Just how long does it take to make a picture book?

People sometimes want to know: Just how long does it take to make a picture book?


And the answer, of course, is “it depends.”

How long it will take to create and publish a picture book depends, of course, on what you consider the start and the finish. If you start with that moment when you first had a little flash of recognition that you might have an idea that could be a picture book, and end with the day you see your idea as a glorious hard-cover, full-color picture book in your neighborhood bookstore—that might take as long as ten years. It did for me. It might take longer!

If you are both the author and the illustrator, it also depends on all of this: how long it takes to go from idea to story; how many times you are willing to write the same idea in different ways; how many times you are willing to share it with your critique group, at conferences, with teachers, with wise people, with your family, with friends, with publishing professionals; how many bad sketches you are willing to make; how many dummies you put together; how courageous you are; who you know; how the economy is doing; how patient you are; if you have an agent; how hard you work; how willing you are to scrap it all and start over; how many unpredictable bombs life throws your way; how determined you are to have your idea published!

Then, if after all of that, you are lucky enough to get your foot in the door, and actually sell your idea to a publisher, it depends on who your editor is, who your art director is, how long it takes to get the story details right, how long it takes to create the art, how long it takes to fix the art, how long it takes to get the cover right. And then it takes at least another year, because your book has to be proofed, and approved, transmitted overseas to be printed, and then it has to make its slow, leisurely way back to your favorite bookstore on the slow boat from China—literally.

Is it worth it? Totally. Take it from me, it's worth every short minute.

This particular book is really my first born, the one I learned on, even though it is the second to be published. It’s been a long journey to this day. Thanks go out to a million people who had anything to do with this book being published. But the following people played a direct role in making my dream come true, whether they know it or not: Patti Lee Gauch, SCBWI Western Washington, Margaret Nevinski, Dawn Simon, SCBWI Don Freeman Committee, Michael Stearns, Elizabeth Parisi, SCBWI International, Grace Maccarone, Holly McGhee, Elena Giaovinazzo, Kate Fletcher, Heather McGee, Kevan Attebury, Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Wendy Wahman, Ben Clanton, and my patient and supportive family. 

Today is the release day for I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard. It takes a village, a team, a family, and a lot of good friends to make a picture book! Thank you all so much!

Welcome to The Writing Process: an Author/Illustrator Blog Tour!

Oh hello. Welcome to the Writing Process Author/Illustrator Tour!

I’ve tried to tidy up a little around the house and studio, but you may as well know--I put more effort into my children’s books than I do into housekeeping, so…just ignore the dog-hair dust bunnies, and those spiders over there are just part of the fabric of the place, literally.

You are here because I was tagged to join the The Writing Process Blog Tour by my good friend and critique partner Elizabeth Rose Stanton, who you will know as the creator of the amazing Henny. A big thanks to her for passing the baton to me. It's always good to have a reason to tidy up!


Beth and I have a crazy amount of stuff in common, including these three things: we both have degrees in architecture, we are both married to architects, and we both assign human-qualities to our favorite white chickens! 

This is my late hen, Alice, passing on dangerous secrets to Hedgehog, shortly before being eaten by the bandit, Racoon.

This is my late hen, Alice, passing on dangerous secrets to Hedgehog, shortly before being eaten by the bandit, Racoon.

On to the tour!

What am I currently working on?

I just launched my first book as an author and an illustrator, which is really over-the-moon exciting!! It's published by Candlewick, a fact which causes me to pinch myself on a daily basis. 

TWO SPECKLED EGGS has been quietly promoting itself while I finish up the final art for the next book of mine that Candlewick is willing to publish, which I will tell you about in a minute. TWO SPECKLED EGGS is above all a friendship book, but it is also a birthday book, and it’s a teeny bit autobiographical. It is about a girl named Ginger, whose long anticipated birthday party goes awry, as they often do. The day is saved by Lyla Browning, the one girl Ginger didn’t even want to invite in the first place.

I hope to hit the road this summer and do some real promoting of this book! A few story-times here and there, and some school visits in the fall, reading TWO SPECKLED EGGS to willing listeners.

If you happen to see this book out in the world, send me a photo! Or better yet, buy it, and send me a photo! 

The book I am finishing up for Candlewick right now is called I DEFINITELY WILL NEVER GET A STAR ON MRS BENSON’S BLACKBOARD, (or STAR as we call it when we are in a hurry). It is about a day-dreamy child called Rose, who just can’t get on the same page with her rather teacherly teacher.

They do eventually find common ground, but not until Rose has a day or two that would send most of us back to bed. If you happened to be in my second grade class at Blueberry Hill Elementary School, you might know which teacher inspired this tale.

Here are some of Rose's (tidier, more focused) classmates:

I wish I could show you more from I DEFINITELY WILL NEVER GET A STAR ON MRS BENSON'S BLACKBOARD, but it is all super top-secret, guarded by three-headed dogs. Unless you come to my house--then I could show it to you, and we could have cake and tea, while the three-headed dogs loll around in the sun. STAR is due out just about a year from now, so keep an eye out for it during the spring or summer of 2015.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is such a hard question. I see that Mike Curato also thinks it is a hard question. Hmm, well… I think my work is somewhat different because I am utterly untrained in the area of writing for children, and illustrating for children. Sometimes I feel I am just swinging my pencil with my eyes closed, hoping the ideas hit the paper and not the wall. Not really-- I mean I went to college. And I got a masters degree in architecture. So I have practiced writing and drawing from time to time. But creating books for children is not writing papers on the French Revolution, nor is it drawing window framing details. So when I am really banging my head against the wall because I-have-no-idea-what-I-am-doing, I remind myself that my lack of training means that my work is fresh, and unique, and all mine.

Why do I write what I write?

My favorite stories to write are the ones that spring pretty directly from an emotional memory from my childhood. I’ll remember a time when I felt that I was the victim or the perpetrator of an injustice, and just how that felt at age four or five or six or seven--and then I have a story. The more I access memories of my childhood, the more I have access to them—just last week I woke up with a vivid memory from a challenging time in my family when I was very, very young. It’s now at the top of my list of future book ideas.

How does my individual writing/illustrating process work?

I can’t really say how my writing process works, because it is still a mystery to me. I just write whenever I can, and especially when a not-ignorable idea pops into my head.

And I am growing as an illustrator, so each project is just a little different from the last.

But, once I am really excited about a story, and I have fleshed out the text for a bit, then I start doodling and pretty quickly hash out images for various scenes on rolls of architectural tracing paper (cheap, plentiful, and not at all intimidating). I tear it off and mound it up, and before you know it I am on my way with a sketch dummy!

My desk, in the early stages of my new work-in-progress. Exciting, huh?

My desk, in the early stages of my new work-in-progress. Exciting, huh?

My final art process for these first books has been a somewhat complicated and labor-intensive combination of traditional drawing and painting, and digital collage. And I do it this way out of fear. Yep. Here it is—I am fearful of committing to a final composition that is not 100% changeable. And glue dries hard and fast and is not at all flexible. So I do all of my collage-ing in Photoshop, which allows me to change everything (almost) right up until the minute I have to commit to making it a PDF that I can send to my book designer. (Ha! There, I named my fear publicly, now maybe it will go away.) Sometimes I do have to go back to the very beginning, and redraw and rescan and repaint and rescan and recollage, but mostly I have total flexibility in this process, and I like it that way. (But, I think my current, secret, work-in-progress may be different, which I guess makes sense, but different in a different way, if you know what I mean) Sometimes I add in photographs or collaged textures that I have created or found on the internet (only the ones that are available for download without copyright!).

Okay, well, my time is up, and you have other blogs to visit, so I’ll let you go.

Next up on your tour are Sarah Dillard and Laurie Thompson .

Sarah is the creator of the recently released EXTRAORDINARY WARREN--A SUPER CHICKEN,

which is about the funniest, most optimistic chicken you will ever meet. Sarah and I know one another from an author/illustrator retreat that we like to go to in the middle of the winter in Vermont. She's got a sense of humor a lot like Warren's.

Laurie is the creator of the very soon to be released (September, 2014) BE A CHANGE MAKER-HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS 

and two exciting non-fiction picture books: Emmanuel’s Dream , and My Dog Is the Best, both launching in 2015 (January and May, respectively). Laurie and I are a part of the cohort that calls itself The Advisory Committee of the Western Washington SCBWI, and we’ve known one another for quite some time. 

Enjoy the rest of the tour, and come back to visit any time!