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AN IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW
March, 2013


     Sometimes I get asked to do interviews for people's school projects, magazines, and such. This interviewer, Barbara, had done her homework, so I was willing - and as it turned out, I was feeling rather verbiose. Seeing as it takes a lot of time to answer questions like these thoughtfully, I thought I'd include it on my website for any future interviewees to pull from as well. Barbara's questions are in bold (with her permission, of course).

     Thank you again for being willing to be interviewed. I have been looking at your website, reading your blogs and articles on other people’s blogs. Many of the questions that I might have asked are already covered online! But I have found a number of things that I want to understand better, and others that I am curious about—I hope not too many!
     I read “The Snowball Effect,” your guest post on Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog, “Cynsations,” in which you said that “In these economic times, publishers have become interested in creators who already have a platform—a public profile, persona, or following. . . . I’ve been working on my platform since before I was published.” What content did you post before you were published as a children’s book illustrator? Samples of your previous work as “in-house” illustrator? Uncommissioned work that you had done as samples of your style? Illustrations of the weekly topic on Illustration Friday?

     Yes - all of these! When I was starting out, I was still trying to discover what my visual voice looked like. I found the trick is to create like crazy and let my natural inclinations and habits (like color choices, light direction, drawing style) percolate to the surface until my style began to appear. I was also trying to sell my services as an illustrator - an online portfolio is essential for that. (One that is constantly being updated.)

     How do publishers come in contact with/find out about you, your work and your brand? Do they search illustrators’ websites, blogs, sites such as Illustration Friday?
     Publishers are finding illustrators in more creative ways these days. Of course there are the illustration search sites like picture-book.com, childrensillustrators.com, and art representative sites like thebrightagency.com and such. But they also find illustrators through etsy, pinterest, instagram, Illustration Friday etc. I advertise myself by sending out postcards to a very select mailing list 3 to 4 times per year along with a monthly art sample via email.

     I Liked your Facebook page earlier this week. How is the content different than that on your blog? How do you draw people to your Facebook page—not just your friends, but possibly Art Directors and Editors who might be interested in hiring you? Do you think the FB page helps you specifically in getting more work, or is it all part of “the snowball effect,” a few more flakes or crystals?
     While it looks like I am very active on FB, I do have a secret work-around. I use twitterfeed.com to drop my rss feed from my blog into FB and my FB feed into twitter. And yes, I do think the visibility of that feed has dropped recently in FB. But I also post things on FB that I don't put on my blog - more seat of the pants stuff - and those posts do seem to have more visibility. For instance, I posted about a story I had just written with a very funny name. Almost immediately, one of my former editors tweeted me and said "Send it to me!" That alone was enough to keep me a proponent of FB and twitter for life! (Make sure all comments sent to you via FB/twitter come to your in-box.)

     I heard an interview with a journalist on NPR, in which he said that the Likes and Shares from his thousands of Facebook followers have fallen off drastically, even though responses have continued strong on other social media. Facebook is now charging to promote his posts, and if he declines to pay, not as many people ever see his posts. Have you run into that difficulty?
     How do you use Twitter?

     I do check my twitter account once a day to see if anybody is trying to talk to me or about me. I suppose that's called ego-surfing, but I also want to engage with people and that's a good way to do it.

     Coloring Page Tuesdays are delightful! How have they helped you? Does the number of subscribers generate interest from publishers, or does it sell books already published? Or both?
     Thank you! Well, it definitely helped establish my platform. And I know I wouldn't have nearly as many subscribers (over 3,000) to my newsletter if it was all about me - I needed to offer them something. Most of my school visits occur either through word-of-mouth or because they use my coloring pages. And librarians who email me are often turned onto my books because of them. But most of all, I do them for the warm fuzzies. Publishing is a tough, tough business (despite the romantic reputation). When it's beating me up, I still get lovely emails from teachers, librarians, crafters, and parents thanking me for my images, telling me stories about who uses them, etc. They can be a wonderful boost in an otherwise dreary day. I can't imagine ever giving them up.

     On the pages on your website that promote a specific book, such as Lula’s Brew, you also have a recipe for readers to make; on the Soap, Soap, Soap page, you have craft activities, instructions for making bubbles, and recipes for Mud Pie Dessert and Cookies. Do you create all that content yourself, or do you have an assistant(s) who does that for you?
     HA! No assistants! Although Linda Ragsdale, a friend and fellow book creator, did create the Dizzy Ducks and Finger Dancing Duck activities for Soap. As far as the recipes - I test them all for the sake of research. *urp*

     I know a writer (of Christian-oriented fiction and non-fiction for adolescent girls) here in Nashville, who also does a lot of workshops, who has an assistant who handles all of her social media and other marketing. I think it’s probably not her strong suit, and having someone else do that part of the work gives her more time to write and teach. Do you do all of this yourself?
     So far, for me, it's a one-woman show. But I come from a marketing background, so it's not difficult for me. It is, however, extremely time consuming. The joke around our house is hubbie saying "Will you stop marketing and just write!?" I hate to admit, he's right. Marketing is how I procrastinate on my creative work.

     How do you manage your time? Do you plan a certain amount of time in a day or week to devote to marketing (blogging, writing articles, making connections and sharing others’ work online, etc.), and other blocks of time to current writing and illustration projects? How much time do you spend on work you have already contracted to do, vs coming up with new projects on your own?
     It really depends on what is going on and what's yelling the loudest at the time. Contract work is always #1. I never miss a deadline (a symptom from my graphic design days). But I try to divide my day if I can - respond to emails and do any marketing in the morning. I also work on picture book manuscripts in the morning - tweak, tweak, tweak. (I do sketches for them while watching tv at night - that's unwind time.) After lunch is novel time, unless something else takes precedence. I also do a ton of volunteer work through SCBWI as the Southern Breeze Illustrator Coordinator and as a Board Member for the Georgia Center for the Book. Those eat up a lot of time too. I don't know how I do it honestly. I work almost every day. But I can't imagine doing anything else. And somehow it all works out.

     As an illustrator starting out now with a pea-sized snowball, where would you start? What is it essential to do? (I have a website and Facebook page, but have never thought I had enough words to say about my work in order to blog.)
     Consistency is key. Whatever you do decide to do, do it regularly. It's the old advertising adage - it takes people seven times of seeing your ad before they actually notice it. Consistency works for so many things in life - exercise, diet, marketing, etc.!

     In “Marketing—The Snowball Effect,” you say that when you started out, you were trying to reach an agent or publisher. Once published, you needed to reach people who buy and sell your books, such as sales reps, booksellers, librarians, parents and community leaders—that they are the people who make things happen for you. How much of that kind of work does your publisher do on behalf of you and your book, or is it all up to you? Publishing isn't like it used to be (or is for the really big names in the biz).
     These days, most of it is up to you. And I'm still reaching out to publishers too. If you look at it all at one time, it will overwhelm you. So don't. Think of it as a pyramid - one stone at a time. If you keep working at it regularly, it will build. I still remember the moment I decided to get into this business officially. I started doing research and read about how hard it was (that it can take 10 years or more to get published) and about all the effort I'd have to put into it, and (like you, I imagine) I was overwhelmed. But I put my hands on my desk, took a deep breath, and said, "Okay, here's Day 1!" 12 years later, it doesn't seem that long ago.

     How did you first get work as a children’s book illustrator? Did you get an agent, or did you contact all the publishers yourself? Were agents interested in someone who had not already been published? Do most publishers of children’s books accept—or even look at—illustrators’ portfolios that don’t come through agents?
     I started sending out mailings almost immediately. Create something good - make it into a postcard, or a flier, or a sample page, or brochure - whatever. The first ones I created on my home printer. Heavy gloss paper can go a long way! I became the Queen of marketing without a budget. All it cost me back then was time. It took three years from that "Day 1" to get my first contract. That's actually considered pretty fast in this biz. It was in direct response to a mailing. I did have an agent back in there, but I don't remember the time or circumstances well enough to relay the details. Suffice it to say, I really wasn't quite there yet with my craft and we amicably parted after a few years. Thing is - as illustrators - we have an 'in' that writers don't. Even closed houses (not open to manuscripts without an agent) will accept art samples. I also went to New York once for the New York SCBWI Portfolio Show at the Society of Illustrators. It felt like a rite of passage. On another trip to New York, I made appointments to see various art directors and editors. It was an illuminating and educational trip!

     How did you move from illustrating books written by other authors to writing and illustrating your own? Had you always wanted to write, or had story ideas bouncing around your head? Did submitting work to the same publishers who had hired you as an illustrator make that easier?
     Since my art ability showed up first, I was labeled an artist early on. It took many years for me to realize that all I ever drew were the stories that filled my head. I took Creative Writing in college, but even I could tell I was horrible. But the dream had begun. I remember going to a psychic (the one and only time) for my 25th birthday. I asked her if I would ever be a successful children's book author/illustrator. She said I would be. So I know the dream goes back at least that far. Although, I suspect I've wanted to do it my entire life - I just might not have had a definition for it.
     My first book as author too was with a publisher I had just illustrated a book for - so yes, that made it easier to break in. My second book as author too, Lula's Brew, had her own crazy path, so I'm not sure she falls into the sort of answer you're seeking. But I have news! My first mid-grade novel just sold!!! So by Spring 2014, I will officially be a novelist too!

     Do you continue to be hired to illustrate books written by others?
     Gosh, I hope so! The market has been very tough through this economy for most illustrators (me included), but things seem to be finally turning around. I'm currently writing and illustrating four picture books about nutrition for a children's hospital - they'll be handed out to young mothers. It's definitely a feel good thing to be working on.

     Do you now make up entire dummies with text and sketches to submit to publishers, or just send them a description of the story with only a sketch or two? Do editors or publishers now come to you with ideas they would like you to work on, or do you generate those yourself and pitch to them? Do you still get rejections?
     Oh gads - I love that last question so I'm going to answer it first. YES, I STILL GET REJECTIONS!!!! I get rejections almost daily. But I also send work out almost daily - more than ever before. In fact, some of the biggest names in the business get some of the most rejections! That is why this business is so tough. Even as you get better at your craft, there isn't always room for you. It takes a thick skin to stay in this business, and sometimes it still gets to you. That is why I lean on the fans of my coloring pages so much.
     On dummies... I'm actually writing an article right now for the SCBWI Bulletin and the Illustrator Coordinator Handbook about creating picture book dummies. So, if you don't mind, I'll hold off on answering that one and refer you to the article when I'm finished.

     I had intended to ask why you published Lula’s Brew first as an app, then an ebook, before a print book, but having read “Getting it Backwards: From App to Book” on digitalbookworld.com, and your article on Janice Hardy’s blog, I think I understand it now. Do you see that “backwards” process as the future of children’s book publishing? Do you see a continuing place for print children’s books, or do you think they will give way entirely to ebooks and apps? Any other thoughts on the future of children’s books?
     I do think ebooks and apps are going to have more and more impact on our market, but I don't think books for kids will ever go away. Lula's Brew is my big experiment book. It's the story I use to try new things and new publishing models. I've learned a lot from that book's journey - and I've been invited to speak at numerous schools and conferences about it since I was one page ahead in the manual. The big barrier I see to apps as the new future of books is searchability. Right now, there is not a good search mechanism in place for ebooks/apps that don't already have a following (like Sesame Street and such). That may change in the future, but until it does, it's a market I regard skeptically.

     Did you provide the text and illustrations as digital files and the app developer designed the app, or is designing apps another of your skills? Did you receive as much income from the sales of the app and ebook as you would have from the same level of sales if Lula’s Brew had been first published as a print book?
     I worked with a developer to do Lula's Brew, the app. I was able to do the ebook versions myself. The income from the app has been pretty good, although nowhere near what an average print book makes. As for print - we have yet to see how she does there. She'll be relaunched this Fall.

     Did you submit the dummy of Lula’s Brew to print publishers after you had already had some success with Paco and the Giant Chile Plant (2008), the Ready for. . . series (2008), and Soap, Soap, Soap (2009)? Did those successes not give you credibility with publishers?
     Hm. I'm not sure I remember the order of things - but published or not, a book is considered on its own merits. Publishers also look at sales numbers for previous titles nowadays, which is a rather new phenomenon in publishing. Previous sales numbers used to not matter quite as much as they do now. But now they matter so much, some people believe you have a better chance as a debut author/illustrator than you do as an established talent with modest sales.

     What current projects are you working on? What is a project you would love to tackle?
     I've been writing my third novel - in the thick of a major revision - and have several picture books in the works, as well as an article for the SCBWI Bulletin. I also have the children's hospital books I mentioned, and I'll be working on revisions for the sold novel soon. :) I love tackling all of them - I'm living my passion.

      When you are creating new books for which you are both author and illustrator, what comes first, words or pictures?
     Sometimes a character will come first - begging for a story. But more often, the story comes first.


     I read that you had designed fabrics for children’s clothes in your earlier career. Do you have any plans or desire to design toys? Have you ever explored animation, or other avenues?
     I did and still love to create patterns for the endpapers in my books. I'd love to give a go at designing a plushie to go with my books! One of my earlier jobs was as an animator for the Stone Mountain Laser Show. So, I did look into animation for a time, but it really wasn't my thing. I like books.


     Do you work from photos of children, or do you ever use live models for sketches? Or do you photograph them yourself? Is there any kind of drawing that you find more difficult than others (facial expressions, movement, backgrounds, things like cars)?
     I tend to prefer the wonky way things come out of my brain, so I only use reference photos after I've come up with my concept to make sure I didn't make any glaring mistakes. Using references definitely changes the look of my artwork. Sometimes for the better, but more often than not it kills any life that was there. Landscapes are difficult for me - I tend to be more figurative with my work.

     What are your goals? (Winning a Caldecott medal?)
     Of course! Although, I recently read a definition of success that I really liked: To be able to get up every day and do what I love. That's pretty ideal. Of course, it would be nice if I had an award-winning best-seller too!

     Do you do any kind of personal creative work other than children’s book illustration?
     I tend to make silly monstery things - plushies and troll sculptures. You can see some of them HERE. I also have an etsy store for my trolls at MY ETSY STORE.

     How did you get involved in Spanish-language children’s books (Soap, Soap, Soap; Paco and the Giant Chile Plant), with Hispanic characters? Were you asked by a publisher, or has that been a special interest of yours all along? Do you speak Spanish, and did you write both the English and Spanish versions?
      I've always been fascinated by other languages and was a French exchange student in college. When Raven Tree Press approached me with Paco I thought it was the perfect chance/excuse to learn Spanish. I took two years of intense classes at the Latin American Association here in Atlanta and it changed my life. I felt like I'd been adopted. I met Spanish-speaking people from all over the world (not just Mexico!) and learned tons. I'm not fluent, but on a good day I can hold a conversation. Along with my rusty French, I also know a few phrases in Italian, German, Hebrew, Amharic, and Swahili too.

     How has growing up and living in the South informed your work? Do you think that living in Georgia has been a help or hindrance?
     After working on The 12 Days of Christmas in Georgia and being on the Board for the Georgia Center for the Book helping to form the "25 Books All Young Georgians Should Read" list - I have fallen in love with my state. We have so much talent here and lots to be proud of. In our industry it's all about New York, New York, New York. It's nice to realize that my own home town and the South have a lot to shout about too. But what has definitely informed my writing has been the mountains of North Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The Southern Appalachians have a string tied to my heart, I can't stay away. I wrote about it for a friend's blog a while back.

     I loved what you said in “How Do I Get Published?”: “In my opinion, people need three things to survive—food, shelter, and wonder. Storytellers have been providing that wonder throughout history.” Is the ability to do that the most rewarding thing about illustration, the thing you most love? What frustrates you? What keeps you going?
     Oh thanks! The ability to create art is gratifying, but the ability to create joy with my efforts is even better. The smiles are what keep me going! The most frustrating thing is I feel I have so many stories to share, but there's not enough room for them all in today's market.

     I was very interested in your technique—sketching first in pencil, then scanning those sketches into Photoshop and working on placement and composition, adding flat color, then pulling it into Painter for rendering—then back into Photoshop for color adjustment. I have seen beautiful, well-crafted illustrations painted in Photoshop, and some nicely rendered illustrations done in Adobe Illustrator with the use of gradient mesh. What appeals to you about Painter? Did you teach yourself to use Painter?
     I should update that in my message - although it was accurate at the time. These days I still do the sketches by hand, but do all my rendering in Photoshop. That may change at some point - I miss the brushes in Painter. But I'll see what the next version of Photoshop has before I go there again. PS just keeps getting better and better!

Wowsa Barbara - you asked some seriously thorough questions! And it's obvious you really did spend a lot of time at my site - I'm flattered. It took a few days to get through them all - but I hope my responses give you the information you need. Best of luck on your paper and I hope you get an "A"! Cheers and happy drawing, e
All Artwork © Elizabeth O. Dulemba -  Y'all play nice, Okay?
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