Let me tell you the story of a young woman who signed onto a children’s book project.
Yes, I’m talking about me, and although I’ve always been a novel-writing kind of girl, when this project landed in my lap, I thought it was the perfect way to get my foot in the publishing world’s door.
About a year after I graduated from college, I was one of several writers contracted to write a series of children’s picture books. The first step was to provide a sample children’s story of my own creation. It didn’t need to have illustrations, so I figured it would be a piece of cake. I soon came up with a story called Hero about a boy who had to face a challenge to live up to this nickname. My job done, I promptly forgot it.
It turns out the reason I was contracted to begin with was because the creator of this series had no business in the writing world. This soon became obvious, and the project fell flat. I hadn’t particularly enjoyed the storyline and characters, so I shrugged it off and moved on.
Fast forward seven years, and a friend introduced me to a local author, figuring this might help me get one step closer to publishing my novel. The author I met was an absolute delight. She told me all about her books and the work that went into them, from getting them illustrated to collaborating with other writers to printing and selling them. (Check out her website Bluejean Books in the sidebar or here.)
While I still wanted to go the traditional route of finding an agent and a publisher for my novel, this conversation reminded me that I had a children’s book already written – and my parents’ business had a new digital press that would be perfect for printing books on demand.
There still was a problem, though – that of finding an illustrator. My number one choice was my mother. The image on the right is an example of one of her pencil drawings. She was an art major, and one of her many hats is that of a graphic artist. But when it comes to illustrating children’s books, she didn’t feel qualified, not to mention that she just didn’t have the time. (But I think I’ve convinced her to help me with the cover art for my NaNo novel.)
The book idea went on the back burner, where it simmered for well over a year. I learned a lot as I began to substitute teach and work with kids of all ages and reading levels. My elder son was diagnosed with several learning disabilities. I gained an appreciation for books that are easy readers versus the ones that are content-appropriate but still have to be read by parents. All of this percolated in my mind, stored up for when I would need it.
Then one day when substituting in kindergarten, I had an interesting opportunity. The kids were learning about authors and illustrators and how to create a book. The teacher, knowing I’m a writer, asked if I would mind talking to them about the process. The kids hung on my every word – it was crazy! Afterward, they asked if I had a book of my own.
That’s when the lightbulb went off. I realized I could illustrate my book myself. I’m not my mother, but I am capable of creating more than stick figures. And my six-year-old has an artistic bent, so I thought we could illustrate together. I started with a simple watercolor painting of a tree and a few sketches. Peter joined in, and we soon had enough to get started. That was in late January. I figured I would be done within a month. Ha.
So creating a children’s book is harder than I thought. Revising the copy was just one thing I had to tackle. On top of that, there’s the business end of getting an ISBN and marketing. And then those pesky illustrations pulled me right out of my element and into the realm of What in the world am I doing?
February came and went. March was busy; I worked on the illustrations on our vacation, but I was nowhere near finished. There was still hope, though. As long as I could share it with the kindergarteners before the end of the year, all would be well.
I probably wasted about a month of trial and error figuring out how to illustrate in Photoshop (yes, Photoshop, not InDesign). I would challenge myself to finish three illustrations in a week, and I’d only get halfway through one. Memorial Day weekend arrived, and I worked all day every day, staying up four hours past my bedtime into Monday morning. I thought I was done, then realized I still had several hours’ worth of work still ahead of me after I woke up.
But I finished – finally! (If you read my post last week, this was the third big project I’ve taken on in the past year.) I had my first copies ready so that Peter was able to share the book with his class on the second-to-last day of school. Kids that knew I’d been working on the book for months were excited to see it. My friends and family have been so supportive, and I cannot explain how wonderful it feels to have something in print, even if it’s not with some big-name publishing house.
Now that Hero is done, I have my work cutout for me, from getting it into bookstores to getting it online through CreateSpace. (Check the My Fiction page for when it goes live.) Until then, you’re welcome to message me for a copy – Peter and I will even sign it!
I can cross one big project off my list. It was a challenge, something I never would have considered doing over nine years ago when I first wrote the text. Finishing the book with my son has been a joy, and I finally have a real book to show for a small portion of my hard work.