Author/illustrator Cassandra Federman was born and raised in Massachusetts, where she spent her childhood reading comic books, playing action figures, drawing superheroes, and participating in all things nerdy (before that became cool). She is also the SCBWI Los Angeles 2017 Mentorship Contest winner. Her book This is a Sea Cow hits shelves on September 1, 2019. Today she’s here to share some of her recent experiences and takeaways on her path to becoming published.
SARAH PARKER-LEE: What things do you wish you’d known/learned before you started this new chapter of illustrating?
CASSANDRA FEDERMAN: Let’s talk about paginating books for a second, a process that, for me, is one of the most confusing things to grasp about picture book construction. Going into making my first book, I knew picture books were usually 32 (sometimes 40) pages and that there were 2 basic layouts: self-ended, and color-ended. (Self-ended is where the endpapers are illustrated and are included in the page count. Color-ended is where the endpapers are a solid color and are not included in the page count.) I didn’t know about a third layout called separate-ended, where the endpapers are illustrated, but printed separately from the rest of the book, and therefore not included in the page count. Every conference I’d ever been to, every illustrator I’d ever talked to, all the research I’d done online—no one had ever mentioned the existence of a separate-ended option! That ended up being the layout we went with for This Is a Sea Cow and I was glad to have a team at Albert Whitman to answer my questions about it.
As a self-taught illustrator, I feel like I’m always learning about new Photoshop tools. (I say “new,” but I should say “new to me,” because I only know about the tools I’ve seen in online tutorials.) While sending files back and forth for the cover art, my art director used a (probably very basic) tool called an adjustment layer, which allows for the adjustment of the color and tone of an image in a way that doesn’t affect the original pixels. How had my knowledge of that incredibly useful tool’s existence slipped through the cracks?! I use it all the time now. Mind, blown.
I also didn’t know that all of the lettering in the book had to be done in black or “white knockout” for language translation purposes. There were words I’d envisioned being written in brightly colored crayon, but that just couldn’t happen.
This book called for the use of found objects, photographs, etc. I didn’t realize that it was up to the illustrator, not the publisher, to handle obtaining permissions. Thankfully, I had my own photographs of manatees that I’d taken during my time studying them in college and I gave myself permission to use them.
SPL: What things did you love about this experience?
CF: I loved finally having a team to collaborate with. Writing and illustrating can be isolating work. It was fun to finally bounce ideas off of other creative people who were as invested in the success of my book as I was—and am! (Shoutout to my husband, who is also creative and lets me bounce ideas off him—oftentimes the same ones—over and over and over.)
This may sound distasteful, but another thing I loved was receiving my first paycheck. It made everything seem so real… so official. I was finally an author-illustrator!
SPL: What should illustrators remember while working on their first book with a publisher?
CF: Everyone wants the book to be the best it can be. Some notes you get will feel wrong, some notes will feel great and immediately improve your work, and some notes will not feel right, but they do shed light on the fact you haven’t nailed whatever you were trying to accomplish. Try to distinguish between these by taking time to consider all notes, even ones that might feel wrong off the bat. Fight for what goes against your vision, but really take the time to consider it.
Ask questions about what will be done promotion-wise. Try to figure out all the ways you might be able to help get word about your book out there. Cover reveals and book trailers haven’t really been shown to increase book sales, so if those things are important to you, you will likely have to push for them or do it yourself. Albert Whitman was great about getting my book a cover reveal, but I have other friends at different houses who weren’t so lucky.
Thank you for joining us, Cassandra!
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Sarah Parker-Lee is a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews, an editor/story editor and proofreader, literacy advocate, and spent four years as a Los Angeles SCBWI board member and the managing editor of Kite Tales, where she is still a regular contributor. She’s a #FUTURESCAPES19 alum and writes YA alt. history and sci-fi. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel
Images provided by Cassandra Federman and Albert Whitman & Co.