Foreign Illustrator Aspiring to Write and Self-Publish in English-Speaking Markets
by Tomislav Škrljac
The Bear Detectives, book 1: The Central Park Caper
I'm marketing someone else's book to get experience for my own.
Croatian artist Tomislav Skrljac was hired by self-publishing American authors to do work on the first book in their book series, The Bear Detectives. Tomislav has gotten way more involved in the marketing of the book than you would expect an illustrator living on another continent to get.
As you'll read, that's partly because he sees this as a learning experience toward self-publishing his own written work in the American market.
The Internet is one big educational program. The world is a big schoolyard. Life is one big school.
You could say that my journey to self-publishing is a story that's gone on almost a decade now, since it has been ten years since I thought of an interesting fantasy genre plot.
At first I wanted to make a comic out of the story, then I changed my mind and decided to make a book.
The first version of the book was rejected by science fiction publishers in my country. I was blind to its faults. I was just not a good enough writer in those young days. I put the story aside and almost forgot it.
Now, actually, it has been less then a year since I realised that I can have all the required tools to resurrect it. It occurred to me that I could use all of the experience I gathered in those years, after putting it aside, to publish it online. To edit the old version and write a new one, to self-translate it to English, to self-illustrate it, and to self-publish it. On Amazon first.
So, what I am doing now is writing a new version, while at the same time gathering experience to do the translating, publishing and marketing part as well as possible. I am doing that by using my illustrating skills, doing illustrations for the new Bear Detectives book series, and participating in the authors' publishing/marketing business.
I must point out here that I am first and foremost an illustrator (well, actually, an art teacher), and that I am not from a country where English is the native spoken language. But I never saw those two facts as insurmountable obstacles in pursuing a writing career.
Besides doing illustrations for comics, I wrote a large number of comic scripts illustrated by other artists, as well as by me. A good number of those comics sold well and were well-received by critics.
I also wrote a few short stories, mostly science fiction. But since Croatia's publishing market is very small (even when you add in neighbouring countries who understood our language), I've always dreamed of having my works (comics, comic scripts, stories) translated and published in English, both in America and worldwide.
I have always been a good student, especially in English. Thank god that we have English movies and shows subtitled here! Also, sad to say, communicating with U.N. peacekeepers during our war in the nineties was helpful too.
We loved to hang around those funny guys in the blue helmets, who spoke with strange accents (and strange languages between themselves), who came from Nigeria, Denmark and other countries we heard about only in school and on TV.
So my English grew quite strong over the years, and it will be absolutely good enough for me to do the translation of the book after I finish it (with the help of some my native English partners and Google Translate, of course), and my drawing skills were good enough to start looking for international illustrator and designer jobs over the internet.
Elance was of great help in showing my abilities and accomplishments to a large number of potential clients, and keeping my prices low helped close the deal. I did a lot of design work, a number of illustrations for customers from all over the world, started a comic series for a health products website in Malaysia, made a few book covers, etc.... And then, finally, I got the job on a really promising children's book series project, with great potential for good sales and reviews, and with an opportunity for me to learn all that I need to successfully publish my own book some day.
Our deal was only for the portraits of the three bears, the covers and for twelve illustrations. Later on, as the publisher became really satisfied with my work, he offered me more and more assignments relating to the series. I
- designed and prepared the print layout
- was invited to illustrate periodic texts on the website that tracks the series
- suggested making short comics associated with each of the characters' "cases"
- created banners for an Adwords campaign, and, finally,
- got to administer the Facebook pages and participate in all other marketing campaigns.
The whole project is going very well. We are still in the beginning of our marketing activities, but we're very pleased with the results we've gotten so far.
The book that I plan to publish someday will be for slightly older readers - for teenagers and folks who wish to always stay young - but I expect that the methods for placing The Bear Detectives in front of the widest possible audience will work for my future book as well.
So I suggest that anyone who worries they're lacking some of the skills to start their own self-publishing project first "practice" as a partner on somebody else's project. Offer the capabilities you do have, then learn from the experience. I am more confident than ever that I am close to having all the skills I'll need to do a whole self-publishing project (almost) all by myself.