How to Build a Collaborative Author-Illustrator Relationship

A great book is always created in collaboration.

There are writers, editors, designers, illustrators, and printers who all work together as a team.

An essential component of the team is the relationship between the writer and the illustrator. If you’re not the illustrator yourself, you have to explain your vision for each page.

If you don’t have a vision for your book, you should hire an illustrator who has a style that you love. By hiring them, you are asking them to create your vision in their style.

How to build a strong collaborative author-illustrator relationship

Short answer: develop a relationship built on mutual respect and trust

Long answer: read below

Synchrodestiny

Synchrodestiny, coined by Deepak Chopra, is about taking advantage of unpredictable moments in your life.

“You need to notice things that happen in your life that are out of the ordinary,” Dr. Chopra. “Seize that moment of unpredictability and ask ‘what’s the opportunity?'”

What are your goals?

If you are writing a stand alone book and you aren’t going to have a long-term relationship with your illustrator, then “dating around” might not be as important to you. Finding the right personality fit isn’t as important as finding an artist with the style you love and budget to match your bank account.

If you’re going to create a series, you’ll want to have consistent illustrations in all of the books, so finding someone you can work with long-term is important.

Finding the right person who is open to building that relationship with you takes time, effort, and energy, but it is so worthwhile.    

Work with people you trust

So many indie authors are looking for illustrators and they search portfolios, scan websites, and proceed with necessary caution and hesitation.

There is a real fear of intellectual property theft and copyright infringement on both sides of an author-illustrator relationship.

You also have to balance creative style, personality, method of working together, and of course, budget.

When people ask me about how I chose my illustrator, I tell them that we had a relationship established first.

That’s quite an unpopular answer because most people don’t want to invest the emotional labor in creating that relationship.

Finding an illustrator

You can search Facebook groups, Instagram, or artists’ websites and portfolios but in all cases, I recommend casting the net far and wide.

There is the right illustrator out there who matches your style and budget perfectly, you just need to find them.

I’m a firm believer in serendipity, or as Dr. Chopra says, synchrodestiny, because the best collaborations in my life have all sort of “fallen together.”

Over the past few months, I’ve been contacted by authors and illustrators asking for help and advice with their Kickstarter campaigns.

Pei Jen, a new illustrator on the scene, contacted me when her first book went live on Kickstarter. She had some questions on how to get more eyes on the campaign.

Building a relationship

A few weeks turned into months and we communicated back and forth via Facebook Messenger.

We chatted about the business aspect of self-publishing, as it’s not always straightforward, and over time, we developed a relationship built on mutual respect and trust.

Because I knew I’d be working closely with my illustrator over the next year to develop the three books in my series, I really wanted to be sure that I had a collaborative relationship with my illustrator.

I also wanted them to be somewhat interested in the books they were illustrating and not just a transactional “gig” like you find on Fiverr.

Building something together

Once you start working with your illustrator, be sure to understand each other’s work flow.

  • Are you going to communicate via email, messenger, WhatsApp? 
  • Will they send you a sketch first?
  • Will they place the text on each illustration or will you hire someone else to do that?
  • Talk with them about empty space for text as they’ll need to accommodate that into their art
  • Do you want single page or full page spreads? Maybe a combination of both.
  • Where will they place the final image files?

Pei Jen and I discussed the concept of the book and the direction of the entire series as a whole. She immediately had ideas and brought her creativity to the table.

“I want to be sure there are diverse characters in the story, so please include kids of different races and ethnicities.”

“Of course. Every child should see themselves in the book,” she replied.

Perfect.

New sketches and illustrations came through Facebook Messenger and my heart raced every time I got a ping from Pei Jen.

The book was coming together in ways that I never could’ve imagined.

She took my vision and brought her own creativity to the book to elevate the entire story.

She was incredibly responsive to my suggested edits and together, we found a harmonious way of working together.

Nurture relationships—both professional and personal

You never know who will become central in your life and when you’ll need their help the most, so my advice is to nurture relationships and see where they lead.

Build trust through communication, consistency, and generosity and you may be surprised what happens.

Take a look at Pei Jen’s artwork in our first collaborative effort together:

When the Clock Strikes on Halloween

The Story Behind the Story: The birth of a silly Halloween rhyme

The story behind how When the Clock Strikes on Halloween came about. You can grab your copy here.

It was a dark and stormy Halloween night…actually, it was.

October in Sweden is really dark, and it wasn’t nighttime per se, but rather 3 pm which is quite night-like in terms of daylight.

The kids and I were at the dentist’s office for my daughter’s wellness check-up. She opened her mouth wide, and we discovered she had one cavity.

Given that it was Halloween and the kids were about to eat more candy than usual, we had a brief discussion about sweets and tooth brushing while on our way to the car.

As we walked through the parking lot, my son asked me, “Why does everything spooky on Halloween happen ‘when the clock strikes twelve?’”

I don’t know where this thought came from—my kids usually throw bizarre questions and ideas at me—but this one started a conversation between us.

“I don’t know. Maybe something happens every hour on Halloween. When the clock strikes one, mummies come undone…” I said in a spooky voice.

“When the clock strikes two, witches stir their brew.”
“When the clock strikes three…what happens at three-o’-clock?”
“Goblins need to pee!” he chimed in, giggling maniacally.

And so it went, on and on until we had a few rhymes.

Capturing the magic

The kids climbed into the car, and it dawned on me that I needed to write these rhymes down before they disappeared and became a hazy memory of “that fun conversation we had on Halloween.”

I’ve lost so many good ideas by thinking that I’d remember them later only to have no idea what we talked about.

The kids buckled in, and it was after 10 minutes of frantic scribbling in my notebook later that I remembered they were back there.

“Can we go home now?”

“Why haven’t we left yet?”

The backseat was getting complainy.

“Guys, Mama’s busy writing something. Hang on one more minute, ok? Then we can go.”

It wasn’t one more minute.

I had a problem

Nothing rhymed with twelve. Nothing.

Also, seven and eleven were tricky unless I wanted to rhyme them with one another, which I didn’t.

I left those rhymes as blank spaces and vowed to revisit them later.

Seeking validation

Being the obsessed-with-a-new-idea type person, I had to validate my idea and see if it was any good. I created some Instagrammable images with clip art, added the text, and published them on my account.

It was Halloween evening…I didn’t have much time left in the day to be timely.

The hearts and comments started to pour in.

“So fun!”
“Lovely!”
“Haha, love the goblins.”

The initial reader feedback was good enough for me to take it to the next level.

I shared the images in a children’s book writer’s Facebook group and asked for more feedback—this time from my peers.

“I think you just wrote your first board book,” came some encouragement from Sheri Wall, “it’s really fun!”

It was vital for me to test the quality of the story before moving to the illustration phase. Illustrations can hide a bad story well—they are really good at that.

I wanted my contribution—the nucleus, the purpose of the story—to be solid before hiring an illustrator.

Hiring an Editor

I hired an editor, Tamara Rittershaus, who told me that my meter was a mess.

What meter did I even want anyway?

My story was a jumbled mix of iambic trimeter, tetrameter, and pentameter. Did I want anapestic?

Ana who

I had no idea what Tamara was talking about, and, feeling like I didn’t know English as well as I thought I did, I set off to Google and YouTube different types of meter.

After a lot of thinking and reflection, I settled on iambic trimeter. That had the best rhythm and was the simplest for the age range. Also, most of my verses were already in iambic trimeter, so I wanted to keep it easy.

My next two books can expand in length and complexity, but the beauty of this story was its simplicity.

Iambic trimeter felt right.

Making it more than just a cute story

Cute stories are great but I know that teachers love books with a teachable element to them.

My books dealt with time, and my son was struggling to understand the concept of time in first grade.

A friend suggested placing a large analog clock opposite each illustration to introduce young kids to the concept of time.

The story could hold water on its own and now I had a teachable aspect of the book.

Parents and teachers would appreciate it for more than just a cute story and kids would learn something new while reading it.

“Am I crazy? Does this work?”

I sent an advanced copy of my book to a few kindergarten and first grade teachers.

“Oh, it definitely works! I was surprised at how much my kids didn’t know about time until we started the questions at the end of the book. We had a good class discussion about the differences between morning, afternoon, and evening. I’ll be reading this to my class during the Halloween season.”

And with that, a book was born…

Actually, it wasn’t that easy. (It never is, is it?)

Luckily, my illustrator Pei Jen understood the vision I had for the book and elevated it beyond what I could imagine with her creativity.

The final illustrations are so much fun and the kids love looking for the little clues on every page.

Be sure to order your copy of When the Clock Strikes on Halloween TODAY because the special rewards are expiring soon and only available to supporters of the Kickstarter campaign.

So, hop on your broomstick and place your order for a copy (or two) today. 

when the clock strikes notebook
My original notes from that 20 minutes in the parking lot on Halloween 2018

Behind-the-scenes of my first children’s book’s Kickstarter campaign

Updated May 14, 2019

Number of backers
1

Strategies—Both Failing and Succeeding

This post is LIVE, meaning I’m updating it throughout the campaign with my strategies, thoughts, and reflections.

There are strategies here that could be considered failures and successes depending on what your goals are. 

Most books raise $5k on Kickstarter but only 30% of children’s book campaigns are successful. 

 

Primary goals

Always know what your goals are as they will probably differ from mine. Different goals require different strategies.

For this campaign, I wanted to:

—raise a modest goal of $3500

—gain the Kickstarter Project We Love badge

—get the Kickstarter algorithm to work in my favor to show my project to people on the platform

—grow my audience beyond those who already know me

—not annoy my friends and family

If my goal was to raise a large sum of funds, as it was for my first campaign that raised $10k, I would’ve priced my reward tiers and campaign goal differently.

Mini Goals

I set mini goals for myself every day. “Today, I want to reach X number of backers.” “Today, I want to raise $X.”

Doing these mini goals really helped me focus on tangible goals and see progress. It’s very easy to feel like you’re doing a ton of work and not seeing results if you aren’t setting these goals. 

Public Gratitude

Before I dive into marketing strategies, I just wanted to say that the most fulfilling posts I ever created were my Wall of Gratitude posts where I publicly thanked every single backer on Facebook.

I loved creating the graphics and typing out everyone’s names. I loved trying to tag everyone in the post and ensure that they saw the thank you, and I loved their comments and responses.

When you lead with gratitude and show genuine thankfulness, you will feel so much better about your campaign and people will feel good about being a part of your project.

Always lead with love.

Facebook Ad Strategy

Disclaimer: I’m not good at Facebook ads even though I took a course and have been experimenting for a while.

Facebook usually gobbles up my money without any click throughs so I wasn’t going to run any ads.

I decided to boost my “We’re live on Kickstarter!” post because it had 19 organic shares, a bunch of comments and hearts on it from launch day.

I boosted it for the equivalent of $10 for one day and ended up with a bunch of clicks coming to $0.50/click.

Nice. The average cost per click in the US is $1.01 according to Google, so this ad is performing well. 

Let’s keep it going.

I just increased the budget to 300 kr ($35) and will monitor it to see if the costs are still around $0.53/click.

If I start hemorrhaging, I’ll pause the ad and try something else.

What Launch Day Looked Like

I sent my two kids off with my husband to his office because I knew I needed to focus without interruptions.

So, off they went with their headphones and iPads to draw on whiteboards at the headquarters. 

Launch Day Timeline

8:15 am—I pressed the Prepare to Launch button on Kickstarter and followed their directions (eek!)

—Created Kickstarter referral tags so I could track traffic from different sources. I labeled them Facebook, Instagram, Email, Homepage, etc., 
—Changed my homepage to a landing page design to send people to my campaign.

All digital roads on websites that I own lead to my Kickstarter page.

—Changed my sign-up landing page to redirect folks to my campaign. I don’t want people signing up for my newsletter, I want them heading to my Kickstarter campaign. 

—Updated my blog sidebar widget

–Posted an update to LinkedIn

—Scheduled my book-specific newsletter to go out at 11:30 am CET/5:30 am ET

9:17 am—received first spam email offering promotional support

9:50 am—Updated my Instagram profile picture, link, post, and stories

—Added “offers” to my Facebook Shop on my professional pages

10:19 am—Sent out newsletter to 181 people (not specific to the book but to crowdfunding)

—Updated my email signature to just send people to my campaign

10:30 am—started emailing friend and family. Most are on the east coast of the US, so they were still asleep, so I focused on my EU-based friends first.

11:09 am—Received second spam promotional email offering “help” with my Kickstarter campaign

—Boosted “We are live” posts on Facebook for $5-$10/day for one day on both of my professional pages

11:55 am—received third promotional spam email promising exposure

12:00-13:30—took a lunch break, screen break, read a book and sat in the sunshine

13:30—got back emailing friends, family, and fellow authors

15:00-15:30—took a break, answered the front door, puttered around a bit

16:00—started emailing and messaging people again and scheduled an automated newsletter to go out at 21:00 for everyone who hasn’t opened my first newsletter

18:46—Kickstarter emailed me notification that the project was selected as a Project We Love!  

19:00—ate dinner with my family (I remember those people)

19:30—20:30—client call with an author

21:00—received another spam promotional email

22:00—finalized my Launch Day Heroes visual to share on social media

Phew. Good night!

Strategy

Setting my goal

There are two different goal-setting strategies that I see on Kickstarter:

    1. Setting an artificially low goal and work hard to exceed it
    2. Setting the goal amount you need even if it means you might not reach it

There are different reasons and methods behind each strategy, but I’m going with strategy #1.

My goal for this campaign is to grow my audience, so I want to price my reward tiers with maximum “no-brainer” appeal. I’d rather have 350 backers than $5k, so that’s why I’ve priced my main reward at $15 including shipping.

This might come back to haunt me later, with a smaller margin for error, but we’ll see.

Emailing friends and family

I’ve been emailing personal emails directly to my close contacts so they understand how critical their support is on launch day.

I really don’t like emailing promotional emails to my friends and family, so I led with the story of the book—why I’m publishing it and why I’m excited to share it with others.

My emails don’t feel spammy or pushy to me (I asked my friends to check my language), and I feel good sharing them.

Emailing superbackers

I tried to hire someone to help me reach superbackers on Kickstarter and he TURNED ME DOWN saying that my goal was too low to draw much attention. 

First of all, I appreciate him not just taking my money if he thinks I won’t be successful, so kudos to him, but this is not the first time I’ve been turned down by PR folks for one reason or another.

Hence, why I offer consulting services to indie authors. NOBODY ELSE WANTS TO WORK WITH US. Frustrating beyond belief.

Homepage takeover

I created a new homepage that will go live when I launch that will drive any traffic landing on lisaferland.com to head to the Kickstarter campaign instead.

Doing this required a bit of time and technical knowledge, so I got this all set up 10 days before launch.

Talk it up

I talked up my campaign to A LOT of people before I launched. I attended a conference in Amsterdam the week before launch and told everyone there what I was doing and got their emails if they were interested in learning more. That effort probably yielded 3-5 backers.

I posted blogs on my website and sent emails to my newsletter discussing the importance of backing authors on launch day to prime the pump and educate people before I launched my campaign.

I created informational images and sent those to my newsletter folks and posted it on my personal Facebook page that explained why I was crowdfunding my book and how Kickstarter worked.

In essence, I discussed Kickstarter and how people can support authors non-stop on all of my social media platforms, blogs, and videos 30 days before I even launched.

Honestly, by the time launch day rolled around, I was so sick of hearing myself talk about it.

It’s hard to keep in mind that there is so much noise on social media these days and people are only hearing and seeing a fraction of what you’re putting out.

It feels like a TON of overload for you but most people aren’t seeing what you’re doing.

 

 

Kickstarter Campaign Page

The campaign page was completely finished about 15 days before launch.

I worked on it over the course of several weeks, commissioned graphics by my illustrator, and researched reward tiers by other campaigns.

The campaign video took one day to create (it’s 1:26 long) and I used Camtasia as my video editor.

Someone commented saying I needed to add more “personality” into my video (apparently, my voice was too chill), so I edited it a bit and added in some personal aspects about my kids reading the book into the middle of the video. 

I kept the length the same because short and sweet works for me.

I received feedback and input on the content, rewards, and goal amount two weeks before launch.

Blogs

Podcasts

External Press

Advanced Reader Copies

I printed off advanced reader copies via KDP Print so that bloggers and teachers could have books in hand to review, photograph, and read to their kids.

I sent off five copies to teachers (three responded with quotes and images), and six copies to bloggers for book reviews and giveaways on their websites during the campaign.

I also sent everyone on my newsletter list a PDF copy of the book. Of the 150 people on my newsletter list, 47 people opened that email and 38 people downloaded the PDF.

I used Bookfunnel to deliver the PDF seamlessly and ensured that only my newsletter folks could access it.

Additional Content

In creating the graphics for the campaign, I upgraded my Canva subscription to Canva for Work so I could easily resize images, use color palettes, and have access to Premium stock photos. This alone saved me a ton of time.

I batched my efforts and created 15 promotional gifs/videos during Ripl’s free trial for 5 days. I don’t need Ripl’s services beyond this campaign, so I canceled after the free trial.

Ten days before launch, I updated my Facebook personal cover photo and profile image with links to the campaign as a sneak peek and started including more book-based promotional images in my IG and FB stories.

Website Modifications

In addition to creating a new temporary homepage featuring the book, I changed up my footer and blog sidebar widgets to feature  hyperlinked images that would direct people to the campaign and to rewards specifically for authors.

Basically, all roads lead to my campaign. 

Screenshot of lisaferland.com's current landing page

Coming soon…

—Where did my backers come from? I’ll give you a detailed breakdown of my sources.

—Was all of the effort worth it?

—How I created my campaign video

 

Total raised on Kickstarter
When the Clock Strikes on Halloween 100%

If you want to visit the campaign and see how it’s going, click the button below: