Having your picture book published is an exciting process. There’s the thrill of seeing your characters come to life in the illustrations, the excitement of seeing the story transformed into a book and the satisfaction of seeing your book for sale in the shops.
However, except for favourites like The Gruffalo, there’s another less pleasant step that’s not talked about so much. It’s when your publisher decides that the book isn’t selling enough to justify a reprint. Sometimes they wait until the print run is sold out, sometimes they sell off the last copies cheaply to get them out of the warehouse. Either way the result is the same: that book you worked so hard on is no longer available. It’s out of print.
At this point, you can get the rights to your book back. But what happens next? The answer is easy for authors of novels: they can bring new life to their out-of-print books by self-publishing them as ebooks. However, that route is much more difficult for picture book authors because picture books need pictures and, unless we illustrate our own work, we only have the text.
That leaves us with several options.
- Leave the story in the drawer and do nothing. (What a waste!)
- Draw some illustrations ourselves. (Definitely not viable for me. I don’t draw as well as my brilliant illustrators.)
- Work with the original illustrator or a new one to produce a fully illustrated picture book.
Option 3 sounds the most feasible but it raises other problems. How are we going to share the costs and the profits with the illustrator? Are we organised enough to pay royalties and will our heirs be able to cope with doing that for 70 years after our deaths? Life would be easier if there was a print-on-demand publisher who was willing to pay the author and illustrator separately, but I haven’t found one yet. (Please let me know if you have.)
As the proud owner of a drawer full of out-of-print stories and stories that have never been published, I decided earlier this year that I didn’t want them to languish there any longer. As I wasn’t in a position to self-publish illustrated versions, I started wondering who would want a picture book text with no pictures.
After a bit of thought, I realised that would-be illustrators need stories to practice on so I decided to give them a helping hand. The result is Stories for Illustration – a collection of five picture book stories that come complete with wide-ranging permission to use them in colleges, schools and at home. There are some illustration tips too, but absolutely no pictures.
The book is not flying off the shelves. It’s such a tiny market that sales are very low. But the book cost very little to produce so I don’t mind. I’m just glad that the stories are out of the drawer and available to read again.