Creating A Picture Book

As I've mentioned a couple of times both here and on Twitter, we are busy creating a picture book version of Angel's Great Escape and I wanted to share some of my experience with you. My decision to publish the book independently was largely due to my love of projects. A lot of people talk about those who self-publish wanting to have control over their work and I understand that in some way. But for me, it's not so much about control as about being a part of it all, being completely engaged in the whole process, learning and enjoying seeing it all unfolding. With a little bit of impatience thrown in!

About 8 years ago, I sent the Angel story to several animation companies who all advised that I should create it as a book first to find an audience as they thought it would be difficult to fund without proof of readership. So I set about rewriting the story as a book. Storybook apps were just emerging and I saw this as a middle ground between animation and books. The idea of publishing the story myself really appealed to me. I could be proactive, join with like-minded creatives, see my story come to life as I imagined it. And so, while I researched how to create a picture book, we created the app and I couldn't quite believe it had happened. This Angel who had danced around my mind for years was finally smiling at me from the screen and if I tapped her, she moved! More importantly, I sat with children as they read the story and saw the smiles on their faces. That, for me, was what it was all about.

So, now, on to the picture book. When I was little my favourite book in the world was The Story of Father Christmas by Ann and Dennis Mallet. It made me feel so cosy and comforted and I would love the Angel's Great Escape picture book to make children feel the same way. Having published the story as an app, I'd like to share the story with more children, to reach those who don't have an iPad, whose parents prefer books. And I'd like And So We Begin to take it's first steps towards becoming a traditional publisher. Stories come in all shapes and sizes, apps and books. Even though I am essentially self-publishing, I like Joanna Penn's thinking of it as independent publishing. It is far from simply myself creating this book. I am slowly establishing a lovely team around me who care as much as I do about the book and who are all contributing to making the book as good as it can be.

So after a rather rambling introduction, here are three stages we have been through with the book on it's journey so far.

1. Illustrations
Self-publishing has really opened up for novelists with the use of CreateSpace and Lightning Source so writers can be completely independent if they choose to be. But a picture book isn't quite so straight-forward. The finished product needs to be a perfect balance of words and pictures, with the two feeling as if they were always meant to be together. I had already commissioned the fabulous Kristyna Litten to illustrate the app and chatted to her agent at Arena about amending the contract to incorporate the use of the illustrations in a picture book too. Luckily, Kristyna's illustrations for the app were already high resolution and print ready due to the requirements for this for the retina display on the iPad.

So how can you find the right illustrator for you? When I was first looking for an illustrator, I went to graduate illustration shows such as the Cambridge School of Art MA Show to seek out emerging talent and I also spent a long time loitering in bookshops browsing through the picture book shelf seeing what style felt right. Karen Inglis has written a great blog post about her own journey and reveals that she found her illustrator through Elance. In the end, it was Arena Illustration who recommended Kristyna to me saying they thought her style would fit the story and as soon as I saw her sample sketches, I knew they were right. The picture below is just a tiny peek but you can see how close the original designs were to our finished product.

2. Structure
We are working with a picture book layout of 32 pages with end papers and hardback cover for Angel's Great Escape. Despite it initially seeming that 32 pages should equate to 16 double-page spreads, the title pages and copyright page also have to be considered. Whilst taking into account the limitations and also the illustrations that I already had, I took a step back and thought about how I would have structured the story had the app not been made. I found it helpful to sketch out the pages, numbering them 1 - 32 and then making a note of what the illustration and wording would be on each page. I also learnt a lot from looking at lots of other picture books to see how they were laid out. For example, I'd never thought about end papers before and realised these add to the beauty of the picture book. Here's a sneaky peek at ours.

3. Design
Closely entwined with structure is the design of the book and this was where I felt it was time to call in the professionals! Again the lovely Arena ladies came to the rescue and recommended a fabulous freelance designer to me. We met to have a chat through the project and within one meeting it was clear how much her experience would bring to the project. She understood immediately that I wanted the book to have its own personality rather than to feel like a transfer of the app on to paper. She made me realise that creating the book would give me an opportunity to play with different styles, more elaborate fonts and singled-out spot pictures. A professional book designer also knows how files need to be sent to print, how to ensure the colours will look true to the design and what fonts will appeal to readers. All vital with a picture book.

The layouts are now almost complete. We have had four face to face meetings over the course of four months which have been invaluable. We spend a couple of hours each time going through the designs with a fine-toothed comb. Kristyna created her artwork with many layers in Photoshop so the illustrations are very malleable. Each character has the possibility of many expressions and poses so the designer can play with these as well as experiment with the proportions and positioning of the text. Some spreads have what is referred to as a full-bleed, meaning the background image fills the pages, whereas some spreads have a white background with a 'spot' picture and some text. As soon as we are 100% happy I will share some of the pages with you.

The process of creating a picture book independently has already been a huge learning curve for me and we've barely started! The next steps are copy editing, deciding which printer to choose and working on the marketing and distribution plan. But more on that later!

I'd love to hear from you with your insights, advice or thoughts especially if you are creating a picture book independently too.