Saturday, 27 September 2014

New Life for Old Picture Books - Diana Kimpton

This month we're delighted to have Diana Kimpton as our guest blogger. She addresses the old question of what to do with a picture book once it goes out of print. So please read on and enjoy.


Having your picture book published is an exciting process. There’s the thrill of seeing your characters come to life in the illustrations, the excitement of seeing the story transformed into a book and the satisfaction of seeing your book for sale in the shops.

However, except for favourites like The Gruffalo, there’s another less pleasant step that’s not talked about so much. It’s when your publisher decides that the book isn’t selling enough to justify a reprint. Sometimes they wait until the print run is sold out, sometimes they sell off the last copies cheaply to get them out of the warehouse. Either way the result is the same: that book you worked so hard on is no longer available. It’s out of print.

At this point, you can get the rights to your book back. But what happens next? The answer is easy for authors of novels: they can bring new life to their out-of-print books by self-publishing them as ebooks. However, that route is much more difficult for picture book authors because picture books need pictures and, unless we illustrate our own work, we only have the text.

That leaves us with several options.
  1. Leave the story in the drawer and do nothing. (What a waste!)
  2. Draw some illustrations ourselves. (Definitely not viable for me. I don’t draw as well as my brilliant illustrators.)
  3. Work with the original illustrator or a new one to produce a fully illustrated picture book.

Option 3 sounds the most feasible but it raises other problems. How are we going to share the costs and the profits with the illustrator? Are we organised enough to pay royalties and will our heirs be able to cope with doing that for 70 years after our deaths? Life would be easier if there was a print-on-demand publisher who was willing to pay the author and illustrator separately, but I haven’t found one yet. (Please let me know if you have.)

As the proud owner of a drawer full of out-of-print stories and stories that have never been published, I decided earlier this year that I didn’t want them to languish there any longer. As I wasn’t in a position to self-publish illustrated versions, I started wondering who would want a picture book text with no pictures.

After a bit of thought, I realised that would-be illustrators need stories to practice on so I decided to give them a helping hand. The result is Stories for Illustration – a collection of five picture book stories that come complete with wide-ranging permission to use them in colleges, schools and at home. There are some illustration tips too, but absolutely no pictures.


The book is not flying off the shelves. It’s such a tiny market that sales are very low. But the book cost very little to produce so I don’t mind. I’m just glad that the stories are out of the drawer and available to read again. 

Diana Kimpton

8 comments:

  1. What a great idea my niece could have done with that a few years ago when she was at Uni and was having to find stories to illustrate.

    I've been thinking about putting some of my 'almost' published books into a collection and selling as an eBook. Like many authors I have a stash of books that were almost published but for various reasons didn't make it to print. Mmm there may just be a blog post in that - off to make some notes.

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  2. An interesting post Diana!

    I like the idea of making unpublished picture book stories available for up-and-coming illustrators to work with, but would be reluctant to do it with out-of-print stories. Several of my out-of-print stories have been or are about to be republished. Some of them had been out-of-print for several years and rights had reverted back to me and had to be re-acquired. I'd be worried that having the stories in print in an un-illustrated format would deter publishers from doing this.

    With regard to 'Option 3': I'm not aware of a print-on-demand publisher who'd would pay an author and illustrator separately, but an agent might be willing to administer a payment split like this for a small commission. I'd imagine solutions to this problem will be easier to come by as print-on-demand becomes more popular.

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    1. When Amazon brought out their children's book creating sofware, I asked if they could do split royalties and they said they'd think about it. So who knows. It may happen eventually.

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  3. What an interesting idea, Diana, thanks for sharing

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  4. And there is the same split of royalties problem for illustrated fiction if you don't buy rights to the pictures outright. Somebody is surely going to find a way to make joint self publishing easier to administer long term soon. I hope so! An interesting issue, Diana. I hope you book of stories does well and that you get to see some fun illustrative results from it.

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  5. I published some made for e-book picture books, sharing the profits (which were and are small) with the illustrator, who was able to produce material quickly. We also, between us, created some books using stock photography. We set up a website - littlestarbooks - to showcase the books. Then we got thoroughly demotivated by the struggle to get Amazon to put us in the correct categories etc etc. Now there is Kindle on demand, profits (still tiny) come more from library loans. We use the money to have a good lunch. maybe once or twice a year. It's very difficult because there is a sea of e-book awfulness in this area, using horrible clip-art. Your idea is a nice one though, Diana. Good luck!

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  6. It's interesting to see what authors who get together do. My Tintin style children's picture book is still on its free introductory offer at Smashwords - all pictures hand drawn - if anyone would care to take take a look. Good luck to all, Estelle Hough

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  7. Interesting, Diana. Thanks for the post. And good luck. Clare.

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