From Idea to Book #5

design, idea, illustration, kids, publishing, stories

Sometimes writers and illustrators question their ability. That’s normal and keeps us pushing for excellence. However, they shouldn’t question their saleability. That is for someone else to do, so let it go. There are people who know as much about selling as you do about creating, so you are in safe hands…

Teamwork is what makes a book succeed or fail. Besides the writer or illustrator, the editor, art director, designer, marketing, publicity, production and printing team members share the responsibility of making an idea the best book it can be.

This means you can concentrate on your special skill, safe in the knowledge that everything else is under control. No one knows for sure how many copies of a book will sell in a given period. You might think yours is the best idea ever, only to find its not a commercial success. Or, you might question why your idea is being taken apart, interrogated so aggressively, only to find on publication day that it is going to be a massive success…. Each member of the team has a valuable contribution to make, raising the overall quality.

Within the team there can be as much conflict as harmony; Editorial and design opinions are historically tense (editors often want more words, designers less). Or, authors who have a strong conviction their words are the exact right ones, and editors who weigh that conviction against sales and marketing insights. And no one is happy when sales people dismiss a cover that they all love. But the right thing for everyone to do is step back have a think and come back with a different option.

So, when you are finally ready to present your masterpiece to a publisher, you should also be ready to let go of your emotional attachment to it. Instead, be open to what your new team will have to say. They will probably point out things you haven’t considered and, more importantly, remind you that presenting your idea isn’t the end of the book building process but the beginning.

Books about food for children are tricky to get right, even trickier to sell.

From Idea to Book #4: Step Away

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A slow burning idea can sometimes work very effectively. Are you a prolific ideas generator? See what happens when you slow yourself down. Put your idea onto paper/a device and then leave it to bubble away… Notice how much more focused you are when you get back to it, or when it starts to call you. Everyone has their ideal situation to generate ideas. But it is well worth trying something different, if only to reaffirm what you already know!

For one of my books I was super-excited when I started, and still super-excited some nine years later when the book finally hit the bookshops. Yes, that’s right- nine years! About six or seven different iterations, three changes in art style, rhyming text, prose, and so on. Each time I thought that was the right version. Then I kept pushing for something more…

Stepping away can actually help speed up the process.

It was a slow burner. It got better with time. It was a relatively new experience to hold a book that took that long, but wholly satisfying. I learned a lot about my own process, improved on many levels, like how to develop characters and the worlds they inhabit, and there is something about the painting that I found more considered and consistent.

Stepping away creates time to assess an idea on a much deeper level. It helps to become less emotionally attached to the work too, which is something that will be useful when it is time to hand it over to a publisher.

Combined with time away, the importance of sketchbooks and notebooks in the creative process can’t be underestimated. They hold all our thoughts and ideas and free up our brains to create new ones. So when you are stuck, or feel like you aren’t giving your best, just step away and wait.

I Can Do It too!

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Astro Girl is in bookshops and making its way to libraries across the UK as part of the Summer Reading Challenge, so I thought it might be an idea to remind you about the other books with strong female characters I have worked on over the years.

First up, I Can Do It Too, written with much fun and energy by Karen Baicker. I remember how much I enjoyed painting the text! It was easy to bring her to life. It’s still available on Amazon and other good bookstores in the US. Perhaps we need an official UK version? Ahyway, here’s the review from Kirkus:

KIRKUS REVIEW

“Is there anything so heady or contagious as the shiny, new confidence of a child who has freshly mastered the everyday, but oh-so-difficult? No matter that a few drops of juice miss the glass, or that her buttons are a bit askew, the lively little heroine of this satisfying story absolutely exudes positivity and innocent pride in newly-acquired skills. With bright, broad, touch-me artwork and easy-on-the-ears rhyming text, Wilson-Max and Baicker conspire to communicate, most successfully, the infectious exuberance of their cake-baking (okay, batter-testing), trike-riding young subject. (P.S. Thanks for the helmet.)

This sturdy cardstock offering has plenty of finger-paint child appeal: each carefully composed page depicts the earnest little girl’s effort to replicate the activity of a nearby friend or family member, and artfully integrated, actively designed type swings and sings and whooshes across paintings that pronounce her hard-won self-assurance with a boldly saturated palette. Physical skills are not the only kind in focus here, for a happy contagion of kindness is also afoot. The support of her family and congenial companions has the very finest of effects, and best of all, at the end of it all, is our little heroine’s unspoiled and generous display of encouragement for one even smaller than she.” (Picture book. 1½-4)

Pathways to… your dream

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I am taking part in Pathways, which is a fantastic new programme for young and emerging children’s books and comics talent in the UK.

The Pathways into children’s publishing programme is a groundbreaking new two-year illustration programme for diverse, talented and ambitious artists taught by world-class illustrators and writers, university tutors, children’s editors and art directors. Pop Up Projects has partnered with House of Illustration in the UK and secured 12 publisher and 10 university affiliates who are giving money and time to this project to support the next generation of children’s illustrators!

The project aims to increase diversity and representation in children’s books. Help them find new and ethnically diverse illustration and comics talent from across the UK!

Applications are open until September 2nd. Enourage the young people you know to take part and make sure that they see themselves in the books they create.

You can find out more on pathways-org.com, or on Instagram (@PathwaysINTO), Twitter (@PathwaysINTO) or Facebook (@PathwaysINTO)

Some inspiration…

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Here’s a short film that sums up why we should follow our dreams.

Norman Gilbert refused to follow the artistic style of the time, forging his own path;

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00032ph

From Idea to Book 3

character, children's books, design, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, publishing, stories

#3 Less is more

In books for the very young say as much as possible with a few words. Illustrations have a high literary value. They really speak to the reader.

If you develop your stories with text, write freely first, then each time you revisit your story craft the maximum meaning into fewer and fewer words. If you prefer to work visually, sketch as much as possible until the images start to pick up some of the slack. The reason they are called picture books is because the words and pictures are equally important. More than that they complement each other and together create a new language.

Let’s break that down; Some people write on their own, some illustrate, some do both. Publishers can start the process from either point but tend to work with words first more often. They will read the text and then make a decision about the illustrator based on their company’s style.

Writers, your part of the book project is going to have other hands and brains joining in. It might be a good idea to write with that in mind.

Normally, illustrators are handed a text and asked to interpret it. Some of the decision-making is already done. The illustrator’s main challenge is to interpret the text in a fresh new way, to listen to the comments and guidance from the book designer or art director. Try using the rule that carpenters use: measure twice, cut once. By the time you get to producing the final piece you will have sketched all the possiblilities you can imagine.

For creators who do both, the challenge is all about discipline. It’s really hard to wite and draw at the same time! Plus you have to be honest enough to look at what youve done and say if its good enough… or not. So do one first, then the other. Repeat until you have what you want.

From Idea to Book 2

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I first wrote a post with this title about a year ago. I was intending to take you through the lifetime of a book project ‘in real time.’ Each project is different though, and the project I chose is still in its early stages so there isn’t much to report.

So while that’s taking shape, here are a handful of tips and suggestions for anyone thinking of creating a children’s book.

#1 Listen first, draw or write later!

Working on a childrens book? You can learn from listening to young children at their pace. These intelligent, brave people are happy to express their opinions and ideas. Learn to listen first, draw or write later.

This really means know your audience as well as you can. Take them seriously, as seriously as if they were CEOs or leaders. Remember that one day they might be! Find out all you can about child development, for instance. Observe young people and how they interact with others. These insights will inform your ideas.

Find out about how bookstores and publishers sell books for children. Do they aim at the children or the parents? Challenge your own opinions, and others’ about what works and what doesn’t. Most of all remember the books you loved as a child, and more importantly why you loved them.

The language of West African Icons

african, design, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max

Here’s a free download for you to enjoy!

Sometimes you can come up with an idea that doesn’t quite fit its intended audience. What to do? This idea isn’t necessarily new to the world but it might be timely, with Valentine’s Day coming…

Adinkra symbols are used in fabrics and pottery by the peoples of Ashanti Kingdom and Baoulés of Cote d’Ivoire. They are also often seen on walls and doors. Fabric patterns are made by woodcut sign writing and screen printing. Adinkra symbols appear on some traditional Akan goldweights. The symbols are also carved on stools for domestic and ritual use. 

There are many different symbols with distinct meanings, often linked with proverbs. They often conveying a complex body of practice and belief.

If you like this book, let me know by leaving a comment, or sharing it with friends.

Be a voter!

african, design, From the sketchbooks, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, Zimbabwe

I was asked to illustrate a poster designed by Chaz Maviyane-Davies to get people to vote. The first time we worked together on a similar message was back in Zimbabwe when I was knee-high to grasshopper! I made an illustration for a magazine called Moto (meaning ‘Fire’ in Shona) which published a lot of sociopolitical stuff.

So I did the cover, thought nothing about it, and off it went to print. A couple of awards later and I knew a couple, of things; firstly, I was quite good at interpreting ideas, and secondly, I didn’t want to be down for doing heavy sociopolitical work alone. I wasn’t even 20 years old!

Anyway, that’s when I first had the bright idea to travel and seek my fame and fortune, but that is another story…

Fast forward to 2018 and the real need for people to take their social and political responsibilities seriously. This is how it took shape, from rough (very rough) sketches to finished art:

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And here’s the finished piece. Wherever you are , #be a voter!

1Stand_Up

 

 

What it is, what it was, what it will be.

Activities & Play, african, design, idea, Ken Wilson-Max, publishing

Academically speaking, an oral history is not intended to present a final, verified, or “objective” narrative of events, or a comprehensive history of a place, because it is a primary source of information. Its a spoken account, reflects personal opinion offered by the narrator, and as such it is subjective.

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Oral histories are often used together with other sources to gain understanding and insight into history.

Non academically speaking, you get a better feel for an event if it is told to you. It can compensate for dry factual accounts or statistical information. Oral testimony becomes oral history from one generation to the next It is the memory of the past spoken to the next generation.

Professor Phillip Bonner, head of the History Workshop Research Group at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS University) in South Africa and National Research Foundation Chair for “Local Histories, Present Realities” has conducted research in South Africa, Swaziland, and Mozambique.

“…Many societies in Africa have traditionally been shaped by oral rather than written communication; the literacy rate is often low. Colonialism, Apartheid and other forms of oppression reinforced this tendency throughout the continent, resulting in a lack of written documentation about the past. Historians thus had to find other ways of gathering historical information, and oral history methods have proven to be a very useful tool in their research efforts.”

Oral history predates written history in Africa (some of the most ancient historical texts are drawn from oral testimony). But it was only used in African historical research from the 1960s. Prior to that, there were huge gaps in African history books.

brain-2Sure, human memory is unreliable in certain contexts. So the method was initially greeted with a great deal of scepticism. But for African cultures, the word was the history, so they had ways of remembering the important points, something which western scholars seem to have ignored.

Nowadays, people like Professor Bonner hold “live history interviews,” where people are encouraged to speak about their lives from the time they remember being a person. The idea sounds deliciously inviting. In the professor’s experience, asking open questions that don’t presume a specific answer and listening to the interviewee more than asking questions yields the most useful, and sometimes even surprising information.

microphone37But live history interviews take time and aren’t cheap, especially transcription and translation of interviews. But they are reliable when added to a pool of collective memory and with a few quality control methods applied. A common truth can be found.

It is all part of one rich historical narrative, told from different perspectives.

I grew up hearing stories from elders, something which sticks with me more than the history books I have read. But I know that using both methods is probably the best way to understand and get an accurate picture of a story, a history. It is another way to feel the lasting effect of an event from long ago.

In my studio I have been developing a way to tell stories through reading out loud. Its very exciting to have finally succeeded in producing a book that instructs the reader how to tell the story within. And it was deceptively straightforward. I am hoping it will be the backbone of major new series in 2019.

I love books, but I love stories even more.

Check to the Goethe Insitute article on Oral history

 

From idea to book

african, character, children's books, design, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, publishing, stories

Everyone has a story…

Everyone has a story inside them. Some of us tell it in a book or a play or on the stage, football pitch or boardroom. But most of us live our story, telling it to our loved ones, every day, year by year… the point is each story gets told and appreciated.

I have heard many wonderful stories and have learned to use the book as my medium. Let me share that way with you in a series of real-time posts, starting with an idea and ending (hopefully) with a beautiful book.

If you have thought of writing or illustrating your own book, or if you are just curious, then this real-time project will be of use before you get in touch.

All you have to do is follow the blog for regular monthly updates on the project. Please comment, spread the word and get involved!

Remember to sign up for automatic updates

Recent work: Chicken Newspaper’s Food issue

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Endangered animals: The Black Footed Ferret

character, children's books, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max

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The black-footed ferret was Once thought to be globally extinct, but it is making a comeback. It is found in North America and for the last thirty years, people have worked hard to give black-footed ferrets a second chance for survival.
There are now nearly 1,000 animals across North America and of course there is much work to be done to make sure they not only survive, but thrive.

Good luck to the bandits of the prairies!