The trick for a self-publisher wanting to make beautiful, professional-quality picture books is knowing how to step back and examine that baby objectively and critically. Is that baby wild and all over the place? Create some structure and reign him in! Is that baby boring, dull and plain? Spice him up! Make him fun and interesting!
If you have left-leanings you are likely a very creative and freedom-loving spirit. If you create a picture book it will be fun and colorful and full of surprise and wonder. But you may ramble a bit, and it might be fun to look at, but hard to read.
If you have right-leanings and decide to create a picture book, you might have a timely and important message for young readers. But they might not ever get that message, because your book and your delivery are dull and uninteresting.
This is the secret that traditional publishers know ... the secret self-publishers need to learn ... blending these two sides together and allowing them to work together to make great books!
At a traditional publishing house, picture books are created by a team, which collectively creates structure in which creativity can manifest.
The process begins creatively with a written narrative. Then structures are put in place:
The art director assembles and coordinates the team and the work they'll be doing ...
The editor's job is, in my opinion, the most important. Editors don't just spell- and grammar-check. They make certain the writing is clear, crisp, tight and error free. They will be sending that manuscript back to the author, making suggestions for re-writes. Characters need to be and act consistently throughout the narrative; conflict and resolution need to be clear; dialogue needs to be natural; the narrative needs to flow well, etc. For those who are wondering, this is main reason manuscripts get rejected. The editor is there to tweak and polish it up, not write it. Beautiful design and lavish illustrations won't compensate for lousy writing. If you are an author, either learn to write well, or don't waste your time or resources on self-publishing.
The designer lays the book out, setting up the structure for the illustrator to follow. The designer will decide the book dimensions, how the text will break into pages and spreads, what the illustrations will show, where pictures and text will be placed, and how the text will flow with the art. The designer's job is a little of both structure and creativity, sometimes including both cover and inside page design.
The illustrator and/or cover artist will begin the illustrations and cover art. This is of course more creative work, but done within the confines of the parameters set up by the designer.
All along this process sketches and progressively finished art will be reviewed by the whole team under the direction of the art director. If a picture or a passage of writing is off, it will be discovered and remedied.
When it's all done, there will be a layout or graphics department where everything is set up correctly for printing. And because all that structure has been in place and followed throughout the process, setting up the printing process should be a smooth operation!
So to all you lefties out there, don't think your wings would get clipped in all this creativity-limiting structure ... quite the contrary! During all this collaboration, ideas and suggestions are being tossed around among the team members. This book is going to turn out terrific because of all this structure!
And to all you smug righties out there, thinking that, of course this is the right way! You could have told us that ... but not so fast! Put your ego aside and know that through this process your work is going to be scrutinized and you will challenged to step up your game! It might not be the cake walk you're thinking it will be, but your work and your baby will be better because of it.
This is the process self-publishers need to follow. A process of checks and balances and accountability. When you begin looking for illustrators and printers, hire the best professionals you can afford. Click on those links to see articles on my website in the Freebies and Helpful Info sections to help you get started. And get on the internet to search for others that can lead you through the process. Especially look for other self-publishers who can relate their own experiences and perhaps help you to avoid some pitfalls. Another really good place to begin is The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI. It's an organization just for us children's book creators. There you will find invaluable people and resources to help you in your craft.
As a self-publisher, you are creating a product. And if you expect people to buy that product, it's got to be the very best product you can make. So do your homework and make that baby beautiful!