A Landscape Painter Creates a Children's Book
by Marcia Wegman
(Iowa City, Iowa)
Pastel landscapes are what I generally devote my full attention to, and I am a well known artist in my area.
Writing and illustrating a children's book had not been a part of my career plan, that is until Lula Belle appeared on my deck one May day. Lula Belle is a very friendly raccoon. When I began feeding her, I found I could take wonderful close-up photos of her. I knew she had babies stashed away somewhere close and would, no doubt, be bringing them around to meet me. That is when I decided that it might be fun to write and illustrate a little book about Lula Belle and her babies.
My granddaughter, who lived a long way from me and was four at the time I began working on the illustrations, asked if she could be in the book. That changed my thinking as to how to organize the book, which was quite helpful. At that point my goal was to produce something that I might be able to read to school children in the area to help increase their awareness of wildlife in urban settings, as I live on the edge of a small city. With this in mind I did fifteen pastel paintings during the summer, working from the ongoing photographs I was taking of Lula Belle and her four babies. My daughter sent me photos of my granddaughter that I could work from.
In early fall, before I had done any writing but rather was starting to think about how to get the book published, a friend told me about the Society of Chidren Book Writers and Illustrators. AFter doing a little internet research, I discovered the Iowa chapter of this national organization was holding a conference the end of October. I joined the SCBWI and immediately signed up for the conference.
With the membership I received a lot of information about publishing children's books. By the time of the conference I had written the text, and a graphic designer friend put together a little mock-up of the book that I could show around.
The conference was a very interesting and informative experience. I met wonderful published writers and illustrators. I also learned how highly competitive the children's book publishing business is. I decided I would make an attempt to interest a publisher in the book, did a lot of research as to the most appropriate publishers to contact, and sent out many query letters.
By the following fall there had been no positive response, but I once again attended the conference as it was held in my city. By the end of that weekend I decided that I did not want to spend any more time trying to interest a publisher in the book. And I talked with a few people who had self published their book.
From my internet research I discovered that there were not that many recommended companies that would print an illustrated book. I liked Outskirts Press's website. Their information was fairly clear, but before making contact with an "author's representative" it was necessary to make a small payment in order to get further information.
This did not seem unreasonable. After filling out the form and paying on line with a credit card, I received an immediate response from my representative. She was able to answer my questions. I decided to go ahead and invest in this publishing on demand approach to creating my book.
Now this is where my motive and decision might differ from other would-be authors. I knew the chances of making a profit from this book were very slim, as I was not willing to devote an undue amount of time to the marketing of it when published. I was only interested in local distribution and an opportunity to read and talk with children about raccoons. I also was making enough money from the sale of my paintings that a tax deduction was a good thing.
For the most part the creation of the book was an interesting process, all done over the internet, though I did mail a CD of the images to the publisher. My author's rep was helpful and encouraging. Things did break down at one point when nothing happened for several weeks, and it turned out my rep was waiting for me to make a decision about the pricing and royalties but had failed to communicate this to me.
Trying to figure out how to make those decisions was the most frustrating part of the whole process, and that was when I found out it was impossible to actually talk with anyone. I did the best I could.
It was four months from the time I first contacted Outskirts until the first box of books appeared on my front step. That was a thrilling moment. I loved the way the book looked but was disappointed in some of the illustrations. I found out later that this is due to the kind of paper that was used; it tends to soak up the ink of the darker colors.
My friends assured me they thought the illustrations were quite well reproduced...if you did not see the original art work.
The next step was to place the book in our locally owned bookstore and several other appropriate venues in the area.
I sent a copy of the book with a letter to the libraries and elementary schools in the area, saying I was available to read the book to groups of children. I did quite a few readings, which was very satisfying, as the children's response was just what I had hoped for.
I sold many copies of the books to friends, but priced it just above my cost, as I thought the book very expensive for what it is. I also sold the book to the bookstores for the same price, so they could make their usual mark up. Having been in retail for many years, I knew the bookstores would not buy the book at Ouskirts Press's suggested wholesale price.
Again, my goal was to get the book out in the community, not to make money on it. To date I think I have sent about 300 copies of Lula Belle out into the world.
Outskirts makes it very easy to reorder the book. It only takes a week from the time I place the order on the internet and pay with a credit card until I receive the books. They also do a good follow up job on how to market the book. To date, one year later, I have received one royalty check.
Next month, on Earth Day, I will spend the day at one of the local elementary schools, reading to groups of children. So I feel that I have accomplished my goal, but I don't intend to create another book. I do continue to feed Lula Belle and her offspring daily.
Visit Marcia Wegman's website.