Monday, December 24, 2012

My Hand Bound Book!

My first hand bound book! Hand sewn with linen covers and glossy dust covers. Stephanie Pulford did the majority of the sewing, though I'm proud to say, I did the first six! Chris Beer cut out the cardboard for the covers and trimmed the dust covers, but even with lots of help, it was still one of the hardest things I've ever done (and still is, I've got about nine more to go). 

 These things are really turning out to look like actual manufactured books.  Since I ran out of endpapers, the last few will have endpapers with handmade paper purchased from the art supply store, so that might make them look a little more unique. Each book is 4x8 inches. 

I'm sending a number of these with my agent Abigail Samoun so she can give them to editors and art directors in Boston and New York in early January. These are strictly self-promotional and are not intended for traditional publication. If all goes well and I don't screw them up, I'm making 18 and 18 only. The story is only 18 pages long and wordless (24 if you include the title page, dedication and so forth), a pirate adventure with my favorite model, Ella (some of the pages can be seen on my website in the children's section). I'll probably put the whole story on the site eventually.

I had hoped to get these things finished last month but the digital printer kept screwing up my pages. The whole process of getting the things printed properly took months for a number of reasons I'm too exhausted to go into. 

so here they are with dust covers and all: 

This one has end papers made of handmade paper bought from the art supply store:

Here's one of the spreads: 

Another spread:

 The linen bound cover:

And my messy workspace that is currently taken over our dining room and part of our living room:

I really didn't know quite what I was getting into. I'd never done anything like it. 

There's a good deal of satisfaction in making books that look like actual books from the ground up. I've loved books all my life, and they've been such a part of my life that the experience of making one from scratch feels miraculous, like manufacturing a lightbulb or a door knob on your kitchen table. I've always been fascinated by making objects in multiples assembly line style by hand, like Gepetto's workshop or Santa's elves. 

And last of all, bookmarks:

I had them printed, and then Stef's plus one, Morgan Jenkins put in the ribbons. I found this special hole punch at Michael's that makes these two little parallel wedge-shapes, that the ribbons fit snugly inside. 

I've thought of putting out a cheaper, digitally printed version, but I'd have to charge at least 10 bucks a book, softbound, which seems like a lot for a tiny paperback. I'm thinking I'd want to add some kind of incentive to make it worthwhile, maybe a little sketch or something.  If you're interested in something like that, give me a holla!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Why I Don't Illustrate Other People's Self-Published Books, or Work on Spec

About once a month I get a request by an individual to illustrate their self-published or print-on-demand book. They're very passionate about their project, but they don't tend to  know very much about publishing or the publishing industry, and don't have much knowledge about what goes into publishing and promoting a book. But this isn't the only reason.

Even if they're willing to pay, I typically won't take the job. Not from a family member, family friend or good acquaintance.

The reason is that most people don't know the process. They don't know how picture books are structured. They don't know how to work with an illustrator in a professional way. For the illustrator, this only results in grief, and the grief often outweighs the reward.

Typically, professional book publishers who match writers and artists for picture books do not encourage the collaborators to discuss the book with one another beforehand. Often notes from the author that suggest illustrations are eliminated from the manuscript. Editors work with writers,then work with art directors who work with illustrators. This hierarchy is in place for a reason. It works.

Illustration has its own vocabulary, and good art directors know how to speak an illustrator's language. They understand design, they understand how illustration serves a story. They know how illustration relates to story structure. Good art directors know their stuff.

People who don't have this experience, even some of the best authors of children's books, (with rare exceptions) don't tend to share this knowledge. It's a discipline of it's own. Many authors tend to have very specific images in their heads--and I sympathize, as an author, this is difficult to avoid--and the illustrator's vision is inevitably different.This is the nature of picture books. It's a true collaboration between author and illustrator. The illustrator does not simply execute the author's vision, but adds their own personality in equal measure to the book. The pictures tell half of the story.

 Working with a non-professional is an unpredictable proposition. You don't know how involved the writer wants to be in the process of creating the images, how little or how much they know about the process. You don't know what the ultimate design of the book is going to look like, whether it's going to be properly typeset, whether the printer they've chosen is going to do a professional job. And since the writer is new at this, the quality of the prose is often not as good as they think it is.

I take pride in the work I do, and I don't want to make a bad book. I don't want to endlessly negotiate with the writer about how they want the images to look when they don't know the mechanics of what makes an illustration work.

What if I've got this great project to pitch to a publisher. I can't pay, or pay much, but I'll give you half of the profits.

This is called "working on spec." "Spec" stands for speculation, the idea that maybe the project will be taken up and in that event the artist gets paid. This seldom works out.

First off: artists don't typically submit finished illustrated books to publishers.They submit what's called a "dummy" a mock-up of the book that generally includes two finished Illustrations and a cover, the rest roughed out, giving room for art direction and editing. But this is only if a writer/illustrator is submitting. For the reasons stated above, writer/illustrator teams are rarely considered.

Secondly: illustration takes a long time to do. It's work. Though there is some satisfaction and pleasure in the work, we don't do it because it's "fun." Many people enjoy their work, but that doesn't mean they want to do it for free.You don't ask your plumber to work on spec. You don't ask a retailer to give you their wares to see if their product is going to work out for you. Why would you ask an illustrator to do the same?

If you would like to learn more about how professional books are produced, I recommend joining The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and attending one of their seminars. The SCBWI is how I got my start. It's how I met my agent. You don't need to attend one of the big expensive national conferences. A local one will do just fine.

But I'd like to return to the subject of self-publishing, because I don't think it's a completely untenable option. Not everyone is interested in huge book sales. Some of us just want to make books for family and friends. I've had the same notion, and am considering doing a small number of self-published books myself. Not all books are commercial. Most of us aren't going to get rich.

If having a professional publication published is your goal, its the wrong goal. You should concentrate first on being a good writer. Unfortunately commercial success tends to be the focus of the SCBWI, but I don't think that was the intention or original design. It does the best it can to serve its members, and its members want to be commercially published. I just think that's not the best goal for most of them.

Which Doesn't Mean You Shouldn't Self Publish

I think self-publishing, especially now that it's so easy and at such a low cost, is a fantastic option for writers, and a great way to share your book. But first, make a good book, the best book you can, a book that you're proud of. If you want to commission professional illustration for your book and you're not an artist yourself, the key word is "professional." Being an illustrator is a profession, and professionals get paid for their work. If you're not going to seriously pursue a professional writing career and do the proper research, even if you intend to self-publish,  then realize that it's hard for a professional artist to consider you seriously as a professional writer.

 If you're serious about being a commercial self-publisher you you need to act like a real publisher.You need to do what commercial  publishers do. You need to actively promote your book, with purpose, and, preferably, with honesty.

 When someone's promoting their book, the first thing I look for as a consumer and professional is whether they care enough to acquire good design, both for the book and their website. Usually a generic photo cover means a print-on-demand hack job, unless it's really really well presented. And if it's a picture book, the quality of the illustration is a given--if it's amateur, it's obvious. If you've found an illustrator who feels the same way as you do about the book and does professional work--this will go leaps and bounds towards selling the book. But as I mentioned, this isn't any easier than promoting the book in the first place. If someones willing to illustrate your published book, you've got to pay, and pay well for good illustration.

And don't pretend that you're anything else but an individual who is passionate about their personal project. If I see that someone is trying to fool me into thinking that they're published by a commercial publisher, if they've invented an imprint and their not upfront about the fact that they're self-publishing, it's an instant no-confidence. It suggests to me that they feel like they have to hide that they're a self publisher, which to me means that they're ashamed of the fact. Don't try to hide it. Embrace it. This reflects your passion and pride in your product. If you want people to take you seriously as a writer and self-publisher, act like you mean it. If you're describing on your website a book you've published yourself and are doing a follow up, describe it as "My self-published book."

Back cover quotes, especially on a self published book are risky. Some people are just being nice, and in the case that they are, it's a little embarrassing, especially when the quality isn't there to back it up. Maybe if a well known author believes in your project enough to write a real introduction it would make sense, but I'd be careful about soliciting back cover quotes.And NEVER quote without permission from a private e-mail or snail mail. The purpose of a private correspondence is NOT to promote your book, and you could easily get on the bad side of the person you're using to endorse it, which is neither a good personal or professional move.

But more than anything else, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Professional self-publishing is a business. If you don't consider it one, then it doesn't have to be, but if you're in it to sell as many books as you can, you've got to act like one.

Sometimes, you just want a book you can hold in your hands, something you wrote, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. It's an accomplishment to write a book, and pride in that accomplishment is justified. But try to be conscious of what your real intentions are and act accordingly. If you' don't you're going to be disappointed, or worse, spend money that you can't afford to spend. Be sensible. Be clear about your goals, and if its important to you, strive for excellence.

Why you haven't been seeing much of me

I have a chronic illness that is being effectively treated with drugs. At present I'm making a drug transition. This means withdrawing from one drug and going onto another, assessing whether the new drug is effective, and if the new drug doesn't work out (which seems to be the case) trying another drug combination and starting the business allover again. It's an exhausting and prolonged process, but it's not one I haven't gone through before, and it will ultimately works itself out. In the meantime, the unfortunate result is flu-like symptoms, with limited periods of lucidity.

So the situation has largely put me out of action, and my productivity is at a real low point. This post, for example,  was written in fits and starts over the course of two days.This has not been fun, but there is an end in sight. So no need for condolences, I'm OK, but I just wanted to let everyone know that I haven't been lazy, just ill. I spend most of the day watching bad TV on Netflix, since I don't have the cognitive or physical stamina to do much else. I will say that The Vampire Diaries isn't actually that bad, but then, maybe when this is all over I might think differently. It's hard to say. It's about as much as I can handle at the moment.