Friday, July 29, 2016

Small Crisis - by Jason Kirschner

I am facing a little bit of a dilemma right now. A small crisis of faith. I'm a guy with a family and a day job who wants to write and draw for kids. I'm passionate about it. I do it in my spare time, weekends, late nights, Arbor Day. I've got one book out and it’s doing ok.  People are buying it and based on reviews, liking it! But … it hasn’t made national news or a best-seller list but if you’re reading this blog, odds are that you've heard of it.  And I’m proud of it.  I believe in it.  I think the work is strong.

Currently,  I’m working on some follow-up projects.  I have ideas.  Lots of ideas actually, but there was one I was drawn to the most and I decided to concentrate on that. It’s the kind of story I like — silly and nerdy and a bit wordy.  I’ve finished a manuscript that made me laugh. I’m in the process of drawing the dummy now and I like how it’s progressing.

And still, my mind wanders back to the first book often.  The one that’s on shelves but not “breaking the internet” in any way, shape, or form.  This new book is written very much in the same vein as the first.  Not the same story or characters, but I think stylistically they’re cut from the same cloth.  I wonder if I’m making a mistake.  Should I infer some lesson from the “not huge success” of the first book?  Should I change my style? Should I be trying something completely different?

A sketch from the new project--and also sorta how I'm feeling (minus the tutu.)
I’m not sure of the answer here.  When I first started trying to write and illustrate books, I tried very hard to make the kind of books that I saw on the shelves. I was probably imitating more than creating.  I was so frustrated that I was making the kind of thing that I saw in the stores and yet I couldn’t sell a thing.  So I took a small leap and created something I really loved.  I honestly thought it was going to be an exercise or a practice project of some sort.  I didn’t think anyone would ever bite.  But they did!  I thought I’d found the secret.  Make what you love!

But based on early sales, not as many people love it as I’d hoped.  I’d hoped there would be one in every household across America. It didn't happen. There could be loads of reasons why.  I'm a first time author.  Perhaps I didn't market it perfectly?  I've learned a lot on that front for next time. (Also see Mike’s brilliant entry from last week for help there.)  But part of me thinks that if the work is out there and it’s appealing, then people will find it.  It might be naive but it’s the way I feel.

So…some questions.

Also from the new thing.
First off — what’s my goal?  If it’s to match J.K. Rowling’s sales, I’ve failed miserably.  If it’s to get my books in the hands of kids that might love it, I think I’ve done that. In fact, I know I have. I've seen great reviews and received kid drawings that tell me it's true.  Ding!

What to do with the new project?  Should I scrap it? Do I rewrite it and make it more stylistically different from the first?  I think I am going to rewrite a bit.  Just a bit.  I won’t make it something I don’t love or just imitate what I see on shelves but if you just ignore what you’re seeing in the world around you than you're burying you head in the sand. Ding?

So. What have we accomplished here?   Believe in your work.  Write what you love. Know the market.  Know how to market. I know all of this isn’t new ground for writing/illustrating blogs but it was my week to blog and this was much cheaper than therapy. Much appreciated and Happy (belated) Arbor Day!

Jason Kirschner is the author and illustrator of Mr. Particular: The World's Choosiest Champion from Sterling which you can now find on shelves in bookstores everywhere. Get your own copy and see more of Jason's work at

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Marketing... it's not a dirty word - by Mike Ciccotello

I love creating stories and illustration, but luckily for me, I also love marketing. Yup. I said it. 


I really don't need a caption for this.

Embrace marketing. It doesn't have to be coupon pack mailers, or cheesy radio ads, and it should NOT be instantaneously telling people about your book as soon as they like one of your tweets.

You're probably marketing your work right now and you didn't even realize it.

Every time you enter a contest, attend a conference, and get a portfolio review, you are marketing. Yes, you are still honing your craft, but at the same time, you are promoting you and your work. You are showing people what you create, who you are, and getting your name out there. By doing this consistently, people will start seeing your name and work, over and over, which leads to familiarity. Repetition is a good thing, as long as it's done in moderation. 

My entry for the NJ Library Association, poster contest.

Try to find a balance between creating great work and getting it our there. Don't just do the marketing, that would be putting the cart before the horse. And don't be scared to share the work you create. You don't have to share everything, but try to share something. 

Recently I hit a creative block while rewriting one of my manuscripts. In order to keep working, I tried my hand at some short term projects while I took a break from my manuscript. I entered a couple contests and applied for a conference. I was able to share the imagery on social media and feel the accomplishment of completing a short term project. Illustrators have a lot of opportunities to do this and they don't cost a dime.

My entry for SCBWI Draw This, for July. The prompt was, Admire.

Drawing challenges - share on social media with proper hashtags. 
These are ones that I know of.
pinch punch post, sketch dailies, daily doodle, finish the scribble, scbwi draw this, inktober, and illustration friday.
(Please mention some more challenges in the comments.)

Contests - see if you are allowed to share your entry on social media. 
This year I submitted to SCBWI Art Spot, NJ Library association's poster contest and 3x3.
(If you know more contests, please mention them in the comments.)

Blogs - research blogs that take submissions from illustrators and will promote your work.
I'm a regular contributor at, but I have also been invited to show work on Kathy Temean's blogNerdy Chicks Write - Kid Lit Summer School and Tara Lazar's blog Pre-PiBoIdMo.
(If you know other blogs that take regular submissions, please mention then in the comments.)

By putting all of this effort into yourself and your work, you're building your brand.

That may sound business-like, so we don't have to refer to it that way. Let's say, you're putting your best foot forward to promote what you love doing.

Twitter: @ciccotello 
Instagram: @ciccotello 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Getting a Nonfiction Picture Book Published - by Patricia Keeler

The fire alarm in the Macmillan building is really loud! I know, because I set if off. I was so excited about having sold my nonfiction picture book, I couldn't wait for the down elevator. I ran into the stairwell, not noticing the Emergency Exit Only sign, setting off lights and sirens. Later, my editor said, "I knew that was you." 

So things got better on my second visit to New York.

With Marsha Marshall, Senior Editor at Atheneum Publishers/Macmillan

Making A Sale

Even though I'd rather chew ice on a bad tooth then market a picture book after my initial 'not-going-to-happen' rejections, I started mailing dummies to editors. I did get some pen and ink illustration work for textbooks, but it wasn't until I saw David Macaulay's The Way Things Work that I got the big idea to make an illustrated book showing where everything comes from. The biggest concept I could think of would sell, right? I called it Sources.

Sample dummy page from Sources
Sample dummy page from Sources
Amazingly, Marcia Marshall, Senior Editor at Atheneum Publishers/Macmillan, got back to me. Sources didn't work for her, but she was good with a picture book about where clothing fibers come from. Unraveling Fibers was to be published in 1995.

Marcia came to my Virginia home on her way to visit her daughter in Florida and collected the finished work for Unraveling Fibers. (So cool to direct my editor past the Virginia Museum and Dogwell Dell ampitheater and up my street. And there she was, munching cheese crackers in my kitchen.)

Marcia was surprised when I gave her a photo book layout and I'd done with my husband, Francis McCall. Switching from illustrations to photographs wasn't really something I thought I needed to talk to my editor about. We had to take the pictures anyway, and it seemed like a lot of extra work to copy them in watercolor.

There are some challenging editors, but Marcia Marshall has got to be the kindest, most understanding of them all.

Unraveling Fibers Photos

Francis and I grew silkworms. You can see silkworms still spinning themselves into the cocoon.
Jenny Wagner holding a llama. Alpacas on the right.

Unraveling Fibers Cover Designs

I did submit an illustrated cover design.

Original cover painting I placed on a bed of wool fibers.

They rushed out a cover with black and white photos. I think that might be my fault. 

My final cover design on left. Cover created by Atheneum on right.

Unraveling Fibers made the New York Times book review!

Facebook:  PatriciaKeelerBooks
Twitter: @patriciakeeler
Instagram: @patriciakeeler

represented by Liza Royce Agency

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

When life gets in the way... by Barbara DiLorenzo

A year ago, I was a workhorse. I'd wake up and get my son to school by 7am, drink my coffee, then dive into drawing and painting. Some days were interrupted by teaching or other social obligations. But I was dogged in my determination to bring my picture book projects to publication. I'd post sketches and paintings-in-progress on social media. I was proud of my productivity. A year ago, I had sold my first book, and was about to embark on a research trip to Italy. My life was solid. My determination to reach my career goals, unshakeable.

But then, in the fall, my husband of 15 years and I decided to part ways. Although the build-up to this decision was logical, and we truly did exhaust all our options, we ended up vowing to remain friends and cooperatively parent our amazing son. Despite the amicable nature of our separation–this took the stuffing out of me. And him. I stopped drawing for awhile. I stopped answering emails or posting on social media. I didn't want to face people. I didn't know how to navigate this new territory, other than putting one foot in front of the other, taking care of my son and showing up to teach my art classes.

The late fall and holiday season were sad for me. But even in that dark time, I found comfort in loved ones–and enormous joy that my debut picture book, RENATO AND THE LION, was suddenly moving forward. The book had been in a holding pattern of sorts, which had made me wonder if it would ever come to light. At my most depressed point, I suddenly felt buoyed that this project was indeed, alive.

The publishing team had approved the text, and asked me for rough thumbnails. What would normally take two days of solid effort–took me over a month. Despite my excitement for the book, the impact of a pending divorce had slowed me down mentally. I had to get my sh*t together, or I'd risk losing my lifelong dream of creating a book–a book with a story that I love.

The team at Viking was gracious, and didn't say anything about my delay. Instead, they brought me in to discuss edits to help me proceed to the next stage. Their suggestions were smart and helpful, and I was excited to be back on track. I worked like a dog for a week and a half to produce more refined sketches, and was proud to turn them in. Currently, we are at an exciting point in the book production–with the deadline for final art approaching in September. And now, I am working at an efficient, effective pace again.

I am grateful to my loved ones and to the publishing team that believes in my book. Their faith in me, especially during a dark time, has lit the path to help me find my way back–back to my normal, workhorse flow.

Illustration Blog: Paint & Paper
Follow me on Twitter: @wavepaint