Friday, 24 June 2016

when you know it's time to take a holiday

The thing about being an author, is that you never really have a break.

Even when you're in a low- (or no-) production period, there's more than enough to do--catching up on maintenance, accounts, tax, filing, acquittals, blog posts (like this one), mentoring, events, promo, marketing, social media, planning, committees, volunteering, applying for grants, reviewing, emailing, promoting others and their books and events, updating or upgrading your website, writing workshops, creating presentations, speaking, visiting schools, doing interviews, writing guest posts, writing articles, planning book launches, studying, honing skills, sketching, learning new digital art techniques, scratching the back of or liaising with beloved friends and colleagues--and, heaven forbid, perhaps writing new, un-contracted material.

Oh, and maybe washing your hair occasionally.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

illustration styles for different types of books + dot eyes!

So, I've been a bit 'elsewhere' of late.

Had a few Life issues to deal with including the second brand new PC to blow up on me in two months (the first one lasted 3 hours, the second one 2 months and 3 hours--such quality!).

It seems the Universe has been trying to tell me something about the crappy Lenovo All-in-One I bought (highly do NOT recommend this machine), and instead wants me to have the custom-made, multi-screen Starship Enterprise flightdeck I really, truly need on this illustration journey (but cannot afford--I shall be planting a money tree in the morning).

While waiting to sort my computer issues, I've decided that tearing my hair out is not an option--it kind of hurts--so I've been catching up on other bits and pieces, like tidying loose ends, housekeeping and accounts and tax returns and acquittals and such. Yay. Creativity powering!

I've also been in talks about the possibility of illustrating a new book, and this got me to thinking about illustration styles.

I would want to use full digital artwork for this book. I did varying character samples and my publisher liked one in particular (the character is VERY cute) and yet I felt this character just wasn't the right 'fit' for the illustration style I envisaged.

I spent a few computerless days in deep thought about life, the universe, computers that self-implode twice in two months, which species of money tree grow the fastest, and about how I could adjust this character style to 'fit' with the rest of the book. But no amount of pondering helped. The fit just wasn't happening... and more than that, I just wasn't feeling the love. I think a big part of a seamless book creation journey is loving and enjoying it and feeling inspired to create in a way that resonates with you at the time.

My publisher is wonderful and she completely understood my ponderings, so I'll be shortly drafting up a scene that combines the changes we talked about (as soon as I get my Enterprise workstation that I'll pay for with buttons and matchsticks).

One of the changes I want to make to the character style is to have the whites of eyes, as opposed to dots. I ADORE dots. Anna Walker is the master of dot eyes. Ditto Bob Graham and Stephen Michael King--all masterful, with gorgeous, expressive characters. They are whimsical, sweet and oh so warm.

Anna Walker

Bob Graham

Stephen Michael King

But for this book, the look will be very modern and there will be no outlines on any of the characters or other components--and on top of that, I am not yet a master of eyes. I'm learning fast but I know my strengths, and eyes with the whites makes it a lot easier (for me, anyway!) to emote. And oh, how I love to emote.

Have a look at the boy at the top of this post and some animals (below) from my upcoming book, Australia Illustrated (November). You can see the 'character' and quirk white eyes bring. Of course, if the book I was creating wasn't super modern and fully digital and driven by characterisation, then dot eyes would work beautifully. There's no right or wrong.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that each book has its 'look' and its own style, and so many elements come together to create that style. What works for one book doesn't work for another, and that can extend to the medium used, the colour palette, the layout, the design and most especially the story. Is the story whimsical, imaginative, narrative, active, passive? What style best suits the themes and narrative type?

I sometimes see picture books where the narrative doesn't marry well with the imagery. It's not that the illustrator has failed to interpret the text. It's just that the style they've used doesn't marry visually.

Colour palette is HUGE when it comes to this kind of interpretation, as is the medium used. For example, watercolours in pastel colours marry well with sentimental storylines, and sharp, computer-generated imagery with quirky characters marry well with high-action picture books, movement and drama. Fairytales and fables marry well with high-detail and decorative elements. Humorous, dry tales marry well with simplistic imagery with either scant or zero background.

There is, of course, always exceptions, but understanding styles when illustrating text is vital, from the way characters will look (as I'm in the middle of doing) all the way through to your target readership.

Whatever book you're producing or plan to produce, it's also vital that you work in a style that makes your heart sing at the time. We do our best work when we either write or draw in a style we currently resonate with. For me, that changes all the time--and I'm grateful for that because it makes things so much fun.

Prediction: I bet my next book after this one will have dot eyes!

And to finish off, some birds that appear in Australia Illustrated, complete with their character-generating 'white' eyes.

(Footnote: donations of buttons and matchsticks happily accepted. Email me for sewing-box deposit details.)

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Ask Tania: The work/life balance ... how do I write AND manage a household?

Dear Tania, 

My question is about making time to write amongst a day filled with jobs, family commitments and household tasks that just don't do themselves (sad face). How do I write AND manage a household? How do you do it?


Hi, Cate,

I would have to say this is one of the questions I'm most often asked! So it's clearly something a lot of people struggle with ... including me.

It's a convoluted topic, so let's break it down:

They say there's nothing like mother (or dad) guilt. Although I'm not a guilt-tripper by nature, as my writing has grown into full-time work, the seemingly endless hours I need to put into it has seen that sordid guilt trickle in. Ach--it's SUCH a pain.

The way I deal with it? I remind myself that mothers (and dads) need to be people, too. We also need to do what we love--and invest the time in doing it--and, REALLY importantly, to model passion and drive and commitment and hard work for our kids.

Neither of my kids go without food, clean clothes, a warm house, a great education and oodles of love. Sure, I may not spend endless hours playing Monopoly or watching blockbuster superhero movies with them, but they get my full attention when they need it or ask for it.

Admittedly, both are teens now, and pretty much do their own thing/are out a lot of the time. So, I know this is harder for women (or men) with littlies. When mine were little, I would write early in the morning or late at night or when Dad took them to the park--and I would actually write, not stack the dishwasher. I know this, too, can be hard, especially if you're exhausted. But, as I'll discuss shortly... it really comes down to How Much You Want It.

When my kids were smaller, my house was perennially prepped for a Vogue photo shoot. Now, anyone I know is forbidden from doing the pop-in, lest they catch the six inches of dust under my dining table, the opaque glow of a long-unwashed window, and me looking like an old bag lady with limp hair, ugg boots and a stain on my top.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Favourite Author Illustrator Websites

Books and illustrations are not the only delight we can enjoy when it comes to children's book creators. If you're anything like me, you'll love perusing their gorgeous websites, too. I love them for their design, simplicity, whimsy and sheer cleverness. Ever-aspiring to create a 'better' website, these serve as enormous inspiration for me ... and if you're just starting out, these will make a wonderful reference point for your own site.

I know there are many, many I've left out and I'll potentially add to this as I find more. Let me know if you know of a spectacular website--leave a comment below.

In no particular order ...

a u t h o r / i l l u s t r a t o r


a u t h o r

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Ask Tania: Who pays for what if we get a publishing deal?

Dear Tania, 

A friend and I are writing a book that includes lots of styling and photography. Who pays for photography and props, if we get a publishing deal? Do we pay or does the publisher cover those costs?


Hi, Mark,

Your question depends on a few factors.

With the type of book you're planning, you have a lot of work ahead in terms of time and money investment. It's kind of scary to work on a book with no guarantee of publication--this is what creators the world over face, and no matter how much financial investment you need to outlay (if any), you still have to put in the time, heart and effort, with no guarantee of publication, let alone financial success.

So, I guess the first thing to say is this: welcome to the world of publishing! It's a place where relying on income doesn't really exist--at least, not at the beginning. With recent reports saying most authors earn as little as $13,000 p.a. from their writing (and that's often active, full- or near-full- time writers!), it can be rather discouraging. But the good news is, income does increase over time, and with dedication.

But back to your question.

When I created Handmade Living, it was done via an organisation, so it wasn't traditionally published. I did most of the photography and absorbed a small amount of prop cost (and of course, donated all of my time). I knew the book would do well (it did) because there was an established audience for it, so I was happy to do this. We had contributors create items for the book, then I photographed most products, wrote blurb and designed and laid out the pages.

Overall, other than time, there was little financial outlay for me, and I more then recouped the costs when the book sold (though labour, unless you sell a million copies, will never be recompensed for any kind of book--this is why it's called a labour of love!).

Through a traditional publisher, unless you are commissioned to create a book, and/or are super famous and will have everyone do it all for you, I do believe you are up for the same kinds of outlay costs and time. I haven't created a book like yours through a traditional publisher, but I know that in the children's book industry, any creative input to any book is the responsibility of the creators--whether it be writing, typography, drawing, photography or styling.

So, if there's an author and an illustrator for a children's book, they receive a contracted payment or advance and royalties for the BOOK, ie: not for the hours or money they put into it, but the book itself. Again, this is the way of things. It's very rare for a creator to be paid well for the actual hours they put in. For example, if an illustrator spends 100 hours illustrating a book, they'll be paid the same as someone who has spend 10 hours on illustration.

Yes, it's a labour of love.

To make your initial outlay costs less expensive, make your contributors creators. You and your colleague as the 'authors', then the person you hire as the 'photographer'. All of you would receive cover credit (or title page credit). If the photographer is involved in the actual creation process, rather than just hired to 'take snaps', they will have greater emotional investment, and it will end up a far more cohesive book. You'll also have another person to promote the book!

If you do it this way, the photographer would sign contract for a cut of the book's royalties, or they could be paid a single contracted amount by the publisher (either way is good, and is dependent on the publisher and projected possible sales; do what seems right for you). Or, the photographer might prefer to be paid a contracted amount and the authors receive royalties--it's something you would need to nut out between yourselves and with the publisher.

If the photographer was interested in royalties, this would mean, of course, that you authors would earn a smaller cut royalties (book royalty percentage--in total--rarely goes above 10% of RRP), but it may be worth your doing it this way if the upfront costs of your photographer are enormous.

Alternatively, you might decide it makes better sense to pay a photographer a one-off fee yourself, then share all royalties between the two authors. In this case, the photographer would not receive cover or title page credit, but would be credited on the imprint page.

As you can see, it all depends on your situation, who is involved, and how you want to divvy up responsibility. Think creatively about it. It also depends on who you end up publishing with. Whatever the case, if you want to sub the idea to a publisher, you will need to showcase the writing, styling, photography and a full outline of what you're doing, so you're up for upfront costs, anyway.

Best of luck!

See all the questions so far ...

Monday, 23 May 2016

Introducing A New York Year and A Texas Year!

Yeeha - advance copies have arrived!

Tina and I have gone stateside with the latest in our A Kids' Year series for EK Books ... introducing Texas and New York!

We had a blast working on these titles and it was fascinating learning more about the incredible and varied cultures and traditions in both states. We hope our adorable characters warm the hearts of people everywhere, no matter where you live.

Order your advance copies right here - A New York Year, A Texas Year. And you can see all A Kids' Year in the series so far (Australia, England, Scotland) right here.

Out August!

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Ask Tania: How much do I present to a publisher in order to be taken seriously?

Dear Tania, 

How much do I present to a publisher in order to be taken seriously? Do I need to have the whole book written to go to a publisher, or just a few pages or the concept?


Hi, Lisa,

Every book, every creator, every publisher, every 'route' to publication is different, and oftentimes as uniquely individual as each and every book.

Some people submit to a slush pile and are picked up (rare!). Some people submit after entering a competition. Some submit through an agent. Some submit an idea to a publisher they may have met at a conference (HIGHLY recommend attending conferences!) and that idea is interesting to the publisher, so they ask them to flesh it out and submit. Some might win the chance to submit directly.

Some might receive a manuscript critique and be picked up that way. Some are already published or know publishers well and can submit directly, or hash the idea out with their publisher first. Some are also commissioned to write something the publisher is looking for, and some are just famous and so will be published straight-up, whether or not they can actually write.

So, there are many and varied ways to submit--and, pertaining to your fabulous question, there are almost as many ways you can submit your raw material.

Mostly, it's wise to have a book 'finished' before submitting. This is particularly so if you are emerging or as-yet unpublished. And this is especially so if you want to submit 'blind' (ie: to the slush pile). Sometimes, though, particularly if the book is lengthy or contains a variety of components, such as photography, I think it's okay to submit parts while you're still working on it. I say this because the slush pile submission process can be extraordinarily lengthy. And during that nerve-wracking waiting game, you can spend your time focusing on your work, so you don't think about the wait too much!

It's also okay to submit a concept or even better--a full outline to a publisher, if the work is particularly detailed and lengthy, though you would still need to provide writing samples. You up your chances of interest in a concept if you have a direct relationship with a publisher or are already published by them. I've often done this, and it's a wonderful way to secure solid interest (or even a contract!) as you set to work on the book. As we all know, the time spent creating a book carries with it a sliver of angst, never knowing if our hard work will see the light of day on a bookshelf sometime--so it's worth getting to know publishers and having a relationship with them so you can up your chances of securing contract early.

Having said that, do remember that each and every word you pen is of ENORMOUS value to your career journey. If it's never published, that's okay, because it adds to your talent arsenal exponentially. And, as is often the way, it can even be revisited later down the track, when you are published. I know many a successful author who has reworked early book ideas and had them published, even 20 years down the track.

As for what to actually submit to a publisher, no matter how far along you are in your book's creation, the very best thing you can do is check the publisher website for submission requirements. When you do this, you must absolutely, categorically, follow each and every step TO THE LETTER. Go over it several times and be sure you follow each step, to up your chances of having your work a) seen, and b) taken seriously.

If you don't know which publisher websites to check, simply look at other titles similar to yours, and see who publishes them.

If submissions are closed, don't despair. They often re-open, so just keep an eye on the website. Some people still submit, even when a publisher is closed. I have heard of manuscripts being picked up by doing this, but it is as rare as hen's teeth. Publishers are closed for a reason (a massive backlog), so adding another yet ms to that pile and attempting to 'skip the queue'--I'm not so sure about it. Nevertheless, each to their own!

How can I submit when publishers aren't open for submissions?

If there are no guidelines on a publisher's website, the standard is to submit the first three chapters and a synopsis. There are plenty of tips online when it comes to writing that synopsis. Always err on the side of succinct, though. Ditto your cover letter.

If you are writing something a lot shorter, like a picture book, you can submit the entire manuscript. DON'T submit imagery if you a submitting 'blind'. Only send the manuscript in, with a cover letter and synopsis. Don't send anything else, don't explain the background to the story, don't send in a bio or the proffering of a first born child. Keep things clean and simple. Publishers are so snowed, so if you do more than the sheer basics, you'll risk being shuffled into the Too Hard pile.

If you have a relationship with the publisher, it's okay to submit artwork samples (your own or someone else's) but please, please, don't submit illustrations that haven't been done professionally. If you are an established illustrator, you could submit roughs, but again, only if you have a direct relationship with the publisher and can ask them if they'd like to see roughs/illustrations.

If you have several components in the book, like photos or other elements like cut-outs or pop-ups, you can simply mention these in the cover letter or synopsis. Don't send them with.

If your book is non-fiction, you could send an outline with a sample chapter or two. Outlines are great for non-fiction, because they allow the publisher to see the depth and scope of the work, plus a sample of how it's actually being written.

Writing your manuscript submission cover letter

When submitting to publishers, how should I lay out my manuscript?

Remember, clean, clear, succinct, all the way. Check the publishers submission requirements as a matter of course, and get to conferences and festivals to meet them!

Good luck!

See all the questions so far ...

Saturday, 21 May 2016

National Simultaneous Storytime 2016

It's on again! National Simultaneous Storytime 2016 goes live at 11am on Wednesday 25 May 2016. Readers all over the country will be reading the same book at the same time--how cool is that?

I will be at Dickson Library in Canberra for this fabulous event, which aims to encourage kids to fall in love with reading. I'll be reading Jol and Kate Temple's sensationally funny book I Got This Hat. I'll also be reading two of my own books--Smile Cry and Tottie and Dot.

Hope to see you there! It's FREE but do register here.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Ask Tania: Being a writer is physically tough--how can I keep fit??

Dear Tania,

Being a writer is physically tough. I'm spending so much time sitting, sitting, sitting, especially when I get passionate about what I'm working on (which is often!). Not only am I putting on a little weight, I can feel my bones rusting. How can I keep fit?? How do you keep active? Do you have a routine? Any tips appreciated!


Hi, Mallory,

Oh, I love this question, and it's very timely for me right now, having come off 10 months of illustrating for my first self-illustrated book. Let's just say I'm feeling a bit rusted and pudgy! I find longer projects (like Australia Illustrated) and deadlines are the worst times of all--and not only is this period of inertia physically challenging, it absolutely takes a mental and emotional toll, too.

It took me many years to learn how to create a finer work/health balance. I would easily commit to 12 - 18 hours a day in front of my computer, most days of the week, and I never understood the concept of 'sharpening your axe', until I heard the actual 'sharpening your axe' story--and it finally made sense. That, and back pain and jeans that wouldn't zip up and a brain that had turned to mush.

Here is the story ...

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Chief Minister's Reading Challenge - school visit

One of the great joys of being a children's author, is chatting with kids about story--and hopefully, just hopefully, having them fall in love with books.

In my role as an ambassador for the Chief Minister's Reading Challenge for 2016, I get to have that chance even more than I regularly do. I also get to visit brand new schools, like Charles Weston school in the far west of Canberra--a brand new, state-of-the-art school, with fabulous kids eager to learn and grow.

I talked to them about books--about writing books, illustrating books, reading books, loving books. I talked about how much fun books can be, and how important story is. The kids were so receptive and so curious. They giggled and commented and asked questions and threw themselves straight into the pages of the books I'd brought along, the very moment they could. Now--that's what we want.

One of my favourite moments was showing them a 3D story called Jim Curious. These three little poppets (below) donned their 3D glasses, only to be met with a rather ferocious shark! They loved it--and they were so brave! (Note the little one biting her nail!)

This is what we want for kids--reactions to books. We want to take them to other places. To send them on adventures. To make them feel and think. When we do this, we not only educate, enchant and entertain, we do the very best thing we can to encourage literacy.

My other favourite part was chatting to the kids one-on-one after the presentation. Below, I'm chatting with a girl with Scottish heritage, taking her through A Scottish Year. Note the little loves, bottom right, with that fabulous 3D book!

Thank you to Lauren and Dave from the Chief Minister's office for organising this fabulous visit, and to Mr Spencer and the kids from Charles Weston for having me. Books rock!

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