Saturday, July 6, 2013

Of Ankles, Sisters, and Bookmarks: A peek inside the sausage factory

I love giving away bookmarks at signings, school visits, and events. I insist on illustrated bookmarks, because beautiful illustrations are one of the chief delights of children’s books. There’s no other artist I’d rather collaborate with for something so personal than my sister, Sally Gardner.

Sally and I worked together on the Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys series of elementary-age books. We have a long history of being partners in crime. People often ask us what it's like to collaborate as sisters. Do we fight? Does one of us try to be in charge?

We thought we'd answer that question by giving you a little peek into our process, vis a vis bookmarks.

Meet Priscilla the Gargoyle, who sneaks a book by moonlight on a castle tower. This bookwormy gargoyle came about in 2009 after Sally and I put on our branding & marketing hats and brainstormed. This bookmark had to give an idea of who author Julie Berry was, and hint at the flavor of her books. I wanted to convey the magic of books for young people, wrapped up in a lightly historical setting with a touch of whimsy. In particular, I wanted a character in the illustration with whom readers could connect. Gargoyles lurk around castles, and castles evoke fairy tales, long ago adventures, and classic stories. Sally saw that (obviously!) Priscilla needed to read a book. Priscilla has been a perfect mascot and pal over the last four years.

This fall marks the release of my new YA title All the Truth That’s in Me. It’s geared towards teens, and will likely find an adult readership. Priscilla, for all her lovable bookishness, is a little young for this audience. She’s not going away – I’ll still use her with younger readers – but I needed a new bookmark, and a new character, to accompany the release of All the Truth.

We repeated the process we had gone through for Priscilla. I called Sally to brainstorm. Our conversation went something like this:

Julie: I need a new image that won’t be a complete departure from the Priscilla bookmark, but will work with All the Truth and any other YA titles I plan to write. We need a new character. I want it to be illustrated, not like the photo that’s on the cover of All the Truth.

Sally: If you were a brand, what words would describe your personality?

Julie: Okay. If I was a YA author brand, and not a badly-dressed housewife, I would be: Older, teen, romantic, poetic, mystery, intrigue, danger, anticipation, possibilities, optimism, beauty, movement, graceful, dynamic, transitional, sober, soulful, dreams, possible tragedy, love of the past, rootedness. Trees, I love the idea of trees. Forests. They’re archetypal. Ya know?

Sally: Okay. Um. How about this:

Julie: I like the tree! But the figure seems too young. That’s an eleven-year-old girl’s ankle; she’s   playing hide-and-go-seek. I want bigger feelings, more danger. Also, the lettering is too old-timey.

Sally: Okay. Um. How about this:

Julie: We’re getting closer! I like the typeface and the forest. It’s mysterious and bold. I also like having her on a journey into the woods – but can we show a greater sense of urgency? Also, I’m not sure if the girl is a zombie. Is that a cloak, or flesh rotting off her face? Her ankles and feet look weird, like she has cloven hooves. Please don’t take that the wrong way.

Sally: Okay. Um. Showing urgency in a cloaked figure with her back to us seems hard. I don’t have a lot to work with. Um.

At this point Sally decided that she needed to construct a model with a cloak, using a fan to create wind. Turns out it wasn’t helpful, but it is funny. Take a look:

Thus inspired by her artistic rigor, Sally went back to the drawing board. Literally.

Sally: Um. How’s this:

Julie: I love it. Romantic, urgent, mysterious, and not a zombie. Superb ankles! Yay, let’s print it!

So that’s the story of my new bookmark and new character. This adventure-bound girl isn’t from All the Truth or any other novel – like Priscilla, she’s not book-specific. She is a manifestation of all the danger, mystery, and romance that I want my brand to represent. This final bookmark will be available whenever I go to an author event. It’s been a little too much fun to develop it, and I hope you enjoy it as much as Sally and I do! As always, if you'd like a bookmark, mail me a S.A.S.E. (self-addressed stamped envelope) and I'll send you one. Address is PO Box 23, Stow, MA, 01775. 

Find more of Sally’s illustration online at

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