We stuck to the plan. Only after a month’s worth of production, when we had more than enough content to create the book Michele had in mind, did she turn her attention to finding a publisher.
We already knew we were going to self publish, which fits our DIY philosophy. The traditional publishing house model is dated, and increasingly unnecessary. Advances in technology are removing the barriers to independent artistry. With enough determination and labor, creative people can now reach a worldwide audience, without having to submit to the machinations of the establishment’s filters.
Why humbly petition for the approval of others to determine if we could release the book we wanted to make, a process that could take months, or even years? We didn’t seek permission from anyone to express our creative vision. Rather, Michele just researched what print on demand publishers offered the best terms for us.
This could have been another stumbling block. Despite the joy and momentum of the project, Michele was still facing intense inner doubts and fears. Such a major decision, which would lead to such a big commitment, was intimidating. Going with the wrong publisher could ruin everything.
The project could have ended right there, with us so paralyzed by the thought of making the wrong choice that we’d make no choice at all. Michele chose to have faith. She set another aggressive one month deadline, and threw herself into publishing industry research. She compared companies, consulted blogs, researched complaints, calculated costs and returns, educated herself on copyrights and technical specifications. She was determined: at the end of the month she would make the decision, and we would move on, without wavering or second guessing.
It was helpful Michele had a clear vision of what she wanted the book to be like. Even though it would add to the cost, she knew it should be a hardcover. This would give it more presence as a beautiful object. Each painting would be printed with a simple black border around it. This is the same way her original art is displayed, in plain black frames, which she has learned is an effective and elegant presentation for her paintings. In a way the book would be like visiting a gallery full of her artwork.
The research we started doing into other contemporary children’s books showed there was nothing else like Michele’s paintings being offered. Everything seemed to be illustrated with cartoons, doodles, or computer generated stuff. It was all overwhelmingly generic and forgettable.
We felt, why shouldn’t children get exposed to real art too? Art is for everyone, even kids. Exposing to them to enriching, surrealistic visions from a young age can only reinforce their powers of imagination and creativity. If the atmosphere is a little dark or eerie, then the art totally partakes in the tone of the fairy tales everyone grew up with. The writings of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm are full of darkness and the bizarre, just to name a few of the prominent examples we were inspired by. The fact these disturbing stories are universally understood to be intended for children reflects a kind of wisdom our politically correct age recoils from.
Basically, Michele designed the kind of book we would have both loved when we were children. The kind of book that creates future artists.
The publisher Michele selected ended up being a good choice. During the preproduction phase, she communicated with them on an almost daily basis, asking questions, giving clarifications, making decision after difficult decision, each one a step towards finishing the project. The level of fear and intimidation remained high, but with prayer and each other’s unwavering commitment, we trusted we were moving in the correct direction.
Such was Michele’s determination throughout the entire process that it came together more quickly than we ever imagined it could. On March 5, 2014, Michele had the conversation with her sister Patricia about using existing paintings for a children’s book. On July 9,2014, Amazon listed “The Secret Kingdom” as published, available to a worldwide audience. From idea to completed book took about four months.
Of course it helped we had twenty years worth of Michele’s artwork to draw from. But in only a third of a year, to enter the entirely unknown realm of children’s literature, and to utilize an entirely new means and medium to share our creative work, still feels miraculous to me.
This was only the beginning of many new and exciting challenges in our lives. We’ve done book signings now in venues ranging from a museum to a coffee house, from an elementary school to an upscale art gallery. As anticipated, we are reaching an audience far beyond the market for original artwork; many moms, dads, grandparents, teachers, poets, and even children themselves have picked up copies of The Secret Kingdom. They’ve listened to us read from it, and tell the story of how it came to be. We’ve received reviews both good and bad; some worry the strange paintings will somehow frighten children. Comments like that makes me wonder how well those people remember what being a kid is like.
But even the negative reviews mention the intensity of the art, and the unusual nature of the book. This is the type of work that would have never been released by timid and conventional commercial publishers. And there’s plenty more where that came from: we are already working on our next book.
Whatever comes next, for us The Secret Kingdom represents what can happen these days when vision is coupled with drive and the possibilities inherent in our technological age. We are standing on the verge of a new Renaissance, where independent creatives have a new freedom to bring their ideas into reality and disperse them all across the globe. The opportunities are amazing for those who will take action.
Past Installments of The Journey to the Secret Kingdom