Fiber Art in Books: Some Tips for Publishing from Children’s Book Author and Illustrator
Claudia Marie Lenart is a needle felt artist from Wauconda, Illinois. Besides illustrating books in wool, she also creates wool paintings, needle felted animals, angels and fairies.
Five years ago I was approached by author Jewel Kats to illustrate a book for her with my needle felted characters. While I had always daydreamed about writing and illustrating a children’s book, I didn’t really know what the project entailed. Nevertheless I jumped right in.
The late Jewel Kats, was a disability advocate and in her books she aimed to empower children with disabilities. I went on to illustrate three books for Jewel and Loving Healing Press, using needle-felted wool as my medium, a style that is unique in the world of children’s books. Last year, my first book as both author and illustrator was released, “Seasons of Joy: Every Day is for Outdoor Play.” It is illustrated with dreamy wool paintings depicting children playing among trees, flowers and animals.
When I started illustrating books through fiber art, I expected to spend a long time creating the needle-felted illustrations. I did not realize how long the photography and photo editing would take. Although I am a former journalist, I didn’t realize how much of a time commitment, marketing a book is. I work with a small publishing house, but even if you are with a large publisher, you are expected to commit to book marketing.
For fiber artists considering creating a book, whether a children’s book or a DIY, I will share some of what I learned.
The first two books I illustrated were shot by a professional photographer who also edited them and sent me the photos ready for publication. I learned a lot from watching her, in particular the importance of using natural light with wool. However, it felt like I was retracing my steps. You see, in the first three books, the illustrations were dioramas in which I created the background scenery and the characters through needle felt. I would set up the scene very carefully, photograph, and store away. When all my illustrations were complete, I had to recreate the scenes for the photographer. There was a window of time, literally, in which there was enough light from outside to shoot the scenes. Posing the needle-felted characters could take an enormous amount of time, capturing the perfect tilt of the head for instance.
When I was illustrating the third book, “Prince Preemie: A Tale of a Tiny Puppy Who Arrived Early,” I decided to do the photography myself. It was more efficient because I could shoot the photo immediately after I was done creating the illustration and then store it away. To prepare for taking the photos, I took an online photography class through CreativeLive and purchased a tripod. Most fiber artists are competent at photography so this may be the route you want to take.
My book Seasons of Joy, unlike the others, is not a diorama. The book was illustrated with 12 wool paintings, three for each season. The wool paintings were easier to photograph. However, the lighting was best outside. So, I had to wait for the perfect day in winter (no green trees throwing a cast on the photos). The best conditions were slightly overcast, but with a bit of brightness. I laid the wool paintings on a sheet on my patio and photographed from above to avoid any shadows and allow all the colors to shine.
Once the photos are complete, the editing starts. I edited the photos with both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Again, I used CreativeLive to learn how to use the editing software. Even with perfect lighting, sometimes a particular color needed more brilliance. Also, the nature of wool is unruly, so I often needed to erase an errant fiber.
So the creation of the illustrations and the photography, whether you do it yourself or hire a photographer, are the major components of putting out a book. The third is marketing which should start long before the book is published and continue long after the book is published.
The first marketing task for me was to find influencers to write back cover endorsements. Use your networking community. As the book nears publication start seeking out early reviewers. Some publications require the books or galleys to be submitted many months before publication. I have worked mostly with bloggers. For Seasons of Joy, I sought children’s books bloggers as well as bloggers that focus on outdoor play. I also posted a news release on news sites and contacted local news organizations for possible feature articles.
Of course social media is a huge part of the marketing effort. Plan teasers ahead of publication, post a video on YouTube, promote on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google. Blog about your book. Plan giveaways. And, long before publication, start an email newsletter. I have also marketed my books through my membership in the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
Book signings and live talks should also be part of your marketing effort. Talk about your book a lot and certainly tell all your friends about your book and encourage them to buy a copy. Give them a promotional item, like a bookmark or tote bag.
You can also sell items that promote your book. My book Seasons of Joy consists of 12 wool paintings depicting children playing outside in all seasons. I sell individual giclee prints of some of the paintings in my Etsy store, Claudia Marie Felt. I also sell sets of the four seasons in photo prints. My printer featured my work on the iprintfromhome artists’ series. Always be open to possibilities to broaden awareness of your work.
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About Claudia Marie Lenart
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