Finalizing the Interior

Now that the detailed sketches are complete, the focus moves to color illustrations. I want the colors to be representative of Lake Superior and the surrounding area, but also playful. The story progresses from afternoon to evening, so I direct the illustrator to have the sky get dark gradually, setting up the final scene at dusk.

The pinnacle of the story is the sunset, and I want the page to be dramatic. The first color illustration includes a setting sun, but none of the show-stopping drama I envisioned. After a few iterations, I am satisfied – the picture matches the text. 

Choosing the font was fun! I was able to select from several options and identified one that was playful and whimsical. How satisfying to finally see the words match up with the illustrations! Not surprisingly, I needed some text edits at this point. I removed some phrases that didn’t serve the story and even added a word to add clarity. 

After spending quite a bit of time thinking of my ‘about the author’ headshot, I decided to have the illustrator draw me. I like the playful aspect of having myself illustrated, and having it created by the book illustrator made a cohesive package. 

Detailed Sketches

The storyboard is approved. Whew! 

The next task is reviewing and revising detailed sketches. These are presented to me mostly as double-page spreads – the exception is page 1, which is a single page. No words are yet associated with the sketches, so I again find myself pulling out the typed manuscript to remind myself how the text flows from page to page.

A few edits are apparent to me at first glance. For instance, in one illustration, the family is on top of the lift bridge when a ship passes underneath – far from what I intended! Also, I get my first glimpse of the clothes the illustrator used for the family. Having mom in a sheath dress and heels is far from my vision of what anyone would choose for an evening of exploration on the rocky shore of Lake Superior.

Other suggestions come to me more slowly. Upon further review, I realize that some of the seagulls look unusually small – almost like some other type of bird. Printing out each sketch, circling issues, and making comments is a helpful way for me to track my thoughts and gauge each object’s perspective within the illustration.

After several rounds of written comments and a phone conversation with the project coordinator, I approve of the detailed sketches. This portion of the process took longer than expected; we still have several steps to go! I am surprised by how many details I had to give through this process and wish I felt a stronger sense of collaboration with the illustrator. I am a first-timer in this genre and remind myself that one of my main goals is better to understand the process and make my next attempt more fluid.

Finalizing the Storyboard

The illustrator and I go through the review and comment exercise with storyboards three more times.  Round II still required some pretty detailed feedback on background scenery and lining up the illustrations with the text. There are some things that right away I realize are out of the ordinary.  For example, the dog is resting on boulders, and the family is standing on the lift bridge. These sketches don’t match my vision and are not in line with reality. 

Round III is much closer to my vision, and my comments focus on finer details. Comments center on what the characters are doing and their position on each page. For instance, in one scene, the boy and dad are looking at something, so I want them to be slightly bent; in another, mom looks a bit robotic, and I leave precise comments on how to adjust her posture. I have found photographs to be particularly helpful as they indeed are worth 1,000 words. 

I approved the round IV storyboard! Next, we are on to more detailed sketches. Looking back, I am very grateful for this process as it forced me to reflect and direct and prevented a lot of misinterpretations. 


After approving the boy and the dog character design, we move to something called ‘storyboard.’  Although this is a new term for me, it is quite standard for those operating in the space of illustrations and animation. 

I have now learned that the storyboard is the layout of the book drawn in rough sketches. It looks a bit like a comic strip. After all the work done to get the characters drawn over the last few weeks, I am initially startled to see stick figures representing the main characters!

The goal is to match the illustrations with the text and be sure the pictures match the author’s vision. This step is an essential checkpoint as even though I have a particular image in my head of the illustrations and flow of the book, there are times I have not made it clear to the illustrator. I did send some initial illustrator comments [in brackets to differentiate from the manuscript] when I submitted my story. Still, I realize now that adding more detail would have been helpful. One of the most significant modifications in this round is the ship.  I was picturing a barge that carries materials to and from the North Shore.  The illustration in this storyboard leans more toward a speedboat.

Forming comments takes quite a bit of time.  I toggle between reviewing the manuscript, viewing the storyboard illustrations, and typing comments into Basecamp.  Although time-consuming, this step forces me to think through each scene, describe what I want to see and communicate that to the illustrator. Some of the scenes already match my vision, though a few require dramatic changes.

The most satisfying part of this milestone is that I am starting to see the book take shape. The page-to-page flow of the story is evident.  If I had a way to view the text under each drawing, it would be even easier to edit and make comments.

Main tasks for this step

  • Review the 15 scenes of storyboard
  • Match them scene by scene with the manuscript and to see how they match my vision and narrative for the story
  • Develop comments on how the illustrations should be modified

Character design

I received an invitation via email to Basecamp. GetYourBookIllustrations uses Basecamp as a hub to ask questions, add comments, and share sketches and illustrations. I am alerted to new conversations and files in Basecamp via email, and I click on the link to see what’s new.  From there, I can view the latest comments and view or download files. The past conversations and data are stored, so this makes it a useful repository on conversation history as well.

Our first order of business is character design. The boy and his dog are the main characters, and we select a scene from the manuscript that has them both prominently displayed.  After just a few minor changes, the dog matches my vision.  The boy, on the other hand, is much more challenging. Round after round, we discuss age, hair color, hairstyle, eye color, clothes, age, expression, etc. Unfortunately, I find it easier to say what I don’t like then be crystal clear on my vision. In the future, I will discipline myself to have a clearer idea of what I am looking for before getting to this step to smooth this part of the process. 

Little by little, the boy begins to take shape in a way in which I can be at peace. I am trying to strike a precarious balance between playful illustrations and reality. 

After two weeks, lots of communication, and many iterations, we are ready to move to the storyboard and the other main character, Lake Superior.

Illustrations and Formatting

Combing through Fiverr and Upwork makes it clear to me there is no shortage of talented illustrators for children’s books.  However, the monumental task of finding the ‘best’ candidates and repeating the process for formatting and cover design is daunting. I spent quite a bit of time exploring the website and decided to set up a free author consultation. I was able to schedule a meeting for the next morning. 

GetYourBookIllustrations offers a one-stop-shop for illustrations, formatting, font, and cover design, as well as a variety of illustration styles from which to choose.  My consultation and additional follow up was well-organized and professional.

During the consultation we talked about my vision for the book including style and print size.  I found it difficult to explain exactly the illustration style I was going for, so we spent quite a bit of time going back and forth discussing style and looking at sketches.

After much thought I moved forward and signed the contract.  

My agreement includes

  • Illustrations – 2 single page and 14 double-page spreads
  • Formatting and design for both print and ebook versions
  • Cover design for both print and ebook. 

Up next: character design!

Revisions and Building a Website

While the manuscript is away for editing, my role turns to purchasing ISBNs and obtaining a Library of Congress number for the book.  Buying the ISBNs in bulk costs more upfront but saves money on future publications – assuming there will be future publications! Each format of the book – hardback, softcover, and digital – requires its own ISBN. The Library of Congress requires an account set up and then approval of the account prior to getting the number.  In late May 2020, the approval process took a few days, which seemed to be longer than usual and most likely due to COVID.

I need a web-based landing site for the book, so it is time to establish a website. After much thought, I chose to name my self-publishing company Lemon Drop Press and to stick with that name for the website. The name is appealing to me because it is short, easy to pronounce, easy to spell and lemon drops are a delicious treat! During this period of time I purchase the domain name, file for an LLC, and begin to build the website . 

I receive Marcy’s initial edits and begin to revise based on her feedback. We are using Google Docs, so once the document is shared it is easy to edit and respond to comments as they appear. Most of the edits were minor, but we went back and forth over a scene near the end. This was an important practice for me, clearly illustrating the need to have a fresh set of eyes reading the manuscript. 

After several rounds of editing and revisions, the manuscript is in a good place. I am ready to begin working with an illustrator.

First Draft

Staring at a blank computer screen and wondering which words will to use to start the story has, so far, been the most daunting part of this journey.  Many ideas swirl in my mind, but how to get started stumps me! I want to draw the reader into the story and also be authentic. I’m writing a quiet book, but it is also about an evening playing and exploring at the Lake Superior. I want an active opening.

Knowing I have a deadline prompts me to stay in my chair and just type.  From previous experience, I know that having something to react to and revise is better than having nothing at all, so I focus on merely starting.  Over the next two weeks, I work on the manuscript every day—mornings and evenings after my day job and on and off throughout the weekend. I continually write and revise. Sending the draft off to be edited feels both freeing and painful.  Will the story make sense?  Is it too long?

My second meeting with my coach is at the end of week two, and most of the discussion centers around the business of self-publishing.  We discuss the pros and cons of setting up an L.L.C. We discuss the process of publishing on Amazon and the importance of reviews. The book should include a website for readers ‘to learn more’ about me. At this point, such a site does not exist!  

My tasks now focus on establishing and building the website, along with other administrative functions that are necessary for publication.  Marcy, who, in addition to coaching me, is editing the book promises to be in touch with suggestions over the next few days.

Self-publishing journey: Introduction

As a way to document my journey in self publishing, I will be writing a series about the experience. This is the first post of the series.

Although this is my first experience with self-publishing, writing has always been important in my life. For instance, one of my favorite high-school projects was writing a children’s book. Hannah’s Haunted House was written and illustrated – by a very gifted middle-school classmate – in 1989, the spring of my eighth-grade year. The idea for Hannah’s Haunted House was formed from a dilapidated house we passed every day on our way to school. I recall writing and revising and holding my breath as the dot-matrix printer churned out the final product. Cutting the pages and binding them in the heavy card stock was a memorable process.

A middle school masterpiece

Over the past several years, I have consumed an enormous amount of content around side hustles.  Many piqued my interest, but when I heard Marcy Pusey talk about self-publishing children’s books, I took to action.  Several ideas for children’s books floated through my imagination, and hiring a coach spoke to my drive for efficiency. As the dark days of March 2020 wore on – daily bad news about cancelations, illnesses, the stock market – I was seeking a positive, creative outlet.  My evenings and weekends were now freed up and looked to be a clear opportunity to get started.

I contacted Marcy and we set up a coaching agreement. Our first call focused on the landscape of self-publishing and narrowing my many ideas down to one.  By the end of our first meeting, I had decided to write a ‘quiet’ book about Lake Superior.  I spent many summers exploring the area as a child and have brought my own children to Superior several times. The book will include some facts about the area, which appealed to my analytical side.

We set a 2-week deadline for a first draft. 

Next up: weeks 1-2. Where to begin?