Earlier this year, Dale James, Brian’s mom, found the 15-year-old manuscript for Land of the Left Sock. She blew the dust off, finished illustrating the characters, and designed it into a book. Dale also produced the companion website, book trailer, future sock “dolls” and card game, and has the daunting task of marketing and promoting the book … which she loves!
Dale is a contract designer and project manager with a degree in Illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design. Like his mom, Brian has a natural love for the arts. He excels at being creative and he is a natural storyteller.
RT: Hello and welcome to you both. We don’t often get the chance to talk with the author and illustrator together, and I’m looking forward to our chat. Congratulations to you both on your first children’s book. Brian, Land of the Left Sock grew out of a poem you wrote as a teenager. Can you tell us more about it (e.g., was it a class assignment, was it something you did for fun, etc)? Do you still write poetry?
Brian: I am still writing poetry. I was writing a lot of poetry when the “Land of the Left Sock” poem came about. I was attending a great high school for the arts in Providence called School One, and I think I used it for a poetry assignment once. The poem actually ended right after Dezmund Doo (DEZ-mend Du) and Dezerea (Dez-a-ray) jumped into their laundry hamper and fell into a pile of socks. I was always losing socks and each time I did, I’d be reminded of the poem and would add more to the story. Eventually it became quite a big poem and it needed some pictures to help tell the tale.
My mother, Dale, is an accomplished illustrator and painter, so I asked her if she wanted to create the imagery for the story. I think the first image she made was of the elephant painter who appears in the end of the book.
RT: On the back, you suggest that the book is for children ages 4 to 8. Interestingly, two separate reviewers suggested that kids who know how to read would also like this fantasy. How did you decide who your audience would be?
Dale: I agree that Land of the Left Sock could be enjoyed by a wide range of readers and “read to me” folks. Even the Art Director at Brown Publishing Network in review says “Land of the Left Sock will take children, and the child in all of us, through a magical journey….” Understandably, book categories break down into suggested age ranges of baby to 3, 4-8 and 9-12. The 4-8 range seemed most suitable, although not exclusive.
RT: Rhyming books, as I understand it (I’m not a writer), can be quite a challenge. You want the poetry to shine, but sometimes a word won’t fit, either because of cadence or just the word itself. As you polished your poem into a book, did you find yourself getting stuck in spots? How did you get yourself out, so to speak?
Brian: Writing in rhyme can be tricky…but also fun as it can lead you places you didn’t expect. I chose the children’s names in large part because of how they rhymed with many different words. This helped for example when ending lines with “…said Dezerea” after lines ending in stay, play, away, today, if I may etc. The most challenging thing was trying not to repeat rhyming pairs too closely together.
RT: Can you tell us more about your inspiration for the poem?
Brian: I was inspired by the idea that daily objects around us have secret lives, and that those objects have personalities that match their “job.” For example, the young or newer socks in the story are excited and want to be worn again. The older ones, though, are content. They don’t want to be found at all. Other characters like the elephant painter came somewhat out of reality. Did you know that some elephants actually paint?!
RT: Since we’re talking about genres, what were your favorite books to read (or have read to you) as a child? Have your tastes changed?
Brian: Without a doubt, Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends was my favorite book as a child. I still have the same copy. A good story or poem stays with you as grow older even if you think you’ve forgotten about it. The title poem in that book meant a lot to me as a child and I can still recite it from memory.
RT: Land of the Left Sock is published by CreateSpace, an On-Demand Publishing service affiliated with Amazon.com. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience working with a POD company? Do you have other publishing experiences with which to compare it?
Dale: Publishing-on-demand is basically the product of printing industry advancements combined with Internet distribution. With computer programs that quickly RIP (raster image process) the digital document files to high-speed digital printers, it becomes cost effective to produce books on demand, one at a time. I still remember when hard copy layouts were needed for the printer and minimum runs were in the thousands.
No matter how you publish a manuscript, you need proper editing and professional design to make it stand out in the marketplace. My background in design and illustration was a huge asset; it also helped to know an editor and art director for reviews. It took me a little more than three months to design, illustrate, layout and edit the book once I got going. After scanning the drawings I did all the colorizing and layout work digitally to remain relevant with the end production. When that was complete it took only a couple of proofs to finish it off.
I chose CreateSpace primarily because of distribution. Amazon.com is a household name when it comes to Internet buying. Numerous other sites, bloggers included, can “sell” through their web sites for a small commission. The biggest shortfall of self-publishing is that you won’t have a team of marketers and publicists to promote your book!
RT: That brings up an interesting question. I have heard authors/illustrators talk about the difficulty in getting their self-published books placed for review. Have you found this to be a challenge? If not, what tips would you suggest others might try?
Brian: Today it is difficult for even mainstream publishers to get review placements. So even before the book was published Dale “switched hats” to start working on marketing and promotion. We were able to do 90 percent of our research online. What we found is that the internet plays a larger role in consumer buying than traditional media outlets. The online community is more likely to reach a buying audience and connect to our distribution channel (Amazon.com), which also provides actual reader’s reviews. The process doesn’t end, though, and we are still spending many hours looking for placement opportunities….
RT: Your companion web site is adorable and simple enough for a child to navigate. How did you come up with the idea of a free game and bookmark to make?
Dale: First of all I wanted to design something to go “beyond” the book. I chose to make a fun, Flash website that kids and their parents (or grandparents!) could use to get more interaction time together. That is also why I designed a bookmark and card game that you can print out and make yourself. The card game is called Socks!™ and will eventually be a published as a separate game for purchase.
RT: Can you tell us a little bit about your book trailer? Was this something you created yourself?
Dale: During those long hours of researching the Internet for means of reviews and marketing Land of the Left Sock, I learned that book trailers were becoming all the rage. Just like a new movie that is about to be released, marketing a book can be enhanced by some form of video. I developed our video, again using Flash, and then turned it into a Quicktime movie for the web. I also added sound and music to bring it to life!
RT: If you could do it all again, what would you change (if anything) about the process or the story?
Brian: I don’t think I’d change much at all, it was a pretty laid back process; it just took a while. At a certain point the story had to stand on its own and more line variations needed to take a back seat. Just like Mother Sove tells the kids:
Then she showed them the way she knew how to fly, “Just stretch out your wings, breath deeply and try.”
RT: Will we meet Dezmund Doo, Dezerea, Mother Dove, and the elephant painter again some day?
Brian: It’s certainly possible. I’m working on a new story, but they are not going on this adventure.
RT: I can’t wait to see what’s next. Thank you both for joining us today.
Ways you can connect with Brian and Dale