Thursday, December 27, 2007

Things I learned while working on my first children's book

Part Three: Smiling on the outside

The Process of Revisions

Coming to this project equipped with a well-seasoned design background, I honestly felt that I would have a mental 'leg-up' on the inevitable revisions that were bound to come. Revisions are a normal part of the process, be it design, illustration or any creative project, for that matter. With this project, I braced to 'expect the unexpected'. I'd never done a children's trade book before. I needed to be ready for anything, and, from the get-go, the time-line was extremely tight. That said, I wasn't entirely prepared for some of the major revisions that came to pass after the initial sketches had already been approved. It happens! ;)

The minor revisions were things I typically would fully expect. But, for a few of the spreads, complete redos to the composition were requested, and with no additional time-line 'wiggle room'. I found myself in a really tight-time sandwich, and I not only had to hustle just to get the work done on time, but I had to produce the type of work that would get approved by a group consisting of experienced children's trade book editors and designers. This was my first flight into trade, and I was completely uninitiated: I'd liken it to being a kid in catholic school, and going to mass with the class, and not knowing the words to "Hail Mary", "Our Father" or any of the other recitations. In this particular case, I found it difficult at times to distill the desired art direction from the feedback I received. In the end, I was under the gun to solve a 'puzzle' foreign to me, while the sands of an hourglass were running, running, running... A challenging prospect, to be sure! :)

Some take-home lessons I learned from the revisions process...

Be prepared for as much as you possibly can be. There may be many, many revisions, there may be only one (or none! Gasp!). Do work you are proud of and put your heart into, but remember who the client is and what their objective is, and who their audience is and what they wish to say to that audience. Listen to their needs and direct your work to satisfy their objectives. Also one of the (major) objects is to *sell the book* (of course!), so be prepared for the possibility of some changes to be made solely to help broaden the market for the book.

Try and build some wiggle room into your original time estimates to give yourself a little buffer in the case of last-minute additional revisions. While, in the end, it is not necessarily your responsibility to absorb extra time should additional unexpected revisions come in after approvals have been given, being as proactive as possible about building in extra time serves a couple of purposes for you:

-Your swift response to a possible last-minute snag shines very positively on you in the end.
-Your books' publish date gets saved. I don't know this from experience, but my gut tells me that it's entirely possible for a book to get postponed or, worse yet, killed altogether if it doesn't make it to the printer on a scheduled time-line.

-If your work is late, whether or not it really is or was 'your fault', people will likely only remember that your work was late. Period. (This is a freelancer side-effect in general, so always get your work in on time.)

Contract details... In your contract, make sure to address (in some way, shape or form) the possibility of the situation arising where additional revisions or complete redos of artwork are requested after said artwork has already been approved initially.

Have the necessary equipment at the ready to help you get your job done as swiftly, cleanly and beautifully as possible. (I know I mentioned this in Part One or Part Two, but it's also applicable here.) During this project, I had to rely on my neighborhood print shop for scanning because my little chug-chug scanner was not cutting it. My inability to "scan on demand" to a level of acceptability cut into the approval turnaround time, thusly giving me less total time to work with. The local shop truly bailed me out on more than one occasion when the local Kinko's failed me, but I still would have fared better at the time, if I had been prepared with a great scanner at the ready in my home studio. That said, if you're on the fence, here are some reasons to take the leap on a great scanner:

-Shops generally aren't open 'freelancer's hours', if you catch my drift.

-For the amount you will spend on scanning at the print shop for one book project, you could purchase a professional large-bed graphics scanner for home use!

-You will get better scans at home than you'll get from the local print shop. I've used several local print shops for scanning, and my home scans, made with my flat bed professional graphics scanner, are better. MUCH, MUCH better. So, save yourself the headache and sleep up front, and buy the scanner before your next project. (The only scanners that might be better than a good, flat-bed large scale professional graphics scanner is a drum scanner, and drum-scanning places are hard to find and expensive to boot...and, of course, they will not be open for business during the aforementioned 'freelancer's hours').

Different workflows
For me, it is good and necessary as a freelancer to do my best to be really flexible with clients' unique workflow protocols. In my experience, no two companies are the same in this regard. A companies' workflow might not be familiar initially, but in time, it will be. I just learn it as I go, and people are generally very understanding and helpful. Places that hire a lot of freelancers do generally understand that we have to acclimate ourselves to their workflows, and they in turn have to work us in, too. In my experience, on the whole, people I've worked with are generally really great about helping things to go smoothly (and are just in general very nice people, to boot). So, do the best you can to make it work for both of you! :)


Diana Evans said...

Hi Kathy!!!

Love your post...great information...thanks for sharing your experiences...

Hope you had a wonderful Holiday and I love the ornaments you made for some friends...


princesstomato said...

oh, kathy, thanks for sharing all these details. sounds like so much fun! the whole process is so inspiring and inviting!