Into Your Dreams Raises over $16k on Kickstarter

Into Your Dreams Raises over $16k on Kickstarter | Lisaferland.com

Roger Blonder is the rhyming mastermind behind the illustrated children’s book, Into Your Dreams, and he raised over $16k on Kickstarter to fund his book and pre-sell copies to his readers.

In this interview, he discusses his previous failure on Kickstarter and how that shaped his second attempt and his advice to children’s authors looking to crowdfunding as a solution.

How much research did you do before launching your Kickstarter?

I was aware of Kickstarter for a number of years and had backed a few campaigns over time. In 2012, I created a time management app for kids but since I didn’t know anything about marketing or crowdfunding, the campaign failed and never came close to my $5k goal. I didn’t nurture the campaign and it showed.

An old student of mine helped people with Kickstarter campaigns and he pointed me in the right direction.

I used MailChimp to manage my emails and segment my messaging based on who opened and clicked on my emails and who did not. I really liked that because I didn’t feel like I was bothering people with the same messages over and over again.

What types of behind-the-scenes work do you think contributed most to your success?

I tried to do high-value special art offerings with a lot of art that was done years ago (and I funded myself). That lead to some big rewards that people were interested in and complemented the book.

If you’re using Kickstarter to produce a tech gadget, there’s an understanding that the Kickstarter campaign involves a discount of some kind as an early-adopter.

But, my research indicated that those who supported children’s book campaigns did not seem to be motivated by discounts like the people who want mass-produced tech gadgets. Aside from those in your personal network who have a desire to help you achieve your goals, there has to be something in the book that makes them want to buy it. I found that $35 for a hardcover children’s book seemed to be about the market rate.

As a teacher, I have summers off from school, so I planned my entire campaign during the summer and put together different mailing lists in MailChimp for different audiences. Altogether, I had about 900 people on my email list.

How many people do you think you emailed during the campaign. What was your biggest source of backers?

I had about 900 emails on my list and tried to think of as many people as possible who would be interested in a bedtime book.

My goal was to make an authentic and personal connection with potential backers.

A big tip is that if you don’t do anything with your campaign, nothing happens.

The campaign will not run itself and you can see that in the daily pledges.

If I had to do it over again, I would explore working with ConvertKit as I have heard that their audience segmentation tools are more powerful. It can allow you to reconfigure your email messages based on if they opened it or not.

You can feel more comfortable emailing someone you know hasn’t opened your first email and the messages should be different than people who have already backed you.

What was the most surprising aspect of your Kickstarter campaign?

You have to have thick skin. It was surprising to me to see who unsubscribed from my emails.

On the other hand, it was surprising to see the people who reached out to me and offered help to make it happen. I knew that getting help was a necessary step in the book’s production but I didn’t want it to be a charity effort.

The most exciting thing was receiving support from every chapter of my life—backers from elementary school, high school, workplace friends, family, students who would kick in $5, and some faculty and administrators who ended up supporting the project.

I’m glad it had a limited timeframe and I’m happy I found my voice with it.

Did you have to change your strategy mid-campaign?

Not really. It’s all about trying to find a balance between presenting a polished product and keeping it real.

I always led with the messaging, “If you find this to be meaningful, I’m hoping you’ll support it and validate it in some way.”

What advice would you give a fellow author who is looking to crowdfund their book?

When you work with talented human beings who understand their craft and put them all together, you will have a great book.

You have to know what success means to you. It’s ok if you just want to make a little book for your kids but that person shouldn’t necessarily pursue a large publishing effort.

Success for me meant creating the book and sharing it with the people who supported the campaign. I felt like my words deserved to be read.

Respect your audience. Someone reading your book is taking time out of their day, so respect that.

I don’t want to be manipulated by marketing schemes and I’m sure my readers don’t either. Take the time to hone your craft, learn from the greats, be open to criticism and learning.

(Side note: If you’re not sure if crowdfunding your book is right for you, watch this quick video)

Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) for lessons on craft and inspiration. You’ll have access to a diverse community of people who are all striving for excellence.

Think hard about what success means to you before going through all of the effort and expense.

If you ask people to support you, be prepared for them not to support you at all. It sucks but it’s what happens.

If your goal is to make your book a business, you need to prepare, research, and take your time.

Advice: If someone offers you help or advice along the way, then take their help. I met with a parent who was an Amazon marketing expert and he made himself available to share what he knew. As I was so focused on my campaign, I never followed through with him and only later came to realize how valuable his help would have been in the sales and marketing efforts after I completed the campaign.

Listen to the advice of people who know more than you.

Could you see yourself doing another Kickstarter campaign in the future?


I would do an IndieGoGo campaign instead of a Kickstarter.

And I would only do another campaign if I could reach my audience and not tap the same friends and family who backed my first campaign.

You mentioned that you worked with a museum-quality printer for your book. Can you specify and would you recommend them?

Absolutely. I work with US-based Four Colour Print Group who has relationships with printers in Korea and China. I have found them to be competitive with other printers and the price for shipping is included in the quote.

Final advice

It’s a good idea to have some clue as to what you’re going to do with the book after your campaign is finished.

Next time, I’ll leverage the campaign to generate more reviews on Amazon and plan a proper book launch. I learned a lot from your interview with Julia Miles Inserro. I have been using the resources she suggested and recommend them highly. 

Bio

Roger Blonder goes Into His Dreams by crafting words, playing music, making movies, working in the garden, staring across the ocean and hiking in the mountains. Blonder received his MFA in Animation from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
 
His animated films have been honored with awards at film festivals all over the world. He has animated students at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, Loyola Marymount University and currently as the Director of Media Arts at de Toledo High School in Southern California where he lives with his wife Renée, daughters, Jaelyn and Noa and dog, Zephyr, Beast of Joy. 
Read his book today

Want tools, checklists, calculators, and email templates for running your Kickstarter or IndieGoGo campaign? 

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Elisavet Arkolaki Uses Kickstarter To Secure A Traditional Publishing Deal

Many indie authors think that publishing is black and white. One either gets a traditional publishing deal or one goes it alone on the indie road and turns toward Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to help cover the expenses.

Creatively, Elisavet Arkolaki used Kickstarter as a proof-of-concept to show that her book, Where Am I From?, had a market to Faraxa Publishing based in Malta. The stakes were high for Elisavet as a failed Kickstarter campaign would mean that the traditional publishing doors would slam shut on her. This was her only chance. 

We chatted about her experience, her strategies, and what she found surprising about running a crowdfunding campaign as an author.

How much research did you do before launching your Kickstarter? Can you recommend any resources to other authors that you thought were helpful?

I had been reading and researching successful and unsuccessful Kickstarter campaigns for about 10 months before the launch of my campaign. I googled the creators of the successful campaigns I liked the most and read their interviews, posts, and advice.

I watched several Kickstarter videos. I reached out to other creators like Joe Biel from Microcosm Publishing (20 years experience as a publisher with tons of successful KS campaigns)  and asked for advice.

To anyone interested in a crowdfunding campaign I would recommend to start by backing projects themselves so they can have a hands-on experience on how it works from the backer’s perspective. I would also recommend joining active marketing and crowdfunding groups.

It requires a lot of planning, skills in sales and marketing. If someone lacks these skills, I would recommend to reach out to professionals like you, Lisa, and get things straight and right from the start.

What types of “behind-the-scenes” work did you do that you think contributed most to your success?

I compiled a list with the people from my direct network who might be interested in backing my project and contacted each one of them explaining what Kickstarter is, what we wish to achieve, and why are we doing it this way.

I also compiled a list with blogs and media I thought would be interested in featuring Where am I from?.

Write copy in advance

I wrote lots of unique content in advance, and most of the newspaper’s features (5 newspapers, 3 countries) were based on my writings. I started contacting the media people about 2-3 weeks before the launch.

I posted on social media about 3 times per day, and I shared ‘Updates’ on Kickstarter whenever there was a new milestone to keep people engaged.

Incentivize sharing

We also incentivized sharing by including a big button on our Kickstarter campaign page that unlocked a free PDF for anyone who shared the campaign on their Facebook timelines using the WordPress plugin, Social Locker. It was around $30 for the plugin and worth it, in my opinion.

I placed a PDF ebook called, How to Raise Confident Multicultural Children, and two stories of mine available to download free of charge after someone used Social Locker on my website to generate an automatic share of my Kickstarter campaign.

(Side note: if you are planning to create a free PDF download in exchange for shares, you have to plan well in advance as this takes time to create.)

Collaborate with libraries

When we were approaching the end of the second week, and we were still far from reaching our funding goal, I was contacted by the Libraries Counsellor of the Vestfold Municipality of Norway.

She had read a newspaper article, pre-ordered 20 books for the public libraries and invited me as a speaker at a cultural event. This was also fantastic from a marketing perspective.

Combined with all the newspaper features it added an extra layer of credibility to our book project, and I could display it on our Kickstarter page. It also gave us the insight that a book about diversity might be a good fit for schools and public libraries. These could be our customers.

After that, my publisher (Faraxa Publishing) in Malta, small publisher run by Joanne Micallef and mum of multicultural children herself) managed to secure a pre-order for 200 books from the National Literacy Agency of Malta. These copies will be distributed to public schools in Malta.

We also had some backers who loved our book concept and pledged on the expensive rewards; all of the main characters (except 1 which we didn’t commission) will be painted after real kids, a real baby, and a real mum. All but one are multicultural/multiracial individuals.

Why did you do a KS campaign if you had a small traditional publisher already lined up?

Thinking outside of the box, I pitched the idea using the Kickstarter campaign as a proof-of-concept that the book was worth publishing. That reduced the risk on their side (taking on an unknown author), and I was highly motivated to ensure the campaign was a success so that the door to traditional publishing wasn’t closed.

I don’t have time to learn all aspects of book publishing, but I knew that working with a small publisher would allow me to learn more about the process while creating a professional book.

This also ensured the traditional publishing contract terms for the artist and me which were much better than the norm.

“Kickstarter can be a great marketing tool and a way to test the market provided there is a solid plan in place to support it.”

How many people do you think you’ve emailed/reached during the campaign? What was your most significant source of backers?

Hundreds of people, probably. These were a mix of media people and potential backers. I don’t remember what the ratio was.

My biggest source of backers came from my ‘Friends’ on Facebook, which comprises of people I personally know and people I have met online, who are people who have traveled a lot and/or have families of mixed cultural backgrounds.

What was the most surprising aspect of your Kickstarter campaign? What did you not expect to happen that happened and vice versa?

Positive: I did not expect to get so much support from the public sector, so much exposure from the media and so many high pledges from individuals.

Negative: I did not expect people in Europe were that unfamiliar with crowdfunding. I didn’t realize how severely I would be ‘punished’ by Kickstarter regarding visibility for not having enough pledges during the first 24 and 48h.

Instead, I would have skipped the Thunderclap campaign entirely and focused solely on raising awareness. I should’ve done more work educating potential backers about Kickstarter; why we need their support right away, explain they have nothing to lose and that there are 0 charges unless we are fully funded.

I had also not anticipated how time-consuming running a Kickstarter campaign would be. My youngest does not attend daycare and my working hours were limited. I had to accept my limitations that I could only do the best I could, hoping it would be sufficient.

Did you have to change your strategy mid-campaign? If so, why?

Yes, I did. We wouldn’t have made it without changing the strategy. 

I had several obstacles to overcome:

-Mainly European audience who was not very familiar with crowdfunding
-Foreign currency displayed which appeared in thousands (NOK, Norwegian Kroner)
-No illustrations to show
-The book wouldn’t be ready until a year after the campaign
-We didn’t give out the story

It was too much and it wasn’t working.

I had to do something drastic, and the only thing I could give out was the text of the story.

I asked for advice from experienced people. I reached out to Steve Tanner from TimeBomb Comics who has created several successful Kickstarter campaigns and was our very first backer.

He told me that if the book were to be released in a short time frame, i.e., 3 months, I wouldn’t have to publish the story. But, in my case, since the book wouldn’t be out for a year, I should. He was right.

Parents often want to know what they will be reading to their children. If the parents liked the story, combined with the skills of the artist which they could see on our page, they would support the campaign even if it was a year to publication.

And it worked. Even though the text still needs to go through the last rounds of editing, people loved it, and we made our goal in time.

What advice would you give a fellow author who is looking to crowdfund their book?

If you have no idea about marketing and how to set up a book crowdfunding campaign, and do not have the time to learn how to do it the right way, reach out to an expert like Lisa Ferland who can guide you through the whole process.

I know that like birthing babies, you never ask a new mother if she’s planning on having another baby, but could you see yourself doing another Kickstarter campaign for books in the future?

Maybe I would, I am not sure. It’s very intense and emotionally draining. When I had my first baby, I was sure I wouldn’t have another one. I didn’t wish to go through pregnancy and giving birth again. Well, we now have two children 🙂 I’ve learned to never say never in life. Kickstarter can be a great marketing tool and a way to test the market provided there is a solid plan in place to support it.

Bio

Elisavet Arkolaki is a mother of two young children, entrepreneur, professional writer, online marketer, and a certified teacher of two foreign languages. She runs the top parenting blog in Malta www.maltamum.com, and is the exclusive retailer in the country of two of the biggest international babywearing brands, and the co-founder of All-in Translations, a multiple-award winning translations company.

She has lived in six countries, and has travelled around the world.  Her biggest passion has always been and still remains, the written world.

Be sure to check out her Kickstarter campaign for Where Am I From? 

Click image to pre-order

Want to keep reading about other authors’ experiences on Kickstarter?

Find out how Snail, I Love You showcased unique quilt art illustrations to connect with readers (funding 433%).

Learn how one client of mine went from $6k-$15k and used her event hosting skills to save a floundering campaign.

 

Funded 433% on Kickstarter—Snail, I Love You

Tevah Platt is a first-time children’s book author and decided to use Kickstarter to fund the production of her book, Snail, I Love You.

Find out what Tevah and her illustrator did to catapult their book over $10k on Kickstarter (433% of its goal).

What did you do before or on launch day that helped you rocket to success?


A little backstory first: I was working on it every day and 24 hours before the campaign was set to launch, we realized that the bank account information we had added to the campaign was incorrect. Worse yet, that information was locked and we could not change it.

I had to rebuild an entirely new campaign page, change all of our links to direct people to the new page, and everything in six to seven hours.

It was 4 pm on launch day and we were wondering if we shouldn’t just wait one more day and go live in the morning. We decided to hit the Go Live button right then and we hit 100% in two hours.

My illustrator and I created a list of 25 people we knew who would champion our campaign. Having other people share your work is critical to your success. We also reached out to friends and family and included, “If you’re going to back us, will you back us on launch day to help us have maximum impact?”

We found personal emails to be the most effective method for promoting our campaign.

Here’s how we did it:


I made a huge spreadsheet of 150 people who would pass my, “Would this person come to my funeral?” test or if they had a kid and was in my target audience. I wrote two sentences that were personalized to them and then mail merged those sentences into my general marketing copy in my email using the Gmail add-on, Mail Merge. (See this article for the Top 5 Mail Merge Add-ons)

I wrote everything before we launched and then sent out the emails to my list of contacts. My contributor sent out her emails on Day 2.

Were you able to relax after Day 2 when you were at 292% funded?


Yes, we very much relaxed. We tested out some Facebook ads but we weren’t seeing much traction. I ended up writing a press release but I didn’t send it anywhere. We didn’t really gain traction with the outside world.

Take me through the $2,500 goal vs. your $7,500 goal amounts. Why did you set your Kickstarter at the first goal instead of the second?


We did the math on a really small print run and $2,500 was the bare minimum we’d need to do that.

In retrospect, $2,500 was too small of a goal and we were being really modest. We knew that $7,500 would cover our costs but we were being risk-averse gamblers.

What types of marketing efforts had the best reach?


As I mentioned earlier, personal emails were the best. We incorporated the feedback from our cheerleaders and that made them feel more invested in the project. It also improved the project a lot.

What didn’t work out so well?


Facebook ads but we didn’t experiment beforehand.

We added new rewards and add-ons but we should’ve added more rewards while the momentum was happening. We weren’t able to generate much momentum past those first two days.

Are there going to be future books?


I would love to create more books. Because of Kickstarter and other routes to indie publishing, I knew this was a possibility. I wrote this book with my daughter and now she’s writing books, which I absolutely love to see. I’d definitely do another Kickstarter but it is so much work.

How did you meet your illustrator?


She’s my neighbor and she went around to our community offering to embroider vector images so she could practice using a new tool she bought.

I really loved the fact that her illustrations are with a sewing machine—a traditional symbol of domesticity for women—and yet her illustrations break every traditional convention. It’s a real statement on feminism.

I want readers to see the beauty of these illustrations and know that a woman created them. That’s the message I want to send to my daughter.

What is your affiliation with your local library?


We are publishing through the Ann Arbor District Library, which provides an amazing service for local authors. It is in their budget to support local authors and illustrators. You have to submit your manuscript and if selected, they will edit, and layout your book. They give you the digital files for your printer and the rest is up to you. They are hosting our launch party in November. I recommend them to all indie authors in the Ann Arbor area.

What piece of advice would you give an indie author considering crowdfunding?


Do the work in advance to line up your people and your champions. Get feedback and consult all of the resources you can find available.
Take into account every comment on your video, campaign page, and rewards. Be open to feedback and be personable and warm.

The Kickstarter made me feel like this was a personal project involving everyone I love. The notes I got from people were so nice and supportive. It was a great experience.

About the authors and illustrator

Tevah Platt is a public health researcher, science writer, and former news journalist. You can find her work at www.snaililoveyou.com.

Willa Thiel worked on this book between the ages of 3-6 and just finished first grade at Honey Creek Community School.

Becky Grover is a fiber artist whose work has traveled in shows nationally. See more of her work at beckygroverdesigns.com and beckygrover.etsy.com.

All three are neighbors in the Great Oak Cohousing Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

From $6500 to over $15k on Kickstarter

How one indie author raised over $15k on Kickstarter after a two week dry spell.

Tania DeGregorio found herself in a slump.

Her Kickstarter campaign for her book, Skydancer: Adventures of a Monarch Butterfly had stalled at $6,500. She needed to reach $15,000 in the next two weeks and it didn’t look like she was going to make it.

She felt exhausted, defeated, and out of ideas.

“For a while, it seemed like there wasn’t any traffic and nobody was listening.”

None of her efforts were working and she had already reached out to everyone she could think of who might be interested in supporting her book.

With only two weeks to go, Tania was stuck at 43% and her campaign was essentially dead.

In a last ditch effort, Tania booked a Pick my Brain session and we spent an hour and 20 minutes strategizing creative ways to revive her campaign.

 

Armed with confidence, a new reward tier idea, and support from a stranger, Tania felt reenergized to succeed at Kickstarting her book.

“Getting some direction and someone to hold my hand along the way gave me more confidence in moving forward. I was getting tired it helped to get the direction to move it forward after the $6500 lull.”

You were averaging $100-$200/day and all of a sudden, you had a day where you surpassed your launch day pledges with $2k. Then you had a $3k day and another $1k day. What was happening?

I was doing events at gardening centers and connecting with like-minded people. It was really easy to share my enthusiasm for the project during conversations with people at these events.

It feels good once you know there is an audience who is interested in your book, which in turn, helped my confidence. I felt better pushing it toward the end to reach my goal.

Toward the end, I posted on my Facebook that I really needed help to reach my goal. Coming from a personal place, where I admitted that I was vulnerable, really connected with people.

It was a happy place and I saw the good in people coming out. My friends came through for me in such a huge way and I’m so grateful.

Do you think doing events saved your campaign?

I had a huge backing from some teachers and that really helped infuse more money and energy into the campaign at a crucial point.

I think the events helped a lot because I was connecting and having conversations with people who were directly interested in the book’s topic.

At some of the events, I had coloring pages and crayons for the kids, tacos for the adults, and I handed out a little informational flyer with the campaign details to people who were in the gardening center.

You created a new reward tier and even though nobody backed it, do you think it still helped?

I know! Nobody backed that new level, which surprised me, but in creating that new reward, I collaborated with The Nectar Bar, and they shared the campaign with their audience. A lot of people forwarded the announcement that I created a new reward which was definitely helpful in raising awareness of the campaign.

Are you happy that you did Kickstarter with the all-or-nothing model or would you have rather done a flexible funding model with IndieGoGo?

During the $6,500 lull, I had kind of given up and just accepted it but the all-or-nothing aspect really pushed me harder. If I had done an IndieGoGo with flexible funding, I would’ve given up and we wouldn’t have raised as much money.

This style (all-or-nothing) really engages people and a lot of people were watching it who I didn’t think were paying attention. As stressful as it was, I’m so happy I went with Kickstarter.

Would you ever do another Kickstarter campaign again?

I would, actually, I think it worked out really well once I had all of the pieces in place. (Now I know better.)

What would you do differently the next time around? 

I would’ve spoken to someone like you, a Kickstarter creator or coach, before I launched. I didn’t know all of the things I needed to have lined up before I launched.

I also would’ve engaged my audience more prior to launching so that more people were aware of it beforehand.

Well, a big congratulations to you, Tania. You worked very hard for this success. 

Thanks! It’s going to take me a while to come down from the shock that we actually made it happen. Now I need to get working on the book!

Bio

 

Tania DeGregorio is the indie author of Skydancer: Adventures of a Monarch Butterfly living in Austin, TX, USA.

You can visit her website and pre-order the book here: www.skydancerbook.com

From $6500 to over $15k on Kickstarter | lisaferland.com
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How to Make Money as an Illustrator

“My professors in art school never taught us how to make money from our art. We were taught to create for the sake of it,” explains Natalie Merheb.

In speaking with children’s book illustrator and graphic designer, Natalie Merheb, I found myself nodding my head in agreement with almost everything she was saying.

The rules for succeeding at making money as an illustrator were the same I have found as a writer—1) conduct research, 2) practice until your hand falls off, and 3) create quality content. Easy, right?

Can you describe your process when you work with indie authors?

If the author doesn’t do this themselves, then I will split out the text into pages. The number of lines of text will affect the design and placement of the illustrations on that page. Sometimes, just 10 lines of text will have five different actions but an illustrator can only show one action per page.

I often choose what I feel are the priorities within those actions that move the story forward.

I consider what action fulfills these three qualities:  identifiable, remarkable, and memorable and then I illustrate that action.

For example, if the scene is that the kids are waking up in the morning, getting ready for school, and waiting for the bus, I’ll decide to illustrate the kids waiting for the bus. The bright yellow color of the school bus is immediately identifiable, remarkable, and memorable to the kids reading the story.

I also take the readers’ age into consideration as to what they’d like to see on each page.

What are some of the trends in traditional illustrations?

Many traditional artists are moving to digital painting because it is easier in a lot of ways. The equipment is an investment upfront but then you don’t have the ongoing costs of consumable materials like paint, paper, canvas, etc., 

In digital art, everything is composed in layers. Since every illustration has layers, if the chicken needs to be moved and resized, I can do that very easily to create the right composition.

It is easy to adjust colors in Photoshop and many watercolor paintings are enhanced in Photoshop to make the colors more vibrant.

How long does it take you to create an illustration?

For my clients, it depends on the quantity and complexity of the project. I calculate my time spent emailing, sketching, and revising into every illustration and budget 8 hours per spread. 

Illustrators should factor in all of the business aspects related to creating something for a client and build that into their payment process.

What advice would you give to another artist who is looking to illustrate children’s books?

Push yourself to create the best work you can and target your ideal client. They will want to hire you based on your quality of work.

Within two months, I was booked months in advance and am now charging what a traditional publisher would pay its artists.

Having done branding for solopreneurs, that experienced really translated into illustration. 

My advice is to treat any activity as an entrepreneurial venture. Treat your art like a business and you’ll make money.

Treat it like a business

All new business ventures require a lot of research. Don’t go into anything blind and don’t try to do it at half effort.

Learn the roles of the traditional publishing process and learn about marketing, aesthetic style, and trends in illustration.

Once you get a feel for what you like, practice, practice, practice, and pursue feedback. “Let me know everything you don’t like about this.”

Prepare yourself ahead of time, make the investment, and get out there. 

To read the first part of the interview with Natalie, click here to learn how illustrations can make or break your book.

Bio

Natalie Merheb is a children’s book illustrator depicting stories written by others, as a brand strategist & web designer crafting brand stories for small businesses. She is a mama to twin girls, wife to a fellow entrepreneur from Lebanon, daughter to parents from the USA and Argentina, a Minnesota native, and Dubai expat. 

 

You can contact Natalie and view her portfolio of work here: http://nataliemerheb.com/

How to make money as an illustrator | Lisaferland.com
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Illustrations Can Make or Break Your Children’s Book

Beautiful illustrations can make up for a weak story. On the other hand, ugly illustrations can tank a really great storyline.

A great book—one with both an amazing story and beautiful illustrations—is what we should all strive for, but if you’re going to create a children’s illustrated book, investing in beautiful, high-quality illustrations that enhance your story is priceless. Priceless.

Many indie authors think that they can tackle the illustrations themselves but sadly if you do not have artistic talent in your DNA, you’re not going to create illustrations worth publishing. Save your pennies and hire an artist while you focus on the story and characters.

I spoke with graphic designer and illustrator, Natalie Merheb, who is on a mission to educate indie authors about the level of skill and experience required to create beautiful children’s book illustrations.

What are some things you’d like more indie authors to know?

There are a lot of different roles in the traditional publishing world—agent, author, publisher, art director, illustrator, editor, book designer, and then marketing and distribution.

Too many indie authors try to take on multiple roles and it’s really to their detriment (and results in lower quality books). 

Not many people have all of the skills and interest to take on all of these various roles. Remember that you, as an indie author, are both the publisher and the author but many authors are forgetting to pay themselves (all authors are paid for their work) like a traditional publisher would.

If you’re going to wear the publisher hat, you need to pay the author of your book (or you, in this case).

Which is easier—author-turned-illustrator or illustrator-turned-author?

It is much easier for talented illustrators to create a story than it is for talented authors to become talented illustrators. You see a lot of illustrators becoming authors because they already have experience telling a story through images. Adding the text is a logical next step.

In what types of illustrations are you a specialist?

I really fell in love with digital drawing over painting and spent all day practicing with my digital drawing tablet. I have my degree in fine arts and nobody taught us how to make money on our art.

I looked at the market of children’s illustrated books, which is so different from art. You have to be able to replicate the same character 40 times, capture emotion, and tell a story.

I studied the different styles the big illustration agencies are using and the type of work they are producing and found a particular style that comes naturally for me.

You don’t need to be in love with your own style but it has to be whatever flows most easily from your brain down your arm and out of your hand.

There are a lot of different trends in children’s books and you need to look at what type of art is sellable in the market.

How many styles should an illustrator have?

Not everyone is going to like your style but if you do your style well, someone will want to hire you. Some say you should be a one-style camp but I say that you can have one or two styles that are your absolute best work.

Remember that your portfolio is only as good as your weakest piece so don’t showcase anything that would bring down your portfolio.

What is a big problem indie children’s book authors face today?

The children’s illustrated market is oversaturated on many levels–in both the traditional and indie markets.

The Internet has given a platform for indies to rise, which is great in one way, but it also means that it is harder than ever to stand out.

There are great stories and illustrators in self-publishing, which is wonderful because it gives people like me a way to make a career doing what we love.

On the other hand, it opens the door for anyone to enter the market.

Being great is not good enough. You have to be at the top of your game to break into the traditional publishing market. 

What is the best part of working with indie authors?

I love having a close working relationship with my clients. There is a personal satisfaction I feel in making someone else’s dream come true. I also love the potential for repeat clients.

I have one client who wants to sign me for her book series, which is amazing and not always a guarantee in the traditional publishing world.

What is the biggest challenge working with indie authors?

I said earlier that many times, indie authors will take on too many roles, and I may need to find a kind way to refer them to an editor. If there are grammatical errors on the page I’m illustrating, I’m going to let the author know.

A lot of indie projects are passion projects which means that the author is too close and can’t really be objective. They often want the illustrations to epitomize their child—hair, clothes, body language, etc., —and that’s not always what is best for creating a good children’s illustration.

Creative works are always personal so the hardest part is giving and receiving critiques on our personal works of art.

Continue reading the second part of this interview—

How to Make Money as an Illustrator

Bio

Natalie Merheb is a children’s book illustrator depicting stories written by others, as a brand strategist & web designer crafting brand stories for small businesses. She is a mama to twin girls, wife to a fellow entrepreneur from Lebanon, daughter to parents from the USA and Argentina, a Minnesota native, and Dubai expat. 

You can contact Natalie and view her portfolio of work here: http://nataliemerheb.com/

Julia Miles Inserro Takes Creative Control

Julia and I have a lot in common—we are both raising our families outside of our home countries (the USA), we are both authors, and both indie publishers dedicated to producing high-quality books.

Julia recently pushed back her launch date of her first book, Nonni’s Moonbecause she was unhappy with the print quality of the first round of books she received. I admire her willingness to sacrifice a bit of ego and time for a better reading experience.

In this interview, I asked her about the nitty gritty of children’s illustrated books and I think you’ll enjoy her responses. 

Why did you decide to self-publish your book?

I know how long it takes to traditionally publish a book and honestly, I knew the odds were slim. Self-publishing nowadays is even more possible than it was in the past—which is both good and bad. It means that it’s easier than ever to self-publish but also that bad books can flood the market.

I really wanted creative control, and the direct financial rewards. I know friends who have traditionally published and they will all do a ton of work the month before and the month after their book is released. If I’m going to do all of that work anyway, I might as well have the creative control.

What aspects did you do yourself vs. hire out to someone else?

I hired an illustrator, Lucy Smith, via a Facebook group of indie authors for children’s books. Her interpretation of my story really opened my eyes to a whole new level that I had not intended. The bereavement aspect really spoke to her and it reminded me why beta readers are so important for providing feedback.

How much did it cost to produce your book? 

It depends on how you look at it because a lot of my costs were start-up costs for the first book. The illustrations cost the most (I’m paying her a flat rate with no royalties).  I paid someone to do my website, and I purchased ISBNs, etc., For a 32-page illustrated book, it’ll cost between $6k-$7k if done properly.

I saw a deal on Bowker for 100-pack of ISBNs for the cost of a 10-pack, so I actually saved some money there.

What surprised you the most about the self-publishing process?

The length of time. Initially, I wanted the book out by Christmas but I didn’t find Lucy until July (I had been searching since February 2017). The level of detail and skill needed to create the illustrations takes a long time and I’d rather not rush anything.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in self-publishing?

You have to decide what your strengths are, what are your skills, and where you want to spend your money. I always feel like I should at least try to figure things out on my own.

First and foremost, join a Facebook group because any question you have has already been asked by someone else. Read 5-6 marketing books—I recommend Martin Crosbie’s book. 

I can also recommend Tim Grahl’s podcast and his book, The Book Launch Blueprint.

Definitely team up with another author to do a dual book launch or book signing event so you have a larger crowd.

You’ll want a timeline to keep things moving forward and most importantly, it’s crucial to build a marketing balloon before you publish.

What do you think worked well?

My launch team is working out really well. I put out a call for people interested in reviewing the PDF version of the book in exchange for being a member of my launch team and the group now has 186 members.

Had I not joined a lot of Facebook groups and done research, I totally would’ve launched without a marketing plan and would’ve missed out on a ton of momentum.

I submitted the book cover to a contest by KidsShelf Books and we actually won! It’s a nice shiny badge to put on the cover that adds a bit of credibility and it was something for me to do while I was waiting for the rest of the illustrations.

I can also recommend the Curiouser Author Network, which is a brilliant group of indie authors. They gave me great ideas for the book launch teams.

It also took me a week to figure out Canva but it was worth it.

Bio

Julia Inserro is a mom of three littles, living abroad with her husband and a handful of cats. She is a writer, reader, photographer, and explorer. She is the author of Nonni’s Moon, her first children’s book, set to release in July 2018. Julia finds that life is a series of wanderings and wonderings and enjoys sharing her musings with the world. You can find her at juliainserro.com