Becoming an author - my process
Let's get one thing out of the way right up front. I'm not an expert at writing stories, or illustrating, or book publishing.
The practices and process I used to complete my first children's book was a process of learning each step, one at a time. All I knew at the start was that I had a little story that needed to be heard. And the more I tried to ignore it, the louder it got. I didn't even share it with anyone for a long time. Until I did. And that someone was Brian, my youngest son. Fortunately for me, he has a degree in Design and English. He understands how to use the technology that we would be using to make it a reality and being a creative himself, he understands the way my brain works and so we were a good team from the start. I also told a few close friends and family about my little project and they helped keep me moving forward with it by asking about my progress from time to time.
Telling the story to someone else makes it real.
Even with a very qualified partner, the entire process took much longer than I thought it would. Approximately three years.
I'm sure it's possible to do it faster. You can create all of your illustrations, type out your text, and simply upload them to www.Bookbaby.com and allow the nice people there to turn it all into a book for you. It may cost a bit more. It may be faster. But this little story was too personal and too precious to me to hand it over to a stranger.
There were many lessons along the way for both my son and I to learn. The first thing I learned was how to create a storyboard. I really wanted to skip that step! But Brian talked me into doing a very rough version, and I watched some illustration classes on www.Skillshare.com. It was really worth it in the end. There were things I had never drawn before that I had to learn to draw. I'm not very patient and redrawing something over and over makes me a bit crazy, so I had to bounce around from page to page to keep things fresh. Brian, being a shrewd editor, convinced me to add several illustrations to my list in order to help the story flow better. He also made me cut a few lines of text out in order for the text to fit on the proper pages. But not once did he ask me to compromise on the heart of my story.
I began my sketches on over-sized paper because I find it easier to draw things a bit larger and then shrink them later. This actually made things harder in later stages because the illustrations were too large to scan on a normal sized scanner. Brian had to photograph each one and do a great deal of editing in Photoshop. I also painted all of my illustrations on watercolor paper which required additional editing to remove the texture and lighten the backgrounds. A very time consuming activity. We didn't really commit to a finished book size before I began drawing and painting, so there was some painful cropping to be done in the later stages too. More lessons learned!
I did some research early on to choose a publisher. I already knew that the chances of getting a children's book seen by a traditional publishing company was slim to none. However, online, print-on-demand publishing is available to everyone. Bookbaby.com was my final choice for several reasons. They allow you to print a single book as a test for $20. You can make changes or corrections and print another one to make sure it all looks good. They offer a print-on-demand service so you don't have to order hundreds of books and store them yourself. They set up the distribution of your book on places like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. They have really good customer service. They give you a dedicated web page to showcase and sell your book from. And they offer the best royalties. Even though my intention for writing this book was to share a message, not to make a lot of money, I've found Bookbaby.com to be quite generous compared with other sellers. They have services to do as much or as little as you like in the process. So you don't need to have a graphic designer in your family. And overall, the quality of the finished, printed books is outstanding!
As I was working though the process of sketching, re-sketching, learning to draw people and animals, and learning all of the ins and outs of creating a story that shares a message, I was reminded of that message myself. "If you want to fly, let go of everything that weighs you down!" I had to set deadlines for myself and stick to them. I had to set other projects aside for a while. That was hard! I had to know when a drawing was "good enough", and when to move on. I had to let go of some details on the edges that eventually had to be cropped. I had to cut out whole scenes and characters that didn't contribute to the story.
Over and over, I had to let go of perfection!
Creating Light as a Feather was a great deal of work. But it was a labor of love. I developed new skills, and strengthened others, built some courage for using technology, increased my confidence around following through on big, multi-part projects, and most of all, I strengthened my relationship with my son. Priceless!
I've been asked several times if I would do it again. Absolutely! After taking a few months off to just paint, play, and rest, I'm happy to say I have three more books in the works. I know it will take a long time. I know some parts will be easier this time, and some will still require lots of re-drawing. No worries! I've ordered plenty of erasers.
My top tips for first time authors and illustrators:
It will take longer than you think
Tell your story to someone else (That's how it becomes real)
Tell your closest friends that you're writing a book (They will hold you to it)
Break the project into parts
Create a storyboard (I promise it will be worth it)
Choose the printed book size early
Use paper as close to the final book size as possible
Use smooth, white paper
Don't do it for the money
Don't let perfection weigh you down