Guest contributor: Philip Webb

My career as a children’s book illustrator began in the 1970’s and in that time I have changed and developed my style of work. For years I have used the traditional approach using pen or pencil line on watercolour paper. Line has been an important component in my work, and I have always admired the work of Ardizionne and E.H. Shepherd. The line is loose but contains a lot of detail which is left for the imagination to interpret. I also admire the work of John Burningham and Quentin Blake to mention just a few.  To the line I have added layers of watercolour paint, starting with the shadows and half tones. The whole process is very tactile and enjoyable. Pencil roughs and final art have been sent to the publisher by overnight courier.

More recently pencil roughs are emailed and large files of finished art scanned to disc or sent via the internet on dropbox- a much more convenient system! The requirement for digital artwork has meant a big learning curve for me. I still hand draw the line and scan this into photoshop on the computer. All colour work is blocked in, carefully following the CMYK colour charts. Shadows and halftones follow this and the process finishes with highlights and texture. Sometimes I will add a watercolour paper texture. Another process I use is a base flat colour layered over the line work which I then slowly paint in to. I learnt this from underpainting in oils on canvas. It gives a bit more spontaneous texture and a slight painterly look. While making changes digitally is much easier, I don’t find working digitally otherwise is any faster than traditional work. Colour and tone is a lot stronger but I am unable to catch the tactile and subtle features of painting on paper, which I would prefer for some of my books. I am sure more experienced and younger digital illustrators would be able to do this.

Regardless of how the final artwork is rendered however, I personally think the most important and time consuming stage is at the pencil rough stage. Don’t throw your better pencil roughs away as they can sometimes be better than the final art! I think other illustrators would agree.

For me the success of the final illustration comes down to how good the original drawing and composition is. I look back on some of my earlier work with embarrassment, the only consolation being that my drawing style continues to change for the better!

Philip Webb, Illustrator



Initial pencil sketches and final cover of “What Ever Happened to Milo?”. Written by Claire Bunt, illustrated by Philip Webb

Guest contributor: Karen McKenzie

Publicity for your book

As a professional book publicist, I love championing the work of the wonderful authors I work alongside. But as an author myself, I completely understand how challenging the promotional side of book publishing can be. So here are a few pointers for first-time self-published authors to consider:

  • Get a professional publicist on board early on. It’s too late when your book is already printed. Most publicists will be talking to media around two months before a book’s release, but good publicists will be booked out many more months in advance.
  • Yes, you do need a professional publicist if you want your book to get the recognition it deserves. You may be able to drum up some publicity with local media, but a publicist will champion you to appropriate media nationwide, and you will reap the benefit of their many years of building relationships with key editors, presenters, and producers. Also, as I discovered myself when I tried to do publicity on one of my books, it’s hard to champion your own I tried, and it was a total failure. Unless you are a national self-promoter, it just doesn’t sit well with most authors.
  • Be realistic about what can be achieved with publicity for your first book. The media landscape is a competitive place, and there are many authors and their books jostling for limited space. But a professional publicist will be able to talk about what you are likely to achieve for your specific book. It’s well worth a conversation!

Karen McKenzie, Publicist
Lighthouse PR

Guest contributor: Matt Turner

From time to time, when my pager goes off, I swap my editor’s ‘hat’ for a Coastguard cap and jump on a boat. And it strikes me that, if all went well in the world of boating – if engines never broke down, if batteries lasted forever – I would never spend time on the rescue vessels, much as I love it.

It’s a broadly similar story with editing: if manuscripts were perfect, I’d be out of work. But who’s to say when an MS is ‘perfect’? And what am I, as an editor, expected to do anyway? That varies widely – infinitely, even. But when working with self-publishing authors in particular, I see my role extending beyond that of a mere copy/structural editor to fulfil a brief that, in the traditional publishing mode, would be met by a commissioning editor. Let me explain.

In my former life as a non-fiction publishing manager in Auckland, we would receive unsolicited manuscripts (the ‘slush pile’) and make decisions on them, but mostly we would recruit books to our list by making our own blue-sky decisions about what to publish, and then commissioning an author. Thus, we were very much in the driving seat, hopefully with a clear vision of the road ahead. And when the author submitted her/his MS, we could expect to do a little steering to ensure it was on track.

When you’re a self-publishing author, there’s no commissioning editor to act as your back-seat driver. Yes, you could ask friends or family to read your MS (and if you’re dishing any dirt on them, you probably should . . .). But you also need neutral, professional input, for obvious reasons. And that’s where an experienced editor can do more than check your spelling. I particularly enjoy being an author’s extra pair of eyes: perhaps because it’s a rare opportunity to collaborate in a creative process, and it enables writers to ‘road-test’ their work before going to press.

Having said all that, occasionally I have had manuscripts that required almost no editorial input. Chapters by historian Dame Anne Salmond, or archaeologist Janet Davidson; an Antarctic title from Neville Peat; an exquisitely written angling memoir from Dave Witherow. Dave did play hardball, though. At one point in his narrative, Gareth Morgan style, he shoots a cat caught prowling birds in his garden. ‘But Dave,’ I wrote, ‘you’re going to alienate a lot of readers with this. Cut it?’ His answer was laconi and to the point: ‘The cat dies.’ That was probably my cue to swap hats and jump on a boat.

Matt Turner

Guest contributor: Sarah Johnson

Some thoughts on publishing your own books

In 2015, I set up my own publishing imprint (Flat Bed Press) and published one of my own books. The Bold Ship Phenomenal is a chapter book for junior readers aged 7/8 to 11/12. I published it as both a hard copy and an e-book.

It seemed to me at the time, and still seems, that self-publishing is a misnomer.

In fact, very little of the publishing was done by me. I did the writing. The rest of the work was done by a host of industry professionals, without whom the book would still be a manuscript.

From the editor to the illustrator, to the designer, to the proof-reader, to the printer (and the print broker), to the distributor, mine has seemed the relatively easy part of the process. I have no doubt that without the involvement of these talented individuals the book would not be as beautiful as I now consider it to be.

What I did get to do, is to have a degree of hands-on involvement in the production of the book that I hadn’t experienced with my previous books, published by a mainstream publisher. I found that involvement to be satisfying to a degree I hadn’t anticipated. It was, from start to finish, a deeply creative act.

Which must be why I am considering doing it again.

I feel the book has been a success. It hasn’t become a bestseller, and it hasn’t made my name as a writer. But it has recovered the financial cost of producing it, and been well-received by the children who have read it, their teachers, librarians and schools. It has also attracted some industry recognition, in the form of an award and a shortlisting.

That’s good enough for me.

I saw publishing the book as an investment in my career as a writer at a time when the publishing industry felt uncertain and constrained. Has that investment been worth it? I think it has, if only for the people I have worked with, and things I have learnt from them, along the way.

Sarah Johnson, Author


Sarah Johnson (second from left) with the other finalists in the junior fiction category of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young People 2016; Kate De Goldi (second from right) won the award.

Sarah Johnson (second from left) with the other finalists in the junior fiction category of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young People 2016; Kate De Goldi (second from right) won the award.