7 Key Tips for Illustrating and Publishing Books

Tips and tricks for self-publishing.

I just sold my last copies of my first book, 'I think I saw a Pukeko' to a library in rural New Zealand. I don't know how they heard about little old me, but they bought my last two copies and I am now in a situation where I need to make a decision - do I publish more copies? Do I relaunch a second edition? Do I redesign as a hard back? Or do I sit back and enjoy its sell out success?

For now, I will happily post them. I can make those big decisions later and the mere order has prompted me to share some tips about publishing in case you have a book (or books!) burning a hole in your brain too. Print is not dead, my friends. It just isn't.

1. Plan Ahead

My first book was aimed at children and I drafted it, edited it and drew the ilustrations for it quite quickly. I wanted the illustrations to be fresh and fun and lively so I gave myself a tight time frame to push myself to draw quickly. I wanted my illustrations not to be too laboured looking. The result is a fun and lively (and quick bedtime read!) kids' book that had only one official purpose: to make kids laugh. I succeeded on this one after testing it out with my kids and I still love receiving emails from happy little readers enjoying its simplicity and humour. Every kid loves a good silly argument right?

I think I saw a Pukeko (edition one) is now officially SOLD OUT!

I think I saw a Pukeko (edition one) is now officially SOLD OUT!

The other, genuine and honest, reason I decided to have a quick and light-hearted approach to publishing my first book is because I didn't want to fail spectacularly. Self-publishing is a tricky business and the market is fierce even if you have a big-gun publisher backing you - so I decided to 'have a crack' with something so that I could learn from my mistakes before I published my 'real baby' which won the Unpublished Children's Manuscript Awards sponsored by Penguin and KBR Children's Books in 2014. That book 'The Lost Button' is still my baby and is currently hiding in a secret hideout waiting for the right moment to continue.... (maybe when the kids start school??) and by contrast (perhaps) that manuscript is suffering from too much forward planning but my lesson in publishing four titles now is that forward planning is definitely key.

Things to think about include: audience, marketing strategy, financial outlay, realistic returns and end-goal. 

If you are publishing for yourself and your family and it feels good, then go for it. If you are publishing something that has an end result of revealing your position as a leader in your chosen field, then allow time for editing, re-editing, rest time and editing again. Get a professional photo taken, get an editor in, allow the text (and images) time to breathe and revisit them in a fresh light and tweak them again.

Did you know that my Masters Thesis (a philosopho-spacial and Art Historical encounter with Walter Benjamin and the German surreal photographer Loretta Lux) is MISSING A FULL STOP on the first page? It really bothers me. (Still).

If I am honest, there are several things I would change about my first kids' book, too, because I ended up rushing the process slightly to get it out in time for Christmas. I should have had a better strategy for release dates and marketed my pre-sales earlier.

When publishing books, always plan ahead so that you can stealthily target a release date in good time so that you don't feel the need to rush AND you can have your finances in order for the big scary bill when your boxes (and boxes) of lovely books arrive.

A well-designed book makes you want to open it and feast on what is inside AND share the contents with all of your friends.

A well-designed book makes you want to open it and feast on what is inside AND share the contents with all of your friends.

2. Think about Marketing Strategy

Some fun and free tips for marketing a text or product successfully before your release date are:  

  • publish an interview
  • give advance copies to reviewers
  • enter competitions for added exposure
  • publish your favourite illustration ahead of time
  • release sound bytes of kids reading it
  • find a celebrity to endorse it
  • read it and make an audio or video clip
  • write a back story for your favourite illustration
  • collaborate with another artist and tell the social story
  • publish a competition
  • provide an incentive/reward for buying advance copies
  • get crowd funding to fund (and market it)
  • write a press release for the local paper
  • push pre-sales to pay for the initial shipment
  • make up your own hashtag to promote it
  • give a freebie and ask for thanks on social media
A great book doesn't even have to exist before you can start to get people interested in it (p.s this book doesn't actually exist... yet?).

A great book doesn't even have to exist before you can start to get people interested in it (p.s this book doesn't actually exist... yet?).

3. Get Multiple Quotes

The difference between the printing quotes you can get from different printing companies and publishers can be astonishing. Shop around. Enough said. 

4. Test Paper

Once you have decided on a company that you trust with your book baby, ask them to print sample. They may not bind it for you, but you should be able to get a feel for the cover and the paper. When I published my first colouring book I didn't like the way that fingerprints could be left on the cover so I changed the satin/gloss make up of the cover. My second book suffered a little when the ink rubbed off from the covers of some of the books when I left them loose in a suitcase in my car. I am not saying that all paper needs to be strapped to your shoes and walked on to test durability, or given to your dog to test for tastiness - but it really does pay to kind of 'live with' the paper/s before you commit to publishing. This is especially important if you are publishing a colouring book as the world of colouring enthusiasts can be very particular about tooth (grip on the paper), bleed and weight. You might also want to consider testing different inks on your paper so that you can be sure that pens won't smudge. If ink smudges due to too much gloss on your page, or if coloured pencils don't bind to the paper nicely then your customers won't be very happy and they won't come back for more (which is ultimately what you want, right?)

Happily, my first colouring book was nicely put together and I was able to release a second one with added loveliness like nicer paper, perforations, singe-sided printing and a thicker/glossier cover.

Happily, my first colouring book was nicely put together and I was able to release a second one with added loveliness like nicer paper, perforations, singe-sided printing and a thicker/glossier cover.

5. Share samples

I printed some sample books and shared them amongst trusted friends and family for testing prior to 'real' release and they picked up some things that I didn't realise were there. Sometimes you can be so close to your work, that you can't see the wood for the trees. There is a really annoying spelling mistake in one (I'm not going to say which) of my colouring books which I still beat myself up about. So careless! But no, actually just too close. Very careful, but just too close.

I really enjoyed the process of simplifying some of my drawings to share as colouring pages in my own adult colouring books.

I really enjoyed the process of simplifying some of my drawings to share as colouring pages in my own adult colouring books.

6. Include publishing details

Recently I have undergone a rebrand as I have shifted from my clothing store, Outie, to focus more on illustration, art and textile design work. Thankfully my contact details on my books still point people in the right direction to find me. Social media, email and websites all point to this new website so I am not missing out on re-orders as retailers sell out. Phew!

7. Keep drawing.

Sometimes I revisit some throwback drawings and think, 'What was I thinking? That line is way too heavy, or that colour is wrong!' but the point is that drawings have a lifetime of their own. They are born in a moment and they live their own little lives separate from you and you can't control where they end up or how you will feel about them in five or ten years time. Making, writing and drawing is a fluid process and I don't think it is helpful to get bogged down about identifying yourself with a typical style or allowing a book to define you. Don't be type cast and don't allow your books to trap you.

Keep making, keep writing, keep drawing and people will follow you for who you are and not 'that one book' you made and sold out of or made and nursed in a cupboard. That said, if they are hungry for your work, keep making it. Drawing (and writing) can be a feast for the eyes and a good feast is always one worth sharing. Don't you agree?

Drawings tell stories too. Why not use one of your drawings to illustrate a novel or not-yet-novel like this fantasy publication I whipped up for fun using my Camellias wallpaper as a catalyst for a novella. I want my wallpaper to be a talking point so publishing a book about it is one way to start the discussion.

Drawings tell stories too. Why not use one of your drawings to illustrate a novel or not-yet-novel like this fantasy publication I whipped up for fun using my Camellias wallpaper as a catalyst for a novella. I want my wallpaper to be a talking point so publishing a book about it is one way to start the discussion.

Go on then. This is a book I would love to be involved with.

Go on then. This is a book I would love to be involved with.

So, get cracking! Have I inspired you? I hope so!

I really hope this little blog has helped you or inspired you to start getting your work into lovely ink-rich new-book-smell print.

Don't be a blue chicken. Be a pukeko. (Bit of an in-joke there. Don't be LIKE someone else. Be yourself!)

The silly argument in my first book 'I think I saw a Pukeko' is about whether a kid saw a Pukeko or a blue chicken...

The silly argument in my first book 'I think I saw a Pukeko' is about whether a kid saw a Pukeko or a blue chicken...

Want to work with me? Let's do it! Email me here: studio@katrinawardcreative.com

-Katrina

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