It’s alive! How the Monsters of Tasmania were created

Rachel Tribout is an accomplished illustrator who successfully crowd-funded her first children’s picture book, The Monsters of Tasmania. In this interview, she talks about the process of bringing her story to life.

Illustrator Rachel Tribout

Rachel Tribout – illustrator and creator of Tassie monsters

Rachel, can you tell me why you decided to crowd-fund and self-publish Monsters of Tasmania rather than approach book publishers?
There are a couple of reasons I decided not to seek a publisher.

Firstly, I wanted to do my own thing. I wanted this book to be exactly as I choose, for example by having a few more pages than the usual 32-page standard. I also wanted to create the story and the illustrations.

Designing it myself was part of the fun and I was interested in learning the full process, from concept to production. I wanted to produce the book completely in Tasmania and in the end I worked with a great local printer to put together the limited Explorer’s Edition that includes some extra pages and a 3-colour process cover. It was a lot of fun to create.

I was also conscious that being Tasmania-focused, it might have been hard for a publisher to market it outside of Tasmania. At the same time that meant I could do the promotion and potentially even distribution myself down here because of the smaller scale. But in the end, I have Blackgum Distribution handling the distribution.

My next book project probably won’t be focused on Tasmania and I might try to contact publishers then, with The Monsters of Tasmania as my portfolio!

How have you developed your illustrating and writing craft? Did you complete formal study or take a different approach?
Illustration has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. At school I majored in literature and fine art, and I went on to study visual communication and illustration. Mostly I am self-taught, but I owe a lot of my progress to a friend of mine back in France. He’s a concept artist and gives me heaps of feedback on my work.

I have also read a lot of graphic novels since I am very young. They are a big deal in France, there’s the huge market there and everyone reads them.

Tell me about using Tasmanian landscapes as inspiration for your picture book. Is there a particular region of Tasmania that inspired you?
Seeing the landscape as living creatures comes quite naturally to me. I can’t help but see past their camouflage. As a child I was fascinated by old legends associated with the landscape and I’d never forget the stories of giants and dragons that have fallen asleep but may wake up at any time. I love those old maps of the world with the lands not quite right the right shape, or those flat representations of the earth with just a waterfall to nothingness at the end and weird creatures infesting the waters.

In Tasmania I find the coastline particularly evocative: Freycinet, the Tasman Peninsular and its Lion-turtles, and iconic places like Stanley. My favorite is Maria Island – it’s truly a magical place.

Did you spend much time out in the field before heading back to work in your studio?
I try to get out on study trips as often as I can! Occasionally I’ll do sketches when I’m sitting on a warm rock somewhere, but usually I’m too busy jumping around looking at things. I do take photos to remind me where things are and what shape they’re currently taking, but for me the important thing is seeing them and exploring.

I do the illustrations back in my studio.

Monsters of Tasmania by Rachel Tribout

The cover for Rachel’s book, The Monsters of Tasmania

How have you handled working with words as well as images?
There’s a delicate balance to be found between words and images, and telling a story where they work with each other seamlessly. As the book came together this swapped around – sometimes I replaced text with an illustration, or vice versa.

I initially started to create the book so it wouldn’t need text and could be understood without it, but then decided to add some to the book.

My husband Daniel is the one who wrote the words.

How long did it take to complete the artwork for The Monsters of Tasmania?
The first illustrations for The Monsters of Tasmania were done in December 2012, around Christmas when I had a bit of time. At that time I created the first four pictures and did a rough mapping of the book.

From then, I didn’t have much of a routine and I would try to fit time when I could between work and study. Weekends, evenings — I worked some long hours!

The story changed a bit along the way and I added some pages halfway through. I finished illustrating by November 2013, and finalised the design in February 2014.

Did you have any assistance with the publishing and printing process?
I had lots of help along the way from other authors, illustrators and designers – and of course from all the people who helped make my Pozible crowdfunding campaign successful. My web design teacher Ian Wallace knows a lot about self publishing and printing, and helped me a lot with the prepress side of things. When I was designing the book my day job was as a design intern at Futago, which was very helpful. I learnt a lot there and they gave me some great feedback.

Promotion-wise, and also regarding Pozible, Josh Santospirito gave me some gold advice.

When I was creating this book my ears were constantly open and I took on a lot of advice, I listened to people’s stories a lot and that’s priceless help.

Did you plan the promotional websites and blog or have they evolved?
Both. My Captain Blueberry blog began back when I first made a business out of illustration. Since then Captain Blueberry has evolved into a single project and my other work comes under my site at racheltribout.com.

Have you given any talks or presentations at bookstores or schools? Do you plan these or do you ‘wing it’?
I’ve given a couple of presentations now – Emerging Writers Festival event at MONA in October last year and also at Her Majesty’s Favourite Really Great Graphical Festival a few months ago. I will do some more in the future, so far I have been too busy with my freelance work to spare the time. Soon!

The way I deal with it? It’s nerve-wracking. I don’t get used to it. I am not much of a performer. What I have learnt is that it’s better to be prepared and practiced beforehand.

It’s notoriously difficult for self-publishers to get their books into bookstores. How did you go about it?
Luck definitely plays a part! I heard of Black Gum from another self published author, Andy Wilson, who has published a book called Old Sea Dogs. He told me a bit about the world of self publishing over a coffee, and he suggested I approach Black Gum Distribution. When I met them, they were pretty excited about the book and thought it was very professional looking. It’s been selling well so far!

Why did you decide to sell your books on etsy as well as in bookstores?
Etsy is great. It’s good value, easy to set up and it’s another way to connect with other creators and people who want to buy monster things! I’ve been on Etsy for a few years and I sometimes have things for sell in my shop, so it was natural to add The Captain’s book to my store.

What’s next for you? Any plans for an app or ebook?
I do have this project to make The Monsters of Tasmania into an animated interactive book, but I will need a big chunk of time for that as it will be a huge job. Sooner or later it will happen.

Also, Captain Blueberry happens to be heading south at the moment to investigate what lies beyond the Antarctic Circle. A new character, Admiral Bolognaise is going to join her too – so stay tuned!

At this point I’m planning to self-publish again, maybe even with a crowdfunding campaign. But we’ll see how we go. Maybe it could be good to have a publisher descend from their other world and help with printing costs and everything else if I could spark some interest in them.

Thank you, Rachel Tribout!

Bio
Rachel Tribout is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. She was born in France and studied visual communication and illustration in Lyon. One fine day she set off across the oceans to discover the world, and she now lives in Hobart.

Links

Captain Blueberry’s Journal

Captain Blueberry website (to promote the book)

Rachel’s FaceBook page

Rachel’s design and illustration website

Rachel shares tips on her successful Pozible campaign

Where you can buy the book

Rachel’s book is available for sale from her etsy shop.

You can also find it in bookshops across Tasmania.

Part two of an interview with Tansy Rayner Roberts

In part two of my interview with Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tansy explains how she promotes herself as a writer.

The cover for Ink Black Magic, Book 3 in the Mocklore Chronicles trilogy.

The cover for Ink Black Magic,
Book 3 of Tansy’s Mocklore Chronicles trilogy.

Did you plan the promotional websites or have they evolved as a result of the projects you’ve been involved with?
They’ve absolutely evolved. I’ve been blogging for at least a decade, but made the shift from Livejournal to a proper blog with my own URL round about the time that the Creature Court books were first published with HarperVoyager. When a new social media platform comes along I will usually have a play with it, and set something up, but I am wary of over-stretching myself. My blog remains as the central online place to find me, and I tie everything back to it as much as possible. Livia Day [Tansy’s nom-de-plume for crime fiction] is a bit neglected on the social media side – I find it too straining to pretend to be another person – but I have a basic site for her if people go hunting for the name and books.

You’re often busy on Twitter. Did you make a decision to avoid Facebook?
I don’t avoid Facebook at all! I’m more active on there now than I have ever been. I still love Twitter best – but I used to just mirror tweets on Facebook for years before a friend told me kindly to stop, because it’s really obvious.

Part of me has regretted those early sales, before I was entirely ‘cooked’ as an author.

I generally use Facebook to keep an eye on actual people I know, and don’t get to catch up with as often as I’d like. Twitter is something I enjoy for conversations across the international community. I put links to every blog post on both platforms, and convey news about my books etc. but otherwise I don’t really use them for promotion as such – I don’t think social media works that way. I prefer to use it for communication and fun and that instant ‘I don’t have a water cooler because I work from home’ chat that livens up the day. The good thing about that attitude is that I never convince myself that hanging out on Twitter for an hour is the same as doing an hour of work.

Do you give talks about your writing and books? Do you have a particular approach to public speaking or do you ‘wing it’?
I love to talk. I don’t do enough of things like school visits – I really should, but I’m constantly snowed under, so it’s not something I actively seek out. I often go to conventions though, and will speak at writers festivals when I’m asked. I was recently invited to the Beaconsfield Festival of Golden Words and loved it – I got to talk to a classroom of kids about writing, and then I got to be on panels as both Tansy and Livia!

My process is to figure out what’s wanted – if they want a formal speech, I will prepare something. But I know from experience that I am excellent at winging it, and so I will rely on that rather a lot. If there’s someone to ask questions, like at a panel, then I know that I don’t need much pre-planning at all. It helps to know that, because I get terribly nervous before presenting, and the earlier I start thinking about what I’m actually going to say, the earlier I get nervous. So I often terrify people by refusing to think about public appearances AT ALL until the very last minute. It almost always turns out wonderfully!

Tell me about your involvement with the crowdfunded Cranky Ladies of History project. Do you believe it is necessary to fund small press publications in this way nowadays?
I don’t think it’s necessary as such – though there is more of a strain on small presses than ever before, because a lot of the niche work of quality that used to come their way is now being self-published by authors. But crowdfunding can be an excellent business model for small presses and solo authors alike – it’s a brilliant way to create buzz around a project, and to check that it’s viable before you go to the presses. Not just having the money up front to print a book, which is fabulous, but also having your readers committed.

It’s heartbreaking at times – I have a lot of friends who are small publishers – to see them sink so much time and money and unpaid effort into a work that they think will have a solid audience, only for it not to find that audience.

Cranky Ladies of History was crowdfunded for one simple reason – Tehani [Wessely from Fablecroft] and I wanted to make the book, and we wanted to be able to pay pro rates to authors. Small presses can often get very good writers to work for them for a smaller amount of money because they have other things to offer – great editing, personal involvement in book decisions, and most importantly, a modern, flexible and collaborative approach to digital publishing, something that many of the larger publishers are seriously falling behind on.

So Tehani was always planning to print the book herself, and cover those basic publishing costs that she always does. The crowdfunding allowed us to test the idea to see if it had legs (people loved it! The title of the book created half the buzz) and also to raise the funds to pay authors what they are worth. It meant we could approach some seriously big name authors to take part, but also means that the newer writers who take part will be paid substantially as well.

My blog remains as the central online place to find me, and I tie everything back to it as much as possible.

Many of the authors helped out with the campaign – and even authors who didn’t have time to write a pitch or story for us volunteered to spread the word. Others wrote blog posts for our Cranky Ladies of History blog tour, which celebrated Women’s History Month. It was a mad, glorious festival of retweeting, and we were so excited to make not only the target goal, but our stretch goals, so the book will be illustrated now and have more stories in it than originally planned.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?
That’s a tricky one! Part of me has regretted those early sales, before I was entirely ‘cooked’ as an author. A debut is a terrible thing to waste, and I do feel at times that mine was a bit soggy. I had my expectations rather horrible dashed within a year or two – coping with your first novel rejection after being published feels much worse than working up to an acceptance slowly! But without that first sale, I wouldn’t have learned half the lessons about writing and publishing that I did, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to earn an income as a creative writing teacher for so many years.

I think sometimes, these days, authors are in such a hurry to be published, and because they can do it themselves, they hurl themselves into the fray. And I wince, because I see authors who start getting published later in their lives who seem to do a better job than I did of turning one or two sales into a proper steady career. It’s a tiny bit painful to have your juvenilia out there, published as a real book, when you know you can do better now. But I guess most of us feel that way about books we wrote 15 years ago?

My path to and from publication may have some bumps (and dips!) in it, but it’s mine, and I don’t think I’d do anything differently. I would tell my younger self to go ahead, post the manuscript, publish and be damned! (But also to write more books before having kids. Trust me on this.)

Tansy, thank you!

Bio

Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts is a fantasy author who lives with her partner and two daughters in Hobart, Tasmania. Mind-bogglingly prolific, Tansy has edited Andromeda Spaceways, co-edited AustrAlien Absurdities and promoted (and will co-edit) the Cranky Ladies of History project for Fablecroft. Tansy is one of the three voices of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia podcast. She also writes crime fiction as Livia Day.
Tansy has won Aurealis, Ditmar and Washington Small Press Short Fiction awards. She won the Hugo award for Best Fan Writer in 2013.

Links
Tansy’s blog: Stitching words, one thread at a time.
Website for Tansy’s nom-de-plume: Livia Day.
Tansy’s Creature Court trilogy.
The Galactic Suburbia podcast.
To promote the Livia Day series.
The Cranky Ladies of History project on Fablecroft, on Pozible and on Pinterest.

You can also find Tansy on Twitter as @liviadaysleuth and @tansyrr.