The Birdcage Soprano
I'm very excited to share my finished book, The Birdcage Soprano, and the process of creating it.
I started in February of 2015 in between my daytime office job and my evening parenting job. I wanted to make a story for my child that I would have loved to read when I was young. It was also a way to work on a project that exercised my imagination and put some magic in my days. I had been waiting for an idea to come that I could pour myself into. One night I woke from vivid dreams with several clear images in my head. A mermaid in a bottle, a galaxy rising out of a suitcase, a Marie Antoinette style opera, a librarian. I wrote them down and went back to sleep. I later developed a narrative to flesh out the images into a story with some nods to my favorite quest tales: The Heartless Giant, The Last Unicorn, The Hobbit.
The Birdcage Soprano follows Operetta Violetta on her journey to write the Most Beautiful Song in the World. She learns she can't make progress without having experiences to inspire her art. Befriended by several songbirds, a librarian, and a gardener, Operetta joins a mission to reclaim a stolen book that could help her write the perfect song. I infused it with magic, nature, and the ability of art to change lives.
After completing a draft that seemed to work, I decided to use a Blurb InDesign template for a hardcover perfect bound photo book. I used that template to lay out all my copy and established sizes for the images I wanted to create. I sketched illustrations in pencil on vellum, which were transferred to watercolor paper. Pen and ink line drawings were marked over the graphite transfer before watercolor painting.
Halfway through the sketch process, I got a Cintiq and switched over to digital sketches which made the drawing process go much faster. The digital sketches were still output for vellum tracing.
After the paintings were complete, they were scanned, color corrected, and edited for minor corrections in Photoshop. In some cases, colors got drastic revisions, or parts of the image were cloned to add enough bleed to the edges when formatting sizes needed to change.
It took me three years to complete the illustration and proofing process, and finalize printer research. I took materials to paint on two vacations. I painted one hour at a time on weeknights and weekends when my daughter was sleeping or on playdates.
The painting process was therapeutic - I used it to relax during stressful times in the office. I used it to feel like myself when the daily routine made me feel so uncreative. I used it to indulge my own taste. So much of my day as an art director and designer at a commercial studio is about following trends and modifying designs so they will sell to as many people as possible, which often means the safest familiar possibilities. Working on this project was an inversion to those days. I didn't worry if it would sell (of course I'd like it to), I just worried if I (and my other art-loving peers) though it was any good. I hoped it would resonate with children. I am so happy that it does.
I learned some things I can share after going through this process - so here goes!
I spent a lot of time proofing and rewriting the prose at the very end of the process instead of the beginning because I didn't read the story out loud until then. This was huge - the words that sounded so good in my mind felt overcomplicated and fussy when spoken aloud to my kid. Revising text affected each layout and added hours of rebalancing.
When ready to upload the final files to Blurb they no longer offered the template size I'd downloaded three years ago. I had to reformat all 72 pages. This was problematic for certain paintings that didn't crop well into the new areas alotted.
Here's where you can get an ISBN number and barcode for under $20. Blurb allows you to place this on your cover design with their template.
On Legalzoom you can copyright your work: "Registering your copyright establishes a public record of your copyright claim, can help prove ownership, and is required if you ever want to sue for copyright infringement." I saw Gentlemen Broncos. I took this step.
I decided not to sell on Amazon because the specifications I wanted were too costly. A full color, 72-page, hardbound book (minus printer logo) printed on demand cost roughly $60 per copy. Using a middleman company that helps American buyers get books printed in China, I'd need to do a run of 3,000 copies, which I wasn't willing to house and was worried I couldn't move with my small audience. Blurb offers discounts for bulk runs, and my budget landed me at 100 copies - which I felt I could store with the space I had at home, and it seemed like a reasonable amount of product to move. They also had great customer support, so when my text wasn't aligning on the book spine they could troubleshoot for me and ensure a smooth run without me being on press. I was so excited when the copies came in the mail!
When friends started sending me photos of their kids genuinely enjoying the book, I couldn't stop smiling. When I saw my daughter sitting on her bed reading it aloud, I felt deeply satisfied. I questioned myself throughout the whole process and had plenty of critical thoughts, "You are not a writer. These paintings are not technically good. The plot is too complicated and not very interesting." I didn't stop. I learned that as critical as adults are, children are not. To my kid, most things are equally good: Boss Baby is just as good as Harry Potter in her opinion, astounding as it may seem. I know my book is, at the least, a better experience than Boss Baby. And though I know it can't compete with many of the books I adore and blog about, I do think it can hold it's own against some of what I see in stores, and I am glad it's here to get a chance in kids imaginations.
Want to check it out for yourself? I've got copies in the blog shop, thanks for reading!