Monday, 20 November 2017

Releasing a children's book for Christmas - are you prepared?

Ho ho ho - it's almost time for Santa to come and visit! 

And what does Santa bring to good little boys and girls? Books of course!


But when should you start marketing your Christmas themed books? Should you say 'holidays' instead of Christmas? And should your book have a festive 'message'?

Don't worry if you're asking all these questions and more; they are all relevant if you want to be a successful Christmas author. I recently teamed up with author Adam Reed to create a magical, festive themed book to rival the popular 'Elf on a Shelf' series, and he kindly took some time to give us some advice on this blog.

Adam was originally looking to start a holiday tradition with his family and only came across one option - an elf. As he looked at it and dug into the story he was taken aback by how creepy it looked, how intimidating the story was to children, and how stressful the “tradition” came to be for parents.  
With that, he struck out to create a fresh, new Christmas tradition not only for his family, but for children and families all over the world.  In doing so he vowed to take all the negatives of the elf, and turn them into positives, creating a magical story, an adorable plush, and a holiday brand that would bring a new meaning to family traditions at Christmastime for years to come.  He hopes that with REINDEER IN HERE he has done just that.


So let's start with the writing.

Writing a Christmas tale is much, much different than writing at any other time of year. The competition is already high - with some popular and classic Christmas stories dominating the market. How can you make YOUR Santa stand out from the thousands that already exist? Why would a parent choose to buy YOUR book instead of the ones that everybody already know and love?

One tip is to make sure you're original. Instead of the over-done story about Santa and the night before Christmas, why not think of a unique twist to place over the top? Perhaps Santa rides a skateboard instead of a sleigh. Perhaps Santa is female. Adam gave his story a twist by creating a whole new world of imaginary characters and traditions revolving around a brave little reindeer who saves Santa's day! And popular classics like 'The Grinch Who Stole Christmas' apply this rule to their stories too. It's what makes them sell out each year.





Another tip is to include all those Christmassy feelings that you associate with that special time of year, without being too obvious and cheesy. It's easy to fall into the trap of writing about being good for Santa, or hearing bells jingling or even seeing snow fall, but most kids hear this in every Christmas book, TV show and song already. Try thinking about what makes you feel festive instead. Maybe it's the smell of hot mulled wine, or having to wear knitted mittens. Write about the tastes, smells and sounds of Christmas that you often overlook or take for granted and you're sure to create a vibe that excited children can't resist. 

Christmas words are, of course, going to be in your book, but some authors struggle in their attempt to make their book appeal to everyone. It's important not to alienate children but at the same time you have to be true to what you are writing about. Have a think about exactly who is going to buy your book and let that be the decider on your language. If you're writing a religious book about the importance of traditional Christmas values and Jesus's role at that time of year, then your audience will be different to a book that is writing about elves and presents. You can't market it to every single child in the world, because they aren't all the same, but you can use language and illustrations to make your book diverse and relevant. If your book isn't a traditional Christmas book, then you can still create that festive feeling in your illustrations instead. Adam's book uses a bit of both to really capture the magic of December.

"If you look at the illustrations, we really tried to make Christmas unique and magical on every level. While there are traditional Christmas colors, there are a lot of very bright unexpected colors. I wanted the North Pole to be magical, I wanted the illustrations to pop off the page and I think we accomplished that.  Early copies of the book have been reviewed extremely positive, and children seem to be reacting to the bright colors, and magical feel of the entire story and visuals.  It was a very deliberate decision to design it that way."




So you've written your story and you're sure it's a winner! Now it's time to cash in on the crazy Christmas sales. Here is my biggest piece of advice I can give you;

PLAN YOUR CHRISTMAS BOOK DURING THE SUMMER

It seems strange to be thinking about Christmas when it's sunny outside, but please don't underestimate this advice. As an illustrator I am inundated with requests to illustrate Christmas books during October and November and unfortunately I have to turn most away by explaining that they're just too late. Aside from the illustrations taking many months to complete, editing, formatting and publishing will eat away at your deadline so the sooner you can start the better. Adam knows this all too well. He says;

"The whole process was stressful and the launch is also stressful because its been two years of work to get here. Add to that that my wife just gave birth to our second child, and was on bed rest for weeks…it was the perfect storm of madness.  But I also know my personality, and I thrive under pressure and stress, it just motivates me even more to succeed one way or another.  
Ideally I wanted to do it in early November as I feel that most people start planning for Christmas in early November, but it was a very layered process to get the book written, illustrated, and edited — and then an even more intense process to find a packager, a plush maker, design both the plush and the packaging, then put them all together and get them to amazon in time for the holidays. It was almost an impossible task but I pulled it off."

So plan well ahead and expect your book to take longer than you thought. After all, it's better to be early than late when it comes to Christmas sales! Most parent start their Christmas shopping in November, but some start as early as September - so that means you should aim to have your book finished and ready for sale at the end of August! Try to make the most of sales and start pitching as soon as the cold nights start setting in. When you are advertising your book, remember that while kids may be your target readers - it's the parents who will be buying. Try to aim your advertisements at parents and families buying your books as gifts for children. 


Writing and marketing are huge tasks, but here are some other points you should be thinking about too;

The book's message.
Just because it's Christmas doesn't mean you can't apply all the usual rules of writing a story for children. Are you teaching a life lesson or just having a fun story with a twist at the end? there should definitely be a reason for your character's actions - just like any other time of year. Avoid pages that don't progress the story and make sure your plot is full of action and events to keep your reader's interested.

Illustrations.
What kind of illustrations are you looking for? They play a big role in picture books and you want to make sure they're clean, professional and appealing to kids. If you're looking for Christmas illustrations, make sure your illustrator has had experience drawing snowflakes or Christmas trees.

Research.
Do your homework! If you're writing about Reindeer like Adam did, make sure you know what shape their hoofs make in the snow or what their diet is. Including facts will make your story more believable and children will pick up on mistakes - so don't wing it!





Thankyou for reading, I hope this blog helped you write a Christmas tale that will be loved year after year after year! If you're looking for an illustrator for your Christmas tale, you can email me at izzybean@izzybean.co.uk and I'd be happy to discuss your project.

You can buy Adam's book as a beautiful box set that includes a Reindeer plush toy here; http://reindeerinhere.com/available-black-friday/

You can also find more about Adam's campaign - ShelfTheElf on his website here; http://reindeerinhere.com

Merry Christmas!










Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Illustrating bubbles - Adobe Photoshop Tutorial



Say 'hello' to Norman!

Norman loves swimming, talking to fish and exploring sunken ships, but Norman is currently missing a few bubbles. 

Bubbles are one of those things that seem like they should be really easy to draw but actually are quite difficult. They're moving, reflective, translucent balls of air and trying to draw one without it looking like a white circle is definitely a challenge. Here's my tutorial on how I create a good-looking bubble using Adobe Photoshop! 



Step One - The Outline

Using the tools panel, select the paintbrush tool. I always use a hard round brush and set the size to 3 and the hardness to 100%. Your size might differ if your canvas is a different size to mine, so play around until you can create a line of similar width to mine.

It's worth noting that I draw with a Wacom tablet and keep the Opacity Pressure tool on so that the lighter I press the less of a line appears. 

With white as your colour, draw a circle. Don't worry if it's a bit wobbly as bubbles usually are! 








Step Two - The Centre

With the paintbrush tool again, this time select a soft round brush. Set the size a lot bigger at 95 and the hardness a lot less at 0%

At the top of the Photoshop panel there will be two options; Opacity and Flow. Set the opacity to around 50% but leave the flow at 100%

Now fill in the bubble. The tip here is to fill in about half of the bubble randomly, using two or three strokes. I let my strokes overlap and one of my strokes was more of a 'dot' than an actual stroke but you can play around to create a unique bubble for you.





Step Three - Delete the middle

It seems silly to delete what we just did, but this makes a nice round middle for our bubble and gives it some depth. 

In the tools panel select the Eraser tool and set the brush to a soft round brush the same as we just used but with a bigger size. The size wants to be big enough to delete the middle of your bubble in one click but not too big that it deletes some of the white centre we just made. You should end up with something like this;



Step Four - Add some highlights

Again, select the hard round paintbrush with a hardness of 100. My size is 72 here, a bit bigger than our outline. The Opacity should be around 50% again and the flow stays at 100%.

You might find slightly different settings work better for you, which is fine!


We are now adding some highlights to our bubble. I like to change the highlights on each bubble so they are all different, but usually the top has the most highlight and a few bits elsewhere. I also selected the eraser again and with a smaller size (but the same settings as I used before) I deleted some more bits of the bubble next to my highlights so they stood out a bit more.


Step Five - Add some colour

Using the same settings as we did for the highlights, just change the colour. 

I used pink because Norman is purple and the bubble is reflecting Norman's colour. you should select a colour which is a lighter or more washed-out version of whatever the bubble is in front of or near. 

Make sure you don't fill too much of the bubble with highlight and colours (we still want to see through it!) and don't forget to change the colour depending on the bubble's surroundings.




And there you have it! The more bubbles you create, the faster and easier it will be.

You can copy and paste the bubble and change the size to create lots of little bubbles, or just play around with the process to make oblong and wonky bubbles - feel free to be creative! They really look effective when placed over objects like Norman's body. If you put any bubbles in the background, try turning their Opacity down to make them harder to see. (They will have to be on their own layer to do this.)





I hope you enjoyed the tutorial - have fun making bubbles! Bye Norman!