PICTURE BOOK FOCUS Inside Peek: Working with a Picture Book Editor to Self-Publish PART 2


Experienced editor Natascha Biebow shares an inside view on the process of editing
a picture book with a
self-published author and illustrator and freelance designer.


In Part 1 of this series, you can read about the collaborative process of how we edited Yaks Can Do Yoga! by Snezana Danilovic and Sandy Thornton from the beginning – idea to concept to final text, ready for design and illustration stages. Now, we discuss the collaborative process of how we designed, illustrated and edited the book, ready for publication.


Having agreed the text, it was time to get started on adding the visual elements to the picture book. Let’s talk about how we worked together to make the best possible book for young readers. It’s a collaborative process with many moving parts!


Snezana: Being new to self-publishing, I discovered that working with an editor had a twofold value; not just with assistance on the creative side and with helping me to step back and be objective, but also with assistance on the business side, with extra guidance through the entire process – understanding the necessity of recruiting a designer, their role, and how this team of four people (writer, illustrator, editor, designer) would communicate, operate and create a really great commercial book. Also, there were many other elements that I needed to market the book that I hadn’t really considered: logo, tagline/slogan, book trailer, etc.


Natascha: Yes, an editor is often the person who is the champion, the ‘glue’ for the whole project, liaising with all the team to ensure that the book comes together on time. In this instance also, since Snezana was self-publishing, she had to make some important business decisions.


Initial dummy book idea


Snezana: On a practical level, I had to agree the scope of work with the illustrator and hire the designer. On Natascha’s recommendation, we brought on board the fantastic Amy Cooper. I consulted the Society of Authors, and they helped me put in place an agreement with the illustrator. I also needed to finalize how I would self-publish; I decided to use Ingramspark and Amazon KDP.


Amy: I was invited to join when the final narrative had been agreed with Natascha, and the team was keen to start honing the visual elements, and pacing out the story onto the pages. I normally work with publishing houses, but am aware of the growing self-publishing market, so when I was approached with such a sweet story, coupled with strong and competent character ideas from Sandy, I didn’t have to think twice in saying yes!


Natascha: Early on, we met up with the whole team to discuss Sandy’s character sketches, the colour palette, and review the initial storyboard. Over the coming months, we worked as a team to tighten up the characterization, pacing, review the roughs and re-roughs, to check absolutely everything, and to make sure the book was the best it could be for young readers.


We started with rough sketches, compositional ideas and a storyboard that Amy set with the text so Sandy could begin roughs. But first, we had to agree the artwork style and how the characters would look. There was a lot of development work ahead!


Sandy: I have attended many picture book illustration and writing courses over the years, but nothing quite prepared me for the rollercoaster journey of self-publishing. In normal circumstances, the author and I wouldn’t be working so closely together. Having been advised that authors and illustrators never work together in publishing houses, Snezana and I quickly understood why! Although we do work well together, respecting each other’s opinions and critiques, we would end up going around in circles of creative confusion, brilliant ideas (or so we thought), but getting nowhere! That’s where an editor and designer come in.


Natascha: Often, we keep the author and the illustrator apart not because we don't think they’ll be creative in collaboration together, but because it’s important to allow the illustrator space to create in the same way the author has already had a chance to do this, alongside the editorial process.


Snezana: Yes, I love how Sandy has interpreted the settings and the characters, and also the connection with the natural world, which children can experience when they do yoga. Sandy has found ways to bring that to life visually, far beyond what I expected or could have imagined. The experience of the professional designer has been essential in bringing the book to another level.


Amy: The designer’s job is to bring everything together in one cohesive and visually appealing package. Helping get the most out of the illustrator and giving them the confidence to push their images that bit further to create a beautiful book is key. I also have to make sure everyone works within any technical constraints that the printers may have, as these need to be addressed from the outset to avoid any unwanted surprises when sending the final files to print.


Snezana: The making of the book was an enjoyable and fun part of the process! I could take a little step back and leave space for Amy and Sandy to communicate and to bounce their ideas whilst watching the artwork and layouts come to life. I had trust in Sandy's and Amy’s fine-tuning, and confidence in Natascha’s final words.


Natascha: Trust is an important part of the picture book creation process. In addition to allowing Sandy space to create, she needed time to develop her style and technique. Amy and I could add our feedback and expertise about how the words and pictures were working together on the page, and Snezana would add her vision for the book from an author and yoga teacher’s point of view. We each had something important and unique to contribute to the project.


Sandy: Initially I was excited to put all that I had learnt into practice, but then the doubt crept in, I became overwhelmed with the whole process and the amount that had to be done! I asked myself: “Am I really capable to deliver what they are asking of me?!” The imposter syndrome was about to rear its ugly head! Then we had a group Zoom call, which really helped put my worries to bed. Amy and Natascha reassured me that I was to believe in myself and I was more than capable of doing this. So with Natascha's guidance, and knowing I had Amy’s support with the technical side, I quickly adopted a work flow that kept me to deadlines and made everything more manageable.





The early YAK didn't look very Yak-like – this was the hardest character
to make look appealing and true to the animal!



Snezana: Much time was spent getting seven prominent characters right, and keeping them consistent in appearance – shapes, shadows, highlights, texture, colour and relative size throughout. There was a lot of re-drawing. Sandy was patient with her countless re-workings and, fortunately, the rest of the team was patient with Sandy. The final characters are adorable... and humorous.


Sandy: Tackling seven animal pupils was going to be challenging. Luckily, I had previous character references of lions, dogs, monkeys, crocodiles and hippos already doodled in my sketchbooks, but yaks... well yaks were new to me, shaggy hair... nostrils... How do you make a yak cute? After months of constantly sketching yaks, I finally got it, although as you can see from Part1 the original yak looked nothing like the yak in the final artwork.



Characters in progress. Monkey was toned down a little as he was too red,
and we asked Sandy to keep her loose line work to add character. Panda needed to match the others.


Amy: Sandy has a lovely quality of line in her characters with lots of expression, but she was concerned how to make the leap from individual elements to a fully realised spread. By breaking down the elements needed on each spread, Sandy started considering each spread as a whole image part of the story, keeping in mind the sizes of each character in relation to one another and the consistency of the drawings. This was no mean feat when she was drawing the same characters and their yoga mat positions again and again throughout one book! However, this step was key to pulling everything together visually. It was hard for Sandy at some points too as certain animals’ limbs just couldn’t bend convincingly into some yoga poses, a constraint we didn’t really consider early on.



Character sketches for Lion
Ideas for Yak character

This is the final YAK – so much cuter and characterful! Also the colours work really well.





Sandy: I fumbled around with various basic colour palettes, but these looked jarring and garish. Amy suggested I use a softer approach more of a Cath Kidston vibe. We loved it so much we tied it into our logo and branding. Having started the storyboard process with traditional pencil and paper, I purchased an iPad specifically for drawing on Procreate; I didn’t realise at the time, but this was a game changer and I would go on to create the whole book on this platform.



Early ideas for the characters and palette. A lot more development work was to come!





Amy: I like to take the manuscript and read it several times before I place the text onto the blank pages of the book. This helps set the stage for each spread for the illustrator to create the action. Designers can offer suggestions for compositions to create a dynamic and engaging page that really helps lead the reader through the narrative somewhat unawares. Choosing the right fonts for the cover and interiors can sometimes feel like invisible work, but it can subconsciously completely change the feel of a book without the reader even being aware – an element of my job that excites me every time!


Snezana: It was thrilling to see the first roughs of the book – there were, I think, four full versions of the roughs in the end, not including the countless minor individual changes. Also, as the book demonstrates and teaches yoga poses alongside the story, the yoga explanations needed to be clear and correct visually as well as verbally, with the pictures mirroring or adding to the words. Poor Sandy was bombarded with instructions, emails, texts and phone calls at all times of the day, with comments like: “the eyes must be open in this pose”, “No, the hands can’t be lifted like that in this pose” and so on.


We had four sets of roughs before going to final artwork


Natascha: Picture books are a collaborative process and they evolve at each stage. It’s important to check the roughs thoroughly so as to minimize any changes once the illustrator goes to final artwork. Once the rough pictures are in place, I read the book aloud and check that everything matches up and the pacing is tight. Sometimes, the text has become redundant and can be cut; we moved words and pictures around, changing the page turns and pacing. It took us three sets of roughs to agree that everything was in place ready for the artwork stage.


We agreed that Sandy should complete a colour version of spread 1 so that we could work out the characters, palette, composition and artwork style for the book. This would help her migrate from a focus on individual scenes to a story spread composition and help her to work her way through the rest of the book. 

The rough stage of this spread

This is the final artwork for spread 1 – there are many subtle changes compared to the first colour sample that Sandy did, but overall, her style developed a lot and Amy was able to help ensure the perspectives and placement of the yoga mats was logical and consistent throughout.


Snezana: It was very pleasing to witness the magic of the pictures taking over from the text. It’s Sandy’s favourite; she always makes me laugh when she says, “We don’t need that anymore!” She loves getting rid of text!


In this spread at the end of the story, the characters meditate after doing their yoga. Sandy's initial idea was very sweet, but not nearly as strong as what she came up with after many roughs, trial and error. As a result of her new idea, we cut and moved some text around also to give it space.




Snezana: Once we had a working set of roughs with text in place, Natascha focused more closely on the pagination and pacing of the words and pictures. We realized that the conflict between Yak and Crocodile needed more space to give the resolution more weight. This, in turn, had knock-on effects to the yoga poses and physical movement of the characters on other pages.


Natascha: In almost every book I’ve edited, there is a ‘problem’ spread. In this book, we found it really hard to convey the drama of Yak overbalancing and falling onto Croc convincingly.


Sandy: I found certain spreads particularly difficult to get right. We had to convey clearly the escalation of the drama between Yak and Croc. This is where the advice from Amy and Natascha really helped un-muddy the waters so to speak! Then, after realising they were in the wrong position in the yoga class circle to create a natural collision sequence, I had to go back and rearrange many previous illustrations.


Initially Yak crashed into Croc like this, but it was a little tricky
because if you are doing a boat pose, you wouldn't be facing head-on.


We had to re-position everyone in the yoga class circle so that Yak could be beside Croc
and when she over-balances in the boat pose, she could fall convincingly on his mat... 


This moment in the story was so hard to pace and draw!


Amy: The collision sequence was definitely that spread. Although this book appears simple, Sandy had lots to consider on every page. The proportions of the characters, the placement of the yoga mats and where everyone was standing in relation to one another throughout had to match. At times this was a bit of a headache, but she totally got there and her final version of everyone toppling on top of one another because of clumsy Yak will really make children laugh.


After many, many tries, this is the final layout and artwork – dramatic and funny!




Snezana: Ensuring that the poses remained true to yoga throughout all the changes and adjustments was a priority for this book.


Sandy: Yes, I discovered that it’s important to stick to the brief! My illustrations sometimes conflicted with the correct positioning of the yoga poses, so I had to do a lot of re-drawing of the characters with crossed legs and open eyes. To me, they looked less appealing, but as this was an actual yoga instruction, I often had to step back from my own artistic ideas.



Sandy used movement sketches like these to work out the correct positioning of the body in various sequences.


Sandy: Working as a team with the author, editor and art director taught me the importance of sticking to the brief. Changing agreed characters half-way through is never a good idea!


Amy: I was able to help Sandy with ensuring the perspectives were sound, making sure that the yoga mats were all properly aligned and grounded.


Amy provided Sandy with layouts for the whole book with text in place,
but also, to help her get the perspectives and continuity of the placement of the
yoga mats correct, she supplied visuals like this one.


Natascha: The editor is your objective eye, so a big part of their role is to check absolutely the book for accuracy and consistency on a macro and micro level: the text; the words and pictures together; the artist’s style; the setting, characters, colours – everything – must match on every single page, and so on.


 In this sequence, we can see how having a designer really benefits giving the book that cohesive feel, where the images, typography and graphic elements come together. Initially, this is Sandy's rough.

Amy then suggested we add a tone behind the characters to
delineate the yoga circle and hold the images together visually.
Croc is miffed at Yak for being clumsy, so he is positioned outside the circle!


In the final layout, the characters stand out nicely and the whole layout hangs together strongly.

And the graphic motif carries over to the next spread also.




Snezana: Working on the cover made me realise that we were on the last leg of the journey. The book was shaping up very nicely – and what a journey it was to get to this point – but the COVER sells the book so... Amy provided us with options – all of which were wonderful! We were spoilt for choice with combinations of characters and layouts. So once again, we referred to the invaluable voice of experience with Natascha’s recommendations and guidance.


Amy: The cover is the shop window, so you want to attract the customer to choose your book from the shelf! We soon realised this book needed to be a package rather than a standalone picture book. Bringing in Snezana’s yoga brand and creating a look for a potential picture book series, and that provided visual elements that could transfer across to future projects. It was a good opportunity to look again at the importance of colour. Sandy chose an appealing, selective colour palette for the cover that was echoed in the logo and created a strong, cohesive feel that Sandy and Snezana can now use for their upcoming collaborations.


Natascha: Amy and I worked quite closely to create a cover that would convey the essence of the story and stand out in the marketplace. We knew we wanted to set up this first book to work as a possible series and brand, so we needed a logo. For a long time, the logo was too fussy, grown-up and complex, and didn’t fit with Sandy’s simple, cute Yak. The editor distills the project and pinpoints the ‘hook’ in order to write the back cover and marketing copy that will sell the book on the website, Amazon, and to other retailers and ultimately reach the parents, grandparents, and booksellers, teachers, librarians that are your consumers.


We tried lots of different cover ideas – they were far too busy and we needed to SIMPLIFY!


Yaks Can Do Yoga! by
Snezana Danilovic and Sandy Thornton


Snezana: I wrote the marketing materials and then refined them with Natascha. We wanted to focus on the hook that you don’t need to be an experienced yogi in order to read the book and do some yoga with the young readers. I think this is a problem with many teachers and parents – they think they won’t be able to do it, but everybody can do it. In Happy Panda’s words, “Yoga is for everyone!”


For the logo, I had always had in mind something based on or resembling a mandala. Again, we went back and forth many times, sketches, discussions, then further tweaks. I am so grateful for Natasha and Amy’s professional eye and all their patience and we now have something that we are happy with and can use long-term.


Here are the logos we tried out.


Amy: Since logos are placed across many platforms, it is important for a logo to work not only when large and in colour, but it also has to be legible when shrunk down and in black and white too. Snezana and Sandy were keen to incorporate a mandala and a panda, but when combined with the text the look was too fussy and lost impact. We had to slowly strip away to the essential elements whilst maintaining the yogi essence.




Sandy: Unless you are completely tech savvy and understand the minefield of self-publishing, employ an editor and designer who really know their stuff. You will not only speed up the whole process, but learn a huge amount along the way.


Snezana: You have to be ready; it’s a big investment creatively, financially and timewise (you are the creative, marketing and distribution department rolled into one!) As well as writing the book, it needs selling, which is time-consuming and requires another layer of ingenuity and learning. But, if you have a passion and a message to communicate, then go for it. I wanted to get out there with Yaks Can Do Yoga and share the importance and value of children’s yoga in the modern world, and I could not have done that without a brilliant editor and a designer.


Amy: I learnt a lot about the technical side to self-publishing alongside Snezana. Each supplier has different file requirements for the final PDF files to go to print and therefore each file has to be tweaked accordingly. There was a little trial and error along the way, but I am grateful to have learnt that not all PDFs to print files are made the same way, and knowing to always ask every printer to supply their template, and to assume nothing is essential!


It really was a dream project to work on with Snezana, Sandy and Natascha – a true collaboration and their passion for all things yoga and illustration makes the final book shine.


Natascha: I’ve had so much fun making this book! A huge part of this is the team of lovely collaborative people working on it, but also, the story and the illustrations have come together to make such a wonderful book, one we are all proud to share with young readers. It definitely has that ‘aw’ factor. I think it’s key that if you’re going to self-publish a book you hire a good team – young readers deserve the best quality books.

* Picture Credit: Animals Baking and Badger Making by kind permission of Lizzie Finlay.


Snezana Danilovic is a children’s author and a yogi. Her mission is to bring yoga to children through her passion for storytelling. She has spent the last 30 years writing and working in theatre and children’s TV, creating an array of characters for pre-school and early years. Snezana lives in Windsor with her husband, two children and a hamster. She loves hugging trees and her house is full of balloons and musical instruments. www.snezanadanilovic.co.uk

Sandy Thornton is a picture-book maker with over 20 years experience in early years creative play, running her own children’s art and craft classes, whilst providing creative ideas and content for children's TV, including CBeebies' Mr Maker. From an early age, Sandy snipped, sketched, glued and stapled her own little books and magazines, influenced at the time by Hergé's Tintin and Jansson's MoominsSandy lives in North London, with her family, their dog Winston and cat Rocky. Find her on Instagram @sandyillustrates

Find Snezana and Sandy at: Happy Panda Children's Yoga

Amy Cooper is an experienced children's book designer and is mad about books and typography. She began her career at Egmont Books and has also worked in-house for BBC Worldwide and Random House before going freelance in 2010. Amongst her clients are Simon and Schuster, Little Tiger, UCLan Publishing and Five Quills. She is at her happiest spending time with her young family surrounded by huge piles of books and, since moving to France in 2012, she is forever trying to improve her French ... amycooperdesign.com   

Natascha Biebow is an experienced children's book editor, coach and mentor and founder of Blue Elephant Storyshaping. She loves to help authors and illustrators at all levels to shape their stories and fine-tune their work pre-submission. She is the author of the award-winning nonfiction picture book The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayon.


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