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Writer and Illustrator - Making Magic

How do you create an illustrated book? Who goes first, writer or illustrator? What determines the length and style of the book, the images or the text? These, as I discovered, are all vital questions when producing a picture book. I am fortunate enough to be a close friend of my illustrator Mike Kelly, but as you probably know, being friends is not always the path to a perfect working relationship (I think we could all name several friends we love but could never work with). In our case, as our first venture together, Stunt Crow evolved, and as book number 2, The Jewel of the Brook is coming to life, it has become clear that we share a scatty, haphazard approach, with ideas constantly on the boil, very little planning, but always a spark that keeps the project alive and stops it from being a chore.
I don't believe there's any formula or correct method. If you're very organized, use that skill (I envy you!) to plan a masterpiece. If you are very different characters, use each others strengths. If, like us, you are all over the place, just do what you need to do to keep the project interesting. If you lose interest, either it won't happen or it will show in the book. This often means you need to give it all the time it needs. During the writing and illustrating of Stunt Crow, we had a near 2 year break, but I always had faith that the project would resume in its own time.
The Jewel of the Brook is progressing well, and I think what makes our partnership work is a shared vision, a sense of freedom (allowing the story to evolve without imposing too much structure) and above all, humility. Nobody is the boss and all ideas are listened to.
To follow our progress, join us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/classicchildrenspicturebooks

Kid's picture books in education and the power of blogs

Seeking exposure for Stunt Crow, I contacted some friendly bloggers in the UK and the USA to see if any of them would be interested in reviewing my book. I was really delighted with the response and what I thought would be simple reviews turned out to be more than I had imagined.

The 1st blogger I heard back from was Ella who writes Purplemum. She encouraged me to do a giveaway of a signed copy of Stunt Crow to generate more interest which seems to be working well and bringing in readers. You can read the post here and enter to win if you fancy!

Another UK blogger I discovered was James who amazingly finds time to run a very broad and quirky blog called MagpieThat whilst teaching full time at a primary school. This opened up a great opportunity to have my book reviewed but also tested on school children and used as a teaching resource. It's an amazing feeling when you hear how much kids have enjoyed your book, and with this encouragement I'll be diving deeper into the world of blogs.

I watched the crow and the crow watched me

Watching lazily from the kitchen window, coffee in hand, I first clocked the slim, glossed shadow of the crow as he appeared from behind a hazel bush. He patrolled the area of paddock I had mowed yesterday with the confident yet see-sawing stride of an old man coming across litter left by the young.
He was a good 50 yards from me, but after a very quick scan of the ground for pickings, he stopped and cocked his head down and to one side. His eye was so black against his black body that I could only feel it assessing me. I was to be tolerated provided I did not move.
He picked at this and that, even comically chased a flying insect for a moment. Eventually he turned and doubled back down the next invisible row. He made about five or six rows and I only dared reach for my camera when he was facing away. Finally he flew. Perhaps I moved too much. Half an hour later he returned. He started off precisely scanning from the spot he had fled.

Are eBooks dead??

Technology is such that we can now read fully illustrated books on Kindle, ipad, android tablets and phones and more. There is still a lot of resistance to ereader technology, but I think it has a place alongside the good old dusty paper book.
As the face of publishing is transformed by technology, the eBook has now taken on two new functions: Firstly, the obvious. As you can now use your phone or tablet to read eBooks, you can walk around with just the device you always carry, but never be short of a good read (you can get hundreds of books on your average phone), so while you might prefer paper books, eBooks have their uses.
Secondly, the eBook is now the publisher and self-publisher's primary marketing tool. It costs almost nothing to produce, so the calculated risk is taken that if we let it go cheap or even free, interest will be generated in the paper book itself, and sites like amazon will actually count sales and reviews regardless of whether they are full book purchases or free promos.
So to prove the point, Stunt Crow is FREEEEEE on Kindle (and phones etc, just download the kindle free app) Until Sunday 13th April. Hope you enjoy it!
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00IOZLR1O (USA)
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00IOZLR1O (UK)

Do Children's characters have to be cute?

There is nothing wrong with cute animals. Who doesn't love them, even if there are maybe a few too many kittens on the internet these days. And I would never suggest that there is a problem with Peter Rabbit, The Cat in the Hat or The Gruffalo, but is it essential that kid's characters are cute? There are a few rare exceptions such as Ted Hughes Iron Man and of course the downright scary Grimm Brothers tales, but its almost unheard of to just present nature as it is to children in books. I'm not suggesting that they should be witness to Lions devouring prey at the age of four, but when I take my daughter to the zoo, she and her friends are fascinated by the animals and their behavior, despite the fact that the penguins have no waistcoats on and not one of them is wearing glasses or sitting by a fire reading a book. In my books I am exploring the idea of animals without human names or clothes and perhaps only having a tiny hint of human emotion. I still love Where the Wild Things Are and Winnie the Pooh, but I believe there's room for reality too, and maybe we don't credit small children with the intelligence to cope with it.

Children's books and book review sites

In order to spread the word about Stunt Crow, I've explored the usual avenues of social media, but also book discussion and review sites such as https://www.goodreads.com/ and http://www.shelfari.com/books/37371153/Stunt-Crow which are easy to use and seem to list most books, though I had to submit Stunt Crow to one site as I guess it is quite new to Amazon. My only reservation is that these sites seem to be mostly populated by writers seeking review. The answer then would seem to be that its worth looking at other people's work if you want to get them to look at your own.

Self Publishing, the ups and downs

Only a few weeks into this experience, the full extent of the challenge is becoming apparent to me. It is both an exciting new world and a daunting one. I have just published my first picture book for children using Amazon Createspace I have also launched a version for eBook using https://kdp.amazon.com
These incredible tools have enabled me to publish a children's picture book and an Kindle eBook internationally at absolutely no cost. Something I could only dream of a few years ago.
So what's the catch? Well, in terms of production I would say there are none. The software is free and designed to be user friendly. The submission guidelines (though more than 60 pages long!) are precise and helpful if you are prepared to pay them close attention. Making an illustrated children's book has its technical challenges, especially when it comes to the Kindle version, but the fact that it has only taken a few short weeks from pieces of paper to international publication on the internet speaks for itself.
OK, so there is a but.... Not surprisingly what you are left with is a book that noone can see! It's out there but now you are in sole control of marketing, publicity, advertising, social media etc etc.
So far I am seeing all this as a positive. Being in control of all of this is interesting and exciting, but it remains to be seen whether my new role as a publisher will pay off!

Publication on amazon

The US and Europe editions of Stunt Crow have just gone live on Amazon

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