Issue #151 View in browser
August 7, 2020

What's in this newsletter?

  • Recent Goings On
  • For the DenNerds: Truthwitch Ebook Deal!
  • For the Daydreamers: How They Write a Novel, Bonus Lesson
  • Upcoming Events

Recent Goings On

My life is a blur of baby (9 weeks old!) and deadline. Even without baby, this part of book creation is always the most intense part. And WITH baby...phew.

That said, I know how very, very fortunate I am to 1) still have a job, and 2) work from home so I can manage baby and avoid the dangers of Covid.

Stay safe, friends!

What I'm Playing

(Finally catching up on Cindered Shadows...if slowly)

What I'm Reading

(Finally catching up on this series as well)

What I'm Listening To

(AND catching up here too! A whole YEAR behind!!)

For the DenNerds:
Truthwitch Ebook Sale!

The Truthwitch ebook is only $2.99—though the deal ends soon!! So snag your copy wherever you get your ebooks from.

No better time to start the series, if you ask me...😏

Here are some buy links to make it easier for you:

ALSO, stay tuned for Witchshadow cover news!!! I might have something cool to share in the not-too-distant future!!

For the Daydreamers:
How They Write a Novel, Bonus Lesson: Creating a Picture Book

As mentioned in the last Misfits & Daydreamers, to ease my workload as I raise an infant and finish a book, I've gathered some guest posts on how other authors writer their novels.

Except in this case, it's not a novel but a picture book!

I'm so excited about this post because I know nothing about picture books and have never ever discussed it in the ten years I've been blogging and newslettering. SO THIS IS VERY EXCITING.

Plus, our guest author (Primo Gallanosa) traveled such an interesting road become a picture book author. A graduate of CalArts, he previously worked as a video game artist—and he created and co-owns an award-winning kids app called Pocket Worlds.

Now he devotes himself full-time to creating stories, including his debut Hey, Who Made This Mess?—which we're gonna learn all about below.

Read the rest of this series: 

Part 1: Ideas + Research

Part 2: Building New Worlds

Bonus Lesson: Geography & Magic Systems

How I Wrote My First Picture Book

Today, I wanted to share my process and experience of creating my first picture book, Hey, Who Made This Mess?

I knew early on that my goal for writing a picture book was to create something fun to read and to hopefully get it published. I had a few friends who created their own picture books and it was something that I wanted to do, too. I wanted to combine all the things that I loved—art, animals, and games, and put it in a story. I just needed the right idea.

I think everyone has their own way of discovering their story idea, whether it’s from a personal experience or just by accident. Mine happened when my wife and I took our dogs on a little vacation to Ojai, California, where we rented a beautiful property with plenty of room for our dogs to roam around. After a fun little romp outdoors, one of our dogs walked back inside the house and left a trail of muddy prints all over the floor. I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to write a story about a mysterious creature leaving paw prints and a great big mess in a house? That was pretty much all the inspiration I needed.

Somehow, I thought making my first picture book would be the easiest thing ever. Also, I had an art background, which should have made things even easier. But I would soon learn that it would become one of the most challenging and time-consuming projects that I had ever done.

When I realized how difficult it was becoming, I tried turning to my wife, a seasoned author, for some advice. But she had no idea either. Of course, there were similarities like having a plot, and having a beginning, middle, and an end, but picture books are fundamentally different in structure from novels. The format made things more difficult because not only did you have a few precious pages to work with to write a story, but you had to find a way to tell it through both art and text.

I went online and tried doing some research, but none of it was as helpful as just reading plenty of other picture books. All the books I read were amazing, but there were a few that I really gravitated towards, especially on the art side: Marla Frazee, Dan Santat, Axel Scheffler, Loren Long, and Christian Robinson.

Taking what I learned online and reading many picture books, I began my manuscript. Ironically for me, an illustrator, I ended up choosing to write the text before making the art, partly because I thought writing would be the hardest part for me—and partly because it was something new and exciting. 

Writing the manuscript for my picture book took a very long time. I actually hired a freelance editor who had experience working on picture books to help me. I’m not sure if a lot of other writers hire freelance editors but I found it to be very helpful, especially because it was my first time writing a picture book.

When I finally got my manuscript to the point I was happy with, I started drawing. I began with simple sketches of the world and its characters, then organized my art into panels. One of the things I learned in animation school was storyboarding—a stage in the animation process that allows you to get a glimpse of what the final product might look like. Usually, it’s a sequence of drawings showing the main points of the story. For writers, it’s like outlining your book.

The final set of storyboards looks pretty much like a completed picture book. In the children’s publishing world, they also called this a book dummy—something you would submit to publishers, so they could see how the art for the book might look like.

Usually, publishers find an artist to illustrate an author’s manuscript, so writers don’t need to worry about the art side. In my case, I was both author and illustrator, so storyboarding helped me a lot in finding the right images to match the words.

Even after my manuscript and book dummy eventually sold, I still had a lot of work ahead. Weirdly enough, a lot of the editors I submitted to preferred my writing over my art. Which felt good and bad at the same time, because I thought art was my strongest point and writing was not.

Being an author-illustrator, I received direction from both an editor and art director. Finalizing my manuscript with my new editor didn’t take as long as I thought. I felt that hiring an outside editor in the early stages may have contributed to this.

When it came to really work on and finishing up the art side of my book, I was expecting it to go just as quickly and smoothly as with my manuscript. But it would prove to be the longest and hardest part of the whole process, mostly because my art style was not yet tailored for children’s books. Before working on picture books, I was an artist in video games and used a computer to illustrate. I had to change the way I approached art and reprogram myself. For writing, the equivalent would be an author switching to a different genre.

I knew in order to find the right look for my book and be the illustrator I wanted to become, I had to change things up drastically. At the time, the only way for me to do this was to try new art mediums and get away from what I was used to (using the computer). I began incorporating watercolor, gauche, pastels, and colored pencils. Using traditional art tools was really strange and difficult for me. The last time I actually used paint was back in high school and that was over twenty years ago. Yeah, I’m super old! There were plenty of moments when I wanted to give up and return to using the computer, but I knew that would just make me fall back into my old ways of drawing. I’m not trying to suggest that the only way to create illustrations for a picture book must be done with traditional medium, but this is just the process that worked best for me. Eventually, I learned to be patient and accept the chaos that traditional art tools sometimes brought. Once I got over that, I was able to just enjoy myself again and not worry so much.

There were a lot of back and forth discussions with my art director on the art style as well as what the setting would be and the characters that were in it. In the beginning, my story took place in a house, then a pet store, and then finally a zoo. But with each of those changes, I had to create a different set of characters and new storyboards to go along with them. It was a fun, albeit occasionally frustrating experience, especially when I became emotionally attached to the characters. It’s always hard as a creative person to be told something you created is not working. You just have to trust the people you’re working with and hope it’ll work out.

One of my favorite changes in my book was of my main character. In the final version of my book, the main character is a person of color. But in the beginning, it was a little white girl, then a white female, then a male zookeeper—then, at one point, a beaver. It had never occurred to me to make my character a Brown person. For a long time, I was afraid of putting a non-white person in my work for fear it would hurt my career or be put in a category that no one would look at. My whole career as an artist, I had always been told to draw white people or make my characters look lighter skinned, and so I got used to that. I even had an art teacher tell our art class to always make our drawings of people look Caucasian, because that’s what was popular. I don’t think he was trying to be purposefully racist, but he was probably telling us the truth and that’s what a lot of the entertainment industry was looking for. Thankfully, a lot has changed and we’re seeing more books and other forms of entertainment with people of color.

When I finally found the medium, the art style, and final character designs I would use to create my picture book, it had already been over a year. It took another year to work on just painting each spread, designing my jacket, and working with a designer to find the right font for my book. In total from initial concept to actually finishing my book, it took about three years.

In the end, I had an amazing experience and learned a lot. I’m currently working on my second book and so far, it’s proving to have its own difficult challenges. I hope it won’t take as long as the first book, but sometimes you don’t have control over that. Every story is different and all I can do is enjoy the process.

I hope this article was helpful for anyone thinking of creating a picture book. The main thing that I learned from this whole process is to not be afraid to try new things. Keep pushing through the toughest of moments, and in the end, you’ll be better than when you started.

Aaah, Primo, thank you for the post! I love how, despite being an artist, you had to adapt so much in order to fit this new medium. And all your hard work and dedication paid off! Your debut picture book is an utter delight.

And to all the Daydreamers, be sure to snag a copy of Hey, Who Made This Mess? for the kiddos in your life!

Upcoming Events:

I have nothing planned right now thanks to Covid (gotta keep on social distancing, y'all!), but stay tuned for virtual events as we get closer to the Witchshadow release!

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Thank you for reading! Have a fabulous weekend, friends!

Susan Dennard
110 West 40th St.
Suite 2201
New York, NY 10018

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