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Creating a Picture Book: Part I – The Beginning

Over the years people have encouraged me to do a picture book. I love to paint and I love to write, so why not put those things together? And I’ve wanted to, but I simply haven’t. Other projects have crowded it out, or I’ve started and then given up, overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.

But now I’m in neck deep. I’m doing it. And I want to share with you what the process has been so far: the ins and outs of creating a book, and in creating it, what’s been good, what’s been okay, and what’s been unexpectedly terrible.

There are several ways to go about publishing a book. I’ve decided to self-publish. This means I’m not submitting my story and art to a publishing company or an art director. I’m not relying on professionals for design input or editing. I’m doing it all myself. Which means I have a lot of work to do. It also means it could look like garbage, and it would be all my fault.

Why did I choose to self-publish? There are a few reasons.

1. I have more control. I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do, and I want to see that vision fleshed out. I’m confident of my idea, and I want to see it carried through to completion.

2. It’s quicker. I want to have it done by this fall, and that kind of turn-around time can only realistically happen with self-publishing.

3. Self-publishing isn’t sub-par anymore. Or it doesn’t have to be. The materials available are high quality, and the finished product has the potential to look as good as something printed through a publishing house.

Now I recognize the dangers of going it alone, of navigating unknown waters without experienced guides. There’s much to be said for editors and designers and art directors. They know things, after all, like not to use Papyrus for my cover [Editor’s note: Or anywhere else for that matter.], and they could help me avoid some major problems, many of which I probably don’t even know exist. (I know about Papyrus, trust me. [Editor’s note: Whew.]) I’m certainly not blind to the enormous benefit of having those kinds of folks around. I get it, but I want to give it a shot anyway, without them. And so I am. I may regret it.

So how did this all begin? Imagery. I think of ideas for paintings and sometimes those paintings end up being related. They begin to suggest a larger narrative. Ellen and the Winter Wolves, the book I’m currently working on, began with three paintings, completed over the course of two years: Ellen and the Peacock (see above), Ellen and the Key, and Ellen and the Owl. For a while now I’ve asked myself, “What’s going on here? Who is this girl and what is she doing? If I were reading this, what would I want to happen?” A story began to emerge, and in April of this year I went to a coffee shop for about a week and hammered it out on my laptop. Then I sent it off to a couple friends for feedback. I wanted them to tell me if the story hung together, if the characters were interesting, or if the whole thing was horrifically boring.

Well, they liked the story but offered some suggestions for changes. So I weighed their advice, knocked out another couple drafts, and called it good.

“Fantastic!” I said to myself, “Now all I have left are the illustrations!”

Next time: Things I Didn’t Think About


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