• S.E. Burr

Collaborative Kids Book Project: 5 Lessons Learned

The collaborative illustrated poetry book is ready and available at Amazon and other online stores now. It’s been fun. I love that this exists and that I was able to make something awesome with a group of talented people I love. I’m also psyched to put some great kids’ poems out into the world. I know at an instinctual level that poetry has a special ability to inspire in children a love of reading and of worsting. This was my own experience with jack Prelutsky’s ride a Purple Pelican, a favorite childhood book. I learned a few things in the process of coordinating the creation of this book that I’d like to share. Lesson 1: Initial excitement for the project is not predictive of actual participation. Some of the people who expressed the most enthusiasm to participate in the project didn’t end up contributing anything to the final book. That’s understandable. Life happens. Things get in the way. What seems like a fun easy creative outlook, can sometimes become a difficult, frustrating task when you get down to it. That’s OK. This project was meant to be a fu, not an obligation. I tried not to nag anyone to produce what they’d promised. Which leads me to the next lesson. Lesson 2: You have to be flexible. Is the final project exactly what I’d imagined? No. My initial inspiration for the book was my own poem “What Bridge is Best?,” and I imagined it being the title poem with a beautiful, cover appropriate illustration, something like the cover of ride a Purple Pelican I mentioned earlier, a beautiful city scape, with a beautiful bridge. As it turned out, I had so much trouble getting an illustration for it, that it barely made it into the book, and the picture I got for it, is not colored, a good image, but not a cover image. That’s OK, I’m happy that Nathan’s poem became the title poem, and the simple balloons I drew to go with it is eye-catching on Amazon. Lesson 3: Expect to do most of the work yourself. I’m so happy to have made this collaboratively, but was it less work than the children’s books I write and illustrate all on my own? Not really. I wrote most of the poems myself, many of them I wrote for illustrations people had already provided. This was sometimes challenging. I spoke with people to make sure I got illustrations for the poems I felt strongly should be in the book, and in the case of Nathan’s “Never-Ending Vocabulary Words” I illustrated it myself, because the illustration someone was planning to do for it was never actually created. Finally, I formatted it myself as well, which I found more difficult than my other books, because all the images were different shapes and sizes. All of this was worth it. I planned to finish by Christmas, and I’m thrilled that I was able to. But, I will admit that it took more effort and more time than I expected. Lesson 4: Make it easy for people. In the first months of this project, I found myself pretty discouraged and wondered if I should call the whole thing off. Although I knew many talented writers and artists, amateur and professional, and many of them said they wanted to participate, no one but me actually submitted anything for a long time. What turned things around was two things. First, I looked through what people already had and fit it to the book, rather than asking them to create something for the book. I looked through hundreds of Matt’s drawings and picked out the ones that would work for poems we already had. And as I mentioned already, sometimes I wrote poems for things people already had. This was true of all three of the pictures that sort of advertise people’s other work—Emily’s fairy door, Christine’s cookie, and Shad’s picture of the girl with the puzzle. The other thing I did was rather than asking people to look through the poems and decide what they wanted to illustrate, I asked them specifically. I texted Melinda and told her that I really wanted Elizabeth’s clown poem to appear in the book, and asked if she could draw it. I was thrilled when she texted me back an image of the drawing within a few minutes. Lesson 5: Don’t expect to turn much of a profit. Sure, it’s early days for me to make this prediction; it’s just come on the market, but when I initially pitched the idea to friends and family I told them we could probably expect to make “ones or even tens of dollars” on this at most. Money was never the point. The money I make from each of my picture books is modest, and I expect this one to sell even more modestly than most, because it’s not specifically geared toward education like my “Funny Math Stories” series, nor is it meant to help a child through a specific difficult situation like the My Sister Came Early and My Brother Came Early coloring books. Add to the modest sales a division of money eleven ways, and it becomes unlikely indeed that this project will make money. On the other hand if some, or all, of those eleven participants help spread the word about this book or buy copies as Christmas gifts for their friends and family, that will go a long way toward ensuring that each person gets at least a $5 royalty check this first year and that I earn back the $60+ I spent on buying and sending each of the contributors a free copy. But again, this project was meant to be fun. I have no intention of trying to talk anyone into doing anything they don’t enjoy. That’s it. Those are my lessons. Please take a look at the book on Amazon . I hope you’ll consider it if your looking for a Christmas gift for a child, poetry lover, or creative in your life. Happy Holidays! 

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