ART DIRECTION AND BOOK DESIGN FOR SELF-PUBLISHING CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHORS
If you are self-publishing a children’s book, it can be very overwhelming at times, very simply, because you likely don’t have the knowledge, experience or skill set to take on all the different functions involved in publishing. There is so much more to it than you initially thought, right? In traditional publishing, there are many different roles and people involved in making a book happen; the writer, possibly an agent, the publisher (aka the investor), the editor, the art director, the book designer, and then the illustrator (and of course marketing, sales and public relations people for after the product is ready). Each of these roles requires unique knowledge, experience and/or skill set. Now, some of these roles you can learn how to do pretty comparably by increasing your knowledge and know-how, such as how to market your book. But roles that require a unique skill set and experience, such as illustration, art direction, and design are much harder to “fake.” Most self-publishing authors know they can’t draw and hire an illustrator. That’s usually a no-brainer, right? But where many self-published children’s books far short, and to be honest, a majority of them do, is in the overall visual development, design and aesthetic of the product itself. It is a product after all, a visual retail product, that needs to be developed, designed and strategized from A to Z to connect with the ideal client. This is just branding. The long and short of it is, successful books do not happen by accident.
What these books, that fall short, are often missing is art direction and design, two extremely crucial, and often over-looked, roles in publishing. This is where I come in. Long before I was an illustrator I was a brand developer and graphic designer. I have run my own branding and web design studio at Natalie Merheb Design for ten years, helping creative entrepreneurs and small businesses with defining their business identity, figuring out who their ideal clients are, developing a brand voice, and creating a visual identity that will resonate and connect with their ideal clients. All of this experience and the unique skill set I have developed, along with my illustration know-how, translates into me being able to create a children’s book, or visual retail product, that does not fall short in comparison to how books that are traditionally published look. I can’t help you with publishing, marketing and selling, but I can help with making your book look the best it can be. People do judge books by their covers. That is what makes or breaks a sale. Not only do most authors not know enough about art, illustration and design to take on these roles themselves, but what is even harder, is that they do not know how to brief, guide, and critique the work their illustrator or designer sends them. All too often, I hear authors say they know they like or don’t like something, but can’t articulate to the illustrator why something seems off or how to fix it. Or they let their personal desires and sentimentality (especially when the story is based on a personal experience or their own family) get in the way of making a sound business decision for developing an aesthetic that will sell.
Let’s face it. For the self-publishing author, commissioning an illustrator can be an enormous cost. And even though most illustrators are still underpaid for the hours they put in, I do recognize it is a lot of money for a sole person to come up with. Not every author can afford to pay the standard $4000-6000 USD for a professional illustrator (although I highly recommend crowd-funding through Kickstarter or other platform). Many authors recognize the quality of work that I put out for my clients and inquire into my children’s book illustration services. However, I am not always able to take on every project that comes my way, either because I am fully booked, not within their budget, or in some cases, I decide my style is not suitable for their manuscript. By hiring me to art direct and design the visual aspects of your book project, it is my hope that it will open more doors for authors to be able to hire talented aspiring or more budget-friendly illustrators without sacrificing the expert eye that is needed to produce a good-looking retail product.
PACKAGE #1: ART DIRECTION & BOOK DESIGN PRO
- Initial consultation to discuss your vision for your book, your overall plan for your self-publishing journey and provide information on the illustration and design processes of publishing.
- Recommend the illustration style(s) that would work best for your manuscript.
- Review your manuscript and offer content edit suggestions, from an illustrators perspective, of text than can be cut or condensed because of what the illustrations can show. I have been able to cut up to 25-30% of the word count in some cases.
- Feedback and direction on the book as whole, from an illustrator’s perspective, including identifying things that I see will work to your benefit and things I see that might pose a challenge to the illustrator.
- Assistance in finding or vetting an illustrator. I will help you in your search for an illustrator who works in the recommended illustration style and within your budget, or I can vet a few illustrators you have have already narrowed your decision down to. Vetting includes reviewing the illustrator’s portfolio, identifying strengths and weaknesses, and guiding you in commissioning a “sample/concept art” piece from them, if needed, as well as critique and analysis of any commissioned samples.
- Creation of a visual Mood Board. A mood board is like a collage of pictures used to guide the illustrator in how you envision your book, to include aspects such as: style, texture, layout, composition, perspective, typography, color palette, etc.
- Creation of a Creative Brief. This is a document of summaries and descriptions used to guide the illustrator in how you envision your book, such as character design and scenery, as well as technical requirements for printing (i.e. how large do they need to create the illustrations), etc.
- Initial layout and typography set-up for the illustrator to use as a guide for the illustrations (so they know how much space the text will take up and where it will be in the placed. It will also help them in determining if a page requires a full-bleed, spot or vignette illustration).
- Review and critique the initial character design.
- Review and critique the storyboard.
- Review and critique the first finished colored spread.
- Review and critique the finished illustrations (a pdf of all illustrations together in sequential order).
- Professional Book Design. Upon completion and handover of the illustrations, I will finalize the layout, typography, book design and formatting, so the book so is ready for printing.