Slowly finding the right road…

April 2, 2008

Been slowly working my way around on getting a feeling for what I’m doing– sometimes I gotta admit I feel like someone replaced my hands with clumsy dog feet and blindfolded me and said “OK, now make some fun drawings!” On the other hand I do think far too much about what I’m doing right and wrong in this business. It’s one of those things I have to work on– not that thinking is that bad, but too much of anything is a good thing! Emailing my illustrator friends and asking their opinions has been a nice experience though– part of me is like ‘Wow! They’re going through what I’m going through!” and the other part is like “Wow! I’m totally jealous!” But still, I’m getting a better idea of where I feel more comfortable and where I could see myself. Ultimately though I just have to have fun– and stop thinking so hard!

I’m curious though– are any of you working in the children’s books field? Several pals of mine keep telling me they’d love to see me tackle that field, and I’m definitely interested. So if anyone has any suggestions/resources/contacts/advice on how to get into it, or know someone who I should talk to about this, that’d be great! Anyone willing to let me pick their brain? My sister and I have a book idea also, though it’s currently in the wrong format (comics) and we’ll need to rework it.

I’m all for the give and take of information obviously. I’ll answer what little I know in return!  I’ll try and write a more advice-worthy post sometime in the near-future, too. Bear with me!

Anyway, it’s time for this lady to stop thinking so hard and start putting the pen to paper. It’s been a while. How are you guys doing?

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6 Responses to “Slowly finding the right road…”

  1. DH. said

    I haven’t been looking into this recently, but I spent a lot of my early time right out of undergrad trying to figure this beast out. I’ve submitted a few books before, and I didn’t really get any kind of feedback other than form rejections. Looking back at the work, I totally understand why (and I’m not just being neurotic.)

    Here’s what I DO know:
    (1) For the most part, publishers will marry up a manuscript they like with an illustrator they think is appropriate. If you are a writer, don’t try to find your own illustrator, and don’t make suggestions about who you want to have illustrate it or how you want the illustrations to look. Leave that to the pros.

    (2) The opposite also fits: if you are an illustrator, but not much of a writer, just keep submitting your portfolio to the publishers. If they find a project they think is appropriate for you, and your work is in front of them often, they will offer you a project.

    (3) If you plan to write as well as illustrate, make sure your writing is appropriate. Rhyming books are hard to do well, so unless you are really good (a.k.a. Shel Silverstein or Calef Brown) stick with prose.

    (4) When submitting work, follow the submission guidelines! Publishers get metric assloads of submissions from goobers and morons, and the more professional your submission looks, the better. Assuming you are doing both writing and illustration, usually they only want three sample finished illustrations and the rest can be roughs. It’s good to make a mock-up or “dummy” of your book, so you can see how the text flows from one page to the next, and you can see how the illustrations will fill the pages and such. Remember, you have to be part designer in this case– you have to plan space for the text, and you have to think about whether you want illustrations to run full-bleed or full spreads, or maybe a spot will fit nicely on this page, etc.

    (5) Take a look at you local bookstore for a taste of the myriad possibilities. You can get a taste for what is out there already, what is selling well, or what makes a book good. “Good” is obviously subjective, but if you find some books that you like, study them and figure out why you like them. Make note of what publishers make books that you like or that are suited to the kind of work you do– these should be your targets for your submissions. Don’t bother sending your drippy gooey monster book to a prim and proper publisher– it’s a waste of postage and a waste of time. Learn as much about the business side of things as you can, without getting overwhelmed or distracted by the details.

    (6) Make sure you keep making work YOU like and are excited about. Getting a children’s book published is difficult and can take a long time. Make sure you enjoy the book and the process of making it enough that you can defend it and promote it for the next 12, 18, 24 months. And don’t just sit on your hands waiting for a reply from the publisher– it can take 3-6 months for them to get back to you sometimes. Start another project, building on what you learned from the last one. Write & draw, submit, repeat often.

    Well, that’s a mouthful from someone who doesn’t have any children’s book published (yet.) I’m currently re-reading Anne Lamott’s “Bird By Bird” because I am teaching it to a class-full of college sophomore art students. It’s about writing, but most of the creative process is universal or at least analogous. It is actually a good cross-over for children’s books, since it is about writing and publication, but it is really about creative process, and being persistent and true to yourself. I’d recommend it to any creative person looking for some comfort and inspiration. This is my fourth time reading it.

    Like you say, Meg: don’t think too hard about it. Do some work you are excited about and then revise it four or five times before you submit it. Oh, and judging by this year’s Caldecott winner, you may not need to rethink the comic story. Also check out RAW Junior, which is Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly’s children’s comic/book publishing company.

  2. I’m doing fine. The one friend I have that works in the children’s market recommended that I start with “The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market” a book that is published annually. I haven’t gotten any work form the submissions I have sent, though I have received some nice feedback. I was vary helpful for finding submission guidelines and publishers.

    What you have posted of you sisters and your comic idea would work well as a comic, though it could be fun to re-organize it as a traditional children’s book.

    back to changing diapers!

    -Blake

  3. Gina said

    DH did a great job at covering the basics. I would also recommend joining SCBWI or attending any events the local chapter may host. I got my first little book job this way. It took me about a year and several mailings before I got more work, and it’s still educational (schools) rather than trade (bookstores). Luckily for you, graphic novels are en vogue for children’s books, and may continue to be a growing area. Another recommendation would be to visit your local library. Check out ‘Publishers Weekly’ in the magazine section. Also, talk with the librarian, he/she should be able to guide you in looking at the most popular books with kids, the award winners, his/her favorites, and also the newer ‘graphic novel’ style books.

  4. Whoa, those are all really good suggestions. I’d second the SCBWI thing, it’s really motivating to get into a crit group and have other children’s book people around you.

    And find books you really like, and really study them to find out why you like them. I’ve started writing reviews of picture books and it’s helped me look at them in a lot more depth.

    A really helpful book to read is the classic by Perry Nodelman, ‘Words about Pictures’. That opened my eyes to a lot of things, particularly layout issues.

  5. kim said

    Very nice post… well, I mean the comments. This should inspire people to get moving.

  6. […] turns out I still have a lot of information bouncing around my head regarding children’s book […]

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