Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Down at the Picture Book Corner Shop with Mini Grey

I love all things shop: I’ve always wanted to have a dolls house shop. I also love all things packaging: packets, boxes, cans and paper bags. There’s joy in the selling of cakes and books (those are the only things I’ve ever sold). I love toy cash registers. And in your shop you can transform the value of a scrap of paper by it having a picture on it – that’s magic. 

 A shop window is like a theatre, lit up and glowing, beckoning on a dark winter afternoon. I remember as a child looking out for the magical lit up scenes of the Selfridges Christmas Windows, as we drove through London to my Grandparents in Kent. 

Over October this year I thought I’d do the Inktober Challenge (which is: draw a picture every day, preferably in ink, you can use the Inktober Prompt word list if you like.) 

I used the wordlist, and Quink ink (and bleach usually) and put my daily Quinktobers up on Twitter.

Some of the Quinktobers

Eventually a nice person said “Are you going to sell these, Mini?” And I thought it would be fun to do an almost-giveaway, so I put them up for grabs at a small price to cover the time. And it all worked fine and they were all sold and it was fun. But….the time spent doing admin, taking payments (often by Paypal), trimming, mounting, wrapping, addressing, making stickers, going to the post box… was unbelievable! 

My previous attempts to have a shop never really got properly started because book illustration deadlines always came up, and the shop-plans got pushed to the back of the queue. (But I think I was also a bit nervous of the commitment.) Maybe I could find better, easier to run and more time-efficient ways of having a shop.

So for this post, I thought I’d ask some (fantastic!) picture book makers who are successful virtual-shop-owners for their insights into running an online illustrator shop. 

I asked them how their shop got started, how they manage time spent running their shop, whether they’ve had any surprise best-sellers, and if they have any DOs or DON’Ts for those thinking about having a shop.


Dapo Adeola is the wonderful illustrator of Look Up (winner of the Waterstones picture book prize 2020) and Clean Up (with Nathan Bryon) and of the fabulous We're Going to Find a Monster (written by Malorie Blackman), and is Writer-Illustrator in residence at Booktrust

We were both on the panel at the SCWBII Picture Book Weekend in September, when Dapo described how his shop had been amazingly successful – which is what sparked this investigation, really.

From 'Look Up' by Dapo Adeola and Nathan Bryon

Dapo says “My shop got started back in 2013. It just made sense to have somewhere people can easily buy things from me and BigCartel was a simple choice because of how easy it is to use. Other platforms were a tad too complicated for what I needed at the time.”

Song of the Wild print from Dapo's shop

About managing time spent on the shop, Dapo comments: “Because the shop isn’t my main source of income, I only open it once every other month for a week or so. That’s enough time for folks to place their orders and once it’s closed I then have time to process and ship orders undisturbed. This has had the bonus effect of creating a buzz of exclusivity around my Merch as it’s not available all year round.

Dapo's BLM print

My best seller wasn’t a surprise as it somewhat capitalised on what was happening in the world at the time. I made a BLM print to raise money for various charities in 2020. I raised over £10K in less than a week. Aside from that, anything Look Up/Rocket related tends to sell very very well.” 

(Rocket is the space-obsessed lovable main character in Look Up.)

Clean Up Gift Bundle from Dapo's shop

Sarah McIntyre is the author/illustrator of many beautiful and hilarious picture books, and one half of the remarkable double act that is Reeves and McIntyre. The books of this extraordinary duo include Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space, and more recently The Legend of Kevin (the roly poly flying pony.) 

In lockdown, Kevin went on his own bookshop tour of the UK. Here are some of Sarah's Kevin Visit pictures, which are lovely bookshop portraits.

Kevin visits Max Minerva's Bookshop
Kevin visits the Alligator's Mouth Bookshop

Sarah’s shop also started in lockdown. She says: “I had an unexpected gap in my book schedule when a painting sabbatical to Nepal that I'd planned fell through. I started painting standalone pictures and selling them on Twitter. But when I started printing the paintings up as cards and prints, I could see I needed a more orderly way of taking people's payment details and keeping records. I went with Big Cartel because the system's very clean and straightforward; I started with a free account, then went to a paid account when I had more items to sell.” 

One of Sarah's Adventure Mice postcards
How does Sarah manage time spent running the shop?

She says:  “It's tricky, I had to close the shop when I got caught up in book deadlines. My husband Stuart was helping me run it on Fridays, the day we'd send out shipments, but I was hand-addressing envelopes and that took a lot of time. We recently opened for one pre-Christmas week and sold out of all the Christmas cards very quickly. The shop's closed for now, but we're hoping to reopen it in the spring and possibly expand it.”

Sarah's surprise best seller
Sarah’s surprise best seller was also a topical image-of-the-moment: “When there was that stuck container ship in the Suez, I painted a tiny version of it with mice, on a container ship full of cheese. I guess it was just very timely!”

Chris Mould is the awesome illustrator of The Iron Man and Animal Farm, and also Matt Haig's Christmas books, The Truth Pixie, and much more. On Twitter I've noticed Chris seems to have supernatural speed-painting powers, with the ability to produce landscapes out of nowhere.

Chris at work on an Iron Man mural up in a cherrypicker...

 I’d also noticed Chris’s shop popping up on Twitter. 

 How did it get started?

Chris: “Our youngest daughter actually set up the Etsy account. I’d wanted to try some sort of retailing option and wasn’t sure how to get started and so she did it one day in between doing other things. She’s very clever, I’m lucky. I believe it’s relatively easy, though. It’s definitely easy to manage once it’s up and running."

The Kiss - print from Chris's shop

"Adding new listings, dispatching sales etc. is all very easy and the accounting is simple and pain free. They pay once a week into your account and they take a minimal amount from you. My wife works for me now. It’s made life easier for both of us. She does admin, accounting, manages most of my schools events and spends a lot of her time focussing on the shop, so I’m lucky I don’t have to think about finding the time for it. Although I do produce a lot of work specifically for the shop, when I can."

Skeletal Decor - from Chris's shop


Any bestsellers?

Chris: "I wouldn’t say I have any surprise best sellers but I think it’s worth saying that it’s definitely unpredictable. You can never guess how it will go and what people will like the most. I try to get a feel from social media if I’m going to do a new print or buy in and sell a certain book, but you can never really tell what will be popular.” 

From Chris's shop: Dreams of Dickens

And now for our Illustrator-Shop-owners’ DOs and DON’Ts – what to spend time on, and what to avoid.

From The Iron Man illustrated by Chris Mould

From Chris:  “DO…get yourself prepared for what you’ll need for the whole process of selling. It’s one thing sussing out Etsy software and getting to grips with adding all your sales items. But if you’re not prepared with things like bubble wrap, card, the correct envelopes, packaging, etc. you’ll find yourself in a spin. Especially if you suddenly find you’re selling more than you thought you would. It can be very time consuming.

DO…think about and look after your customers. People often come back to us and that’s a great compliment. And we’ve met so many lovely people online and in real life, through the shop. It can be very fulfilling in that way.

And … DON’T… plan to sell anything that means you’re spending an absolute fortune and unlikely to see any reasonable return on. For example, if you decided on T shirts and went out and had a design printed on every size available, you’d probably end up with boxes full of certain sizes hanging around forever.

DON’T…trip yourself up by ordering anything that might cause you storage problems. For example something like large sheets of gift wrap that need to be kept flat (unless you know you have the space and correct conditions for it).

Rocket by Dapo Adeola
From Dapo:  “DON’T try to pander to people if you can avoid it. It’s a slippery slope to producing work you might not enjoy. Be realistic about whether this counts as a main source of income or not and act accordingly.

DO take notes on what other artists are doing with their Merch (merchandise). This has helped me know what bits of my work translate well into Merch and which bits don’t. As a rule I don’t create “for” the shop, I only make Merch out of work I’m already doing for my books. That way I’m not working two jobs unknowingly.”

From Don't Call Me Grumpycorn by Sarah McIntyre
And from Sarah: “Be very careful about selling to Europe right now; if you do, put a warning to potential buyers. I notice that, post-Brexit, my customers are now getting hit with big customs charges at their end. And be careful about not undercharging for postage; you'd be surprised how much it costs to send a print to the USA.”

So there we have it – consider starting small. Assemble all the kit you'll need - especially for packaging. Choose your online platform. Maybe feel free to respond to current trends and events - if there's an opportunity. And if you can, have a partner who can help!

Thank you all to all three brilliant picture book makers for their insights and super-practical advice.

 Sarah’s latest books are the colourful space adventure Don't Call me Grumpycorn and more unicorn fun in Kevin vs The Unicorns. Sarah’s shop is closed till spring at the moment, but can usually be found at: https://sarahmcintyre.bigcartel.com

Hey You! is Dapo's debut book as author, and look out for the wonderful We're Going To Find The Monster! with Malorie Blackman. You can find Dapo’s shop at: https://dapsdraws.bigcartel.com/

 Don’t miss Chris’s version of Animal Farm, just fantastically illustrated. Visit Chris’s shop on Etsy at:https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/ChrisMouldArtwork



 Mini's latest published book-involvement is The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice, with AF Harrold.  Her BlogSite is at Sketching Weakly.


1 comment:

Dixyblue said...

Very interesting and helpful - thank you Mini