Books For Keeps

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

I am pleased to be featured in the UK’s Books For Keeps magazine, talking about illustation…

The age of the Afronaut

african, design, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, kids, publishing, Zimbabwe

Afronaut is a new publishing project from company Alanna Max, featuring books about and for African children, the Afronauts. Many have yet to see themselves in a book, despite the millions of folktales and stories from each culture on the continent.

It’s been a dream of mine to play back all the wonderful ‘nganos’, or stories from my childhood in Zimbabwe. But travelling around the continent it’s become very clear that an African childhood is very different from a European or American one. Some of these children experience or witness things that they really shouldn’t. So we knew from the very start of the project that the list has to be appropriate to its readers. 

We’re joining a growing list of African publishers committed to making their businesses work in difficult economic environments as well as to reflecting cultures back to readers.

Afronaut will publish books, ebooks, comics, posters, articles, and educational material over time. The list will focus on African countries first on as many local languages as possible. It will not shy away from being topical or political and is aiming to work alongside international organisations whose focus is children.

Afronaut launches in Spring 2020, with several pre-launch activities planned online and offline.

Need to know more?

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 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.

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.

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