Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mentees Advice Round-Up: Emotional Hit, Persistence, Self-Trust, Who/Why, Marketing and Story

It's been about seven months since we were selected for the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program, and we've decided to each pick one thing that we've learned to share with you all.

The emotional hit

When emotion is mentioned by Loren Long, Ashley Bryant, Jon Scieszka, Marion Dane Bauer, Jennifer Choldenko, Allen Zadoff, and Arthur Levine, I take notice!.  I get it...we have to create from emotional truth, and convey it in a real (not stagey, or -ick!- preachy) way. Why?  What I’ve gleaned from all those marvelous talks was that emotion provides connection with our readers. And if we connect, our books have a chance of becoming the “trusted friends” Loren Long spoke about. Personally, that’s at the heart of why I want to create children’s books. I still visit with my trusted friends from childhood. I keep this concept in mind throughout the process of illustrating.

Persistence Pays Off

By Eliza Wheeler 

Advice from many of the speakers, as well as from the mentors, that stuck with me:

“Don’t be too hasty to start your career.”  “Keep creating great work, keep putting it out there.” “We want to see that you’re in this for the long run.”

Rather than just focusing on trying to get one story published, work on many ideas and show that you’re not just dipping your toes in the water. Or as literary agent Steven Malk said, “Don’t dabble.” Publishers and agents are interested in you as an author/illustrator, not just one good idea you might have. They want to invest in your future.

I often feel impatient with the process of getting published – but taking the time up front to hone your craft (by creating constantly) will pay off in the long run.

Trust Yourself

By Andrea Offermann

This is something I took from the mentorship program specifically. After visiting with all the mentors I looked through my notes and found that each one of them had responded to different aspects of my portfolio, sometimes even liking images or sequences that another mentor had recommended I take out. At first I was confused and felt that after talking to these 6 great minds and soaking up their imput I had ended up right at the start. But then I realized that they had all chosen to speak to me because something in my portfolio had resonated with them, they had liked something I had done. This convinced me that throughout learning about professionalizing my career and my work it is also important to trust my own choices.

The Who? and the Why?

The past 6 months has been a major step forward in focus. Mostly, it has been relentless focus on the work that comes from answering two major questions:

1) Who are these books for?
2) Why would they want to read them?

There are sub-questions to these, and of course the matter of matching my style (How) to the right subject (What). Bit these seem more easily resolved when set against the Who? and the Why?

Marketing matters

It's easy to grow frustrated when you keep sending samples out only to have nothing happen, and my tendency then is to start sending out samples less and less as that growing frustration starts to make everything feel like a waste of time and energy.  One of the big things I left the conference with was the confirmation that you could be the next Chris van Allsburg, but if you don't stay on a busy publishers radar through frequent reminders, it doesn't matter.  For me, it was a matter of changing how I presented my samples ( thank you David Diaz).  Instead of sending individual samples, I took David's advice about sending a perfect bound compilation of my best samples.  Out of 20, I heard back on one, and was able to secure a book deal.  I guess the end result is, when your advertising  repeatedly doesn't work, stop spinning your wheels.  Shake it up, change things, and try again.

In the end, it's all about the story

One message I took away from my sessions with our mentors last summer as well as from the Illustrators' Intensive at the SCBWI NYC conference: story trumps all.
You can have the most impressive technique in the world but if your illustrations don't help tell the story, then it doesn't matter. This advice even applied to the makeup of my porfolio pieces: the ones that the mentors liked the most were ones that told a story with character interaction (where characters could be inanimate objects) and emotion. I also needed to show that I could draw a sequence of images that told a story.
The same principle applies to format. No matter how fancy the bells and whistles on a digital picture book, if it doesn't have a good STORY, then it's not going to succeed.

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