In my quest to learn more about the illustrated fiction market I decided it might be more beneficial to interview author’s of illustrated books gleaning their advice and applying it to my own situation. Laura Lond, author of the YA fantasy My Sparkling Misfortune, starts off this series of author interviews.
– What made you decide to write/create an illustrated book?
The idea to add illustrations had come rather spontaneously, after the book was completed. I already knew an artist who worked on foreign language editions of my other titles, and I knew she’d do an excellent job. I wanted to offer my readers the best product I possibly could, so I thought, why not try enhancing it this way.
– How did you decide on the age level and genre? Was your book always geared toward this age level/genre or did you change it to fit?
I did not think of any of that as I was working on the book, I just wrote the story the way I felt it needed to be written. Then, when it was completed, I tried to determine what audience it would fit best. Given the plot, the length, and the style, it looked like a MG/YA book. Adding illustrations seemed to move it closer to MG in many readers’ eyes. While I personally see no reason why YA or even adult books can’t be illustrated, I don’t fight it. I let the readers be the judge.
– Do you also illustrate your books? If not, how did you find your illustrator/artist? Any suggestions for hiring an illustrator?
I have no artistic abilities myself, so I work with a professional artist. I found her through a publisher in Kiev who handles the Russian language edition of my YA fantasy trilogy. It was their idea to have the trilogy illustrated, and when I saw how well the artist had handled it, I decided to have her work on this new series as well. She had perfect credentials and a long list of published works, so I did not have to worry about anything. If you are just starting out though, testing the waters with a new artist, I certainly do advise to do your research, check references, possibly get in touch with their other clients and see whether they are satisfied with the results.
– Did you have an idea of what you wanted your characters to look/dress like?
Yes, of course. We had discussed all that with the artist, especially the two main characters. As for the illustrations themselves though, I gave her the freedom to choose what scenes she wanted to do and in what way. All I said was that I wanted one illustration for each chapter. The rest was up to her.
– How did you decide how many illustrations to include in your book?
Since I had to pay out of my own pocket for this independently published book, finances had a lot to do with the decision. I could afford ordering 10 illustrations, one for each chapter, and it seemed sufficient. The artist ended up doing one more and giving it to me for free just because she liked one specific scene.
– I’ve seen some posts on various boards concerning illustrated books detracting from the reader’s enjoyment of creating the characters in their own mind. Do you agree with this? Do you feel your illustrations enhance your book? How?
Unless illustrations are poorly done, I don’t think they take anything away from the reader’s enjoyment of the book. I’ve always liked illustrated books myself. When we read, we still create the characters’ picture in our head; to me, it’s fun to see an illustration and compare how well it matches what I imagined. Sometimes it’s a great match, other times I disagree with the artist’s rendition. There’s nothing wrong with that. Now, if the book clearly says the character has dark hair and I see them blond on the picture, that’s a different story. I think such blunders are easy enough to avoid or correct, and they shouldn’t make their way into a published book.
I often see readers and reviewers comment on how much they have enjoyed the pictures in my book. Unfortunately, I also see a small percentage of comments stating that the particular reader was reluctant to pick up my book because it is illustrated – in their mind, illustrated book means children’s book. So, as you see, this can be a little tricky. I trust the readers though. My experience shows that someone might not want to read a MG book, but when they see it mentioned favorably in blogs they trust or on Amazon, they’ll give it a chance – and then post comments along the lines of, “I had almost passed this up, I’m so glad I read it.”
– How did you promote your book?
I’ve been promoting mostly through reviews, trying to get the word of mouth going – doing giveaways, contacting bloggers/reviewers with established followings. The main character, Lord Arkus, has his own Facebook page. I’ve also submitted the book for a couple of awards; it had won the 1st place in one and become a finalist in the other. Being able to mention that it is an award-winning book helps.
That’s about it. I have no time to blog, tweet, etc. I go to some book-related message boards, but except for having my books mentioned in my signature, I rarely promote there.
– Can you explain your formatting process and any problems you encountered with uploading/viewing your book? Do you offer a print version or digital only? Any tips you can offer?
I formatted my book in MS Word, then created an ebook with Mobipocket Creator. There was some reading and learning to do when I had first started, of course, but I did not have any problems. MS Word is easy to format the text and insert illustrations where I want them; Mobipocket does a great job of creating an ebook. I then check how it looks through Kindle for PC or on my Kindle.
I have printed edition available as well, offered through CreateSpace. I did the book in MS Word as well, using their templates, then converted to PDF.
– What are your sales numbers? Are your illustrated book(s) selling better than your other titles?
Since releasing My Sparkling Misfortune in January 2011, I have sold a little over 300 copies. Not much, but the sales are growing. When I don’t do much promotion, the book seems to sell around 20-30 copies per month. Doing promos or being mentioned on a prominent blog helps, of course. My bestselling month was May, with 83 copies sold. Yes, MSM sells better than most of my other titles. It has never been offered for free, so I don’t have any number of free downloads.
– How did you determine pricing? Have you played with pricing? How has it affected your sales?
Since the book is not long, only about 33,000 words, I didn’t feel comfortable charging more than $1.99 for it. I did not want to go less than that though, either; it is a quality book, and I had invested in a professional artist. The price seems to work well. Yes, I did a $0.99 experiment, lowering the price for a week. It gave a good boost at first, then sales went back to what they were before. I think I will stick to $1.99.
– How many illustrated books have you written/have for sale?
Just this one. My other titles are not illustrated.
– Do you have more planned?
I plan to release the sequel to My Sparkling Misfortune in October 2011, but it will not be illustrated, at least not right away. The reasons are purely financial. Fortunately, illustrations are easy to add later on. If the book sells well, I might consider doing that in the future.
– What advice would you give other authors who have or would like to publish illustrated books?
If you can draw your own illustrations, things are much easier for you; I’d say just go for it. If not, it is a considerable investment, so I would advise to do some careful thinking. Why do you want illustrations? Do you think it will boost the sales? It might help, but not necessarily so. Do you think the book will benefit from being illustrated and you don’t care how soon you recoup the investment? In that case it is probably worth a try.
Laura Lond is an internationally published author of several novels and a collection of short stories. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. Having worked for 2 years at a literary museum, Laura entered the world of business, working for large international corporations like Xerox Ltd. and Fluor Daniel. After moving from Europe to the United States, she has been self-employed as a freelancer. Laura lives in Illinois.