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  • Naomi Blayney

A sit down with author and illustrator Emily House

For this week's blog I interviewed the incredibly talented author illustrator Emily House. Emily has self published her book 'Earth Takes a Break' and has a traditionally published book coming out very soon.

I got a copy of Emily's book Earth Takes a Break and it’s the most wonderful story about Earth who goes to the doctor when she feels unwell. At a time when we could all make more effort to connect with our planet, this book is a great way to teach children about the environment and what we can do to help. It's a really good way to frame the pandemic and how we have all helped the earth despite being stuck indoors. I really enjoyed the story and the illustrations really brought the story to life. You can buy the book here on Amazon.

Her new book about the adventures of 'Bonbon and Blanket'. It's a heartwarming story about a strong friendship and is available to pre-order on 1st April. I can't wait.

Both books, although I've only seen snippets of Bonbon and Blanket, are beautifully illustrated in the most dreamy style. Each page is a visual delight with subtle details and a stunning colour palette.

I asked Emily a few questions about herself and her journey. I hope you all find her words as fascinating as I did. As someone at the start of their journey I found it fascinating to get insight into publishing from someone who has followed both the self publishing and traditional publishing routes. Read on for lots of tips and inspiration...

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became an author illustrator

I’m a Brit Abroad! I grew up in Norfolk but moved out to South Africa in 2009 along with my husband and two small children. We came to volunteer for a charity near Cape Town for 10 months and never left. As a child I was often found in my bedroom drawing away and always said I wanted to illustrate children’s books but, when it came to choosing what to do when I left school I couldn’t see how I could make that happen so I moved into television production - hilariously I thought it would be a more reliable career! Since then I’ve mostly worked in the media or other creative fields, had two children and done a fair bit

of Mumming and more recently I’ve been working as graphic designer. However, a couple of years ago I was having a conversation with my family and I suddenly remembered how much I loved writing and drawing. I guess as my children had become older and more independent I realised I had more headspace and time to pursue other creative outlets. So, in July 2019 I wrote my first lines towards a picture book and started to visualise and draw characters. I didn’t really know what I was doing so I did what most people do in this day in age and Googled it! Lo and behold I stumbled across the SCBWI and I found the local chapter was having a meeting just down the road from me that very weekend so it seemed like fate. There I met a bunch of wonderfully welcoming, talented and knowledgeable people and was able to join both a writing and illustration critique group. I plucked up the guts to start an Instagram account as an illustrator and tentatively posted a couple of pictures and I haven’t looked back since.

2. You've self-published and have a traditionally published book on the way. Can you help us understand the difference between the two approaches?

When you self-publish everything is on you! There are a variety of ways you can self-publish:

You can print on demand, which is less financial risk but more costly per book (and there are limitations on the print and paper options) or you can invest more heavily with a large print run and get a cheaper price per unit but either way you are responsible for selling the book. So, you need to make sure that you have done everything in your power to make it a quality product by not skipping any corners. If you do not have all the skills you will need to enlist professionals to assist you in the process. It is likely you’ll need to hire an editor, illustrator and book designer. You’ll need to identify a printing company and possibly a distribution company. You may also need to enlist marketing services. You have to do all of the work and all the number crunching but equally you get all of the profits.

If you traditionally publish the publishing house takes all the financial risk. They organise the printing and handle editing and book design (as well as illustration if you are not an illustrator). They will also do a certain amount of marketing and will handle distribution. The author/illustrator gets paid in commission on sales. Usually there is some kind of an advance on the commission. You will still need to do all you can to help to promote your book (as it’s a very competitive market) but they will assist and support you.

3. Do you prefer one or the other - writing or illustrating?

It depends on my mood. I find it more natural to just sit down and draw and will more likely use my

pencil to do that than write. I think that I need to concentrate more on the writing where as I can draw with my family bustling in the background…but, once I am in the zone I love it and can be lost for hours! I often find I have ‘drawn’ my picture books in my head before writing them. The pictures come to me and spark the story.

4. What is the hardest thing you find about being an author / illustrator?

The hardest thing for me is putting myself out there! I think, like a lot of creatives, I am naturally reclusive. I am not great with crowds… or kids for that matter! I feel awkward and often suffer with imposter syndrome. I’m trying to get over it because the reality is that I know that I need to do it. I am hoping the more I practice the easier it will get. Watch this space! My other stumbling block is getting out of my own head. It involves a lot of working on your own which can sometimes be a bit lonely and, if I’m having a bad day for whatever reason it’s sometimes hard to snap out of it. Being part of a critique group has helped a bit in this area as there is always someone you can chat to or share work with and ask for input.

5. Do you have any tips for aspiring author illustrators considering publication on which route to take?

There are pros and cons to each route, however, I do think you need to consider your skillset before venturing into self-publishing and be prepared to pay for the areas that you need professional help in. If you don’t have the funds but truly believe in your idea, you can always crowd fund it using platforms like Kickstarter. Just don’t cut corners. The key is to produce a product that does not look out of place next to all the big sellers in a bookshop. The production quality needs to be as high as possible and a customer will be able to tell the difference sub-consciously even if they can’t articulate it. I am fortunate in the fact that I can write and illustrate and I have a graphic design background so can design a book – this eliminates a lot of the costs for me. I can do the marketing too but I don’t like doing it and it’s very time consuming! With traditional publishing, you just need to realise it’s a business like any other. It’s not a golden ticket and, just like self-publishing, it takes hard graft. You have to be prepared for rejection and prepared to compromise sometimes too. However, if you believe in your story and want to share it with the world, whichever method you take it’s worth it: It’s hard to beat the feeling of seeing a child completely absorbed in a book that you’ve created!

You can follow Emily on instagram at @EmilyHouse.Design.

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