My name is Andrew Buller and I am author of the children’s picture book series The Rhymers. Within this piece I share my writing journey, as well as the tools and techniques I have used to successfully self-publish my books; with currently over 50 books on Amazon.
The Art of Self-Publishing Video
Follow your calling
I’ve always wanted to write. I’ve always loved drawing. I’ve always loved stories. I’ve always been a child at heart.
Put all that together, give it a good shake and a stir, and what emerges is the desire to create my own children’s picture book series.
Simple? Not quite!
Back in 2011 I first had the idea for The Rhymers, my children’s picture book series. I had been writing furiously for a number of months prior to this, countless ideas buzzing around my head. My notebook was never far away. Then one early February morning, at just after 4am, ideas for little characters, for The Rhymers, for initially Crash and Dash, popped into my head. I was awake, wide awake, a rush of excitement. Grab the notebook, scribble, doodle, let the thoughts tumble from the mind and onto the page. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, how perfect the prose is…Capture it, whatever you do capture it. Then a moment to pause, to take in and survey the scrawl across the page; quiet satisfaction, relief, that I’ve done justice to the thought, to the imagination spark.
The hard graft
From there the hard work begins. Many of us have ideas for stories; I know I have them all the time. And I know that in the past I would often bore others with regular talk of them. But I was determined this time to not just talk, but act. I’ve drifted for large parts of my life, not really fulfilling the God-given potential within me. But suddenly I had a deep sense of wanting that to change, to produce something of worth, something that would last beyond my lifetime and have a positive impact on the lives of others. I began to get serious with my writing. I began to devote all my spare time to my craft, visiting libraries, bookshops, immersing myself in picture books and books of other genres too. I began to read extensively on the art of writing for children. I bought myself a copy of The Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, a must for all wannabe authors. I sought the advice of other writers. I kept writing and drawing, crafting my characters, my stories, and the world in which the characters would live.
2015 – The game changer
From the initial ideas of 2011 until 2014 my writing and drawing was really a hobby, wanting to be a career. I had part-time work to pay the bills and then wrote and drew in all the spare time I could find. But somehow I still wasn’t getting very far. I knew what I truly wanted to do. I knew that I needed a full-time focus. And then at the latter end of 2014, my current part-time work came to an end. I couldn’t seem to find other employment, yet I knew deep down what I wanted to do. Blessed with a small amount of savings, the amazing support of my parents and the determination to be incredibly frugal with money, it was time to finally give the writing, the artwork, the time and space it needed, it deserved.
My work at the University of Kent through 2014 had opened my eyes. I was using the Adobe suite to produce high-quality booklets. I could use these tools for my own work, for my writing. The doors were opening up. I couldn’t have wished to enter the self-publishing world at a better time. Amazon’s CreateSpace was redefining the marketplace. There was now a print-on-demand service that meant no huge capital investment. There was a way to finally produce high-quality, full-colour, complex layout books yourself. Amazing! The rest of this piece explains how.
The Adobe Suite
I can’t stress enough how important the decision to purchase the Adobe Professional Creative Cloud suite has been to my business. This is a professional product used by professionals and if you are considering self-publishing, taking on a significant amount of the design work yourself, then you need a product fit-for-purpose. I’m sure there are other very good products out there, but I don’t think many can rival the breadth and depth of the Adobe suite. The great thing about this product now is that for a monthly subscription you get all the product upgrades, which keeps your software cutting edge, something very important to the complex needs of children’s picture book production.
My workflow – writing
Within this post I will use the example of the production of my book for Mubble Pup, Rhyme Island’s loveable dizzy-leg-sick dog, to illustrate the processes I go through.
The early stages of my story writing can take many forms from scribbled notes on the backs of envelopes, plot ideas spread across my writing journals, to detailed story boards and written up work in Microsoft Word. It is only when I feel confident enough in a well-developed story plot that I open up Adobe InDesign to begin adding the final words for a story.
InDesign is where I do all my book layout work. Over time I have developed a template that works for each of my stories. However, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of taking your time with this stage – choosing the correct font, the font size, the flow of pages, how the illustrations will interact with the words and many other elements. Getting this right at the beginning saves so much time in the long-run.
Each of my Rhymers’ stories have 18 double-page spreads. There is text on one side of each double-page spread and this I will now begin to populate with my story. Each spread represents a box from my storyboard, the board that gives the details of both text and picture ideas. This is where I also take great care in how the words and pictures will interact. When you engage with a picture book there are three different experiences; one where you just hear the words read to you, one where you may just look at the pictures and the third and most magical of all, where the words and pictures combine, to give something much more, where the fullness of the humour comes in, where you spot the story’s subtleties and sub-plots, things you may not notice until the second or third reading. I love this part of the creative process!
My workflow – illustration
Only when I am happy with the text for my Rhymers’ stories do I begin the process of illustration. Illustrating before being sure of the story only leads to hours of wasted work!
Step 1: I am delighted with the fact that my illustration work begins with the humble pencil, pen and paper. All my drawings are broken down into elements. When drawing my characters I will draw body, eyes, mouth, nose, hands and feet all separately, as shown by the different parts of Mubble Pup below.
Step 2: Each page of pen drawings is scanned in as an A4 black and white image at 300 dpi (dots per inch).
Step 3: Each scanned page is then opened up in Adobe Photoshop and converted to a grayscale image. This page is then repeatedly opened and each of the pictures cropped and saved as individual files. The careful naming and filing of these images is of paramount importance as I now have thousands of these jpeg files.
Step 4: Now the really creative and fun part begins! I get to play in Adobe Illustrator. This is such a powerful tool and I know I am only scratching the surface in my usage of it. The image trace is where the magic happens. I open my grayscale drawing from Photoshop and choose “Image Trace”. This then converts this line drawing into a vector graphic, meaning that it is expressed as a mathematical formula, allowing the image to be scaled to whatever size you like without losing quality – awesome!
Step 5: My characters now begin to take shape as a series of these image traces, as modelled by Mubble Pup below. He, along with the rest of my characters, with be then saved as a separate Illustrator file, to be called upon as needed (which is regularly as he manages to pop up in every story!)
Step 6: The Live Paint tool is where colour gets added – I love this part! Because we are dealing with vector graphics, the adding of colour is very precise and leaves none of the white spaces that sometimes appear if using other less sophisticated illustration tools.
Step 7: In order to produce the full-colour illustrations for my books, the use of layers is the other key element of this work. Each part of the background scenery, the trees, the bushes, the sky, the sun, the clouds, the characters, the objects they are holding and so on are all held on individual layers. The power of this is that you reorder and reuse to your heart’s content. I could go on at length about this part of the process, but for now let us assume we have our finished illustration.
Writing and illustrations combine
Heading back into InDesign and to the written story, it is time to place the finished illustration alongside the appropriate text. This is the first chance to see truly how the two work together. There are really important guide lines in InDesign that warn you if key elements of your drawings are getting too near to the edge of the pages, or to the gutter of the book. Keeping inside the pink box will ensure you never lose key elements of your illustration when the book is printed.
The workflow between Illustrator and InDesign is beautiful here. If you decide to make further changes to your drawing you can do so in Illustrator and re-save the file. Upon returning to InDesign, you will see an exclamation mark warning in the top-left corner of the picture, indicating that these changes have been made. By double-clicking on this warning sign, the illustration updates in your book layout – it’s as simple as that!
This process of adding illustrations alongside the text continues until the interior of the book is complete.
Adobe InDesign is also where the cover design takes place. The book dimensions I choose, the type of paper and the number of pages within the book all impact upon the final dimensions for the cover design. Amazon’s CreateSpace offer a really helpful mathematical formula to help you work this out, but it does take a little time to get your head around it.
One of the most powerful parts of InDesign is the millimetre precision that you have with the cover layout. The guides are again invaluable, ensuring that your key text and illustration elements do not disappear off the edges of the book or wrap around the spine.
With both book interior and cover files now completed and exported as print pdf documents I am ready to upload Mubble Pup’s book to Amazon.
Amazon’s CreateSpace is an incredibly powerful and user-friendly tool that I would highly recommend to authors considering self-publishing. The step-by-step guide for uploading your book gives the author total control on everything from the book description, the categories to include your book under, to the pricing and distribution channels. I could elaborate at length about each of these, but this is probably best suited to another post.
One of the other great advantages of Amazon’s CreateSpace is the fact that it generates a free ISBN for you. Given that I have produced over 30 books during 2015 that has saved me a lot of money! With this ISBN I am able to also generate a free bar code image for the back cover of my books using an excellent website called bookow.
When each of the steps within CreateSpace’s file uploading guide have been complete, I am ready to submit my files for review. There is then up to a 24 hour wait to see if your files meet Amazon’s publishing requirements. If they do, you will subsequently receive a message saying so and an encouragement to proof your book, either by ordering a physical proof or by viewing it digitally. For the first few books I ordered the physical proof, but as I have become experienced with the process I no longer need to and rely on a final check of my book within the digital proofer.
When all final checks have been made I am ready to approve my proof and Mubble Pup’s story is ready to be released onto Amazon! This truly is the most exciting and satisfying part of the process. One click of the mouse and away we go! The chance to share the exciting news with Facebook friends, all done with an incredibly simple social share – brilliant! Amazon say it may take 3 working days for the book to appear on their bookshelves, but in my experience it is only ever hours!
So Mubble Pup – your story is now available!!!! Mubble Pup is very excited about it and his muddled message to you is that…“I really hop you lick my book!”
All of my stories are also available as ebooks, as well as the print format. This involves creating a slightly different file in Adobe InDesign, but uses the majority of the document from the interior print story file. When I have a completed pdf of the ebook I am ready to use Amazon’s Kindle Kids’ Book Creator to convert the pdf into a mobi file required for the Kindle devices. Producing children’s fixed layout ebooks has been an incredibly challenging process for many years, but Amazon’s Kindle Kids’ Book Creator simplifies this greatly. I will elaborate on this much more in a separate post.
Once the mobi file has been generated it is ready to be uploaded to the Kindle Direct Publishing site, following a very similar step-by-step process to that undertaken in CreateSpace for the print book. You again have total control over pricing, book descriptions and categories.
So Mubble Pup – your ebook is now available!!!! Happy reading 🙂
Amazon’s Author Page
Amazon gives you the ability to create your own author page and it is something I would recommend. Again the interface is very user-friendly and enables you to organise all your books together in one place. You can provide an author biography, upload photographs, and videos (I have a couple for my stories), as well as links to your Twitter feed and details of upcoming author events. Behind the scenes you can track customer reviews and sales ranks.
Contacting Andrew Buller
This is a brief overview of what is a complex, but incredibly rewarding self-publishing process. If you would like to find out more then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I offer a consultancy service and would love to assist you with your creative project in any way I can.