Sunday, January 23, 2011

Self-illustrating for an ebook?

When it comes to picture e-books, artists have the advantage. Mostly because electronic gismos have become tools for artists far more than for writers-- they have the confidence to jump headfirst into these new e-waters. (Some of us writers, like me, still use a legal pad to write in, gasp, longhand!)

I’m not a good swimmer, I can’t keep up with the technology either--by the time I learn how to navigate one electronic gadget, another takes it’s place. I’m scared by all the changes in publishing, knowing I can never keep up with the latest new thing, but I do feel confident about one old thing: there will always be a need for content. And good work, even if it goes out of print, can have a second life. Technology is obviously making that second life more possible.

What about work that seems good, but hasn’t been published? I’ve been debating this right now with a picture book script that had two near misses years ago, the first because the editor said he couldn't visualize the art for the book, the second because the artist selected for the job fell through. If e-book publishing is the next step, the option seems to be for me to illustrate the story myself.

Technically adept I’m not, but I do have some background in art. The idea that I can create a book without a publisher and without the high expense of self publishing encouraged me to re-visit the story with a new direction in mind. I worked with the text, changing it from prose to verse for a simpler and younger approach, and did a dummy to meet the need for “visualization.”

Here’s where I am so far: complete sketches and some cut-paper illustrations. And hopefully by the time I finish, little by little, I’ll have gotten a better grasp on that next step.

As for all those questions Laura Ruby asked in her post, "It's the end of the world as we know it..." --they are mine too!


  1. Well, even if some of us aren't so tech-savvy, the possibilities are still interesting to contemplate, no?

    I'd love to be able to illustrate by own books. Alas, I'm as artistic as a grilled cheese sandwich.

  2. Phillis, if that is your art posted with the article, you may not be a good swimmer but you surely are talented with cut-paper!

    One question this method of publication brings up is: how long/what size for picture ebooks? The classic 32-page book was determined in an earlier century by folding large printed sheets 3 times into signatures bound together, to octavo, quarto sizes etc. which no longer have any bearing on digital production. Will the lack of these constraints lead to new formats?

  3. Ellen brings up an important point, 32 pages is not going to be the "standard" necessarily. Another big issue is single page vs. spread-sized artwork and how the images fit on whatever ereader device is being used. And, how much detail can be seen on a smaller screen vs. a paper book that is much bigger when opened up.

  4. Laura: it is a wonderful opportunity for writers and illustrators who admire each other's work to team up and create picture books. It doesn't work like that in traditional publishing but there is so much more of a freer hand with ebooks. Also, as Ellen said, the 32 page book is a product of paper printing. In the virtual world, it has no meaning - another way in which we are free to experiment. I think the possibilities are exciting.

  5. Huh. That's something I hadn't considered, Freddie, the ease of collaboration.

  6. So many interesting posts on this blog! I agree that e-media creates tons of exciting opportunities for collaboration and new formats.

    But to be honest, the concept of authors self-illustrating because it's easier to make an e-book gives me the serious heebie-jeebies. One of the most frustrating misconceptions about picture books is that because the art is child-friendly, it is "so easy a child could do it". In fact, there is SO much more that goes into illustrating a great book... it's hard even for trained illustrators! The art I see submitted by authors that was just "drawn" themselves usually hurts, not helps, their story (I'm not talking about legitimate author/illustrators, by the way. If you're good at both, go for it).

    But I guess this speaks to my issue in general with self- vs. traditional publishing. An author just cannot be the best illustrator, editor, copyeditor, art director, designer, marketer, salesperson AND publicist for their book... but a team at a publishing house can.

  7. Hi, walkinginpublic!

    When we consider publishing our own OOP books, apps, etc., I think we have we have to accept the fact that we will have to become publishers in addition to being creators. Unless you're a truly entrepreneurial sort (I'm not), hiring various experts to help put a book together seems like the smart way to go.

    Richard Curtis, literary agent and publisher, blogged about this on his website, There's a rebuttal to Curtis's post here.

  8. Hi,
    I tried to respond to Ellen B. before (don't know what happened to the post) and say thanks and also to say I hadn't considered different formats, but she's right and Loreen is too. Anything seems possible, tho I'm still in the 24/32/40 page mindset. As for" walking in public's" comment--I agree and that's why I like editorial feedback--another critical and hopefully objective ear and eye.