As a tween and teenager, I dreamed of becoming an artist and one day creating characters like Walt Disney. I had the vision and motivation. But my art teachers pushed me in another direction--get a degree in business and do art on the side, so I'm not a starving artist. They thought they were watching out for me. But in reality, it started my soul-searching days, which lasted over ten years, until I had children.
But then, one day, while my toddler and twin infants were napping, fate stepped in. I was painting a Madagascar mural in my children's playroom, when a drop of paint splattered onto the floor. Instantly, I saw a face, a body, and a little colorful creature. I took a piece of paper and carefully pressed it on top of the splatter. From there, I drew a shape around it, creating my first character ever. And even named him Splatter! As I sat, staring at Splatter, I felt a sense of loneliness for him, so created a girlfriend and then two siblings, all different colors with different personalities and interests. I had studied the psychological and behavioral affects of color and music and thought how wonderful it would be to have characters that mirrored those traits.
That same day, there was a double rainbow outside. My little kiddo's and I were mesmerized. But as fate continued to play out, my oldest son who was only 1 1/2 years old at the time, kept pointing to it like he could see something in it. I hurried back into my office (slash kids playroom slash my art room) and drafted up three more characters and their dog, creating Splatter and Friends! And all of them lived in the center of the rainbow.
I put the drawings aside for a few months. And then one day, while I was consulting for a client in my home, I felt an urge to show him the characters. He loved them and thought I should show them to a friend of his who marketed Pokemon and the Wiggles. Within two weeks, he had set up a meeting. When I met with him, I was pretty direct saying, "I have three babies at home and don't have time to pursue something that truly doesn't have any potential." I asked him to be frank with me. And to my surprise he said that this is what the market needed, and that the characters and concept was fresh. He encouraged me to brand them by writing a children's book.
When I left my meeting with him, I was so excited! This is what I had dreamed of my entire life and finally it was coming into reality. I saw them on television. And naive me thought that all I needed to do was create a couple children's books and then voila, I could then market them to a children's animation company and they would become a family brand. Was I ever wrong. And I wish at the time I had a mentor who could have guided me.
There was so much more for me to learn about writing, illustrating, designing, and publishing a children's picture book. I spent the next couple of years reading every child's picture book I could get my hands on and studying a subject that I had never gone to college for.
Below is what I learned:
- Children's picture book writing needs to simple. You need to be able to write like a kid for a kid, using words that a five year old would be able to read and understand. This sounds easy, but it wasn't for me. I had just started to read children's picture books. And my background for over ten years was business writing. Writing for children is completely different. But a lot of fun!
- It is very costly to hire an illustrator. Most will require a fee for their services and then a percentage of sales. Options are to look for a college student or perhaps even a high school student. Or learn how to draw the characters and background yourself. The later is what I chose. And it wasn't as easy as you think. Since I was a kid, I've always drawn and painted reality pictures such as portraits and still life. Drawing cartoon illustrations is totally a different style. It has become one of my favorite styles!
- Become familiar with publishing software such as Adobe products. I taught myself how to use Adobe Illustrator (create the illustrations) and Adobe Indesign (to layout the interior of the picture book).
- Decide if you want to self-publish or find a publisher. When querying literary agents and publishers, query one or the other. Not both at the same time. After sending out lots of query letters, I found that unless you actually went to school for writing, most won't give you the time or day. They required experience, which I didn't have. I hoped that maybe someone would see potential and mentor me. Boy could I have used a mentor. But no one I spoke to would mentor me because I was not in the publishing (writing) world. My experience was business writing.
- Network! Become part of SCBWI and other children's writing groups. This was something I wish I would have done in the beginning. But like I said, I really didn't plan on having a career as a children's writer. Networking and meeting other's in the field could have really helped my writing career sooner.
- Research the hilt out of local printers versus overseas printers. I found local printers were more expensive than overseas printing company's. And if you are a self-publisher, you needed to invest in printing a large volume of books in order to make money. Typically, 1,000 to 5,000 copies is the average. The issue many self-publishers have is where to store them because they will be stored in your house. My first go around, I used a printing company that was located in the northeast. There costs were reasonable and I could print 250 copies at a time, sell them at book events, and still make a little money. Guess their prices were too reasonable because when I was ready to print more, I discovered they went out of business. I now use Lightning Source, which I will discuss in Part 2.
- Don't give up! If this is something you truly are passionate about, keep learning, keep researching, and keep meeting others in the field.