Side Hustle Spotlight: How to Become A Children’s Book Author and Illustrator

Looking to earn more money this year? Today Leah, the author of A Couch for Llama, tells us about her journey to becoming a published children's book author and illustrator. Read on to see what it takes to make this side hustle happen.

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For today’s Side Hustle Spotlight I have a very special treat for you. Today we will learn how to become a children’s book author and illustrator.

So, let me introduce you to the very talented Leah Gilbert! I met Leah and her husband several years ago through a couples class at the church my wife and I attend here in Denver. A couple years we learned that she was signed by an agent which was just the first huge step of many many more to come that would let Leah make her dream come true.

Well, guess what. Leah’s dream has become true with the release of her first children’s book last week, A Couch for Llama!

First, a little about Leah before we start. During the day Leah is an illustrator and designer for a greeting card company (I’m sure she could provide some advice to improve our header images :P). By night she writes and illustrates her very own children’s books. How awesome is that?!?!

What is even more awesome she has agreed to share with us her adventure to becoming a children’s book author and illustrator!

Q1: Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do for your 9-5 job? What is your side hustle?

I work as an illustrator and designer for a greeting card company as my day job, where I illustrate greeting cards and other gift products like calendars, bookmarks, and magnets. On the side, I am an author and illustrator of children’s books, with my first book that was just released this month, A Couch for Llama!

Both of these a very much related, but also very different in many ways as well.

Q2: What motivated you to become a children’s book author and illustrator?

Well, it has always been my dream to write and illustrate children’s books. I have always loved reading and drawing. Growing up I spent a lot of time doing both of those things. Books were very big in our house and trips to the library were frequent. Even though my parents are not particularly artistic they did everything they could to encourage and help me in my artistic journey. I majored in Illustration and Graphic Design in college and minored in English with the intention of hopefully getting into children’s books after graduation. The issue was the publishing world is notoriously hard to break into. It is also not a good steady income for paying bills, so I decided to look for a traditional full-time job when I graduated instead of pursuing publishing immediately (student loan payments are a great motivation…). I was very blessed to be able to find a full-time illustration job to pay the bills and use my artistic skills at the same time.

Credit: http://www.leah-gilbert.com/

Q3: What did you do to get started with writing and illustrating children’s books?

Somewhere around 2013-2014, I decided to start seriously pursuing becoming published. I started by doing a lot of research—what does the field look like? Where can I find information and resources on breaking into publishing? What kinds of agents and publishers are out there, and what are they looking for right now? What is currently being published? LOTS of research. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which is the professional organization for children’s publishing, and learned everything I could about the industry.

I also worked on getting some material ready to submit. This is when I wrote and illustrated two “dummies” (books that are written and sketched out in a mock-book layout), completely updated my portfolio with work that reflected the children’s industry, and got my website up and running. All of that took roughly 2-3 years of working on it on and off when I had time, semi-seriously.

Also, I work digitally and already had most of the equipment and programs I needed, so I didn’t need to really buy anything up front, although I have upgraded since then with fancier equipment that works better than what I had at the time.

Finding an Agent

I started submitting to agents in late 2015 and didn’t get any interest in the first round I submitted. So I decided to revise both my stories and resubmitted them in early 2016 to another round of agents. This time got some interest. In May 2016, I signed with my amazing agent! This was a big step, as it can be pretty tricky to land an agent. You do not HAVE to have one, but they certainly make things a lot easier and help a ton, and I honestly cannot imagine doing this without mine. There are some publishers you can submit to without an agent, but many are closed unless you have one.

I did a round of revisions for my agent, then she put together a submission list of 8-10 publishers she thought would be a good fit for A COUCH FOR LLAMA, and submitted in June 2016. Sterling Children’s Books was interested pretty quickly, though everything in publishing takes a long time. Even though I got the offer from Sterling in July 2016 the book is just coming out now in February 2018. This timeframe is pretty typical.

Credit: http://www.leah-gilbert.com/


Q4: What is your weekly time commitment to writing the books and creating the illustrations? Do you have an overall estimate of how long it took to create Couch for Llama?

That is kind of a tough one. I don’t necessarily have a set schedule, but usually, when I’m in the middle of a project (especially with a specific deadline) I work on writing and illustrating every free second I have. During the week, I get home from work at 6 pm, eat a quick supper, then usually work from around 7 until 10 or 11 or whenever I’m at a good stopping spot. Whenever I can, I often work much of the weekend too.

My husband’s support has meant the world to me and I certainly could not be doing this without him.

When I’m busy, he takes care of all the cooking, cleaning, housework, yard work or whatever else is needed so I can have time to spend on my books!

I guess the short answer to that question is anywhere between 20-40+ hours per week, with breaks when I’m not in the middle of a project to take a short time off from doing anything so I can keep my sanity 😉 It is hard to say exactly how long it took to make A COUCH FOR LLAMA… a year or two of working on it on and off, then a couple more years of working on it more seriously.

Q5: How many reiterations have you had to go through before final approval?

A few. I had completely revised on my own once or twice. Then my agent had a round or two of changes. Then my editor and art director had changes. So I guess roughly maybe about 4 major versions, with other tiny changes here and there. The final story is actually pretty close to the very first version, mostly just with more added to the beginning and end that helped fill it out and develop it a little more. Originally, I had the story starting on what is now page 4 (see sketch below).

Even though I both wrote and illustrated it, there’s still a lot of other people involved. This includes my agent, editor, and art director, among others who had input and contributed to making it the final book that it is.

Llama Sketch - How to Become a Children's Author and Illustrator

Q6: What challenges have you run into so far?

I think the whole process of trying to become published is pretty challenging.

It is hard sometimes not to just give up on it.

Also, from a financial standpoint, publishing is pretty tricky. You have to put in tons of time up front creating your book first. This is with no guarantee that anyone will want to publish it. Then, if/when you get an agent and a publisher interested, your advance (the money they pay you up front as an advance against royalties) can range anywhere between literally nothing to 6 figures. This advance depends on you, the publishing house, and how well they think the book will do. THEN, depending on how well the book actually sells, you may or may not earn much in royalties after the advance earns out.

So there’s a ton of variables in play and it’s nearly impossible to plan on anything financially, especially when you’re first starting out.

Q7: Do you have any other books in the works? If so, has the process been easier

Yes! I do have another book project I’m working on. I cannot share yet because it is still in the top secret stage.

The project has been different, though I’m not sure about easier. I think each project will always have its own unique challenges and will never be “easy,” but I certainly learned a ton from going through the process beginning to end with LLAMA. I have been able to put that into practice this time around.

The new book took roughly 6 months from idea to submit to my publisher, whereas that whole process took a couple of years for LLAMA.

Q8: Do you have any advice on how to become a children’s book author and illustrator?

Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and learn as much as you can about the industry!

Read! Read all the books you can find that are currently on the shelves at bookstores to get an idea of where the market is at and what publishers are currently looking for.

Finally, don’t give up!

My little one getting his copy of A Couch for Llama signed by Leah.

Shameless plug. Tell us where we can buy your book and where we can follow you. Feel free to brag why you are the best!

A COUCH FOR LLAMA is available anywhere books are sold! Barnes and NobleAmazon, and your local bookstore all should carry it. You can visit my website at leah-gilbert.com, or find me on Twitter and Instagram for the latest news!

Be sure to watch the book trailer below! I’m a little biased, but I think it’s a pretty cute book for any age.

Adam here with my honest opinion: In all seriousness, this book is pretty awesome. Before having a 15-month-old son, I would have never guessed the number of children’s books I would own or get to read. Out of the giant pile of books we have, there are only three that stick out to me. Let’s Find Momo, The Book with No Pictures, and yes you guessed it,  A Couch For Llama.

These books stick out because of how creative and how well executed they are. These books are not your typical cookie cutter children’s books.

If you feel like Leah was so helpful showing you how to become a children’s book author and illustrator, to say thank you, you should go grab your own copy of A Couch for Llama!

Alright, sales pitch over, let’s conclude this article.

Conclusion

We can learn from Leah, the side hustle on how to become a children’s book author and illustrator is not an easy one. With a lot of work, dedication, and support it is very possible!

To me, it is one thing to become a children’s book author. Leah takes it to a whole new level by illustrating her books as well! That takes some serious talent!

So what happens when you cannot illustrate? Or you can illustrate but are not a creative writer? Well, you can always find a business partner to help you with the other one. One of my favorite professors for my undergraduate was amazing with color pencil illustrations. He often did the illustrations for children’s books while another gentleman wrote the storyline for those books.

Have you ever wrote and illustrated a children’s book? Tell us how you become a children’s book author and illustrator!

Is writing and illustrating a children’s book not for you to earn extra money? That is alright. We have you covered! Head over to our Ways to Make Money page. Andrew and I have been putting together a very comprehensive list of ways for you to earn more money this year.

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Side Hustle Spotlight: How This Teacher Brings Aerial Imagery to Life

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Side Hustle Spotlight

We are going to start a new series that spotlights side hustles from various people from around the nation, beginning with aerial imagery. This series will hopefully shine some light on new ways for you to make some extra income that Andrew and I do not have the resources or talent to try out.

A Full-Time Teacher, Coach, Husband, and Father Brings Aerial Imagery to Life

Today we will talk with Mr. Haskovec, the co-founder of WHaerial Imagery.

I know Mr. Haskovec through my years in high school as he was my American history teacher about 15 years ago. Wow! I cannot believe it has been that long!

And, yes, I still find it strange to call Mr. Haskovec by his whole name after so many years. 😀

Somehow, this full-time teacher, coach, husband, and father has found time to start this aerial imagery side hustle.

Who Is WHaerial?

WHaerial imagery is a drone photography and videography business located in Northeastern Iowa. They provide customers with new marketing perspectives and opportunities. A recent project that Wayne completed was for a golf course in Waverly, Iowa. The video shows off the course from a unique perspective that traditional photography and videography cannot.

Aerial imagery has really started to boom over the last five years as the technology becomes cheaper. There continues to be more and more creative ways to capture different industries using drones. We have started to see this in the real estate business as drones are able to show off properties very well.

WHaerial has only just begun this side hustle but is already publishing some great work! Let’s see how Wayne and his business partner got started, what it took to get into the field, and what are the challenges of drone photography.

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1. What do you hope comes out of this side hustle?

Well, to be honest, and upfront….this is a first time endeavor. I am hoping that this start-up will blossom into something that lends itself to more opportunities down the road. The goal is to grow this aerial imagery business into something that will provide not only extra revenue but opportunities to expand. My partner and I decided to officially start a business that features a fully insured and licensed drone company.

There are thousands of drones out and about, but many are not licensed or insured to fly commercially. We are hoping to provide that security and opportunities to our future customers in the Cedar Valley of Iowa.

2. What motivated you to start this venture?

Just over a year ago, I was able to fly one of the first Phantom 4 drones in our area. I immediately fell in love with the creativity and technology packaged in such a small device. The opportunity to capture never seen before areas of my family’s property turned into an absolute passion for me.

As I became better at piloting the drone, I decided to purchase my own drone.

The purchase soon turned into a serious hobby. I was able to show friends and family how unique the drone perspective was. Soon I was capturing images and video and including those creative pieces onto my social media. The excitement and fun I was having made me realize that I could potentially jump into a market of professional aerial imagery. It was a pretty easy to convince myself that I should go ahead get certified, and make money doing something I enjoy.

3. What did it take to get up and running for professional aerial imagery?

My partner and I laid out all of the potential assets we had, which included the two drones that I currently owned. I also invested $150 in taking the FAA certification exam at a local community college that allows for such testing. The insurance and fees for creating our LLC have completed our initial startup costs.

Obviously, there will be more costs down the road….but our hope is to get off the ground (no pun intended) running. In terms of being able to pilot the drone….anyone can do it. The trick, however, is doing it the right way. Making sure you take the time to follow protocol in pre-flight and flight. I have spent the past year getting better at making turns manually without jagged video.

Experience is the name of the game!

4. What is your weekly time commitment to the business?

As of now, it is hard to speculate what future weeks will look like. As of now, we are just waiting on making sure all of our paperwork is in order. My estimation is that once we get into the swing of things, we will be looking at 10-12 hours of pure droning and video editing.

In addition, time will be spent on social media helping to promote our product. Without a doubt, that number per week will increase. With that growth, we are hoping to enlist more certified pilots into WHaerial.

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5. How are you going about to getting work?

Social Media! Between Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter….we hope to boost sales dramatically as we begin to actively search for projects.

We also have several connections within our area in the real estate and agriculture realms but are going to be diving deeper. As we build our numbers via social media, we hope to showcase our work on our website. Our most recent project has been highlighted through the use of Facebook.

The opportunities to connect and grow are limitless in the world we live in today.

6. What challenges have you run into so far?

I believe one of the biggest challenges we will have is staying ahead of the curve. Even though there are droning/aerial image companies out there, we are hoping to get a foot up on the competition in our area.

The other issue that potentially could create some difficulties is the expense in keeping our equipment up and running. The drones that we operate can take 20-megapixel photos along with 4K video. Continuing to stay current and state of the art in the world of droning will be something that will be continuing to fuel our company.

7. Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into aerial imagery?

My biggest piece of advice is to read all manuals before flying! Know your drone inside and out, and account for your surroundings. Helping the drone community to look as professional as possible, will allow more opportunities to drone in the future!

8. Shameless plug

Head over to one of, or all of, WHaerial’s social media and give them a follow! Personally, I really enjoy the Instagram account! There are some pretty aerials of the Iowa countryside.

Our company page is located on:
Facebook: @WHaerial
Twitter: WhAerial
Instagram: whaerial
Email: whaerialimagery@gmail.com

Conclusion

If aerial imagery sounds like an awesomely fun side hustle, go for it! If you are interested, I would follow Mr. Haskovec’s advice of getting your FAA license as well insurance. This might be the difference as to why a customer chooses you over another company.

Also, do not forget to practice flying your drone, a lot! You will want to create high-quality videos for customers which will require you to fly the drone smoothly as you film.

If aerial imagery is not your thing but you are still looking to earn some extra money and need some ideas on how to do that, then check out our Ways to Make Money page. Here Andrew and I provide 70, yes 70, ways you can make money outside of your 9 to 5 job. We even test these out for you so you can easily figure out what side hustle is best for you.