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Coaching KidLit – EPISODE 28: Interplay of Words and Art in Picture Books

Coaching KidLit – EPISODE 28:

The Interplay of Words and Art in Picture Book Writing and Publishing with Guest Michael Hale

In this episode of Coaching KidLit, Sharon talks Picture Books with award-winning author/illustrator and Picture Book publishing guru, Michael Hale.

From the importance of open communication and trusting collaboration between authors and illustrators to the invaluable advice for aspiring creators considering traditional vs. self-publishing, this episode is brimming with inspiration and practical tips about creating book dummies, the value of cheerleaders in your writing journey, and how to bring your best work to life.

Books Mentioned:

Key Topics Covered:

  • Concise Storytelling
  • Paths to Picture Book Publishing
  • Working with Illustrators
  • Challenges in Collaboration
  • Developing the Craft



[00:00:00] Sharon Skinner: Welcome to Coaching KidLit, a podcast about writing and publishing good KidLit.

[00:00:06] Christy Yaros: We dig into various aspects of writing craft through a KidLit lens and provide inspiration and clear actionable items to help writers like you move forward on their KidLit writing journeys.

[00:00:19] Sharon Skinner: I’m Sharon Skinner, author accelerator, certified book coach, and author of speculative fiction and KidLit, including picture books, middle grade, and young adult.

[00:00:30] Christy Yaros: And I’m Christy Yaros, author accelerator certified book coach and story editor, focusing on KidLit, including middle grade and young adult.

[00:00:40] Sharon Skinner: Hey listeners. This is Sharon. This month, Christy can’t be here because she’s busy supporting democracy. So I’ll be solo hosting this month, but we both want to remind you to register, to vote. Make sure your voice is heard.

This month’s podcast is all about picture books. And I’m talking to Michael Hale. Michael Hale is an author, illustrator, and when I went to look for his bio, I found on his website, Michael Hale is an award winning author and illustrator of children’s picture books.

His books are humorous, rhyming, read aloud stories for children. Michael lives in Phoenix, Arizona. And I had to laugh because Picture books have to be concise, and that is one of the most concise bios I’ve seen so I so appreciated that.

Michael has a number of books that he’s worked on both traditional and independently published, and he actually has a number of books that he’s both the author and illustrator on, books like Bad Monkey Business, Fast Freddy, The Legend in a Shell, and one of my favorites, Found One Dinosaur, because who doesn’t want to find a dinosaur?

Michael’s also the illustrator coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Arizona, and he teaches at Grand Canyon University. He teaches graphic design classes. So, We’re going to have a really good time today talking to Michael about All Things Picture Books.

How are you, Michael?

[00:02:15] Michael Hale: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:17] Sharon Skinner: Thanks for being here. I’m very excited to talk to you today because you are my go to when it comes to All Things Picture Book and also publishing through the different paths. I’ve attended your presentations and your webinars on the different paths to publishing.

I’ve attended your So, I’m really excited to talk to you today about all those things. Tell us a little bit, Michael, about what drew you no pun intended, to being a picture book author illustrator.

[00:02:53] Michael Hale: Okay, I was one of those kids that, I was always drawing, always knew that whatever I wanted to do in life, I, wanted to be drawing, I wanted to be creative when I was doing it, , originally, my career path, I was always wanted to be a cartoonist, and I always drew cartoons when I was a kid, so I was always Making stories, drawing pictures, doing that as a kid.

When it came time to go to college, I knew I wanted to study art. I wasn’t really sure what the path was going to be for me, but I went and chose a local school that had an illustration program. And I went to the University of Arizona. I majored in graphic design and illustration. And really, took the graphic design because, it was the design part of it, it was part of that pathway.

But they had told me then, if you’re an illustrator, there are no jobs at the illustration factory, put it that way. You’re going to have to, have a backup somewhere to be able to do other types of art to kind of survive.

So, graduating, from U of A, I, started working in advertising. And I never really thought of myself as a good writer. I knew I could draw, but it wasn’t until I started working my way up in advertising and became an art director where people would tell me, it’s like, oh, you’re a good writer.

And I’d be like, oh, no, I’m not. I’ve just watched a lot of TV commercials throughout my life and I know how to write TV commercials. But kind of worked my way up, on the agency side, became, an art director and, then worked my way over to the client side of, advertising. So I worked for Hilton for a number of years, in in house agencies, and then, became an agency manager, and ran the agency for a couple of years.

And really while doing that, I was absolutely miserable. I never got to do any creative work. It was all just business, getting that done. And then I got a dream advertising job I stayed on the client side and I got a job as the creative director at the Phoenix Zoo.

And, worked as, the creative director there, and when I first went there, I was in charge of all the graphics, I was in charge of all the advertising, I was in charge of all the marketing, collateral, all of the membership stuff, everything that had to be done, but Found that when I worked there, they started tacking more onto my position.

They’d be like, Oh, you’re a creative guy. You want to be in charge of our holiday zoo lights presentation, and design all of that. And they’d say, you’re a creative guy. You want to redo all the signage in the children’s zoo. They kept doing that and, got really busy. I kept saying yes to all the projects that they said to me.

And my. Kids were younger at the time and, I never really saw them because I was always working and, finally got to a point where I went to the zoo and I said, I can’t do this anymore. And they said, well, What if you just freelance for us and, continue on that way and you don’t have to do the daily meetings and the daily grinds and you can just do design work and do everything.

But it was all very kid centric and I did that for another 20 years, where I just kept designing things for the zoo and then other clients and it was all very kid centric stuff and, I would write and tell my kids stories when they were younger, and I would always draw them pictures and it just kind of led into that pathway.

When my kids finally started getting a little older and I could pursue this, I became a member of SCBWI, so I’ve been a member for 20 years. And continue to work on my craft, and get things done and I came to a point at about 2015 where I said, this is really what I’m going to do, what I want to do, I want to make children’s books, and I’m going to put more effort towards this.

And I was lucky in 2015, I had my first book where I was offered a position as an illustrator , which was Up, Up, Up by Phoebe Fox. And that book was, published in 2016. So, that was really kind of a long answer to it, but like I said, it’s been a long, curvy process that I think, Eventually got me to where, you know, I really think I should be.

[00:06:47] Sharon Skinner: I liked hearing that because I think it’s a long, curvy process for many of us. We have to make a living before we can figure out how we can be creative in our lives and maybe ultimately make a living being creative in our lives. And we have responsibilities but we have this love of children’s literature and I love the part about the zoo because it kind of explains to me why so many of your books are animal based. Bad Monkey Business is such a fun book and Fast Freddy also features an animal. And don’t you have a new book coming out, or just came out, that’s also animal based?

[00:07:25] Michael Hale: It’s kind of animal based. The new book that I have coming out, the one that I wrote and illustrated, is called, Peensie Pete, A Tall Tale About a Little Guy, and it’s about a two inch tall cowboy. And it still has animals in it, and, you know, his whole, relationship in trying to get home revolves around desert animals, but, yeah, I mean, that, that kind of background, it’s, what’s interesting is if you know where I’ve been and look at my books, you can kind of look at my, oh, yeah, I see where that came in handy.

Oh, yeah, I can see where that came in handy. And even to the point with the writing, because, writing for advertising, is another that has to be concise, to the point, just like picture books. So, a lot of what I learned, or knew when you started learning the rules about picture books and the way they have to be written, it’s visual storytelling, and so much of that in advertising is really the same way.

It’s like, you want to get a message across, you’ve got to get to the point quickly, you’ve got to make sure that it’s understandable, and, That background, I think, really gave me an advantage, in writing and, and creating picture books.

[00:08:29] Sharon Skinner: That’s awesome. So, you have worked in traditional publishing, independent publishing, and you’re also, an entrepreneur who does publishing. So do you want to talk a little bit about the different aspects of that and maybe tell us if you will, give us the juice here. Which is your favorite?

[00:08:51] Michael Hale: It’s a good question. And really like you said, I have , gone through the whole spectrum because I’ve done, I mean, in between that, because it’s not only traditionally published and self published, but I’ve also done, a lot of work for hire projects.

In fact, I’m working on another big work for hire project now, which is, a local nonprofit, reading advocacy organization working in conjunction with, a major sports team. And, even on this, this project, I’m not the illustrator, I’m not the author, I am the art director, coordinator, putting this whole book together and trying to take it turnkey because I can bring those skills to use as well.

So, really, It’s not so much the process that makes it, better, I mean, to me, my focus is always on the final product. It’s saying, how are we going to make the best book that we can possibly make? And it was really good because the first couple of projects that I did were traditionally published.

So getting into and learning more and working on the craft and saying, Oh yeah, well, that’s how that’s done. And Oh yeah, that’s how you get that part of it, taken care of. And it was really lucky because, it was a smaller publisher with the first book that I had done and, they let me follow the process.

So for instance, I illustrated that book, but a lot of illustrators are not designers. So, they may have to hire another designer or usually do hire a designer or an art director who’s going to put that book together and do the final layout.

That doesn’t always fall on the illustrator and majority of time it doesn’t fall on the illustrator. And so I had talked to him and I said, are you hiring a designer to design this book? And they said, yes, we are. And I said, well, can I possibly do that? Can I apply? And they said, well, yeah, sure.

You have the skill set and you can do that. Let’s see what you can do. So I did that, and I worked with an art director, and I designed the book, and we got the specs done. And then I said, well, where is the book going to be printed? And they said, it’s going to be printed overseas. And I said, well, can I track that?

Can I, stay involved in the process and work that? And they said, yeah, sure you can. So by the time my first book was done, and it was all done, and we were happy with the way that the book came out, It was nice because now I had all these extra things in my toolkit that I knew how to do. It’s like, I can take a book from start to finish and I can do a good quality book because I’ve seen how it’s done.

So, when, my next book came out, that was Bad Monkey Business, which I self published and I took that book kind of turnkey. And, it was printed overseas with the same printer that had, done the, first book. And the thing that I realized in coming through that process was, Really the best compliment that I think I got on that book originally was people would hold it up and go, this is self published.

You know, they, they couldn’t believe that it was a self published book. And, it’s because we followed all the same guidelines that you would in traditional publishing. So long story, getting back to where you’re saying, what is the most rewarding part of the process? I mean, Creating a good book in whatever form is always the best part.

The more you may have a hand in it, and the better it turns out, that is also very rewarding, part of the process. If you know, it’s like, hey, every aspect of this book is something that I had a hand in. And, not saying that you don’t need outside help, because even when you’re self publishing, you still need a lot of outside help if you don’t have the skill set to do it.

Like I said, it’s, having the right contacts, having the right people, having the right critique group, if you need to hire out editors or anybody else that you may be working with, even if you’re writing and, you know, you need to hire an illustrator, it’s just always finding the best people that you can work with.

[00:12:23] Sharon Skinner: I want to circle back and touch on a couple of things that you just said. One is, the difference between an illustrator and an art director, and the other is, working with an illustrator if you are an author but not an illustrator. So could you just give us the scope of what the difference is, first of all, between being an illustrator and an art director?

[00:12:48] Michael Hale: Sure. Well, starting off with the project and coming in, especially, whether you’re doing this as a self published author or, the way that traditional publishing works is usually that story is written and done and the bugs are worked out of the manuscript before it gets to the illustrator.

So we’re looking at the same process every single time where an illustrator. Is getting a manuscript that is finished for the most part. There may be some little tweaks that happen along the way in the process, but by the time the illustrator gets it, the editors, everybody else has seen this, this is a finished manuscript.

And the illustrator’s job is really to help bring that manuscript to life and, in picture books, it’s a 50, 50 process. Words are half of the process and pictures are the rest of the process, and, sometimes one may carry a little more weight than the other, depending on the page spread or whatever you’re looking at, but it’s really the job of the illustrator to bring it to life, and most people are always surprised in traditional publishing when they find out that, the illustrator and the author really don’t intermingle in the process.

The author has worked with the editor and got to where they needed to be, and the illustrator works with the art director who is working with them to bring this book to life, and the art director is probably talking to the editor and they’re talking about their plans and, what they envisioned for this book.

But, in that process, like I said, even in my first book, that I did, that I illustrated, it was funny because the story itself is so minimalist. And it was funny because there were huge gaps and I remember looking at this and I’m like, okay, there is so much open to interpretation here.

What do you want to see? And I kept asking them that. Well, what do you want me to do? What do you want me to see? And it was great because they just looked at me and they said, well, we want to see what you come up with. Show us your ideas, bring it to life, and that’s really what the illustrator’s job is to do, and the art director’s job is to kind of, you know, maybe just lightly hold the reins and say, Okay, let’s not go a little too far off the path here or go off the path there.

But the art director’s job is to really guide that illustrator through the process and make sure that everything’s there. And then once they get the basis down, and we can talk about that progression of how that happens, but once they find they’re in the right directions, then the art director moves into quality control, then they’re saying, okay, we want to make sure that we have all our consistency issues here.

We want to make sure that the artwork has the right color scheme. We want to make sure that everything is coming together the way it has to come together. So, it’s really that kind of. checks and balances, position with the art director and what the illustrator does. But then there are other parts too, because once the art director is done with that illustrator, then there’s usually bringing designers in who are then putting that book together and taking it into its final form.

Getting the type in there, getting everything out. I mean, the illustrator has done A lot of that work in terms of leaving room for it and working with the art director saying, , you may want to leave, you know, a little more space over here so we can get copy in and it won’t be too crowded, those type of things.

But then they’re working with the designers and in traditional publishing, those designers are usually in house designers that work with the publisher and are working with the art director. And then, they get it into pre production and then it goes off to print and becomes a book.

[00:16:02] Sharon Skinner: Yeah, my own experience with Rocket Shoes was that I had no contact with the illustrator.

I didn’t have any say in who they hired. They did let me see thumbnails and asked my opinion, which was really cool because they didn’t have to. That’s not always the case. But what I saw was that the illustrator did all these great sketches, these thumbnails and everything, but they had options in a couple of places and that was left up

for some feedback. And then in the end, there were some things that the illustrator chose to do that were brilliant, that I love, That were so unexpected and lovely, and then there were a couple of things that the art director added . When I did finally talk to the illustrator, and I said, oh, this was such a great thing that you did here at the end of the book, and he said, well, that was the art director’s idea.

So it’s really a team effort to get a picture book done. Even when you’re the author, illustrator, and art director, you still, have your critique partners, you have people who are looking at this to give you feedback, because as I know as an author, I don’t send anything out without having other eyes on it.

I have beta readers, I have my editors, all of those folks that look at everything. So, talk a little bit about, for those, Folks who might want to independently publish, working with an illustrator, what does that look like, how would they go out and hire an illustrator, what’s best practices, what could they expect?

[00:17:39] Michael Hale: Okay. It’s a good question. And, generally, cause I talked to a lot of people about self publishing when they’re thinking about self publishing and I do a lot of classes and teaching with that. The biggest mistake that most people make when they’re approaching a self publishing project with a picture book and especially when they are an author who is working with an illustrator, is that they think that the majority of creative people can pull this off. And the challenge is there are a lot of rules. There’s a lot of stuff going on in a picture book, and it takes a special skill set to be able to pull this off.

And generally, I always kind of, make fun of the fact that it’s like, my friend Dorothy’s, sister’s nephew’s cousin is, very creative, and we’re going to get them to do it. And it’s not saying that you don’t have to be creative because you do have to have been creative, but, it’s a daunting process to have to illustrate a picture book.

There are, issues of consistency that, you know, someone who may do great oil paintings and everything else, they could have a great career as an artist. But, you know, the fact that they have to draw a character who has to be the same size, look the same way, wear the same clothes, everything else throughout that entire picture book is a process.

And knowing the intricacies of book design are really important as well. And the biggest challenge is, and it’s not about money either. I’ve seen a lot of people, throw a lot of money at, the process. And, a lot of times it can be wasted because I can guarantee you that if you are hiring an illustrator, who’s not a professional illustrator, That, is just someone who is creative or maybe likes to draw or likes to paint or do that.

That nine times out of ten, that person is going to get partway through the process and they’re going to say, you know, this is too much work. I can’t do it. I can’t devote the time. I can’t do that. And that’s what I hear as the biggest downfall for most of these people is that they had hired an illustrator, someone who was inexperienced and that, they flaked out somewhere in the project.

So I always tell people that they should hire someone with experience. Someone who has done a picture book, or at least someone who is extremely dedicated to their craft and trying to do things right. And that, that’s a big part of the process. Another part of the process is making sure that you give the illustrator some room to do their work. You don’t need descriptive language in a picture book because, the illustrator is going to take that in. You don’t need to say that, Susan walked across the street in her favorite red dress, because we’re going to see that dress. We’re going to see that she’s walking across the street.

We’re going to see all those things. You can devote your precious words to Other things maybe what’s Susan thinking, what’s, she anticipating, those type of things that doesn’t have to be descriptive language. But, it’s really a marriage. It really is. And you have to look at it like that.

And, some people, hire illustrators from the other side of the world, in different countries, , and if they’re experienced and they know what they’re doing, that gap, maybe a language gap, a language barrier, a time barrier or something, won’t matter because that person is experienced. The key is really communication, especially because Self published people not only have to deal if they are the author, but generally they have to be the art director as well.

So they have to put on that hat, and they have to be able to communicate well, they have to be able to tell the illustrator if something isn’t working for them. They have to be able to be ready for the fact of, how that may affect their timeline, may affect the work project, may affect the direction of the book.

I hear all sorts of stories, both good and bad, on both parts about that working relationship. But, the biggest thing I also tell people is to make sure that if they’re hiring an illustrator, their biggest issue is that they need to make sure that they create a contract to work with that illustrator, that it’s a professional contract.

I always say that if you ever watch Judge Judy, you know that the person who has something in writing is the one that’s going to win. And that’s really what it comes down to with contracts. And it doesn’t have to be that complicated. It’s basically saying, you are going to produce this for me by this time, and I’m going to pay you this much money.

And if that doesn’t happen, you’re not going to get paid and that you can kind of move forward. I also suggest that when people work with illustrators that they have, what I call breakup points in the contract, that you should go through this in a process. And I usually tell them to break their contracts down into , a conceptual process, a pre production process, and then a final production process.

So that in the beginning when you’re working on the conceptual process, you want to see character sketches. You want to see that they’re preparing for this work. You want to see all the things that they’re doing. And to the point where if they’re not getting you what you need to by then, there’s a breakup point.

You can say, okay, thank you very much for your work. Here’s what I owe you for this, but we’re not going any further and now I’m going to find someone else who can get me through this process. But you don’t have to wait and someone said, well, you say you were going to pay me X amount for a finished book.

And, those kind of breaks in the contract help them say, we’re not getting there. We’re not going to get there. We’re not communicating well. Let’s break up here. I’ll pay you what I owe you, and then I’ll go. And that usually works out for both sides very well.

Because that way, if either side is unhappy with the other, they can part ways. And get on with the project.

[00:22:48] Sharon Skinner: Yeah, I always counsel all of my clients that if they’re doing any kind of self publishing, that whatever they’re doing, they get everything in writing, that there’s an agreement.

Because that way, everybody knows what everybody else is supposed to be doing. If you just have a conversation, people mishear or forget or confuse things and having it in writing so that everybody signs off on it, makes it simplified to go back and say, well, you said you were gonna do this.

Here it is in the agreement. But I wanna circle back to another thing that you said about leaving room. Mm-Hmm. for, those of our listeners who are. authors who want to write picture books or who are writing picture books that the idea of leaving room but also being able to let go right of your vision of what you think the book will look like of what you think the characters may look like because you can have some wonderful surprising results with an illustrator if they’re given some reign because that’s their training.

That’s what they do. They provide the visuals of the story and they’re trained to do it. And if you try to reign them in and force them to, make sure that the character has blue eyes and blonde hair and all of that, that becomes, I know, an issue.

[00:24:12] Michael Hale: Very definitely. , and, what’s interesting is both with publishers and with people that I’ve worked with, in the past when I’ve done either worked for hires or worked, directly on self publishing things where I was illustrating for another author. The things that they tend to come back with in the end and say that they really like the most about the book are those unexpected little things that you may have put in there. It’s those type of things that make the book.

And there are a lot of things that you can add as an illustrator. I think, one of my favorite stories for this, and I know I’ve told you, but your audience, wouldn’t know, is that I had an illustrator friend who’s a very famous illustrator that got, A manuscript about a swim school.

And it was about, this whole swim school where the class excelled and everything else. And, the illustrator did all of her work and did a great job. Went to the publisher and the author was really surprised because when she wrote the story she was thinking of all these kids in this swim school with a teacher and that they were all learning how to swim.

And the illustrator drew them all as fish. It was a swim school, it was a school of fish, and that’s the way she envisioned it. And the author was really shocked at first, but then had to admit later that it was a much better book, and much more colorful than it ever would have been with kids, and, all of the aspects that she saw in the characters were still brought in, even though they were fish, they still had their own distinct personalities and everything, but in the end it was a much better book.

[00:25:37] Sharon Skinner: I love that story. I really do, because it really illustrates, how important the illustrations are for a picture book and how much they can add to a story and a world. So let’s talk about something you touched on a little bit ago, the breakup points.

We’ve kind of talked about if someone’s not a trained illustrator, whether or not they can follow through and things like that. So that’s one thing, but what are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an illustrator trying to work with an author when you have taken on some of these more independent projects?

[00:26:14] Michael Hale: Here’s the nice thing about it, because even though I’ve had those breakup points throughout, a contract, and I’ve always insisted that we’ll have those, whether I’m taking it on, when I’m taking it on as an illustrator, usually I’m the one who’s proposing, here’s the way the contract, I think, should be done and this is the way we’re going to do it. I am lucky to say that any single book project I ever took on, I’ve taken start to finish. I’ve never had to utilize those breakup points. but I’ve known they were there and that came from my days in advertising working as a freelancer, knowing that, there are some people that try to figure out what they want through process of elimination and you’ll never satisfy them because, you’ll never get to where they want.

I think, The challenges that you run into are some of the ones that you had said, like, I know I’ve illustrated books where, they have a character, and the character isn’t clearly defined, yet at the same time, the author may have in, his or her head, well, I want this to resemble this family member, whether it’s my son or my grandson or my whatever.

And so then they’re saying, oh, well, he has to have brown hair and he has to have brown eyes and he has to dress this way and he has to do that. And usually what I’ve found is In the end with that is, yeah, I mean, as an illustrator, my work is for hire. I’m trying to please people and get them, with an expectation.

The more room you give me, the more creative I can be. And I find that the end result in a lot of those books, where you have been nitpicked to the point where it’s like, Oh, well, the shirt has to look this way and this has to look that way. They are generally happy, but it’s kind of stifled the creativity along the way.

It’s where, yeah, I gave them exactly what they wanted and exactly what they expected. Do I think it’s the best that it could be? I think it suits them fine, and, , it may not be the best book it can be, but, that was their project. And also, on the flip side of that, I also have to encourage, people who are self publishing a book and are working with an illustrator, that they have to be clear about what they want.

So, I mean, I can’t discredit those people who nitpick, because that’s what they want, and really, they’re the boss. They’re paying the bills. But at the same time, you have to look at the end result and say, like you had said, at some point you got to let go, and you got to trust my instincts and know that I want to make a good book for you as well.

So, it’s a double edged sword. But it’s experience in doing those books that really allows you to say, okay, I’m gonna lighten up on the reins a little bit, I’m gonna let this person go and do what they want to do. Most of the time, and especially what’s interesting is when I did those type of books is there was a couple of authors that were a little more, concerned about giving those types of direction in books that I worked with them on.

But then in both cases, we wound up doing second books and they were like, Oh, no, you know what you’re doing. Just go ahead. I trust you.

[00:28:57] Sharon Skinner: So it’s a matter of trust.

[00:28:59] Michael Hale: Yeah, it is. And I mean, and knowing that you can get that done, and working with them. And in my case, I think there are only a couple of instances that I can think of, throughout the process and the various authors that I’ve worked with over the years where, I don’t really think I ever got to a point where, I put my foot down, but, There were some points where I had to come back and say, really, you really want to make this a make or break because, it’s not as make or break as you think it is.

Let me show you what I’m thinking. And then let’s see if we can move on from there. So it’s, customer experience, customer relation, I guess, as well as being able to say let’s make this the best it can be.

[00:29:40] Sharon Skinner: Well, that’s communication. That’s being able and willing to have that conversation.

And it’s having an experienced illustrator who is capable and being open to hearing their feedback or seeing what they have on offer that might be different from what you visualized. So I think that all of those things come into play in that respect.

[00:30:03] Michael Hale: Yeah.

[00:30:03] Sharon Skinner: Okay. Michael, we’ve been talking for a while and I want to know if there’s anything we haven’t covered that you really think is important for our listeners to know about picture books, being author, illustrator, what have you.

[00:30:18] Michael Hale: Well, one thing I have found throughout my career, and I think I always say this, is I don’t think there’s anybody that I’ve ever met who wouldn’t like to have a picture book under their belt.

You know, it doesn’t matter what kind of people they are. I talk to people all the time. When they find out what I do, they always say, oh, I would love to be able to have a picture book. I would love to be able to say that I did this, or I would love to do that. So everybody wants a picture book.

It’s, like saying, at some point in time, would you like to have had a pet monkey? Yes, I would have liked to have a monkey. Everybody that experience. To be able to say, oh look, I did this picture book. And some people, act on that and some people don’t. And the people who come to me and say, I really want to self publish a book.

I really want to get this done. And I want to have a book. And the biggest thing that I usually ask them is saying, well, have you tried traditional publishing? Because I always tell them never to give up on traditional publishing, even if they are self published. That if your manuscript is worth its merit before you go spending a lot of money, a lot of time, and then, creating the book is just half the battle in a self published fiction book.

You still have to get out there and market it, and sell it, and there’s a whole lot of work. So you always have to look at your goals, you have to look at what you want to do, but, I always tell them at least try traditional publishing first. Because you’re not going to spend the money.

If you’re creating good work, people will recognize it and you’ll get good feedback. So it’s really the thing where, even if you decide to self publish later, it means that you’ve spent the time, the effort to work on your craft. To create a better product and to become better at what you’re doing, and you’ll always get a better finished project, even if you decide to self publish down the line, try the traditional route first, because you’re going to learn the rules of the game.

You’re going to, learn to create better work.

[00:32:04] Sharon Skinner: Great. I see that you have some events coming up. You have some local book signings that you’re doing and things like that. And those are all on your website. You have a really great website, by the way. Michael’s website is simianbooks.

com. So that’s s i m i a n b o o k s. com. So if you go to look for Michael Hale, he’ll pop up if you. Google him, but his website is actually simianbooks. com. Are there other places that we can find you?


[00:32:34] Michael Hale: Yeah, some of my books are available on Amazon, some of them are available through Barnes and Noble online.

If I meet people, I usually direct them back to my website because you can purchase them off my website. I can sign them and ship them to you as well, if you ever want to see those. But you can find them in other places and keep an eye on my website because things change, especially because I’ll be launching the new Peensie Pete book pretty soon, so that’ll be up there and, there’ll be a whole lot of different events that I’ll be doing, especially here in Arizona, over the next couple months.

[00:33:02] Sharon Skinner: At the end of all of our podcasts, we like to give our listeners an actionable item. So I’ll go ahead and start my actionable item for picture book authors is go out and learn about dummies. They’re not just for illustrators, picture book dummies are a tool that you can use to better understand the layout of a picture book, the page turns that are going to be incorporated into the story and how you can use them to set up tension and to do surprising reveals and things like that.

Go out and look online. The 32 page book dummy is pretty standard, and take a look at that and figure out how your text would fit into that and make adjustments if you need to. So, that is my actionable item for this episode. Michael, what actionable item do you have for our listeners?

[00:33:54] Michael Hale: Well, I would agree wholeheartedly , especially on the picture book dummy, and there are lots of ways to do a picture book dummy, and even, one of the things that, it’s really twofold that I would say, first, how important it is for writers to hear their work, and hear someone else read it, and hear it read back to you, and one of the tips that I always give people is, your laptop, on anything else, you always have a text to speech option where you can get your computer to read your manuscript back to you, which is always a good option.

But even, as starting the dummy process, finding, a 32 page picture book, any 32 page picture book will do, writing your, manuscript down on sticky notes and sticking them on the page, on each page. And you’ll know if you have too much type to fit on a sticky note that there’s more type than you need on that page.

And you can go through and read your book with page turns and see how the pauses work and see how you can get to action and all the things you had just mentioned, is a good way to even start breaking up your manuscript and really prepare for dummy format.

[00:35:01] Sharon Skinner: I love it. Is there anything else you’d like to leave our listeners with today before we sign off, Michael?

[00:35:07] Michael Hale: It’s just been a pleasure to do this work, I love meeting my readers, I love what I do, and, I just want to thank anybody who’s ever looked at my work and encouraged my work, and I always tell people, that if you’re going to do this, find your cheerleaders, you’re going to need them, this is a process, and, luckily, I’ve been, I’ve Getting a better cheer squad behind me as life goes on.

So it’s always a good thing to have and you’re going to need the encouragement and I wish you luck and all the best in your efforts.

[00:35:37] Sharon Skinner: Michael, thank you. It’s been a pleasure. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you. I’m so grateful to have you in my life and I so appreciate you having this conversation with me today.

[00:35:47] Michael Hale: All right, well, thanks for having me. I appreciate being here.

[00:35:50] Sharon Skinner: Well, listeners, thank you so much for joining us. I hope that you’ve gotten a whole lot out of today with Michael and that you’ll join us again next month on Coaching kidLit.

[00:36:02] Christy Yaros: We hope you enjoyed this episode of Coaching KidLit, a writing and book coaching podcast for writers who want to level up their KidLit writing game.

[00:36:09] Sharon Skinner: For more about us and to discover what a book coach can do for you, check out coachingkidlit. com and follow us on social media.



Follow us on Instagram and Twitter: @CoachingKidLit

For more information about Sharon Skinner, visit or follow her on Instagram @sharon_skinner_author_bookcoach and Twitter @SharonSkinner56.

For more information about Christy Yaros, visit or follow her on Instagram and Twitter @ChristyYaros.


Want to know more about working with a Book Coach on your KidLit book? Check out my KidLit Coaching Page  or fill out my inquiry form for a FREE Consult call and let’s get started!

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