written a first manuscript, and am working up three sample spreads to begin sending out to potential agents.

When I was last writing my blog posts I used to mention imposter syndrome, and also talk about my mindset and lack of self-belief. In the last 9 months, I have begun to see that we all have the power to achieve our dreams if we really want to. My dream has always been to be a children’s author illustrator. I am firmly on that path now, I have published one title myself, which I am so proud of. Now I am looking to take the next step on that career path, and find an agent and a publisher who believe in me too.

Shall I use this final sentence to go all Law-of-Attraction on you … Oh go on then, why the flip not!? … As I was looking for my next fab, big, book idea, the Universe, which clearly has a sense of humour, presented itself to me. Thank you, universe 🙂

Design tips

The Brief: a de-brief!

Its taken little while to write this latest post. I have been working very hard on some design deadlines – having probably taken on one too many overlapping projects. And  after Harriet’s stomach virus from three weeks ago, she then came out in a horrendous cold, which then developed into tonsillitis. Then after a week of penicillin she was raring to go, and now has Hand, Foot and Mouth (it sounds Victorian, and is a bit like chickenpox). Needless to say, our house is full-on at the moment!

Indeed, what should have been Noel’s birthday tea a couple of weeks ago, turned into a not-very-hungry supper for himself and Sidney, whilst Harriet and I spent the evening on the children’s ward of our nearest hospital for her to be checked out. Not very cool. But all is now well, thankfully, apart from the Hand, Foot and Mouth (Insert swearword).

My top tips to writing a successful art brief

So in the non-existent down-time I have had recently, I’ve been mulling over what design tips to offer up, and I reckon that coaching you on best practices for briefing your designers and illustrators could be great ways to:

  1. Improve the quality of your finished product
  2. Potentially speed up your approval process
  3. It might even save you money too!

Whether you are commissioning artwork for a book, a logo, a business card or branding for your mobile diner – getting your initial briefing right is first and foremost going to get you a good working relationship with your designer or illustrator. And if you get your design team on board, you stand a much higher chance of your artwork coming in on schedule and to budget. So here are my top tips to writing a successful art brief:

Choosing your person
Hopefully you have chosen your illustrator or designer based on something in their portfolio that you like and would like to assimilate yourself. But instead maybe they have been recommended, or they are someone that you know and they have volunteered their services. Whichever way, a good place to start is by looking at their portfolio and picking some examples of their work that you like. You can also show them examples of other work that you like. Styles of drawing, particular colours used, fonts that you are drawn to. This is a great way to show your designer what you are thinking of. Pinterest is a really handy way to show designers your ideas. Its visual and can provide a great way of creating a fantastic mood-board, which can itself become a pretty solid version of a brief.

Schedule
This is a key feature of your initial discussions. Most good designers and illustrators will be busy and in demand, so it can be a little unrealistic to assume that they can jump onto your project straight away. Depending on the scale of what you are asking, you may need to wait a month before they can even get started. You might have an idea of how long something will take, but your designer will be able to give you a realistic response of their availability. In my experience, not rushing things through is always a better approach to getting the results you want.
Outline the timeline that you have, but be prepared to adapt.

Budget
Like with planning your schedule, the budget is something that needs to be established early on. Different designers and artists will have different approaches as to how they charge for their work. Some charge by the hour, some charge by the project.
I tend to charge by project, and break it down for my clients into sections, such as Cover and page count. I have a set fee for cover design, and then charge per page for the interior. My page interior fees are calculated by the level of detail and work involved per page. Within my fees I also include three rounds of amends, and any/all final file production.
When you are commissioning, don’t be afraid of what your budget is. If your designer or illustrator is happy to work for you and you have agreed your fee, then you are good to go!

Outline
Ok. The fun bit – the stuff you need designing or illustrating! If you are commissioning a number of artworks, or a full book, it can be helpful to open your briefing with an outline of the content. You should include the target audience, page sizes, the format the content will be in. You can draw attention to key ideas and themes – anything that the designer needs to watch out for throughout. You might also introduce them to characters here, and explain their importance in the work.
Outlining your brief is also a good way for you to be able to explain what your project is in a concise way – it might even help you iron out any sticking points you are grappling with – as you find a way to summarise your work.

Detail
Now’s the time to get to the nitty-gritty! Your designer or illustrator should now have a solid understanding of the sort of work you are asking them to do. So you can now give them the details you require.
Some authors and editors give little art direction, and some give lots. Your designer should be used to working to both styles. If you are happy to give your designer or illustrator a free-reign, that can work really well. I would suggest you ask them to supply you with a few pages or artworks to check you are happy with the direction they are going.
Alternatively, lots of direction can potentially mean a slightly quicker turnaround, as it means slightly less thinking time required on the designer’s part.
Neither method is right or wrong – as you get your project underway – you will find your own level of involvement. My best suggestion is to encourage your artist or designer to ask lots of questions and that way, any issues can be worked out early on.

However you choose to put your art-brief together, I hope you find these suggestions useful. It really is worth putting the time into writing your brief – life will run much smoother for you if you do! (Smoother life = happy life = #lifegoals)

Best of luck in your projects – and I shall try not to leave it so long next time!

Sarah xx

Projects

“Oh dear, Oh dear,” said the tiny mole

Well. Those few words put together and read out loud are among one of the most emotive passages in my memory. The story of The Little Mole is famous in my family, and was always told to us at bedtime by our Nan whenever we used to go and stay.

“Don’t bother me!” the white rabbit said

Several years ago we also recited it out loud at her 80th birthday party to a room full of bemused faces and giggles. Now, 9 months after we said goodbye to her, I am still transported to a little bedroom in her old bungalow in Bettisfield, Shropshire, listening to Nan’s soft voice telling us about that lovely little mole and why he was so upset.

10_the-little-mole-b

I promised several times that one day I would illustrate this story, and now, finally I am. It is a gorgeous poem about a little mole, and a fairy who gets stuck in his mole-hole. There’s a white rabbit, and a brown rabbit, and a happy ending. Perfect!

A little brown rabbit popped up from the gorse,

“I’m not very big but I’ll try of course!”

I have often thought about how I would illustrate this story, and I have mostly only fretted about how I could possibly ever do it. It is so embedded in my mind, I have always worried that if I ever tried to draw it, I wouldn’t be able to bring the characters to life in the way they are stored in my memory.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

10_the-little-mole-a

I have nearly finished creating all the roughs for this new book, and actually, the characters in their simple line form, have mostly flowed out. I haven’t had to spend hours researching what they should all look like, and what kind of characters their faces have, or how big they are. I just know. What a joy.

But he caught the fairy tight by the hand

And he helped her get back to fairy land

The poem itself however, is something with a bit more mystery. Very little is known about the origins of The Little Mole, also known as Grey and White, and it is thought to be written by a poet named Charlotte Druitt Cole, who’s work was published in several children’s poetry anthologies in the 1920s and 30s. Whenever I research this poem, I see that others are looking for it too, knowing it as I do, simply from hearing it being recited over and over. How wonderful, the power of rhythm and rhyme – that a story so simple can transcend time this way. Also, in case you were wondering, I don’t think there will be any copyright issues with this poem – Charlotte Druitt Cole died in 1943. Also, I will in no way be claiming that I wrote the poem – instead I see myself as bringing this perfect poem to a host of new bedtimes.

I don’t have a full timeline of when I hope to publish this book yet. It will take a while I think. I have quite a few other book projects that I am working on at the moment, and will probably be pretty busy with them until December. But that is ok! I always promised that I would do it, and Nana Eileen, do it I am.