Collaborating With Artists For Your Books

In all my writing endeavors, I have co-created with glorious artists. While they are AH-mazing to work with, I’ve found that they work very differently from writers. They have their own timelines, visions and workflows. Many people have asked me what it was like to work with artists on my latest creations and here I shall enlighten you with my experiences. (Yes, they are all VERY positive, as the artists I have shared my time with are EXCEPTIONAL). Find your own! They are mine! Pressshhhiiioouussssss… Ahem, back to the point:

When dealing with artists remember that as you are explaining your story arc to them, they are doing their job. They are envisioning what it will look like within their style. Sometimes when we are entrusting our little creative babies to others, we can have a tendency to want to control everything. Much like a parent, we sometimes want to steer the car along the path we choose. This is not a good mindset to have when collaborating with another creative mind.  A great thing to remember – if you are looking to co-create with an artist – is that you picked that artist for a reason, right? I mean, you probably love their artistic style. You flock to the way they tell stories with pictures. You love how their sense of personality comes through everything they draw. So let that happen within your project together. Don’t try to tell them exactly what to draw and how to draw it or where to draw it. Not cool. Remember, there is a reason they call it co-llaborating. Most importantly, trust that your artist will create what you are looking for. With all that being said, don’t approach someone with your book idea whose art you don’t connect with. That will be a total waste of everyone’s time.

I’ll give you a personal example:

When I was writing Mr. Cool I had a vision of what I wanted that baby to look like. I had my little sketch pad, I drew all kinds of crazy stick figures doing crazy things and I had this whole spiel about what I wanted the book to end up looking like. I met with my artist and after I had this whole word-vomit session with her, she looked at me and said, “That’s awesome, Birdy! But I already know what it looks like.” She reassured me as I tried to pop my eyeballs back into my head. I mean, how did she know what I was envisioning? I took and deep breath and nodded slowly when she told me that she would send me some mock-ups in 3-4 weeks to see if I liked them. Then I said the best thing an author can say to a great artist: “Okay! I can’t wait to see what you’ve envisioned.”

After that, I was realllllllly excited because she presented me with an unknown. But I knew the unknown would be something that I loved, because I loved her work. Make sense? I hope so, because I’m not going to delve any deeper into that train of thought. (Hit play on Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”).

Here’s the thing: The artist has already tapped into your inner-most desires. (Well, if you picked someone you adore, they have.) They will take their artistic style that you love so much and apply it to your story. It’s like MAGIC.

Here’s one of the downsides of working with artists that I have experienced. Many of them do not give you accurate timelines. This is a little hard to deal with if you are a person who likes to strictly stick to deadlines (like myself). Three to four weeks to an artist could mean three to four months. There have been times that I thought many of the artists I worked with thought that “weeks” actually had the same definition as “months”.

However, sometimes you will find exceptions to that rule. Sometimes you will find an artist that will have artwork flying at your face so fast that you’ll get dizzy! (Or get Vertigo, *shudder).  I was fortunate to find someone like that on my last collaboration. He is a comic-strip artist and we worked together on an upcoming, top-secret project. He was so in-tune with what I needed that he was able to create some mind-blowing stuff in a matter of weeks…it was also because he happened to have the time.

This leads me to my next tip:

Do not hound your artists. It is okay to nudge them here and there, especially if a significant amount of time has passed (like that week-turning-into-a-month thing). But let them work their magic and remember they may not work the same way that you do.

I always have a round or two of edits I like to do once I receive the artwork. Be sure to be up front about that when you ask someone if they would be interested in collaborating with you. Some artists love to make edits, some absolutely do not. It depends on the person. I do not tend to work with artists that do not have a bend in their work because it is, in my humble opinion, essential that all creative work go through adjustments. Edits make everything better. Just sayin’.

Finally, the most rewarding feeling through this whole duo thing is when you finalize all the artwork and see it combined with your words on a real or digital page. In my experiences, my artists DID combine my initial archaic doodles into their final pieces. They just had a much better vision of what I was trying to communicate. Trust they will do that for you. It really is amazing what two creative minds can create together!


My Experience Self-Pubbing

Don’t Scream! I’m Just A Spider inside art.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions regarding my experience of self-publishing my two children’s books and I thought, “HEY! Why not share on my blog!” So here you go! I know there are a lot of authors out there exploring this option for their artistic creations, and I found the process to be quite fun an educational. First off, a little back story: I wanted to write a children’s book that addressed childhood fears. I’m super afraid of spiders, so I wrote a book called, “Don’t Scream! I’m Just A Spider” to help kids cope with a fear they may have. After that, I knew I had to find the right illustrator for it.

I went to college with a talented graphic designer/graffiti artist in Chicago, and we’ve been friends for a long time. Oddly enough, she had been wanting to illustrate a children’s book, I had just written one, so we teamed up under the name Mad Duo Books. Since then, we’ve finished two children’s books together. I do the writing, she does the artwork. We wanted to do a children’s book that appealed to what we called “the hipster’s kids” — one that was edgy and didn’t look like other kids’ books on the shelves. Her graffiti style really brought that to the table.

Once our little creation was completed, the ULTIMATE question popped up. Should we self-publish? In this case, the answer was a resounding YES. We found out pretty quickly from the responses we were getting back from agents that the children’s picture book market was in a big slump. No one was willing to pick it up with the current state of the genre being so slow in the retail market. We decided to do it ourselves and paid out of pocket to get it out there.

The next step was to figure out where the heck we were going to publish this thing. We sat down and made a list of companies we researched from the internet. Finally, we had a bunch of companies we wanted to consider.  A few were American-based companies, but the one we settled on happened to be Canadian. Our approach through this process was to take the quotes from all the companies we called, and then call them all BACK with the lowest quote we received to see if they would beat that price. If they did, we repeated the process until we got the lowest possible quote.  And that’s why we went with

I should mention that initially we only chose publishing houses that could print the type of book we wanted (we had specific dimensions, paper choice and inks we wanted to use).  It is usually more pricey to do a children’s picture book because they are normally hard cover (so the kids won’t tear them apart) and they require the gamut of ink colors for all the artwork in the book. In the end, we went with the cheapest quote and the friendliest people that could help us complete the book the way we wanted.

After 4 weeks of waiting, we got our books in the mail. And oh, the joy! After we self-published the book, we knew we needed a marketing plan for it. We blasted it through social media and got our friends to buy the book and asked our friends to spread the word. We also hoofed around Chicago with the books in our hands and went to independent book shops and had them sell it consignment. We also attended a few book/art fairs to sell it and had a “book-signing party” where we invited people and signed the books for them in person. Finally, I did a few live readings to an audience of children to get the kids familiar with the book. After reading to the kids, I would set up a stand and sell the book to the parents.

Needless to say, it was a lot of work on our part, but we really had fun during this whole process. If you are on the fence about self-pubbing, I say GO FOR IT! See how it goes. If you have any questions, I will also be more than happy to help you out. Go get ’em tiger!

Traveling and Vertigo. They Can Be Synonymous.

My fellow pal and writer-friend, Laura J. Moss, now calls me Lucille 2 (the character from the spectacular show, Arrested Development) because I woke up with a severe case of Vertigo last week in Alcoa, Tennessee. I was telling her, “My head hasn’t felt the same since Alcoa.” And then I paused and exclaimed, “Oh my god! That would be a great first line to my auto-biography!” Perhaps this experience will have led me to write an amazing book about myself. Watch out David Sedaris… I have never experienced this illness before, even though my sister and brother have, and I can tell you this: I HOPE IT NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN. The sad thing is, my husband (who was with me during this episode), later admitted to me that he really wanted to make a joke about how I reminded him of Lucille 2 as well! I like to think I would’ve laughed – right after I puked. At least I can say this upside-down experience has earned me a pretty cool character-referenced nickname that I can be proud of!

Last week, I was in New York City on a film shoot (pre-Vertigo) and very shortly after that, I drove to Alcoa, Tennessee for another shoot. It’s always crazy to see how different one state looks from another. New York is big, bustling, energetic and alive (oh yes, ALIVE) and smaller towns, like Alcoa, are quiet, secretive and special. I think there is a time and place for both. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for some to find the special place called “home.” There’s just too damn much to choose from and in certain times of your life, one is better for you than the other. I have lived in Wilmington, NC, New York City (Chelsea), Chicago and now Atlanta. Every single one of these places has something incredible to offer.

So I’d like to ask you, dear readers, where has your favorite place been to live and why? I think mine has been anywhere good friends and family can be found. Oh yeah! And a place without Vertigo.

At the Drive-In!

Last night, I went to my very first Drive-In! I must say I absolutely loved it! My hubby and I went to see The Avengers, although I must say, I was totally distracted by the other nearby movie screens. I felt like I saw three movies at once, with only one of them having sound.

Snow White and the Huntsman was behind me, Men and Black III to my right, it was Crazytown, USA!

I loved that the Drive-In had a ‘camp’ feeling. People were sitting in their cars with coolers full of beer and snacks, kids were running up and down the parking lot, there was a live band somewhere in another lot playing thrash music. It was totally my scene.

While I was standing in line for refreshments, I couldn’t help but flashback to the scene in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure where he grabs the big box of candy and gives stuff to his friends. The Drive-In took me to a childhood dream infused with camping, concerts, and old school movies I like. It.was.heaven.on.a.stick. I’m totally converted!

Are you a fan of the Drive-In? If so, what is your Drive-In like and what did you see? I think I will have a hard time going back to a movie theater, where I cannot see the full moon slowly etching through the sky or feel the warm summer wind at my cheeks. Drive-in, YOU ROCK!