Being a creative is a challenge. Trying to use your creative talents with others can be even more of a challenge. A good working relationship is key for a project's success, and this is especially true for authors and illustrators who team up. This week, career illustrator Sharon Lane Holm gives us a window into the illustrator's perspective.
What Illustrators Want Authors to Know
By Sharon Lane Holm
Trust me. We both want the same thing—to share a wonderful story with great
illustrations. We both want to sparkle and stand out above all the rest.
Trust me. Please try to not micro manage. Creative freedom is the best thing you can give to your illustrator. Allow yourself to be open to their ideas.
Trust me. You created a great story! As an illustrator it is my job to interpret your
words visually. I tell your story with my illustrations. Both art and
words must be able to stand alone and tell the same story, without each other.
Trust me. My artistic interpretation may differ from yours. An illustrator has so many different ideas and will come up with something you may never have imagined. Let me show you another way to make us to shine.
Trust me. I am a professional, just like you. We will both agree on a fair and reasonable contract beforehand so there will be no surprises. I will always do my best work. I would never expect anything less of myself.
Trust me. We may never actually meet. But professionally we are a team. We are in this together. I so appreciate being a part of our team. I hope you will feel the same way.
Trust me. I love what I do. I create and draw and color outside the lines. I can draw a
story. I can draw your story.
We have a talented guest writer this week, professional photographer Stephana Ferrell, owner of The Inspired Storytellers. Stephana recently took the photos of the watercolor art for our upcoming book Joyride. She has some great tips on how to photograph art for children's picture books.
Five Tips for Photographing Art for Picture Books
Congratulations on being so close to publishing! You've got colorful illustrations in hand and there is one step between where you are and approving a layout- getting your tangible prints into digital form. There are two industry standards to making this happen, and this article will cover ways to ensure success when photographing your illustrations. Let's get into it!
Tip One: Even Out Your Lighting
Lighting must be evenly spread across the surface of the illustration (not pointed down as this can cause reflections or hot spots). It’s best to use a light source that is close to daylight or “white” color (4500-5500 Kelvin), so incandescent and fluorescent lights should be avoided.
Tip Two: Keep Your Position Consistent
Camera distance and angle should be as consistent as possible between pages to ensure you aren’t impacting the scale of your illustrations. Use a tripod when possible or observe your positioning and ensure you keep it the same.
Tip Three: Watch Out for Dust
Clean your lens (and sensor, if it applies) before taking the pictures. I like to test the cleanliness of the lens by taking a picture of a white wall or a blue sky. Dust and other spots that you need to address will easily show themselves.
Tip Four: Get Rid of Camera Shake
Tip Five: Editing is Key
Editing is just as important as the images you create. Keep in mind which pages will end up being full spreads and crop your images to the right bleed size, ensuring anything that needs to line up does. The final printing color profile also needs to be considered while when making any tweaks to your image files. Ensure your screen is calibrated. Contrast, Exposure, and Tone/Saturation changes you make on screen may not render the same way when it goes to print.
Now that you have all of this information as your guide, you are ready to get those illustrations into digital form. Here's a quick recap to follow as you're photographing:
What happens when an exuberant exclamation point keeps taking over a story? Things get pretty interesting...
I am beyond excited to announce a new children's picture book coming next spring, Pling's Party. Pling is an exclamation point--he adds excitement to stories. He has one rule to follow: he can only appear twice in the story. As the tale of three goats unfolds, Pling has trouble staying out of the story until he's needed. Things get a bit out of hand and hilarity ensues.
In this book, children will learn to identify exclamation points in text as well as observe how an exclamation point makes sentences more exciting. They can practice reading with emphasis and discuss the difference with how a sentence is read with a period versus an exclamation point.
Pling's Party is the first book in a series of punctuation stories.
I am thrilled to share that the illustrator for this book is the very talented Sharon Lane Holm, illustrator of over thirty children's books. She's done a brilliant job creating her vision of Pling and making him come alive. Plus, I just love those goats! Be sure to follow her on Facebook to keep up with her amazing work.
Arielle Haughee (Hoy) is an award-winning author, writing coach, publishing consultant, and contest judge. She is also the author of the 5 Star rated picture book Grumbler. Click here to get a signed copy of Grumbler!
Language in picture books is just as important as illustrations. The words play in the air as they are read aloud and make the storyline dance. Unlike a lot of fiction genres, picture book texts must be designed to be heard. The tiny ears in the audience want language that is fresh, crisp, and fun when appropriate.
Don’t worry about having perfect language when you are first drafting your story. Just get your story down. After you finish, and after each round of revision, read your manuscript out loud. Focus on how the words deliver.
Ask yourself these questions:
The biggest challenge when cultivating great language is that people read stories aloud differently. Some people will put emphasis on one word and some on another. This can be frustrating when you’re trying to intentionally create a rhythm or have specific words stand out. The best way to address this is to have other adults read the story to you while you take notes. You could also ask them to record a video of them reading and send it. This helps if they live far away and also allows you to listen the replay.
Language is something I personally rework over and over in each round and continuously tweak. If I’ve read it so many times that I can’t hear the distinctions anymore, I will record myself reading and listen to the recording.
Every manuscript you write, you will improve with your language. The more you write, the more you will improve. So get those hands and ears ready and get to writing!
We are thrilled to announce that Grumbler received a wonderful review from Reader's Favorite! Check out our great review below.
Reviewed By: Dacie Dayan for Readers’ Favorite
Review Rating: 5 Stars
Grumbler, written by Arielle Haughee and illustrated by Marina Veselinovic, is a charming story about love. Grumbler, the nasty, rude main character, is a rotting potato with a broken bowl for a hat. He lives alone inside a trash heap. Animals who live in a nearby forest try to show love to Grumbler but Grumbler hates love. He thinks it feels tingly, itchy and terrible. But the love from the animals settles on different parts of Grumbler’s body. He can’t get rid of the love, so he goes to a pond and throws it at the animals. Then he goes back to the dump and gets in a slimy bathtub until he thinks all the love is gone. Before long, the animals of the forest come to visit him and surround him with more love. What will Grumbler do? Will he ever realize that every time he gives love away, more of it keeps coming back?
Grumbler is a delightful story by Arielle Haughee, and is inspired by Warren Buffett’s quote: “Love is a strange thing. You try to give it away and you get more back.” The author uses great descriptions to show how love makes the nasty Grumbler feel: “tingly, itchy and terrible.” As children hear the story, they will think of how love makes them feel. They will see how miserable and frustrated Grumbler feels when he tries to get rid of love by giving it away. The illustrator, Marina Veselinovic, does a great job of showing Grumbler’s mean eyes turning to kind eyes; his nastiness slowly turning to happiness. She gives the cute forest animals adorable expressions as they share love. A great, meaningful read for kids.
You can also read the review on their site here.
Get a signed copy here!
You had a plan. Marked it on your calendar and everything. You’d sit down to write at these times on these days. Then you got sick. Then Aunt Marci came to visit. Then there was the whole fiasco with your car and the maple syrup. In other words, life got in the way, as it always does. One of the most important factors to developing a writing routine you’ll actually stick to is adaptability—your ability to adjust whenever life happens and keep on with your goal.
It would be great if we could sit down in our favorite spot everyday, completely uninterrupted and focused on our writing. But that’s just not reality. You’re going to get sick and have visitors and schedule changes and all kinds of chaos thrown your way. The real question is, what are you going to do about it? You know you want to achieve your goal of finishing your draft or revising your book or whatever it is.
Here are five strategies for utilizing adaptability to stay the course.
Strategy One: Don’t Beat Yourself Up
The first thing you need to do is actually something *not* to do: Don’t beat yourself up. It happens to all of us. We all get sidetracked from time to time. In fact, you should probably expect it. Something is going to pull you off course and you'll have the challenge of fighting with yourself to get back into your routine.
Know what doesn’t help? Telling yourself you failed or that you can’t do it or that you can never achieve your goal. Negative talk does not put words on the page. Negative talk does not finish the book. It only holds you back. Use your disappointment to motivate you to get back to work.
Strategy Two: Get Back on Your Routine ASAP
It’s okay to have a bad day or week or month or several. As soon as you are able, hop back on your routine. You’ll feel better and have more output. Don’t use life’s potholes as an excuse to be lazy about your routine. Got a stomach bug and had to take a week off? Rest during that week and feel better. Return to your writing next week but don’t let one week off turn into four. Remember you want to achieve your goal and the longer you aren’t writing/revising/other, the longer and less likely it will be for you to finish.
Strategy Three: Recognize When Your Plan Isn’t Working
It’s one thing to have an illness bump you off track, it’s a whole other thing to create a routine you can’t possibly stick to in the first place. Writers want to Get.It.Done. We also get incredibly excited about new ideas and can be very driven...in the beginning. But writing or revising an entire manuscript takes more than just the beginning, it takes months and sometimes years of work. Focused, sustained work.
Creating a “writing routine” where you write eight hours a day everyday or have a 20,000 words per week limit aren’t sustainable in the long run. Trying to keep up with high-maintenance routines leads to burnout and likely to project abandonment. Be realistic with yourself and what you can do in your schedule. You want to strive to make progress, but in doses you can manage. I have a writer friend who gave herself a 400-word-a-day minimum because she knew that was something she could do with her schedule and would be able to stick to. She did it everyday for an entire year!
Be honest with yourself about your routine. If you keep not making your weekly goals, maybe it’s time adjust your expectations of yourself. You’ll be happier overall if you remove the pressure to produce, produce, produce and enjoy the process. You want this to be a routine that flows naturally into your life, not something you constantly struggle to accomplish.
Strategy Four: Be Willing to Experiment
A key component to adaptability is trying different ways to follow through with your routine. It would be great if we could block off two hours at the same time every single day to write but that doesn’t work out for most people. So if you made a goal like my writer friend of 400 words per day, you may have to experiment with writing at different times. Don’t tell yourself, “I can’t write in the mornings.” That’s an excuse. You can write any time.
When my kids were very little I was always exhausted at the end of the day from chasing them around. I tried to say I couldn’t write at night. Well when I stuck to that excuse, guess what happened? You know it—I didn’t write at all. I tried getting up at five in the morning but someone always got up early and I lost that time. There was no other option. I decided to try out doing thirty minutes a night, just thirty minutes. I could do that. Once I got started, often I ended up writing longer because I got into the story. Be willing to try things out and give it a good two weeks of effort. You might surprise yourself.
Strategy Five: Squeeze in Time Whenever You Can
Five minutes here and there can really add up. Use apps on your phone to write-as-you-go. I personally prefer the Google Docs app so I can work directly on my story. One story that ended up being a contest winner I wrote on my phone in a doctor’s office waiting room. I’ve also been spotted with a notebook on the stationary bike at the gym and using talk-to-text while pushing a stroller through the park.
When you find you have a few minutes, stop yourself from playing on social media or whatever else you do during that time and add a few lines to your story. If you do this twice a day, that’s over an hour of work you’ve squeezed into your week.
Adaptability is an essential part of sticking to your goals long term. This is especially true if you have kids or a demanding day job. Keep making progress, however you can, and your goals will be met!
Having the correct pacing in action scenes is essential. Otherwise your big moment will flop and the worst thing will happen: your reader will be disappointed. Fast pacing is a combination of five factors. Read on to find out what they are!
Factor One: Time Manipulation
The scene itself is usually only a matter of minutes or sometimes even seconds. Think about when Harry and Voldemort clash wands. That was maybe two minutes? But the scene isn’t written like this: Harry and Voldemort pointed wands at each other. The wands blew up. Writing actions scenes requires the author to slow down the clock and stretch out the moment, giving it weight in the plot. This amps up the tension and the interest for the reader.
Another way to manipulate time in action scenes is to try and introduce a “ticking clock.” Yes, this could mean a literal timer before something explodes, but it could also be an imminent consequence if something doesn’t happen within the time frame. Someone or something is coming. Something is falling down. Anything that puts an element of time pressure into the scene.
Factor Two: Including Action + Reaction
We want to give the scene a physical and an emotional punch, a one-two combo. Start with breaking down the scene into smaller actions. What exactly is the character doing? Each motion has more gravitas in this scene so be sure to highlight the actions that are propelling the character forward in the plot. (example: opens the door, feet brush on the rug, a noise comes from the bedroom…)
Next, add in the character’s internal reactions and thoughts. (example: no one is supposed to be here) This confrontation is the culmination of more than just one thing and the character’s mind should reflect that. Increasing the emotion for the character also increases the emotion for the reader. It makes them more attached and rooting for the character to succeed.
Factor Three: Layers of Conflict
Pacing slows down in any scene where there isn’t enough conflict, but it’s especially true during action scenes. Not enough conflict can also make your scene too short or things too easy for your character. The best thing you can do is to absolutely torture your character. Make every single thing that can go wrong happen. If he is about to give a speech in front of a large crowd, make him get a cold the night before. Have him chug a glass of water but not have time to stop in the bathroom. Make him lose all his notes and have his long lost girlfriend in the crowd. Then have a wardrobe malfunction on stage.
Remember to include the internal conflict as well. Our speech giver can have a crippling fear of failure from all the years his mother berated him for minor mistakes. Make this action scene so heavy with conflict it is almost too much for the reader to handle. We really want to stress the reader out. That way when the upturn comes, it’s that much more exciting.
Factor Four: Zero Fluff. None.
Your big action scene isn’t the place for your character to casually notice the surroundings or have long introspections. Anything extra is going to slow down the pace at this critical moment in your story. It could be information you do need to include in your plot, but it’s probably best to save it for another chapter or scene. So if you haven’t explained why the car is able to fly, the big action scene isn’t the right place to tell the whole backstory involving the fairy powder.
Be merciless when revising your action scene. Ask yourself if the information is an essential part of the current motion or if it can be moved elsewhere. Cut your sentences down as much as possible.
Factor Five: Strategic Structure
This is a critical but often overlooked element of writing fast pacing: the visual structure of the words on the page. The reader’s eyes should fly over the text at the same speed as the story pace. Avoid extended paragraphs and complex sentences. Use short sentences deliberately, creating a punch. When you want the reader to pause, say right before the dog is about to attack, that is a good place to put in a paragraph that is a little longer than the others. Look at the structure of the words on your page. Use the visual elements of the text itself to enhance your pacing.
Mastering pacing in action scenes takes practice and a focused effort. My best suggestion is to study your favorite action authors and analyze their scenes. How do they use time to create fast pacing? How much of what they write is action versus reaction? What are the layers of conflict? How did they keep the scene lean? What does the structure of the text look like? Studying successful action scenes can help you learn how to build your own.
It may not be intuitive to think about including negative emotions in a children’s book. After all, we don’t want to make the little guys cry, right? But including a moment of sadness in your picture book narrative can make for a more complete emotional journey for your character, and your reader, too.
Think about adult stories, particularly one with a hero. There is always a moment when it looks like the bad guy is going to win, when the character is at their darkest place. All seems to be lost. Luke Skywalker’s hand has been cut off. Voldemort has Harry trapped. Then it’s time for the big finale where the hero defeats the odds and wins.
While there (hopefully) aren’t dark, scary bad guys in picture books, including a moment of sadness or a feeling of loss for the character deepens the narrative. While the antagonist might be a character, it could also be an emotion such as fear, or a concept such as rejection.
Examples of Moments of Sadness in Picture Books
In Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney, Baby Llama is put to bed but then realizes he wants his mom to come back into the room. He makes several attempts to get her attention but she is downstairs and doesn’t hear him. There is an incredible spread with an expansive dark blue background and Baby Llama sitting in the darkness with a blanket pulled up over half his face. His eyes are wide and he wonders if his mom is gone. The feeling here is clear: fear. His dark moment is when he thinks his mother could be gone forever.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats also has a sad moment for the character. Peter spent his whole day exploring the wondrous, snowy outdoors. He brings home a memento of this special day in his pocket, a snowball. Of course when he wakes up and checks his coat pocket, the snowball has melted. His joy from the day before is seemingly gone.
Another example is in It’s Christmas, David by David Shannon. David has been enjoying all things holiday...cookies, ornaments, making his list...and trying hard to be on the nice list. Finally the big day comes. When he wakes up on Christmas morning, he runs to the living room only to find a lump of coal.
Reasons to Include a Moment of Sadness in Your Picture Book Manuscript
It strengthens your character’s emotional journey and makes your story more compelling. Facing a challenge or dark time gives a more complete character arc and increases the reader’s attachment to the character. Were you a little upset that I stopped in the examples above before knowing what happened to those characters? Even in the short descriptions of the stories, you wanted to know that things turned out all right. Surely that mom came back to Baby Llama, right? That kid got his presents, right? Experiencing challenges makes us want to root for the characters even more.
Children relate to negative feelings. If you’ve been around a child recently, you know their day can be quite an emotional roller coaster. From getting the wrong color cup, to their brother picking the TV show, to having to sing the song on stage in front of everyone...there are a lot of negative emotions during their days. They feel angry, sad, scared, overwhelmed, and everything else under the rainbow. They relate when a character is afraid like Baby Llama or sad like Jack and his melted snowball. Including negative emotions in stories shows kids that other people feel the same way they do and can also help them learn how to manage those feelings by seeing the character’s example.
It makes the ending that much more sweet. Think about the emotional journey of a book character as a line. If the line is flat because the emotion has been flat throughout, then it peaks at the climax, the jump from just before the climax to the peak is minimal. If we have a big dip before the climax, the jump up to the peak is huge! We’ve gone all this way! The happy ending has significantly more emotional impact because of that great low we had before. When Mama Llama finally comes, we are so relieved. Phew. Baby Llama was really upset and afraid. We are so happy they are back together. When David realizes the coal is just a bad dream and he wakes up and finally sees his presents, we are thrilled. He worked hard and deserved those.
Of course a moment of sadness may not fit the structure of every picture book. Books such as the How Do Dinosaurs…? series by Jane Yolen don’t follow a typical narrative structure and a moment of sadness wouldn’t fit in the question and answer style she uses. Examine your manuscript and ask yourself if you follow a narrative structure and if you are trying to include a character arc. See if a moment of sadness would punch up the emotional impact of your story. Remember, if the kids connect with your character more, the more likely they will be to pick up your book over and over again.
Revision can be a highly emotional process. One day everything in the chapter is fixed perfectly, piece of cake. You were born for this. The next day you spend HOURS on one paragraph. Why are you doing this? Four root canals with no numbing agents would be less painful than this.
Things can go from bad to worse after you spend months and months fixing and rewriting only to feel like you've made no progress in making the book better or you see how much more there still is to fix. You think you'll never finish.
Then a common, yet terrible thing happens to writers. Revision burnout.
What is Revision Burnout?
Revision burnout occurs when a writer becomes frustrated with the time and entanglements of revision and quits. They walk away from their manuscript, sometimes never coming back.
Oftentimes a little time and space are good for a project, giving the writer a chance to get a mental break and gain perspective. Too much time is a bad thing. The longer a person steps away from the project, the more they forget about the smaller details, and the longer it takes for them to reread and remember what they wrote about before jumping back in. You can also lose the sense of tone and direction you originally had with the work, making the new parts not match up as well with the older ones. This doesn't mean it's impossible to jump back on a project you didn't finish from three years ago, it just means that it will take time to recapture your sense of the story.
The real threat with revision burnout is complete abandonment. The biggest crime in writing is to give up on your work. You've made it this far and finished the draft. How many hours, days, weeks, months, maybe even years did that take? Don't quit now because it's hard. I have yet to hear an author preach about how easy writing is. Yes, some projects will need more work than others and yes, not all projects are going to be award winners. But the learning and growth of you as an author is critical. Going through the whole journey and finishing your big projects will teach you more about how you work and your processes than any webinar or craft book can.
Besides, wasn't this your dream? Didn't you picture holding this book in your hands...signing the title page...having fans desperately want your next book...? Or maybe you felt so passionate about the story that you just needed to get your work out there. Revision is hard. Period. That doesn't mean you should abandon your work.
Seven Tips for Avoiding Revision Burnout
Goal Setting: Make a realistic timeline for finishing your revision. Adapt it as necessary as life happens. Sometimes you get sick or have to move or have to help family members. Adjust your timeline as needed but stay focused on your end goal of having your project completed.
Revision Routines: Develop a routine for revision each week. You can plan something such as an hour each day in the early mornings or all day on Tuesdays and Fridays. This is going to depend on your schedule. The emphasis is on writing down what days and times are for revision only. Do not let yourself get distracted or work on other things during revision time. Focus!
Accountability: Have an accountability system in place to check in with your overall progress on your project and also to make sure you're sticking to your routine. You can have a writer friend you email every Sunday night to check in or make yourself post your progress on social media every Tuesday. Whatever works for you. This is a key piece in long-term success and finishing your project in your desired time frame.
Recognize Fatigue and Take Appropriate Breaks: If you find yourself hating your story or sitting down to revise becomes entirely torturous, a short break may help you adjust your frame of mind. Take a week off and spend some time in nature or with good friends who make you laugh, anything that energizes you. Do not let your break go on for weeks. Remember the longer you are away from a project, the longer it takes to jump back in.
Focus on Progress, not Perfection: You don't have to get your story perfect in the first round of revision. Or the second. Or the third. It can certainly seem like you are revising in circles sometimes. Remind yourself that every time you sit down and revise, you are making the story better. Focus on one story issue at a time and pat yourself on the back as you fix problems.
Keep in Touch with your Love of the Story: You will hate your story from time to time. It's completely normal. My loathing for my work peaks at about round three of revision. Take a journey back in your memory to when you first got the idea for this book. What was the spark? What made you excited? I like to write my story ideas down in a notebook and I will go back to that notebook to recapture my excitement. You can also make a list of your favorite scenes or lines from the book. Stay connected to what you love in your work. You may have to fight yourself for it.
Build a Support Network: Writers make the best allies in the revision process. They know how hard it is. If you haven't already, build relationships within the writing community either in person or online. Other writers can give emotional support and also ideas for when you're stuck. Writing a book can be a very lonely journey so reach out to others in the community for support.
Now you have some tools in your toolbox for avoiding revision burnout. Keep working on your revisions and don't let negative emotions stop you from achieving your goal.
Want more revision posts? Check out some others I've written:
Picture books are primarily a print market. Kids and parents love holding the books in their hands and interacting with them, pointing to pictures and turning pages. Deciding the best way to make your physical product involves some decision making and figuring out what is best for you and your book. Here are the options, along with the benefits and drawbacks of each, to help you decide.
The two main ways to indie print picture books (or any book) are to offset print or use a print-on-demand service. Offset printing is when you put in an order with a traditional book printer such as Thomson-Shore or Phoenix Color and they do what is called a print run. You pay the money up front for an agreed-upon amount of books. When the print run is finished, you have all of your books ready to sell.
Print-on-demand or POD is a relatively newer service in the history of book printing. All you do is upload the files to a service such as Amazon or Ingram Spark and they print copies after they are purchased and mail them to the customer. If you want to have a home stock of books, you will need to order from the printing service and you only pay for the exact amount you want.
Offset Printing Benefits and Drawbacks
Offset printing is number one when it comes to print quality, especially for picture books that have color interiors. You also have more print options with an offset printer. You can pick your trim size, get foil embossing, do lift-the-flaps, even get holes cut in your pages. You can customize whatever you want!
However, when you offset print you have to pay for an entire print run. This can get expensive and is risky if you end up not selling very many books. Also, now you have an entire print run. Where are you going to store those books? You will have to do some research and see if you want to apply for a distributor, store them at a warehouse that does pack-n-ship, or keep them at home/a storage unit and mail them yourself. But another benefit is the per-unit price. The higher the total print run, the cheaper the books are per book.
Print-on-Demand (POD) Benefits and Drawbacks
The benefits of POD are easy to see: significantly less up front cost and much easier product management. It is the most economical option. Plus services that do POD also list and ship your books for you. Double bonus!
Here comes the big drawback: print quality. Because these books are printed quickly and shipped out right away, the printing methods give less rich color and quality controls aren't as well regulated. You are also limited in your options and must chose a trim size from a predetermined list and can't get any of the special features. Some POD printers, such as Amazon, only print paperbacks. Finally, the price of the book per unit stays the same whether you print two books or two thousand. It becomes the least economical option if you need to print large quantities of books.
The best method is going to be what is right for your goals, your time, and your budget. What is most important to you? What can you honestly manage? How much money do you have to spend? You also don't have to be married to one printing method. You can make a judgement call for each project and see what works best for you. I personally do both, pending the project and what I deem is important.