The title is everything!
Award-winning New York City illustrator Lisa Falkenstern is working on illustrations for her new children’s picture book. But she and her editor are having trouble deciding on the perfect title. So Lisa has put out an S.O.S.
She’s asking all readers of How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator to help her out! Help her choose the best name for the book. Because she knows that good titles rule. Because the title is the most important decision an author and/ or her publisher probably make on any given book. Good titles sell books. Blah titles seal their doom.
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Lisa has staked out several firsts here. It’s the first first picture book that she has authored.
It’s the first time that this blog has been asked for help by an artist colleague. And it’s the first official reader poll that this blog has conducted in its two year history.
How did the dragon story come about?
Lisa: Long story. I keep a file of images that give me ideas for illustrations. I had a photo of an antique silver eggcup that had chick feet sticking out of a realistically done egg. I liked that and when I got around to working on the idea, the chick became a dragon and lost the claws. It didn’t work. then I played around with the egg and it became an Easter egg. So now I had a portfolio piece.
At that time, while attending a New Jersey SCBWI [Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators] meeting, a friend and I were invited to join another writing group, the Hunterdon County Children’s Writers and Illustrators. We did and it was my husband who suggested I turn that dragon painting into a story. I did and when I showed up for a first meeting, to my everlasting shame, I showed up with a story called The Easter Dragon. I worked on that and got a dummy ready for an SCBWI workshop. I showed it to an agent and he pointed out that it wasn’t an Easter story, it was a dragon and bunny story. I went back to work on it, took out Easter, added a hedgehog to the characters, showed it to the same agent and he wasn’t interested.
Not deterred, I kept working on it and finally showed it to the publisher at Marshall Cavendish at an SCBWI conference who liked it, but had suggestions. About four revisions later, she liked it enough to buy it.
All that from a photo of an egg cup!
Could you give a brief synopsis of your picture book story — even if it’s just a taste? (We won’t give away much of the plot since the book is not out yet.)
My story is about two friends who come across a baby dragon. And what starts out as fun changes to problems. Let’s just say that things things that are cute small, don’t necessarily remain that way when they grow up,
Why did you choose a picture book format instead of an older, more complex treatment of a dragon story?
I’m an illustrator, not a writer. Until now the most I had written were pithy memos to members of my co-0p when I was president, and that was twenty years ago. I never even had the urge to write. I started to write when I realized that I needed to control what I wanted to paint and that was the simplest way. And — this might sound crass to the purists — I wanted to make the most money I could, doing what I wanted and writing and illustrating a picture book mean 10 percent royalties instead of 5 percent. Plus, I made the basic mistake of beginners. I thought, “How hard can this be?”
Have you always been interested in dragons and sword and sorcerer style fantasy?
I am interested in fantasy but not the usual way it is meant. More fantastic than fantasy. but I have always liked dragons, but never had an occasion to paint one.
Was the story accepted by an editor whom you had already worked for as an illustrator or cover artist?
I had already illustrated a book, The Busy Tree for Marshall Cavendish and I knew the editor and publisher, Margery Cuyler and the art director, Anahid Hamparian. I had done a few book covers for Anahid and I may have mentioned a few hundred times that I was interested in illustrating children’s books.
Why do you think you and your editor are feeling a little stuck coming up with a title that you both like for this story?
This just seems to be a hard book to title. The whole time I was working on it I was calling it Rabbit and Hedgehog Make a Friend. But Margery Cuyler wanted the word “dragon” in the title.And it’s not just me. I have been asking everyone I know for suggestions and no one can come up with a title. Since this is my first book, I wanted a really great title — something like The Wind in the Willows — that type of title.My running joke is, would Where the Wild Things Are been that famous if it had been called Max Goes to Bed Without his Dinner? Where The Wild Things Are is such a great title for a book, so evocative that it makes you want to pick it up. I mean it’s a great book without the famous title, but I just wonder how many great children’s books remain undiscovered behind a bland title and cover art?
Of these titles that we’ve listed here in the poll, which are your suggestions and which are your editor’s?
Dragon in the House came from a friend in the Hunterdon County Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group. The “There’s a…” got added by Marshall Cavendish and they also came up with A Dragon Moves In. To me they are fine. I like them. But I keep thinking there may be a better title out there somewhere…
So we’ve added in a “write-in candidate” box to the poll. Do you mind
our including this as part of our focus group poll (with the understanding that our voters aren’t expecting remuneration — or a cut of the action for their suggestions)? However, if Lisa does select one of the write-in suggestions to be the title of her book, she’s offering to give a signed print of her art work to the creative person who comes up with the “perfect title.” (We’ll just need to figure out a way to identify the write-in voter. It might have to be the honor system, which shouldn’t be too hard for the readers of this blog — illustrators being honorable by their very nature.)
I’m not proud. I need all the help I can get.
What stage are you at now with your work on the book?
I’ve just started on the final drawings for the book. I should be done by November.
Have you found the process of creating your own picture book extremely fun, vexing and /or challenging? Is it everything you thought it would be?
After this experience will you be ready to try another one?
I have to say the process of creating a children’s book is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Mostly because it is the first time I’ve done it. Learning all of the subtleties of making a book that works on all levels has been an eye opener. Now comes the painting part, which is different than anything else I have done.
So I hope I lose weight and not gain it by the time I am finished.
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Mark’s note: I took the matter to my online class last Thursday evening. You can see the chat that ensued while we studied Lisa’s baby dragon. (Of such casual discourse great decisions are sometimes made. Well, you can see at least a bit of consensus developing here. But don’t let it influence your vote.)
I voted for “Problem Child.” But, again, please make your own wise choice.
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T: dragon bebeh yay!
K: Oh Lisa this ones great!
T: Lisa’s work is wonderful: wow so cool!
TR: that’s a serious Easter egg surprise
KF: Very cute!|
S: What’s the story?
K: ye? dragon in a Easter egg?
Mav: Love that smirk!!!
KF: And the smoke!
Ti : such detail…
D: she rocks!
S : This is quite beautiful.
T : title for this or the dragon one?
KF: Very realistic!
L: how about “problem child”
S: Do you know what her medium is?
K: thats cool
KF: Or “What Dragon?”… if they’re trying to hide him.
T: very nice
Ti : it’s so fun
Ta: this is very Berkely Breathed chicldren book style
K: I like this spread
Ta: Dragon in the house
M: I like Kim’s suggestion – What Dragon??
KF: Dragon Moves In
Ta: or there’s a dragon in the house
Ti: i like “dragon in the house” — it’s like “mouse in the house” but it’s not the typical animal in the house…
Mav: Dragon in the House
SCM: Perhaps narrowing it even further, even with a kid’s
perspective: “the Dragon in the Bedroom.”
Ta: dragon moves in has been done & it’s liknked to a very
poor early reader in my mind
L: it seems less about a “friend” than raising a “problem child”
Ti: ooh–dragon in the bedroom is fun!
D: ‘Dragon in the House’ or ‘What Dragon?’
S: Dragon in the House.Mav: what’s the story line???
S: I like [SCMs] idea of using a specific room… Dragon in the bedroom,
kitchen, bathroom, basement?
T: knowing the storyline would help more
Ta: “Dragon in the House!” w/that dragon egg on the cover
or expressional faced rabbit & hedgehog
KF: “No Such Things as Dragons”
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Porcupine Fish, illustration by Lisa Falkenstern
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From Lisa’s website: Lisa Falkenstern has been a professional illustrator for more than 20 years. She graduated from Parsons School of Design and has studied at the New York Academy, School of Visual Arts, Art Student’s League, National Academy School of Fine Arts and Cooper Union.
Her client list includes: Borders Group, Simon and Schuster, Random House, Putnam, Bantam Doubleday Dell, Pocket Books, Scholastic, Marshall Cavendish and Golden Books. She has been in numerous shows including, the Society of Illustrators Annual, CA Annual, and Print. She was in the show The Fine Art of Illustration at the Hunterdon Art Museum.
Recently she’s has been chosen to be in the Showcase’s 2007 Best Illustrators 2007 Edition. She is a member of the Society of Illustrators and is in their permanent collection. She’s a Gold Medal winner of the Society’s Member Show. 2007 edition.
She’s had shows in the N.Y.C. Metropolitan area. Besides her illustrations she also does portraits. Lisa generally works in oils, but also in egg tempera, acrylic, and digital.
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Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts the “How to Be A Children’s Book Illustrator” blog. He teaches an online course in drawing and painting for children’s book illustration. Click to discover the best ever drawing secret.