Where Do Digital & Printed Picture Books Come From - What's the Inspiration, the Process from Idea to Print to Digital

By William Stanek
January 9, 2012

I create picture books and other works of fiction as Robert Stanek. You probably know my work with computer books, writing as William Stanek. Picture books are a misunderstood art and I want to take you behind the scenes to demystify the process by taking you from idea to print. When you're the creator, writer, and producer of an illustrated book some people think that you can sit down write, draw, revise, and poof! out comes a finished product in a few days or weeks. That's not so, the creative process for picture books and the work involved is substantial, and considerably different from traditional, non-illustrated books. To see exactly how, let's look at the creative process for one of my recent picture books: Pirates Stole My Booty.

With Pirates Stole My Booty, I was thinking it'd be fun to write a pirate adventure story featuring my critter friends. I started working with the idea in spare moments, between other writings.

Draft. I wrote a draft of the story, let it sit a while, and revised the basic story a few times over the summer. Most picture books I plan out in panels on a storyboard and then note the paging as I work to ensure specific snippets/paragraphs of text appear on certain pages. For print, thinking about paging is especially important. Usually printed picture books are at least 24 pages in length and more likely 28, 32, or 40. When you write, you have to keep paging in mind, so you don't end up with 12 paragraphs on one page and 1 paragraph on another. Story text has to be paired with story pictures.

The basic story needs to be fairly fleshed out before illustration can begin. Why? The illustrations need to fit the story. If you decide to take the story in a different direction after starting the illustration work, you need to redo the illustrations.

Sketch. The initial illustration begins. This work usually involves sketching out each of the various scenes that'll be in the book. Sketching is a fluid process as you need to ensure the characters and scenes work as part of the story. Sometimes during the sketching, you'll get new ideas and will then revise the story accordingly, which may lead to new sketches as well.

Color. Once everything is set in concept and basic form, work can begin on coloring illustrations. During the coloring, little extras can be worked into the art, but the basic structure is already decided before hand, based on the sketches. The final work is digitized in ultra-high resolution and stored away.

Finalization. When a story has a green light and is ready to be published, I write the final version of the story and the story gets professionally edited, revised as necessary, and proofed while I review and touch up the digital, color illustrations as may be necessary. The finished text and the illustrations are merged in pre-print.

Pre-print & Pre-flight. I use Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop to artfully add the text to the illustrations. Each finished page becomes a page proof that I then pre-flight. Pre-flight involves proof checking the final coloring, sizing, text, story/illustration flow, etc to ensure everything is ready for print and digital release. From the page proofs, I create versions of the final work for release in print and versions of the final work for release as a digital e-book.

Rendering. The size and binding of print books determine how I process for print release. The target e-reader and distribution channel determine how I process for digital e-book release. I create a custom version for each size/binding combination and a custom version for each e-reader/channel with unique specifications. If there are 3 size/binding combos and 4 e-reader/channels, I create 7 versions of the book--one for each release version.

Release. The finished book is published.

Typically, I work on many, many projects at the same time and some of them lined up for release at the same time as Pirates Stole My Booty, including

"Twelve Dresses, One Star"

"Mamma Sea Turtle"

"How Many Fish"

"Buster's on the Job"

To get from a concept to a finished product took a while. Along the way, the books were in draft, sketch, color, or some other phase on the path to release.

I don't always wear all the hats that will get a book from concept to release, but I did for these and many others. It is a lot of work--much more than when you have "people" who handle various phases of a project for you--but I think it can be much more rewarding too. If you have the writer/illustrator bug, you try it and let me know what you think! Your process may be similar, or not. You decide--because that's what creative control is all about.


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