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.
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…
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.
Zimbabwean born GRaphic designer Chaz Maviyane-Davies lives and teaches in the US. He challenges his students to avoid being proponents of “homogenized blandness” – the practice of embracing technology to the detriment of our idiosyncratic visual languages. The result being uniform mediocrity. He extends this challenge in particular, to his fellow Africans:
“It’s about breaking down and finding the inherited, mythically infused iconography and then rebuilding it in order to fit the feeling and nature of where we are now. The tone, rhythm and depth of our identity is special and can be used to talk to each other today. And we have to use that visual language to slowly try to bring some of our personality and presence into the design arena.”
Developing an idea is a process. Its full of holes and spaces into which you can fall and be lost forever, though. For some the thrill comes from avoiding the creative pitfalls. For others the result is the thing. Shaping an idea is not an exact science and very few come out ready to use and there is a balance between being practical and ‘out there’ that has to be maintained.
Its great when the result works. Its great when it doesn’t (once you stop crying or destroying the studio) because you’ve learned something more about what you are capable of achieving. For me, ideas are best developed with others.