Jump the Shark and the Pirate Princess is out!
Each book is an experiment. I am building and refining my hypothesis of how to make fun awesome stuff every day, and testing that hypothesis with each release. So let’s find out what I’ve learned so far, eh?
Jump the Shark and Sera Mermaid
I’d never made a kids’ book before this. So here, the questions were “how much effort is it going to take, and what do I think of the instructions provided in this ebook I bought on making kids’ books?”
What did I learn?
- I decided I didn’t like the 8.5×11. It seemed pretentious to have a bigger book than Dr. Seuss when I had yet to attain his level of quality.
- I learned I don’t actually mind shameless promotion when I think the product I’ve created is actually fun.
- I learned that the difference in color between my screen and the printed page is drastic.
- It took me a couple of weeks to draw, color, and write the book, so I figured this must be much easier than I thought. Although I did the simplest, most pandery story I could, and let the ink take care of most of the shading, saving more subtle shading effects for dramatic moments.
- I learned I was not going to become a millionaire with my first book. (In my head, I always knew this, but you don’t emotionally accept that until it actually fails to happen).
(Buy it here!)
The Amazing Alphabeasts
- Recalibrated one of my monitors to try and match Jump the Shark’s print, then used that to create a color palette for use in kids’ books. This book demonstrated that the palette was solid, but needed some work.
- Tried crowdfunding this on Kickstarter. It did modestly well when I was actively promoting it, but lost all momentum when I was forced to spend my time looking for work. I learned:
- It’s better for me to do a voiceover over illustrations than an actual video.
- It’s better to Kickstart things I’m not sure I want to create, so that I can abandon the project if it doesn’t work, or do it if does.
- Even then, constant promotion and effort will be needed to bring a crowdfund across the finish line.
- Tried making something marginally educational. Learned that serving even causes I believe in is less motivating than simply seeking to entertain. I don’t know whether I will make many more educational works, but I tend to doubt it.
- Tried making a page template to ensure every picture sat on the page in a way I could get behind. Template worked very well indeed. Afterwards, I switched it from a single page to a two-page template so I could draw full-spread illustrations as a single picture.
- Tried 6×9 instead of 8.5×11 and decided I rather like that size.
- Tried using ClipStudio Pro to make the book instead of an internet PDF-generating service. Found out that ClipStudio doesn’t make PDFs unless you are Japanese. Boo.
- Tried using Scribus. Learned after the fact that Scribus does not handle line height gracefully (the text in Alphabeasts is jammed together to this day).
Hat Trick 1: The Death of Arthur
My job hunting complete, I went back to work in the Retail sector again. Because I have an old broken laptop with messed up colors, and I didn’t have enough time at home with my workstation to properly color things, I decided I would do a Black and White book for a change. I also have a pet peeve that kids books are oversanitized, and Hat Trick was not conceived originally as a children’s story, I decided to go ahead and try a much darker story, see whether it sat right with me when finished.
- Tried my 2-page template and blowing small images up instead of shrinking large images down. It was acceptable.
- Learned that black and white books are drastically cheaper than color books.
- Learned that taking a stack of papers to a coffee shop and powering through a ton of drawings is an excellent way to get work done.
- Learned the principles of good book cover design. Not wholly followed for this cover, but you can see that it’s a step in the right direction.
- Talked Scribus into doing a better job with the line spacing. Not a good job yet, but a better one.
- I am quite happy with how the violence and evil came out. I do think this would have been better as a comic book.
- I cut the last third of the story off and planned to expand it and make it as a sequel rather than draw production out an extra month. I now regard this as a mistake.
And Now… The Moment We’ve All Been Waiting For
Jump the Shark and the Pirate Princess has had a troubled history. I started out by deciding I couldn’t match the quality of mainstream published books for their price point, and I wanted a break from books, so I explored making games a bit.
I wanted to come up with some simple RPG mechanics that could be used to tell any story. Instead, I ended up in a small war with Unity’s UI system.
Unwilling to abandon vidya, I started work on something simpler. My Zelda-like brawler 8 Lives Left.
In the midst of it all, Microsoft and AMD worked together to brick my laptop.
On Thanksgiving day, while I worked because of course I worked Thanksgiving, Windows 10 installed a mandatory update that introduced a glitch where the system freezes for a fraction of second every two seconds. I spent the next month trying to fix this. Turns out Microsoft and AMD have known about this glitch for five years. Neither of them considers it a priority to fix because it only happens on older machines, so if you ask Microsoft, it’s AMD’s problem, and if you ask AMD, it’s Microsoft’s problem.
Meanwhile, game dev is no longer an option for me if I have to spend a bunch of time at work.
This month or two of tearing out my hear resulted in my losing all momentum and motivation for 8 Lives Left. But I installed Linux on my laptop so that I could at least use it to write, and made an attempt to create digital books for kids.
Why not fix the distribution cost issue myself, right?
I thought I’d use my Unity skills, make books as Unity apps that read themselves, with pop-up book like features. It’d be great.
To be quite honest, I’m not sure where or why I lost steam. Part of it was certainly the frustration of trying to work in Unity in Linux.
In February I threw up my hands and said, “heck with it. I’m going to make another paper book and at least then, I’ll have accomplish something.” For, you see, it feels really nice to have finished projects in your past, even if they haven’t sold anything.
So I decided “I’ll make a book a month for a year, and then when I’m done I’ll take a look at the lessons and decide where to go from there.”
- It took me 3 months, despite the story being already written, and half the art being already storyboarded. Most of that time was spent on editing and proofreading.
- Having a proofreader improved the product so much, however, that I am now forced to admit that lone-wolf projects may not be the road for me.
- The new page template works well, but I think I want to go back to illustrating large and then reducing.
- The tweaked color palette worked out really well in the pixel art test I snuck into the back. It worked out poorly coloring on my laptop instead of my calibrated desktop monitor. So my instinct in the Hat Trick days of “this laptop can’t be used for coloring” proved correct.
- The mismatch between text and image because they were developed independently is grating to me. Never again will I write a children’s book and then illustrate it. From now on, illustration and writing belong together.
- I think I finally beat Scribus into submission on the line-height layout thing. I think.
- The illustrations that got multiple drafts because I developed this first as an app and second as a book are way, way better for it. That means I need a first draft/second draft system even for my illustrations to hit maximum quality.
- I just can’t do color unless I’m at my studio and not using my crufty old laptop. I know I already said this, but it bears repeating. The only real exception is if I’m assembling pictures out of pieces that were previously tested in print or on my calibrated screen, e.g. if I make a pixel art book.
- I did make a sick-awesome logo for Jump the Shark. Since Jump the Shark is an homage to the video game mascots of the 16 bit console wars, I tried to make his logo both unique to him, and yet definitely reminiscent of the mascot logos. I think I pulled it off.
So… I have to rethink rethinking making kids’ books if I want to continue. Should I start to assemble a team? If I plan on being a team player, why do kids’ books and not vidya?
Epilogue: Becoming Dr. Seuss
A biography of Dr. Seuss was recommended to me by a couple of people, and I am glad I read it. Got me some additional lessons.
- The Good Doctor was a lefty. Albeit a leftie from an era I find less obnoxious, roughly on par with modern conservatism. Commendably, he tried to keep from sermonizing in his books, claiming there would naturally be a moral, because stories have conflict and one side has to win, but kids know when you’re preaching to them, and you shouldn’t do it. I am of one mind with my ideological foe here.
- That being said, I see him less as a hero to live up to now and more as a rival to match.
- It was roughly a decade from when Dr. Seuss first published a kids’ book to when he was a household name. Though without World War II, it would probably have been 3 or 4 years instead of a decade. It was another decade before he made enough money at it to live off of.
Of course, when he did, he went from not making enough to live on to being a millionaire almost overnight, as the Cat in the Hat and The Grinch got people snapping up his extensive back catalog.
I haven’t been doing this for even a single year yet. If I think I can be an amazing kids’ book producer (and I do), I need to remember that I’m playing a long game.
- It’s gonna take me much longer than a book a month if I focus in on quality, but I still think I can beat Dr. Seuss’s one or two books a year and hit 4 to 6 books a year, so I’ve got that going for me at least.
- The Good Doctor tried to do things that required being a team player, namely animation, but always went back to kids’ books where he could be the Final Word. There’s a lesson in that for paranoid control-freak with authority issues like myself.
- The Good Doctor took his game to another level because working with animators in WWII taught him to storyboard and also to keep the focus on things that move the story forward. There’s a lesson in that for me too.
- Dr. Seuss almost never ended up doing what he expected he would be doing. It may be time I stopped trying to call my shots and embraced the chaos intrinsic in being born and bred for the medium.
Well, time to make something new!