Birthing a children's book: Gestation, labor and growing pains!
Animal Alphabet Traveling Twisters now has its very own website!
I hope you enjoy looking at the images and reading how the book came about. The initial site is sparse but that will change as I publish the book, implement eCommerce so you can purchase Animal Alphabet Traveling Twisters directly here, and add a calendar with information about dates of events such as book signings and readings.
I am so excited to be moving forward with this project. It has been 5 years since I began. It has taken tremendous effort, caused me much worry and been an often frustrating and certainly costly experience. There have even been several moments when I wanted to give up....but that wasn't an option; it has also been one of the most rewarding experiences of my creative life and certainly a labor of love. With this book I can give a gift to children of all ages who --like my grandson -- struggle with word pronunciation, and showcases a unique illustrative style and wonderful world of my own design unlike anything else on the bookshelves. Like a "pregnancy" there comes a time when you think, "Enough already! I want to get this book out there into the world and have everyone coo and ooh and awe over it!" This is that time.
I have been sporadically blogging about my book since August 8, 2013. With the publication of it coming up soon, I set it up with its very own website in anticipation of the book becoming available for purchase. Up until now, it occupied space on my professional art site at www.monaleisa.com. As of today, I am still trying to find a good printer to self-publish 500 copies, and I am also about to restart my attempts to find a publisher for it. After 10 rejections from prominent publishing houses I felt like giving up, but after hearing story after story of authors whose books were rejected many times before being accepted, the talented but unsung writers/illustrators and the famous -- like J.K. Rowlings -- and artists whose work NEVER found support until their death such as Van Gogh, I decided to choose to try, try again. Never give up.
If you would like to read in more detail about the process I have gone through in bringing Animal Alphabet Traveling Twisters to fruition, I am reposting my original blog posts here.
August 8, 2013
As far back as I can remember, I have loved every single thing about children's books. Reading them as a child led my creative mind to run rampant imagining incredible worlds and endless possibilities. Reading many, many books to my own children, watching their faces light up with fascination, brought me such joy. And browsing through books at the local library or book store has always been sure to bring my stresses to a halt, as I slow down and my breathing becomes deep and nurturing rather than shallow and labored with the usual rushing around I do.
I became a good reader very early on, because I spent a lot of time in the hospital with deafness. My mother would sit and look through picture books with me and say the words as she pointed to the pictures. I lip read to this day! I can remember the year I discovered Harriet the Spy and read it exactly 111 times. I kept count! My husband and I have kept few books from the years spent reading to our children, but of those we deigned good enough to survive several purges and moves, we all agree that our favorite is "The Dwindling Party" by Edward Gorey. My children were delighted that Neville's family was killed off, leaving him alone and quite happy about it...and when I think of my kids as individuals, they share the same characteristic: people who love to be alone, not really needing anyone else! Hmmmm....maybe I should be worried.....will I make it through this night?!
As an artist, when I look at children's books, there is a running critique constantly going through my head: "I can do better than THIS!" "HOW did this horrible thing ever get published!" "OOOOOO, this is amazing, what incredible talent the illustrator has!" "I love this book!" I have saved several drawings I did back in the late 80's of Eeebie Jeebie, a silly alien, and when they have resurfaced occasionally my husband always says, "You really should turn them into a book!"
But, I am a fiber artist NOT really interested in drawing. I am all about the 3 dimensional. I use my hands. I make things.
Then three years ago, my eldest daughter was pregnant with our first grandchild. I wanted to create something for this precious child we were so anxiously awaiting, so I made a quilt. The characters were done using free motion stitching, my preferred method of creating. I made them up as I went along, and used black and white as the primary color scheme as it is my eldest daughter's favorite combo, and since we didn't know if it was going to be a boy or girl.
After the quilt was done I started secretly working on a simple children's book that had been gelling in my head, intending it for when my grandchild got to the age of having books read to him while at the same time knowing that if I felt it good enough I was going to want the project to be published. I wanted to do an alphabet that had tongue twisters. My kids always giggled whenever I would read tongue twisters to them! I was a little intimidated taking it all on myself, so I enlisted a talented friend who was a painter to do the back drops. However, her work ethic and mine quickly clashed; I get things DONE and she was full of excuses, didn’t finish in a timely manner, and whined perpetually. Although the few back drops she managed to do were well done, it quickly became evident that she was the wrong choice for the project. I was complaining about this to my photographer after the whole thing fell apart and in his usual, curt manner he retorted, "Leisa! Do it yourself! You can do a better job!" So, the book began in earnest.
I regress here to say that I often come off as a super Diva, soooooo sure of herself, almost downright cocky at times. My hard shell hides a super jellyfish with a really, really, really sensitive heart. I didn't tell a single soul about this project; the only people who knew were my husband and youngest daughter who, by default because they live with me, saw me working on it. I labored on it whenever I had a few spare moments. I was afraid I wouldn't finish it, I was afraid it wouldn't be as good as the fabulous things that are out there, I was filled with trepidation and self-doubt and so I kept it to myself. For three years. My mother STILL doesn't know about it.
Like the song from Mary Poppins, "Let's start at the very beginnnnnnning...." so, I started out with the letter A -of course- and Angelina Aardvark was born. I use a sewing machine like other artists use drawing pencils: I sketch with thread using a process called Free Motion Stitching. I have been using this since 1971 when I first learned to sew. My mother taught me to darn fabrics by dropping the feed dogs (the teeth that are under the sewing fabric that move it along) and using a special foot- on older machines called a darning foot, on newer an embroidery foot- and being the individual I was, I used it to draw rather than darn!!!!!
The months ticked by. The characters began to live and breathe and develop individuality. I began calling them by name. They were telling me what personalities they had, where they wanted to be, what they wanted to be doing. They took over. And, just as we often do NOT live in our native home land (I was born and raised in Canada but have lived in many, many different places and travelled extensively) I wanted my characters to have the option of traveling, or moving, somewhere else. So, they are not necessarily in their native habitat.
I began to get so excited about the project- I was seeing light at the end of the tunnel-somewhere around February of this year, that I upped the time spent on this project and submerged myself in it, sometimes working 18 hours a day. Each of the diorama backgrounds are hand dyed and hand painted and the sets, objects, characters, etc. are hand printed, hand and machine stitched, constructed, made of materials and objects sourced at flea markets, garage and estate sales, or made by me from very common materials. I wanted anyone reading the book to say, "WOW! That lemonade stand is made with those pieces of scrap wood from the back of cheap canvasses! Those banana bunches are made from CANDY glued together? Cool! We can do that!"
In June, the momentous happened. I finished. I finished!!!!!!!! Booked the photographer. Got everything ready to take to his studio, which took almost 2 full days alone. Three grueling days of set up and incredible photography then occurred at Michael West's studio.
We had two stations going at once...Michael photographing one I had set up while I set up another. Sand and sparkles everywhere! Cheap eating and no Starbucks since getting the bill...every penny spent well worth it, as the creative juices of Michael and I as a team flowed in tandem and the project got better and better as our mutual ideas, his incredible photographic skills, his amazing equipment (Michael...I'd like Valerie to have musical notes coming out of her mouth....can we do that? Why yes, Leisa...I have a Go Bo just for that!) and Photoshop expertise (You want smoke coming out of Zane's tailpipe? I can do that!) built an end product that soared above my expectations.
And today, I sent off dummy manuscript number one to the first of my publishing house choices. SCREEECH. Halt here....sounds so easy, right?! HAH!
1) Research- 2013 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market book bought, read cover-to-cover, all advice followed; lists made, check!
2) Research- Numerous hours spent on the internet looking for advice, guidelines, how-to's, contacts, references and more
3) Sought advice from friends, friends of friends, most of whom ignored me; a couple actually had advice and gave me a bit of their time (thank you, thank you!)
4) Learned how to write a cover letter specific to publishing
5) Sent numerous emails to various editors (no response) the SCBWI (no response) the southern rep for the SCBWI (no response) agents (no response) query about paying to go to the SCBWI conference (response...I guess when they want money, they will respond)
6) Debated publishing vs self-publishing options- (decided as a result of the nice, oft-published author's advice) to approach publishers first, then self-publish if all else fails- there are awards to be had via publishing that are not available if you self-publish, which can lead to book tours, better sales, events where you can sell your books, signing, readings....which is apparently about the only way to make a little income
7) Learned how to make a dummy manuscript (but still am unsure if have done it right!)
8) Figured out how much it is costing to send one manuscript out...$32.45. Each. OK...one down, HOW many to go?!
9) Perpetually squelching down the self-doubt, which comes from 38 years of rejection in my art career...
10) THE WAITING GAME. First publisher warns it will take up to 6 months to hear back from them...and you won't hear anything unless they are actually interested....
So, here is a wee, sneak preview for you of a couple of the pages of my book and a few tidbits. Remember- no graphic design work has been done...publishers want the bare bones so they can do their thing, so you are merely seeing the pictures without words! I hope you like it!
October 9, 2013
Well, it has been 2 months since I began sending out my dummy manuscripts to publishers.
So far, I have sent one out to each of 6 different publishers. Depending on where they are mailed to, each submission costs me between $32.00 and $42.00 to print, bind and mail. Only one so far has accepted an email submission (free!) The rest of the publishers I have chosen to submit to require snail mailed manuscripts.
I struggled with whether or not to send along an actual character (NOT from the book, just random, fun characters I am making) with each manuscript. I finally decided to go for it. The fact that these are done using thread on a sewing machine is easier to comprehend when holding one in one's hand! Here are a few I have sent:
I had a gorgeous bluebird that I sent out, but forgot to photograph!
So, I wait....and wait, and hope that one of the publishers is intrigued enough to contact me and work with me. I have given this process until July of 2014 and then I will begin the arduous task of hiring a graphic designer, publishing it myself, and promoting it on Kickstarter or some other crowd-funding campaign platform. Already in the hole for thousands of dollars, I puzzle over how others do it, and the affect luck has on our ability to succeed. I know several artists who have projects fall into their laps constantly and don't need to pursue opportunities.
This is the last large project I will undertake and I don't say this as a "woe is me" moment; as an artist who has spent all of my retirement $$ on making art, with little to show for it in financial return, it just can't keep going on. In my mid 50's now, there does come a time when one has to be practical.
People tell me to hang in there and I still remain hopeful!
March 18, 2014
Well, I have thus far submitted my book manuscript to 9 publishers, and am still in the process of sending a few out. I have almost exhausted my publisher resources, though!
Chronicle has not responded within their specified 6 month time period, which leads me to believe they might be out. However, something happened last week to do with them (in a serendipitous moment....) so I remain hopeful that my first choice publishers may turn attention to me, after all!
Peachtree Publishers sent me a lovely rejection letter. I really appreciated that they took the time to at least respond. Artists get VERY accustomed to rejection; often we never know WHY, so it was good to hear, even though it was bad to hear!
I am slowly looking into graphic designers in the event that I will have to self-publish. That means a lot more time, tons more $$$$$, and a HUGE commitment of effort, a Kickstarter, etc. Tiring just thinking about it. I have had moments of self-doubt when I wonder if the book is "good enough." But, as soon as I pick up my manuscript and look at it, I am filled with such determination to get this almost 4 year labor of love out into the world. I love what I have done so much, that I am renewed with commitment. When I look at some of the crap that has been published, I just cannot imagine that my book won't sell. Thank you to the myriad of friends who have said they will buy at least one- if not multiple- copies. That means so much to me having some of you believe in me!
Determination, fortitude, stick-to-it-ness. Some days it wears you down trying to be positive...but other days, it energizes!
August 2, 2014
If there is one thing I know about all too well, it is the pain of rejection.
Any artist reading this is shaking their head up and down in empathetic agreement. The skin gets thicker and thicker with time (and it MUST if you will survive) as the galleries say, "No thanks" to the work shown them, as the on-line sales lie fallow, as the email notices come in with a kindly-worded "NO!" from juried art shows, residencies, teaching jobs applied to, as the silence of no response envelops and overtakes until you want to scream.
It is a dog-eat-dog world for us.
I have built up a VERY thick skin in my 39 years as a serious artist. You must, if you are going to slog through this process of exposing your art and creative endeavors to the world at large. Because, THERE ARE SO MANY TALENTED PEOPLE OUT THERE IT IS DAUNTING. You - and only you - can TRULY believe in yourself, pat yourself on the back, support yourself. Others always have some caveat they will run by you, ie "If you did ______, you would be successful, so-and-so did and is!" or "You have to be positive: build it and they will come." and so on and so on. The people I really admire and feel supported by are the ones that say to me, "Sometimes it sucks. Shit! you must feel crappy. What now?" That commiseration shows me they are sympathetic, and that they believe in me to recover and move on.
But, I have never been in this particular venue before - children's book publishing- trying to get a labor of love published is a most daunting task. It has been 4 years now, this labor of love and hard work. However, I set realistic goals. One year ago I said that if my children's book didn't get picked up by a publisher in one year, I was going to publish it myself. I worked hard this past year, reaching out to myriads of publishers by snail mail, email and phone. I did my research, I gave them precisely what they asked for, I called authors of children's books for advice, I took every word of advice anyone and everyone in the business (or not) gave me, I availed myself of every opportunity put in my path, called anyone that anyone recommended and still....I have been rejected by all.
So, it is time. Now, I have to deal with the type. Publishers don't want your type done, they have people who make your book come together if they publish it. At first, I thought about hiring someone to create type for me. As I slogged through the people put in my path (most with questionable talent, skills that were NOT suitable for children's book publishing, the wrong people over-and-over!) I realized that - once again! - if I don't do it myself, it won't get done (properly). DUH! I needed to match the type to my illustrations! So, for the last month, I have been making type from clothesline, sand, seashells, golf tees, and more! Here is a sample...
Georgie Gecko was my LEAST favorite page from my book. Here he is first....followed by his type page. Now, Georgie is a much loved page!
I am almost finished the type pages. They are making the book even better than I originally conceived. Perhaps this all happened for a reason, and I was meant all along to have to create the type myself in order to give the public a better, more creative, more personalized product? There IS negativity in this creative process, and it is hard to comprehend the additional time and money I will have to spend self-publishing, marketing, promoting, selling....but nothing has ever been easy, so I shouldn't be surprised. What I am is committed...I believe in this project and can't wait until it is finished and I can show you!
September 25, 2014
Waiting for my photographer and Photoshop genius to finish up the type pages I made. I met with him today and WOW! things are looking even better than I thought they would! Stay tuned....not long now....
I am probably going to self-publish, but will also keep sending the manuscript out. The thing is to keep ones' hopes up. It has been really hard for me some days, but I have my art to console myself with, and the belief that this book is going to be really awesome!
Some things happen so easily for some people. And then, sometimes for others, they don't. I just want to say to anyone out there that you MUST pat yourself on the back when no one else does. Keep moving forward.
It is hard to believe how time flies, isn't it? And then, there is the challenge of time dragging on and on.....
The frustration of patience that has been forced on me while trying to bring this book to market has made me...well, FRUSTRATED! You see, I am a "do-er". I am prolific, driven, obsessed and passionate about anything creative I take on. To have to wait for others, or have extraneous forces exert their demands and prevent me from accomplishing something, is quite the challenge for my Type A personality.
In bringing this children's book to fruition, these passages of time spent waiting that are out of my control have been excruciating. I have had to tap into inner resources of patience like never before.
Self publishing is NOT very easy. It seems so, and many will tell you it is, but it hasn't been so in my case. Oh yes, if you just want a one-off book and are willing to pay gobs of money for it, it is super easy! There's Blurb, Lulu and more, all ready and waiting with a format.
What have I learned as this process has dragged on?
1) I learned (too late) that I should have used Portrait orientation rather than Landscape, as the cost and accessibility is MUCH better. More companies offer Portrait and at a lesser cost. Most Print on Demand services offer Portrait, although that is starting to change. Most printers charge more for landscape printing. There is a LOT to learn about printing....papers, cover stock, ink, bleeds, yada yada yada....
2) It is A LOT more expensive to print Landscape format.
3) Blurb costs the moon. I got a sample hardcover of my children's book printed to have for posterity. It cost me $88.00. Yep, you read that right! So, if I wanted to sell it to you, you'd need to fork out $176.00!!!! And, they made an error, so I had to go through the agony twice.
4) It is a lot more expensive to print a book that is 54 pages.
5) It is near impossible to find a decent printing company for a decent price to print your book IN DECENT QUALITY. I am still on the hunt.
6) You have to register for ISBN's. Library of Congress codes. Barcodes.
ChaCHING! ChaCHING! ChaCHING!
7) On the positive side, I have taught myself more Photoshop skills!
8) The internet is an amazing resource for help in learning those Photoshop skills!
I have become a petulant child recently, as getting the taxes ready have taken precedence over finalizing the last details and continuing the search for a decent printing company that won't charge me the moon.
So, that's where I am at in mid March, year 2015, and 5 years since I first started this project....but you know, I look through my copy and LOVE it and it bolsters me and gives me the encouragement to know that I WILL get there. It may not be tomorrow, it may not be next week, but it will surely be...soon. And unless the world ends and I never get to see others enjoying my book, that's as good as it gets!!!!