Illustrating for Authorhouse children’s books

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AuthorHouse publishes tons of children’s books each year. Many of those books fall short on their appeal due to amateur illustrations. Even the illustration services that they provide (by way of India and southeast Asia) are sadly inadequate for today’s discerning tastes. Simply having illustrations is not enough. The artwork in your children’s book should be outstanding. Customers WILL judge your book by its cover and by its artwork. In a contemporary children’s book the text is integrated with the illustration. You won’t find that in most AuthorHouse children’s books. Unless, you allow Dragonpencil to illustrate your book for you. We have illustrated dozens of children’s books for POD companies such as AuthorHouse. We have 20 illustrators who are real, actual professional artists. AND we have real people for you to call and to manage your illustration project. Which artist do you want to for your book?

Publishing Biz/Book Promotion/Self-Publishing/Writing

Dallas Clayton : Awesomly Self-Published Success

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In 2005, Dallas Clayton did what so many parents think about doing themselves. He wrote and illustrated a children’s book for his son. The book was called simply, An Awesome Book! It was a 64 page picture book chock full of inspiration for Dallas’s son to lead an awesome life. Dallas put the book on his website for free for others to look at. Other people wanted it for their child after seeing it, so Dallas had some printed. That was 50,000 copies ago.

Dallas now has 6 books, all similar to the first, and spends much of his time promoting them and doing readings. He has signed a 3-book deal with Harper Collins and a 2-book deal with Candlewick. And I’m sure that those deals were made on his terms, and not theirs. His success with children’s books has also provided him with offers to do other work related to movies and TV. Dallas Clayton is living the dream.

The world is full of Dallas Claytons. Creative men and women with a story to tell and the drive to see it through. But most of those people will never take that first step towards self-publishing. We are afraid that our story isn’t good enough, or that the publishing world is too exclusive for us to break into. No longer. There are too many success stories out there to believe in those negative thoughts. It is time to cast away doubt and dive in. It’s time to be AWESOME!

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Maximizing Your Ink: How to avoid ink density issues

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Years ago, when we first starting working with Lightning Source for POD, we ran into problems. We kept getting messages from our rep that there was a problem with our file. Apparently the ink density was exceeding 240% in some areas. Huh? Well, after some research we did figure out what they meant by ink density. Apparently, they use toner instead of ink which can only be caked on so high before it starts smudging and running. Now here’s the thing with CMYK; each of the 4 colors can have up to 100% coverage per pixel. That means that a solid black dot could have 400%  ink density! Well that is obviously over the 240% maximum that Lightning Source as giving us. They recommended using 100% black with just a hint of cyan, magenta, and yellow to make a nice rich black. Sure… but we had no idea how to do that. Reds and purples also posed problems. We fiddled with it in Photoshop and were able to get the overall percentage down to 240 but not without also fading out the rest of the colors. It was embarrassing explaining the resulting mess to our clients. So we kept looking for solutions.

Can you tell which of these pictures has ink densities maximized at 240% and which one is way over 300%?

Jump ahead a few months and we stumbled upon a solution. By using a mathematical algorithm called parallel matching, we could change the ink density in a piece, pixel by pixel, without fading anything. It was expensive to implement this solution but once we had it programmed, we were golden! Now we use parallel matching on all our art. Even offset books are better with it. Our offset printers like a maximum of 300% ink density to avoid pooling and now we can do that. Whereas before we just took our chances.

We offer the service to the general public as well. You can go to our webpage to learn more about it. It is very inexpensive because we have streamlined the process. No more ink density problems, courtesy of Dragonpencil.

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How To Print Only 1 Copy Of Your Book

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The cost of printing one hardcover book is prohibitive and yet, we still get calls for it. Usually the order goes up to 10 by the time they weigh the costs. Customers get these super small runs to use as galley copies, review copies, investor copies, or as gifts. So, I thought it would be helpful to share how we do this service and what the costs are.

How the books are made:
 When we print a super short run of 1 to 400 books we start by printing the interior pages on a Xerox DocuColor press. The pages are then trimmed. Usually we can print 2 pages per sheet unless the book is larger than 9×12 in which case we only get 1 page out of a sheet. Then we use a wide-format printer for the cover and dust jacket. Those are then laminated with a lay-flat laminate. While this is going on we also are building the cases for the books (assuming it is a hardcover). There are three boards which have to be sized and positioned exactly; the spine, left cover, and right cover. When the content is ready, the pages are notched to better accept the glue which is applied. The content is then adhered to the case that we have built. Then the endsheets are added by gluing to the covers and to the content, finishing the book. The whole assembly is put into a press which seals everything thoroughly. Any glue that escaped is cleaned off and the books are inspected. After 24 hours the glue is cured and we perform a pull test to ensure that the pages are all secure. Then they are ready to ship.

How much do they cost? You can see from the previous section that there is considerably more manual labor involved in these super short runs than you would see in a larger print run. The costs per unit reflect this. I can’t list all the pricing for all options but I’m going to list the costs for an 8.5×11 book that is 32 pages long and does not have a dustjacket. These prices are all in US dollars.

1 Book = $257.40 ($257 per unit)
5 Books = $287.20 ($57.44 per unit)
10 Books = $376.20 ($37.62 per unit)
25 Books = $598.40 ($23.94 per unit)
50 Books = $839.30 ($16.79 per unit)
100 Books = $1372.80 ($13.73 per unit)
200 Books = $2403.50 ($12.02 per unit)
300 Books = $3423.20 ($11.41 per unit)
400 Books = $4249.30 ($10.62 per unit)

Offset prices are much lower than these but have a minimum of 1000 books which sometimes you just don’t need. If you want to know a specific price for your super short run, email

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The Elf On The Shelf: A Self-Published Success

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At Dragonpencil, we have the slogan, “We turn children’s stories into success stories.” Which is very catchy but what does a success story look like? Here is just one of many self-published success stories:

Self-published success, The Elf On The Self, makes his debut in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition (ISBN 978-0-9769907-9-6) is a children’s picture book written by American mother and daughter Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, and illustrated by Coë Steinwart. The book was self-published in 2005 by CCA and B Publishing in Marietta, GA. The Elf on the Shelf comes in a keepsake box that features the hardbound book and a small pixie scout elf.

This book has sold millions of copies and made millions of dollars for the authors. The story is good. The artwork is good. But the marketing is amazing and CHEAP!. Parents, like myself, tell other parents about it. And in this age of Facebook, the Elf is absolutely viral. Why do we tell other parents about it? Because it has impacted our family. It isn’t just a book and a cheap doll, it’s a December-long experience with our kids. We want to help you make the same kind of success story. Think about why your book would be shared by other parents or by professionals in a certain field. If you get that part right, you can leave the rest up to Dragonpencil.

Publishing Biz/Self-Publishing

Last Penguin Standing

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Random House, Penguin, Alfred A. Knopf, Doubleday, Crown, Pantheon, Ballantine, Viking, Putnam, Dutton, and many other publishing houses are now only one publisher. This new behemoth is called Penguin Random-House. I guess Penguin House sounded too silly. Along with Random Penguins there are only 4 other big publishers; Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster. If you thought getting a publishing contract was impossible before then it is now double impossible. Self-publishing gets a bad rap because there is little if any quality control. But the marketplace is now the filter. Amazing books are published by independent authors. I know, I helped launch quite a few of them.

None of the big publishers were interested in The Elf On The Shelf and today it is practically synonymous with Christmas. They even had a giant balloon in the Macy’s parade this year.

How a Self-Published Book Became a Best-seller

Book Marketing/Writing

5 Tricks to Inventing Winning Book Titles

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A book’s title is it’s branding. And if you haven’t been beaten over the head by that particular buzzword, allow me to lob one in your direction…BRANDING! Often, when a book is made into a movie, the studio changes the name into something catchier, something BRANDable. For example the classic movie The Secret of NIMH was based on the book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. This article isn’t about getting your book made into a movie BUT, if you title it correctly (or brand it correctly) you will certainly improve your odds of more readers and therefore at least a shot at a big screen adaptation. Here is a list of insider tricks to making your title:

Trick #1: Don’t use your character’s name. Oh, but what about Harry Potter. Shut up about Harry Potter! Harry Potter is the exception to just about every bit of conventional wisdom there is in book publishing. It shouldn’t serve as your guide any more than a lottery winner should be. I love the Potter stuff, but it isn’t duplicatable.  Anyway, don’t use your character’s name. People won’t remember the name and therefore won’t remember how to search for it in Amazon or wherever.

Trick #2: Use alliteration and/or rhyming in your title. There is a reason companies have been using sing-songy jingles since the beginning of time. Our memories recall things best when we can link those memories to more things. Through rhyme or alliteration, we allow the synapses of our customers to form multiple branches. The end result: better recall. Repetition is another useful device though not quite as effective. For example The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar is good but The Elf On A Shelf is better.

Trick #3: Test your title on Amazon. Type in the title, without quotes, in to Amazon’s search field just like a potential shopper would. Don’t narrow the search to just Books.  Look at the results. There will be tons of results. Are any of those results similar to your title? You will be inclined to rationalize this. “Oh it’s in a different genre. That other book is old. People will do a better search than this.” Stop. People are stupid and lazy. Trust me, I’m a person. And the younger generations don’t even like to remember things. They want links to everything. So you have to make it easy for them to find your book. Do you want to be a statistic or a success? Make your title unique.

Trick #4: Don’t be a fool. Understand that you are your own worst judge when it comes to your book title. Don’t trust your own judgement and don’t fall in love with a certain title. Be open to change until the book is published. Then you can fall in love with the title. Until then, keep the title at arm’s length.

Trick#5: Test your name with the telephone game. Gather a group of people together such as your extended family, writer’s group, bible study, or motorcycle gang. Then play the telephone game with your book title. Whisper it to the person next to you and then they whisper it to the person next to them and so on. If the name comes back to you fully intact, you have a winner. If not, try a new title.

At Dragonpencil, we often help our clients massage their book titles. Don’t be embarrassed to ask. We want you to be a success.

Publishing Biz/eBooks

Ebooks on the New iPad’ aka ‘iPad 3′ aka ‘Retina Display iPad’

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Wondering how your ebook will look on the new iPad with the high-resolution display? Let me break it down for you.

Existing Ebooks

Firstly, your antiquated ebook made two months ago can be reformatted specifically for the iPad3. The images can be made larger to suit the higher-res display which has more pixels than HD TV. On older iPads this higher-res art will be scaled down to look fine. Unfortunately, the reverse is not true. Like baby chicks, images do not scale up gracefully. Your images that looked great on the iPad2 will look slightly jagged and pixellated on the new retina display of the iPad3.  If your images were not optimized, they may already be big enough (but probably not).

Not bigger in your hand but bigger pain for developers.

Text is usually rendered on the fly by the device so it will be fine. The exception to this is text that has been rasterized. You’ll have to treat rasterized text just like images and double the size of the art for the new iPad.

Formatting rules are the same. Elements on your pages will not shift around unless your ebook is formatted with absolute pixel values. Dragonpencil always uses percentages and we recommend you do the same. For example you could shift an image away from the right edge with image:left-padding100px but, like $20 of gas, those pixels now get you only half as far they did before. The better way to do it would be image:left-padding20%. The exact syntax will vary depending on how you implement your formatting.

New Ebooks

Expect new ebooks to have larger file sizes unless they have no images. This means longer download times. We are designing all new ebooks to this new higher-res standard. Dragonpencil is also the leading children’s book app company and our apps will also now be scaled up. While apps are always over 20MB, picture books have not been. But now file sizes will quadruple. This means that they won’t be downloadable via 3G/4G which limits downloads to 20MB. Not a huge deal but might push some publishers to apps vs. ebooks which is already the trend in picture books. Once a kid gets a reaction from touching an image in a book app, there’s no going back.


Your existing ebook can be reformatted if it looks clunky on the new iPad. New ebooks will have larger images and file sizes and work retroactively on the older iPads. And the iPad4 will make everything obsolete, especially this blog post.

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Good Sports, the app!

Posted by Scott Gregory on

We recently finished a book-app for the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Actually, it is a comic-book-app. They have a series of comic books called Super Safe Comics which features a super-safe super hero named Captain Super Safe. Everything the Super Safe folks have done with this PSA-style comic book has been top-notch. We merely adapted this first book into an app form. I’m very proud of the work our team accomplished and encourage everyone to pick up this FREE app on their iPad or android tablet.

Because it was a comic book, we had to abandon our usual page flipping format in favor of one more dynamic. The panels slide in, one after another, from the sides or top or bottom as the story directs. As usual, narration, music, and sound effects are abundant to give that theatrical feel to the app.

This app has a coloring page which is surprisingly addictive. And I don’t mean for the kids who color all the time. But the adults seem to enjoy the coloring in app form as much as the kids. Maybe its just the novelty of it. Another fun feature that we developed from scratch for this app was a word scramble. A bit of a programming challenge but we got it done and it works amazing! What a fun way to teach vocabulary terms.

Thanks to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center for hiring us to make this app and thanks to my amazing Dragonpencil team who brought it to life!

If you try the app and would like to leave feedback or have any technical issues, please post your comment below.

My Blog

Should you pay for a book review? Nope. And here’s why…

Posted by Scott Gregory on
Snake Oil Salesman

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And where there’s a way, there’s a scam. Someone is always figuring out new ways to repackage old snake oil. Why? Because there’s an unlimited supply of bewildered people wandering around in search of a cure for something. There’s a reason snake oil salesmen travel from town to town– the last town tried to hang ‘em! Our Internet is even better than a wagon and a pair of quick horses. The good old www lets people swindle from far off safety. Which brings us around to the topic at hand;  

Should you pay for a book review? Nope. Book reviews don’t sell books except for a few big names like Publisher’s Weekly and The New York Times. And of course, they don’t charge. Now, I realize it can be hard to get that first review for your new book, and paying for one might just make the comments more favorable but, there are better ways to get there. Try your local papers. Any old publication will do. Even the smallest of places has a Herald or Reporter or Courier lurking near the supermarket entrance. If you can’t find one, contact your big local newspaper. They own the presses that all the other publications use for their papers. They will have a list of all the local venues you might call upon for a review. Not only is such a review FREE, but somebody might actually read it and buy your book online. Then you take that review and post it on Amazon, assuming it is favorable.Here’s another freebie; Bloggers. Find blogs that suit your genre of book and pitch it to them. They get a signed book and something to fill their Tuesday blog with, and you get a free review (with clickable links to Amazon).

Scam artists are like bears. The best way to get rid of them is to stop feeding them. Don’t pay for anything that isn’t proven and always look for free alternatives. The free ones are usually the best anyway.