Jump the Shark & Paruvrew is the most polished book I’ve produced to date, and close to the quality level I’ve been hoping for from the first. However, it is the end of a long road. It would be good to summarize the lessons from each step down that road.
The Adventures of Jump the Shark and Sera Mermaid was my first foray into making kids’ books. I did not know whether I could, or whether I would be sufficiently pleased with the product. Therefore, I downloaded a book on how to make books on Amazon and followed its instructions, constructing the PDF on Canva. I worked hard to pander to my kid, so that if it all went sideways, at least I’d have one happy customer.
From it, I learned I needed to do heavy work on my color palette, I wanted to have more control over the creation process than Canva afforded me, I didn’t particularly like the 8.5″x11″ form factor.. and that I could do the work. I had that potential.
The Amazing Alphabeasts was my second foray. This time I tried constructing a palette in advance, using Amazon’s preferred 6″x9″ form factor, creating an educational book, and crowdfunding it via Kickstarter.
From it I learned the color palette needed further tweaking, that Kickstarter is a viable platform for me (I reached 50% funded halfway through the campaign, but abandoned it due to personal life events), and that I never again want to make an ‘edutainment’ book.
Hat Trick 1: the Death of Arthur utilized a template, and tested making a black and white book. I learned the relative costs of producing black and white verses color. I also learned that cutting off a story halfway and promising a sequel is foolish. To this day, I haven’t finished out the story promised in Hat Trick 1. I surely must, though, to reclaim my honor.
Jump the Shark & The Pirate Princess tested a new palette, and with only a tiny number of tweaks the one I use to this day. It tested a formula I mutated from several functional book-writing formulae, with an eye to making bedtime stories. The formula worked fine, but I realized I needed to storyboard my books as I write them from this point forth. It also started life as a digital popup book built in Unity,
Bunny Trail Junction is webcomic hub that to this day hosts John Michael Jones Gets a Life. For about 4 months, I kept it running daily comics, publishing black and white monthlies in paper on Amazon. I learned that I did not like the 3-panel format I’d come up with, that for all its advantages it was more trouble than its worth on most websites, I furthered my skills at inking with a brush, and I realized that small children looking for children’s books aren’t liable to be found on random webcomic sites.
Awesome Moments 1: The Kings of Earth was my first Bible Story book, and my first book produced on my display tablet. I learned that inking on a display tablet is tedious; I need to pencil and color on the tablet, then ink on paper with ink. I also learned that if I come to the end of my first month of working on a book, and feel burnt out, I should simply set it aside for a month and come back to it. I will get it done faster that way than if I try to push forward. I also devised a watercolor-based workflow for coloring in ClipStudio that I didn’t get to use for Awesome Moments but did get to use for…
Jump the Shark & Paruvrew, which tried out the new size format Bunny Trail Junction pushed me toward, the workflow I settled on after Pirate Princess and refined in Awesome Moments, and the watercolors. And it’s so far beyond the other books in terms of workmanship that I almost want to redo all the others. In fact, I do want to redo the others, I just don’t think I have the attention span to produce the same book twice.
The process is as follows:
- Create a rough outline of the book. Clearly define the hero and villain and their goals. Figure out the climax. This step takes a day or two.
- Storyboard the book. Create low resolution doodles and coloring, and a first draft of the text in Clip Studio. This step takes about a month, but may be faster, and doesn’t absorb all of my time that month, or even most of it. I can storyboard a book while working on another project. It is risky, however, to dial in and storyboard the book faster, so that it is done in a couple of days.
- Produce the print test. Load the storyboard pictures into Scribus, and write the second draft into that Scribus file. Produce a cover, and send it off to Amazon for a printing proof. This process takes a day or two.
- Wait a month or so. Do something else. Leave the book alone.
- Read the print test out loud, and mark corrections in it for the final edit. This takes about ten minutes a reading, since they are kids’ books.
- Produce the final illustrations. This takes a day per illustration or more, and ends up being about a month of work.
So, the process in total takes about 3 months. However, it is not three months of work. The storyboarding month can be spent producing storyboards for multiple books, or producing a storyboard in the morning, and then working on a game or a comic book. And the need for me to wait a month between spitballing the book and producing the final illustrations isn’t spent doing nothing. So realistically, if I made books full-time, never worked on comics or games, I could put out at least 4, and as many as 10 a year.
Now, I’ll probably aim for that 4. Aiming at the 10 is a bad idea because with my ADHD, not jumping from project to project is actually more inefficient. My mind rebels against focusing on one thing much longer than a month. It took me four months to do a month and a half of illustration for Awesome Moments. And that’s with industrial strength stimulants. If I had spent the intervening two months working on something else, Awesome Moments would have been done at the same time, better, more polished, and I would have the intervening two months’ work to show for it.
But aiming higher, maybe trying for six, might be a good thing. I have hundreds of stories from my childhood that should be dusted off, improved, and released (with, of course, the caveat of I don’t like to write the same story twice). And the jump in quality from book to book is quite high. With a little more practice, I might start turning out books that are more than just idle amusements.
My wife took me to the new Dreamworks flick for my birthday. And it reminded me of the importance even of my idle amusements.
I’ve discovered in my dotage that I’d rather like to be the abominable tribrid of Lewis, Seuss, and Eastman and Laird. This pleases me. It suits me. And there is a call for it.
Focusing on it, as much as I can focus on any thing, is no bad thing.
No bad thing at all. The Mouse is coming out with its latest desecration of its former desecration of Hans Andersen’s Little Mermaid. I could furnish a less slick, but more wholesome and more true to the OG story. I did a poster of 3 ninja pigs versus a samurai wolf. That possibility deserves exploration. The Alphabeasts may be retired as an educational tool, but as a setting to improve upon Star Trek, they are quite well fit. And of course, I can always work on Hat Trick. Get some actual stories out there.