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Researching the right home for your kid lit with Harold Underdown

Recently, on Facebook, generous kid lit aficionado, Harold Underdown, began a page entitled A Webinar: Researching the Right Agent, Editor, and/or Publishing House. I asked him about it and researching the right home for your kid lit.

Researching the right home for your kid lit with Harold UnderdownWM: It’s exciting to hear you’re hosting a webinar about researching the right agent, editor, and/or publishing house. This is your first webinar. What prompted you to hold this class on-line?

HU: I was contacted by Carrie Pearson, who was organizing a series of webinars on the overall theme of “From Manuscript to Submission” for the Michigan SCBWI—you can see more about it here: http://michigan.scbwi.org/2013/10/20/announcing-the-scbwi-mi-webinar-series/. My webinar is actually the third in the series.

I was reluctant at first, as the webinars I’ve experienced have either been Skype sessions, with possibly pixellated video, or glorified Powerpoints. But I was impressed by their format, which allows for the presenter to be seen in a video window while the presentation is displayed AND the audience chats via text. They use the text chat to gather question, which the presenter answers at the end. So it’s a good format, and they provide support and training to the presenters.

Both the support and being part of a series made this look like a good opportunity to try this out.

WM: Why is researching agents, editors, or publishing houses before sending out a manuscript a good idea?

HU: If you don’t, you’ll just be submitting at random, and may waste a lot of your time. You also may not know about all of the possible places to send your manuscript, or about changes that have happened since .

Almost everyone has to do some research before submitting. My aim in this presentation is to explain the kinds of research that are likely to be the most useful, and how to go about them, and also to show some kinds of research that people may not know, such as how to analyze a catalog to learn about a publisher.

WM: Do you feel researching is an under-utilized skill among authors and illustrators?

HU: That’s a bit of a loaded question! No, I don’t, not at all. In fact, I think that it’s possible to do too much research, which is one of the issues that I will be addressing. But I know that authors and illustrators are always looking for more information about editors and agents and publishers, and my intention is to show them, from an insider’s point of view, the best ways to go about acquiring that.

I’ve talked about most of this before, of course, at conferences, and much of what I’m covering is also covered in my The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books (http://www.underdown.org/cig.htm), though in different form, and I’ll be talking about using social media to do research, which wasn’t really on option the last time I updated the book.

WM: You will be touching on submission etiquette in this class. In your opinion, what are the top 5 red flags in a submission packet that turn off agents or editors?

Researching the right home for your kid lit with Harold UnderdownHU: That’s tough, but here are five things to avoid:
• Carelessness—bad spelling, poor punctuation, getting the editor’s name wrong.
• Comparing your writing or illustrating favorably to such greats as Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, or Judy Blume.
• Telling us how much your children/students/grandchildren loved the story.
• Making statements that reveal how little you know about the agent or publisher (better to say nothing at all).
• Not following the guidelines. Professionals always follow the guidelines.

WM: The webinar filled up almost immediately. That’s wonderful for you, but sad for the people who missed out. Will you hold another session?

HU: It’s not strictly true to say that it filled up almost immediately. It was announced at the beginning of January as part of the MI-SCBWI webinar series, and they publicized it through the usual SCBWI channels. I also announced it on The Purple Crayon. At the end of February, I think they had 75-80 “seats” of the 100 they can handle filled. That’s when I set up a Facebook “Event” (https://www.facebook.com/events/402818103189026/), and the response to that led to the remaining seats being filled.

However, people can still sign up for the archived presentation, and watch it as many times as they want over the three months after the webinar happens.

Will we hold it again? That’s not entirely up to me. As I said earlier, I think there’s a good possibility I’ll be doing other webinars in the future. Whether that will include an encore performance of this one or not, I don’t know.

WM: Is there any additional information you’d like to add, either about the webinar or the submission process in general?

HU: In addition to my book, people can find a lot of information about the submissions process on my website. I particularly recommend “Getting Out of the Slush Pile” (http://www.underdown.org/slush.htm)

Thanks for asking good questions!

WM: Thanks for visiting and for sharing your knowledge on researching the right home for your kid lit with us, Harold!

About Harold and the work he does: He’s a children’s book editor, working as a consulting or independent editor and writing teacher. Previously, he was Vice President and Editorial Director at ipicturebooks. Before that, he was editorial director of the Charlesbridge trade program, and have also worked at Orchard Books and Macmillan.

He is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, now in its third edition. He gives workshops through Kid’s Book Revisions. He speaks at conferences, provides editorial services to publishers and authors, and maintains the Purple Crayon website.

If you want to know more about him, please explore his website, or you can see a (very out-of-date) list of books he’s edited.

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Illustrator Mark Harmon creates comic calling cards

illustrator Mark HarmonPlease welcome illustrator Mark Harmon. The artist, not the actor. Come on folks, really?
 
Mark is an illustrator for comics, children’s books, young adult novels, and anything else he can get his hands on. His professional illustration career started when he won a coloring contest when he was 10 years old. Ever since then clients have been bursting down his door to get him to work for them. Okay, so that last part might be stretching the truth a little, but you get the idea, right? As cliché as it sounds, he’s been drawing ever since he can remember and he doesn’t intend to stop any time soon. He’s done work for Scholastic, Benchmark Education, Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Lampost, Inc., and many private clients.

WMI: When did you get started illustrating for children? What did you do before?

Mark Harmon: I started with my first children’s book back in college, around 2006-07. Before that I was just a student, studying illustration.

WMI: What are you working on now? Do you have any other art projects you’d like to talk about?

Light_of_the_Golem_coverMark Harmon: I’m working on a graphic novel for a small publisher. I’ve been working on it for around 2 years now, but I’m like 96.8% done with it. I’m also working on a comic pitch for a private client and some character/property designs for another client. Sorry to be so vague, but I can’t talk about anything too much in detail right now. NDA’s are brutal that way. :P  When I’m not working on client work I try and do my own comics. Right now I’m trying to juggle 2 personal projects, rather unsuccessfully. haha. One is called Light of the Golem, and Pest Control issue #2.

WMI: Do you do non-children’s book art (licensing, fine art, etc.) or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?

Mark Harmon: I’m mostly doing non-children’s book stuff. I’m mainly doing comic book work. But, the comics I’m doing are “all-ages”, so kids could read them. The style is a bit different when I’m working in comics and children’s books. My comic style has black outlines and hard cell shading. My children’s book style has no outlines and a more softer shading.

WMI: Can you explain your art process?

Mark Harmon: I draw exclusively in Photoshop. I start out with a sketch layer where I do my rough sketches. I then do an “ink” layer where I do the final line drawing. I will then do a layer copy of the link layer and drop it down to 30-35% opacity. This is the layer I will do my shadows on. Underneath the shadow layer I will put another copy of the ink layer and use the paint bucket to color in the shapes from the line work. Then lastly, if there are any overlay colors or highlights, then I’ll do those on a separate layer above the color layer.

 

 

WMI: You’ve developed a bunch of mini series comic books, but you aren’t selling them on line. Where can people go to purchase them?

Mark Harmon: I don’t have my own online store, but if you go here, you can find my stuff. I believe you have to pay using PayPal. I know, I’m not really on the ball with that kind of stuff yet.

Harmon_AnthologyWMI: Did you create the comic books specifically for selling at conventions?

Mark Harmon: Not really. I didn’t make these only for conventions. One reason I made them was to function as a resume. Seth Godin said in one of his books, “Projects are the new resume.”

Gaining published experience is pretty difficult. So, I created my own projects and self-published them at a professional level to sort of jump over that hurdle. I wanted to show publishers and future clients that while I might now have the exact published experience, that in no way means that I am incapable of delivering a good product.

Another reason for making them is that it’s just so gosh darn fun. Creating characters and stories is fun and I enjoy doing it. :)

WMI: At which con did you first have a booth?

Mark Harmon: My very first experience tabling at a show was at the “Helper Arts Festival” in Helper, UT back in 2009. I was there for 2 days, 8 hours a day and sold 5 books. I know now that it was a terrible show to table books at. Most of the booths there were selling Native American jewelry, so I was totally at the wrong event. I then did a really small book fair in Cheyenne, WY. I was there 4 hours one day and sold 16 books. So, it just goes to show that you have to do your research about each event and see if it will be a right fit for you.

WMI: Why a con?

Mark Harmon: Right now I’m doing conventions because there just aren’t enough art fairs or books fairs geographically close to me here in Wyoming. But, I mostly make comics and so I figure people will buy comics at a comic convention, right? haha
I think that I would do better at an art fair or a book fair because of the type of people that go to those types of events. I know that I’m making broad generalizations, but from my experience, and hearing the experience of other artists, comic conventions aren’t necessarily the best places to sell comics, as weird as that sounds. The reason for this is that usually the type of people that go to a comic convention are huge fans of a particular book, series, show, etc., and these people are there to find something related to that, which is totally cool. So, that means that if you are making something that you’ve created and nobody has ever heard of it, then it’s harder to get people to invest in you. But, there are those people who wonder through artist alley to look for new stuff, and I LOVE those people, they are the BEST. These are the people who I’ve heard are at art fairs and book fairs. So it’s just an audience thing. Conventions don’t usually contain a majority of your audience, the “looking for new stuff” audience.

convention_setupWMI: How did you prepare for this aside from making art?

Mark Harmon: I had tons and tons of things printed! haha. I printed my books, business cards, postcards, price signage, 6 foot banner, and even a custom table cloth with my logo. Now, depending on the audience that you’re trying to get, you won’t necessarily need to get so fancy. This is just a personal preference for me. I want to look as professional as possible. I want it to look like I’m coming from a major company. I want it to look like I’m not a “one man show”. So for me, it takes a bit of upfront expense to table, but it’s probably not needed.

WMI: What did you learn? What advice do you have for other illustrators interested in investigation this option?

Mark Harmon: Just because I’m lazy and don’t want to write it all over again, I actually did a blog post on “The Do’s and Don’ts” of tabling at conventions.

Mark’s Etiquette DO’s and DON’Ts of TABLING AT SHOWS
DO:
  • Chill out. Relax.
  • If someone stops and looks at something on your table, then talk to them. If they’re just walking by and not making eye contact with you, then let them be.
  • Smile
  • I don’t care what your brand is, be friendly to people.
  • Make it look like you actually want to be there. Because you do, right? RIGHT?!
  • Always look like you’re having fun, even at the slow periods where you might not be having any.
  • For crying out loud, make yourself look presentable. Shower, comb your hair, iron your shirt. I don’t know, just look nice.
  • While someone is thumbing through your book, tell them what it’s about if they having asked.
  • Let them touch stuff. Let them look at your book/art. Let them experience your work.
  • Make yourself look like a professional. Get a banner. Use good graphic design. Make it look like you belong with the “big boys”.  Make it look like you know what you’re doing and that people should buy your work for what it’s worth.
  • Charge for what it’s worth. You’re an artist. You can do things that the average person can not. So, charge them for it. If a drawing SHOULD BE worth $20, don’t sell it for $5, sell it for $20. Believe it or not if you charge too little for your work, it will be a turn off. People will wonder what’s wrong with it.
DON’T:
  • Yell at people from behind your table. If you do, you have become a door-to-door salesman. And who likes those?
  • Going along with that first one, don’t make a spectacle of yourself. Because if you do, then you’re selling a spectacle, not your work. Spectacles don’t make money.
  • Try and MAKE someone stop at your table.
  • Don’t make the sad, desperate puppy face.
  • Eat in front of people at your table. Do I even have to say this?
  • Undercharge. You’re worth it. Act like it.
  • Have a 5 minute explanation of your book/art. If you can’t explain it in 30 seconds or less, then rework it until you can.
If you want to read more about my experience I wrote a after con blog post. It has a full breakdown of expenses and what to do if anyone is interested in that kind of stuff. It’s sort of a “full disclosure” report.

WMI: Do you have any more appearances planned for the upcoming year?

Mark Harmon: I have my table already bought for Denver Comic Con 2014, and will also do Salt Lake Comic Con 2014 as well. There is also the possibility of me doing another comic con in 2014, but it’s kind of a “hush hush” type of deal, so I can’t really say yet. :P

WMI: Do you have a favorite color or palette?

Mark Harmon: All of them. I’m guilty of “rainbow vomiting” all over my artwork. Photoshop gives me a million colors to use and I use them all. haha. This is my biggest weakness as an artist. This is the area in which I could use a lot of growth. I’m really bad with color theory and stuff.

WMI: What is your favorite medium to work in? Have you always worked in this media? If not, why did you switch?

74Mark Harmon: Digital. I started out in college doing colored pencil and watercolor. I tried painting, but I just couldn’t get it. I have lots of respect for artists who can push around goop on a stick and make something of it. I never could really get into any medium. Colored pencil took too long. Watercolor was backwards from the way I think. After I discovered doing artwork on the computer, I fell in love. It worked like my brain worked. I got really comfortable with it really quickly and haven’t looked back. The major drawback is that I never have an “original” piece to sell, and I love collecting original artwork.

WMI: Do you use models/source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?

Mark Harmon: Of course. Who doesn’t? I use my imagination for people. Although sometimes I need to take a picture of my hands if I get stuck. For things like architecture I use 3D reference. If it’s something simple, then I use Google Sketchup to build a room or house, but it it’s a whole town or a vehicle, then I use free models that others have made. Even then I don’t copy it verbatim. I try and put my own spin on what I’m looking at.

WMI: If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?

Mark Harmon: Probably a video game tester. haha. That would be awesome!

WMI: What gets you through an illustration when you’re stuck for inspiration?

61Mark Harmon: Bills to pay and kids to feed. HAHA. I don’t usually have the luxury of “getting stuck”. I start working around 8AM and end around 5PM. If a deadline demands it, then I start again after the kids are in bed until I start falling asleep at the desk. I don’t want this to sound like I’m being cocky, but when you are a full time illustrator with deadlines, you learn to just work through your bad moments. I’ve learned that the more you plow through those periods of lack of inspiration, the less of those moments you’ll have. But, until you get to that point you sometimes have to do the opposite of what I just said. Sometimes you just have to get up and walk away from a piece. Take a break. Do something not related to art, then come back to it. Most of the time when you take your mind off of it, the answer will come. Give your brain some time to process the problem. Or, what’ really good is show it to someone else. Get someone else’s opinion. A lot of the time we are too close to our own work to see the faults and an objective eye can bring a fresh perspective and new ideas.

WMI: What book do you remember from when you were young?

Mark Harmon: My favorite books as a kid were the “Little Critters” books like “Just Me and My Dad” by Mercer Mayer. And then, when the “Where’s Waldo?” books came out, oh man, those were pure eye candy! I loved staring at each page for hours, looking at all the details. Now that I’m an illustrator myself and I know what it would have taken to make those, I sure hope Martin Hanford got paid a lot of money for those! haha

WMI: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now?

Mark Harmon: I really love the work of Guy Francis, Dan Santat, Doug Tenapel, Tony DiTerlizzi, Jerzy Drozd, Otis Frampton, Peter DeSeve, and too many more to name.

WMI: If you could illustrate any writer’s new work, who would it be?

Mark Harmon: A celebrity’s book because it would probably sell a lot and make lots of money. haha! Actually, I would LOVE to draw a Kung Fu Panda comic. Oh man, that would be amazing!