(Photo: Collider, Muhammad Ali)
Get passionate: You can’t really do this unless you feel deeply passionate about the medium, artform, genre, whatever you wanna call it. I became both passionate and obsessed with children’s books around 2005. Here are a few points to share how I got started in the children's book community. There is no one way, and this is by no means a comprehensive list of points. Just my experience. Look out for more soon.
(Photo: My Son and I, Oakland 2005)
Read a lot: My son is the reason I got into kids books. No joke. I was inspired by reading to him. There were artists who I wanted to be like and there was no where near enough stories telling his story or mine. So, I read to him every chance I got. And when he was able to read, we read together. I felt better equipped after reading lots and lots of picture books with prose, narrative, alphabets, long paragraphs, etc. He's 12 now!
(Photo: Brentwood/Funtimes Guide, Barnes and Noble)
Book stores: When I could I would go to bookstores and look through all the new children’s books. I started to write down who was publishing what, who the illustrator or author was, what was there on the shelves, and what was missing. As you can probably guess, I saw no books about what it’s like to be Blasian (Black and Asian), or Korean American (Korean Parents, American upbringing). I went to the stores with my son first, then I started going on my own.
(Photo: Denise. A Diff World)
Reach out: I started making work. Mostly short book proposals that were terrible at first. And then I started to reach out to people and ask for advice. Mike Perry (Daniel’s Ride ,Turntable Timmy), Maya Gonzalez(Fiesta Femenina, Iguanas in the snow), Doug Cunningham( Turntable Timmy), GregChristie ( Bass Reeves, The Book Itch), Simon Silva and so many more were very generous with their feedback. I also reached out to book industry people and let me tell you, I learned a lot. Reach out, ask lots of smart and dumb questions.
Associations: I have mixed feeling about associations like ALA, Scbwi, and others, but I mention them as a resource if you are beginning. It’s worth checking out because there are lots of people there who can offer advice. There are also grants there. I haven’t been a member for a long time, but see what you can learn. Some members are open minded, some are part of the old guard. What I mean is that when I pursued the old guard their aim was to get people to approach traditional publishers only. The open minded ones looked for any avenue to make and share books. Especially books by and about people whose stories have not been told. Learn from both.
(Photo: African Amer Animators past & present-Jackie Ormes)
Make shit and share it: Ok, so after I attended Scbwi, ALA, and checked out a whole bunch of the “traditional” avenues I realized three things. First, I didn’t fully understand all the parts that were working together, for me, or against me. Two, I realized that there were way too many people going the traditional (agents, publishers, writing seminars, groups,etc) route and they were competing with each other. You have to work on your craft. No short cuts about this. Write, draw, repeat, until you have something you like. Then keep doing it. Then share it.
(photo: NY Daily News-Malcolm X)
Law of attraction: It sounds corny, but people helped me when I worked up the courage to ask for help. Or rather, they began to send me children’s book related things because I kept mentioning it to people in real life and online. And people will especially help if you are a moving train. People want to be a part of something (a project, a film, a book, whatever) that is happening with “passion”. A moving train is like dancing whether people see you or not. The passion you have is infectious. And when you show rather than tell, more people get hip to your dream and your skill.
(Photo: Mission SF branch library-Yuyi Morales)
Library: I hit the local library. Not just one branch, but several. In fact, I would go to libraries in other nearby cities just for fun. Why? To read more. To find out what libraries purchased and what kids would sit down to read. I could take home a bunch of books to study them further as well for little to no cost. I researched all kinds of business, magazines, young adult novels, middle grade, comics, graphic novels, and lots of picture books. This to me, was studying “storytelling” as an art form and it was also learning intangible things about the readers I wanted to reach, business, and so much more.
(Photo: Joy Liu-Trujillo, Me)
Kickstarter: My wife and I shot my kickstarter at the library and at our home to self publish my third children’s book. I’m not the biggest social media user ever, but I’m active on several platforms and building a community with like-minded storytellers came in very handy when I launched the kickstarter. After learning more about the industry, the systematic racism (call it bias if that sounds less threatening), the gate-keepers, sending out lots of work and getting no response, I decided to do it on my own. And I wasn’t the only one. Both Janine Macbeth (Oh Oh Baby Boy, Blood Orange Press) and Innosanto Nagara( A is for Activist, Counting on Community) had done it and they inspired me. Kickstarter and Indiegogo combined with other crowd funders are the biggest publishers of books, music, and film outside of the “traditional” companies. It is NOT for everyone though.
(Gif: Make a Gif:Stranger Things)
Persistence: It took a lot of asking, sharing, emailing, calling, reading, writing, redoing, editing, researching, breathing, promoting, talking, and screwing up to get where I’m at now. And I feel like I’m just beginning. To get anything good going, it takes time. I worked all kinds of cool and very not cool jobs to pay the bills. I got help from family members and my wife and I am still struggling. But, good gumbo takes time to cook, I didn’t want to throw it in the microwave. Persistence to me, is letting a “no” or “i’m sorry, but” or “no response” pass without stopping me. People are going to say those things, but you must keep going because the next milestone or jewel is right around the corner. And this is a marathon, not a race.
(Photo: Mi Vida Loca)
Give back: I’ve also helped out other authors/illustrators with their books. And I have a few in the works. I’m still learning, but I plan to share more information as I go. If you’ve read this far, that means you want to make books too. Do not wait for acceptance or permission, make your book (or film, or album, you get the point) and email me if you have any sincere questions. There is no short cut. Once you get in , give back to the next generation.
(Illustration: Tony Purvear & Erika Alexander: Concrete Park)
POC/LGBTQ: When looking at the numbers for books written AND illustrated by people of color/queer folks it can get depressing. It feels like no one cares. But, as Fredrick Douglas said “power concedes nothing without a demand”. We’re showing the “traditional” industry what we can do for sure, but we’re also showing parents, librarians, caregivers, teachers, and kids themselves what else is out there. And Mira Nair said “If we don’t tell our stories, no one will”. The act of showing a child a beautiful story that they can relate to, or of showing them the story of someone who is different from them is revolutionary because there is so much mistrust, misunderstanding, mis-education, and stories that are invisible or erased. So tell your story, and do it with skill and quality.
(Photo: Halline Overby, Me)
Hello: My name is Robert Liu-Trujillo. I am an author illustrator from Oakland California (Born and raised in the Bay Area). I started my journey in children’s books 11 years ago. To date, I have illustrated four picture books. In 2013 I began work on “A bean and cheese tacobirthday”, published by Arte Publico Press and written by Diane Gonzales-Bertrand. In 2013 I also began planning for Furqan’s First Flat Top a book I self published with my wife (designer) Joy Liu-Trujillo (Come Bien Books) translator Cinthya Munoz and a team of folks. The book came out in 2016. In 2014 I began work on “I am Sausal Creek” written and coordinated by Melissa Reyes. It was later published by Nomadic Press and released in 2015. I began work on “One of a kind, like me” published by Janine Macbeth’s Blood Orange Press in 2015. The story was written by Laurin Mayeno and released in 2016. In 2018 I contributed to the book "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy" by Tony Medina. And in 2019 Sam!, a book I illustrated for writer Dani Gabriel came out. Both Sam! and Thirteen Ways were published by Penny Candy Books. Stay tuned for "Fresh Juice" written and illustrated by me and published by Lee & Low Books in 2021.
Do me a favor, if you liked this, please share and request the books I've worked on at your local library, classroom, office, or store. Another great author who is doing it independently and talking about it worth checking is Zetta Elliott (Zetta made me feel understood, when I was losing my steam for the art)
Follow me on Instagram @Robert_Tres
You can see another post I did about how I started out as a freelance artist HERE.