Thursday, February 17, 2011

HOW DO YOU FIND HOPE AGAIN?

I've been dragging my feet in writing this post. I don't like feeling discouraged and now that I'm hopeful again, I want to sweep my prior despair under the rug. But it's important to talk about. We all feel hopeless in our pursuits at some time or another and I've been there way more than once!

Right around Day 10 I was having a hard time finding illustration submission guidelines for a lot of my publishers. I was getting really frustrated. Why was I so concerned about guidelines? Because I care and my time is really important to me. I don't want to waste it or anyone else's by sending something to the wrong place in the wrong format to be discarded before it is ever seen. So, instead, I ended up spending a lot of extra time trying to double check guidelines everywhere I could, including web addresses I already had from past research. In most cases the web pages I had previously been on had been removed. What's up with that? The submission guidelines for writers could still be found and were full of apologies that they would no longer be accepting un-agented work. Instead, submissions would be discarded. Everywhere editors were overtaxed with piles of submissions and didn't have the time to open them all. But what about art directors and illustration submissions? Was I wasting my time? They still need illustrators...don't they?

Suddenly my time felt very insignificant. The excitement and hope fully drained from my body. Why bother? So...I threw a pity party. Luckily it got too loud and obnoxious for my good neighbor, Rational Thinking and she quickly put an end to it. Since I had been to one of these parties before, I knew what to do. I closed my computer, put away my other research tools and got busy doing what I needed to do...none of which had anything to do with publisher submissions.

These are the general steps I follow to get out of the trap of hopelessness:

Reality check - Even though I really really really want to illustrate for the children's publishing industry and I dedicate hours and hours to that pursuit...that isn't all there is to my life. I have a family, friends, web design/illustration business, cards and prints to sell, I live in beautiful surroundings with amazing outdoor things to do...I was feeling better already!

Act on it - I checked in with my family. Hey! They were still there!

Get back in sync - For me this means doing everyday things that are really important to the enjoyment of life - like cooking delicious healthy meals and spending quality time with my family and friends.

Exercise - I had been staring at my computer in research mode and had barely moved for days. No wonder my thoughts had gelled into a quagmire of irrational ideas. It was time to get that blood moving and expel that icky residue. Out to the forest with the dog!

Start a new project using established strengths - Starting a new illustration is like hitting the reset button for me. All becomes right with the world. My last post reminded me how much I want to do middle grade book covers, so I started one for the NanoWriMo novel I did in November. I'm using all my favorite illustration techniques. I'll post it when it's done.

Positive role models - This quest for publishers is most often a solitary pursuit - so is being an illustrator. That isn't a bad thing, but as I move forward in this new terrain, my footing is sometimes unsure. In situations where I feel discouraged, I like to read about successful illustrators, writers and musicians who share their journeys in very real ways. (By successful I mean remaining true to themselves and doing what they love.) I like documentaries too - especially about people who have been unconventional in their paths. (Reading Editorial Anonymous while feeling discouraged is not a good idea.)

Feel that strength - This is the lion's roar where I declare, "Oh Yeah!? My time is important too!" and I get back up, brush off the debris and puff myself out a bit to continue my journey forward.

Clarification - With renewed conviction, I clarify my vision of who I am, what I can do and what I want. This results in stronger footing and a reminder of why I'm doing what I'm doing. A new plan is formulated from an informed place and new confidence to do what I need to do while being true to myself. I know my time is valuable whether someone else thinks so or not. If I fit the publisher, I'll be sending illustration submissions until I see something concrete that says not too. I take full responsibility for that.

Benefits to losing hope - Benefits? Yep. Clarification and renewed hope are the benefits I usually get, along with dispelling all those irrational thoughts that clutter my path and keep me from moving forward. That means onward to PubSubPackMo, Day 17! I've got to catch up a little, but I've got 15 publishers so far.

So, that's what I do when I feel discouraged. How about you? What do you do to get yourself out of that funk?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

RIGHT ILLUSTRATIONS - RIGHT PUBLISHER?

I started writing about publisher information this morning and realized I skipped a step. It's day 8 and I have 9 publishers confirmed to send samples to. I've crossed many more off my list, but why?

Reading about each publisher is one thing, but you've got to know what style of illustrations they're looking for, what your own style is and what areas you want to illustrate in the first place. I illustrate everything from picture books to non-fiction nature books, but I'm especially interested in middle grade spot illustrations and book covers for stories that feature cultural diversity. I'm not going to send middle grade book cover samples to a publisher that only prints picture books or illustrations of realistically drawn people to publishers who prefer cartoony animal stories.

Where to start - In the end it's always the impression I get from seeing what a publisher publishes that gives me what I need to make a decision. From reading the description in CWIM (Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market) of the subject matter they print, my mind tells me that Barefoot Books is totally right for me, but visually, for the most part, my style isn't a match.

Catalogs - I don't like to accumulate catalogs, so I don't generally order them from publishers. If I happen to see one at a conference that is a good match, I will grab it. The ones that work best for me are the publishing groups with many imprints under their umbrella. Having all the imprints from one publisher in one place helps me get a handle on who belongs where. I don't keep the catalogs past a couple years. Yuck. They're dust magnets and there's no reason to keep outdated material. If I find something I need to keep, I rip it out and file it. This might be a publisher statement that sums up their "house" or a book cover that really speaks to me.

Bookstores and Libraries - I search online or in bookstores and libraries whenever possible. I happen to love books (That's a no brainer isn't it?) and looking through piles of books with great illustrations is really enjoyable. Check out the bestseller tables at the bookstore in all categories that pertain to you, but, in your excitement, don't forget to see who actually published the books. After a while, you'll start to get the "flavor" of each publisher. Some are more broad in style than others. You don't have to stick with bestsellers either. Not everything will be a bestseller. When I'm perusing, I gravitate toward colors, illustration style and fonts on the covers and spines that are similar to my style.

Digital - More and more publishers are offering catalogs to download - mostly smaller publishers. Publishing groups tend not to go to the trouble of having individual catalogs for each division. Having a digital catalog isn't the same as having physical pages to thumb through, but I can usually get the jest of whether my illustrations are right for them within a quarter of the catalog. I download catalogs and toss them right away when I'm done. I can always go back and get another one if I need to. I don't want dusty old catalogs filling up my computer either!

Websites - Bigger houses often have their books cataloged on their websites, but if they have many imprints, it's not often that I see them divided up that way. They are usually lumped together into one big listing and then divided by age group. Hopefully you'll be able to find the name of the imprint somewhere near the book title.

Publisher Blogs - Still not sure about a publisher? If they have a blog, check it out for the latest in what they're doing. What are their awards, new projects, innovations?

Amazon - Sometimes I have luck searching under a publisher name in Amazon. Sometimes not!

Magazines - The library and bookstore are also great places to look at children's magazines to find a match to your style. You can also order sample copies from the publisher. It's worth ordering a sample if you find a good match.

If you're still not sure if your work is right for a particular publisher, ask people around you for their impressions. Or it could be that your style isn't quite defined enough to be able to tell yet. Don't expect a publisher to see what you're capable of creating down the line by showing them a sketch from life drawing class. You've got to show them...now. For me, that meant getting to work on my portfolio.

Good luck out there!

UPDATE - WEBSITE CATALOGS - Simon and Schuster has digital catalogs available on their website for all of their imprints. They are very well organized. (I like Simon and Schuster a lot. ) I have not, however, found any illustration submission guidelines anywhere on the website...so far...



Thursday, February 3, 2011

FINDING PUBLISHER INFORMATION - DAY 3 PubSubPackMo


It's day 3 of PubSubPackMo and I promised to add details on the process of submitting illustration samples to publishers. I'll be adding more as I go, but I'll start with publisher information. There isn't one way to collect the information you need. It's important to do what works best for you. Because the world around me can be hectic, I like to keep things simple whenever I can by staying organized.

During the year I come across lots of information about publishers that might be right for me. As soon as I can, I transfer the information to a text file on my computer. Some of the information is from websites I find, some is from notes I take at conferences and some comes from SCBWI bulletins. By transferring the information that pertains to me directly to a file on my computer, it keeps me from wasting time trying to backtrack and find the information again. This file can be a simple text file or a more involved database.

I also have a copy of the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (CWIM) on hand. It isn't always the most current copy, but I try to stay within a year of the current one. If you want to buy the new copies right away, you can get them from Amazon. If you don't mind waiting to buy, you can generally get an unused copy of the previous year for a really good price on Half.com. Things can change fast, so it's important to update records by going to the publisher websites, watching for changes posted in the SCBWI bulletin, and making phone calls to publishers when necessary.

There are lots of helpful articles in the CWIM too. My problem has been the copies from past years that pile up. It is a mind trap for me to think that I need to keep each year because there is information in them that I need. I'm never going to go through each one again and they take up valuable space. Instead, I mark them up freely with pen, pencil, highlighters and sticky notes. I transfer the publisher information I use to my database, cut out articles I need and file them and then recycle the books when I'm done. I started doing this when I discovered I had copies dating back to 1999 that I had never revisited!

My first pass through the book is quick. I mark publishers that look promising and put a sticky note on the page. This is something I can do anywhere, anytime - while waiting for clients, watching my daughter's Aikido or Ice Skating, etc. The publishers I mark at this stage are the ones I need to look closer at online. I'll be looking at their book art with mine in mind and if they seem like a fit, I'll make notes about what samples are best and any other guidelines I find. This is where I am right now. I'm double checking websites to see what kind of samples to send and to make sure I don't disregard any new guidelines the publisher may have. Once I have all the info I need, I transfer the address and notes about what to send to my database. The sticky note then comes off the page, but all my written notes are still on the page if I need to go back. If I find that a publisher isn't right for me, I put an "X" through it on the page.

I've got to go add some publishers to my list and finish my client work for the day. Yesterday I added Abrams to my list as a great all around publisher with excellent variety. Stay tuned for more information on finding the submission guidelines you need...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

PubSubPackMo

PubSubPackMo is here! "What is it," you say, "some sort of pub food special?" No, but that's not a bad idea. PubSubPackMo is Publisher Submission Packet Month. I had so much fun during NaNoWriMo and PiBoIDMo (okay maybe fun isn't the correct word, but I got a lot done and that was fun) I decided to create an entire month dedicated to researching and submitting work to publishers.

There is a lot of research involved in submitting work. In the past I found I would do 10 at a time and then let the whole thing drop for months. It's best to keep submissions going out several times a year to publishers already on your list and submissions to new publishers going out regularly. If it becomes a part of what you do all the time, the habit should be as easy as brushing your teeth.

How to start? If you're an illustrator, start by deciding what samples to send. This might be as simple as one image on a postcard, several postcards or several images on a tear sheet. If you're an illustrator/writer, you might be sending out a picture book dummy or a query letter depending on the publisher's guidelines. And if you are an illustrator/writer sending out dummies - beware of simultaneous submissions. This is where the research comes in.

Always make sure to match your work to the right publishers and follow their guidelines (more about that in upcoming posts). It's a common notion for newcomers to think they should get the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market and start sending to every publisher in there. How do I know? Before I got serious about children's illustration, I was toying with the idea. That was about 15 years ago when I was still illustrating botanicals. I had begun to play with adding faeries to my work. Not knowing anything about the children's publishing market, I approached a children's illustrator I knew and told her my plan to blanket the entire industry with my samples. The look on her face was one of amused pity and she patiently explained why this was a bad idea. I would need to research each publisher individually. Back then, this generally involved making phone calls. Horrified, I abandoned the children's publishing idea and stuck with the publishing opportunities I had doing botanicals.

It's a lot easier to research now. Phone calls to verify addresses are rarely necessary anymore and most information about the types of work the publishers publish is online or in the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market.

I will be posting throughout the month about the submission process, but for now, I've got to research my publisher for the day!