Creating a picture book—whether it’s story or illustration or both—is a massive undertaking in its own right. Doing all that and taking the self-publishing route to bring it to fruition is a whole other quest. Hayley Elliott-Kernot takes us through the process of growing from childhood storytelling to publication of her new book, Waffle Travels Aotearoa New Zealand.
Putting together a children’s book is a difficult but rewarding process. I often feel like I am taking one step forward, two steps back. If you are looking for an exercise in testing patience, make a children’s book with faulty equipment and a very limited budget! I started creating illustrations with old pencils and poster paints, then I moved on to a second hand tablet that would often freeze and lose my work, finally I have a Huion Kamvas, it isn’t a Wacom but it runs smoothly which is a welcome upgrade for me.
I have always written stories. As a child and teenager, my exercise books were full of now-cringeworthy tales of magical and mythical creatures. Growing up in a very sporty family I didn’t have access to many art materials and my creative outlet was writing. I had always loved children’s books, I felt like they transported me to different worlds and the now tatty pages are still treasured possessions on my bookcase.
Growing up in a very sporty family I didn’t have access to many art materials and my creative outlet was writing.
My first self-published book was created after I was in a car crash and I spent time recovering at my parents’ house. I decided to create a story based on my stepdad called Paulie the Policeman; his name is Paulie…and he is a policeman. The illustrations were drawn using an old pack of colouring pencils that I had from long ago school days. Due to limited budget I needed to learn how to do a lot of the work myself and I learned from YouTube how to lay out book spreads. I printed 50 copies. These belong to family and friends who were thankfully prepared to overlook the terrible illustrations in favour of sentimentality.
The next year I was travelling around New Zealand in my car and volunteering on farms. I created two more children’s books during the starlit evenings, on the mattress that was squished into the back of my Subaru. As I had no internet and very few tools these books left a lot to be desired. One was painted using poster paints. At this stage my books were a hobby and I was happy if they paid for themselves.
When my Mum was diagnosed with cancer, I returned to New Plymouth. As I was renting and working as a carer, I was more settled than I had been since I was fifteen. I had a set desk space especially for my books which I hadn’t been able to have while I was travelling around the country. I eventually used the profits from the first books to buy a secondhand drawing tablet, as I wished to learn how to make digital illustrations.
I had a set desk space especially for my books which I hadn’t been able to have while I was travelling around the country.
As someone who is terrible with technology it took me a long time to get the hang of photoshop. I created Waffle Travels New Zealand, which was illustrated with half traditional, half digital techniques. I then forced myself to learn properly by digitally illustrating a story that my best friend, Susannah Whaley, had written, called Tatty Catty. This was a great learning experience and I found it highly challenging.
Waffle Travels New Zealand was originally printed in 2019, however the illustrations were particularly bad due to my limited photoshop skills so I decided to rework the entire book, words and all. I finished it in 2020 and it was released recently. I planned to print overseas for the first time as I wanted to have them distributed. Unfortunately, if I printed in New Zealand and paid a distributor, I would be making approximately minus one dollar a book.
However, like I mentioned earlier, sometimes self-publishing is one step forward, two steps back. My overseas books arrived with pages falling out and marks all through them. I was angry, sat down in a grump and threw myself a pity party. When I recovered from said pity party, I reprinted the books in New Zealand. I would still like to print overseas but I am a little wary so it might be a while before I dare try it again.
I enjoy all aspects of creating children’s books, however, it has been challenging. It has taken a few years for my books to be up to an acceptable standard. Learning how to illustrate has been particularly difficult. I felt like I was starting from scratch and didn’t even have a basic knowledge of digital techniques or a foundation formed by education and practice when I started in my early twenties. Illustrating a children’s book sometimes takes me six months, and I am still learning constantly.
I enjoy all aspects of creating children’s books, however, it has been challenging. It has taken a few years for my books to be up to an acceptable standard.
Because of how difficult I find it, I only illustrate my own books—with the exception of Tatty Catty, which I illustrated because Susannah is my best friend and I loved the story. I am currently illustrating an upcoming book that should be finished later this year, again the illustrations have changed drastically and have—in my view—improved once more.
All in all, I have learnt a lot. I know how to self-publish books in New Zealand and I know one place where not to self-publish overseas. With each book I create the quality increases. Tatty Catty and Waffle Travels New Zealand can be viewed by the public eye without mortification which is a remarkable progress on my first attempts. After lockdown I started studying a few distance papers in both art and writing, I am thoroughly enjoying these and hope to continue.
Waffle Travels New Zealand is the second in a series of books about my childhood imaginary cat-friend called Waffle. The first was Waffle goes to New Plymouth, about a large, orange cat who explores the city. I wanted to create books that children could relate to directly, and I thought a cat going to New Zealand locations would appeal. I aim to create more Waffle books provided I learn how to make them a tad faster! I am exceptionally slow as I am still learning and often get caught up in the whirlwind of life.
If you come across Waffle Travels New Zealand please have a flick through, find the one page that is missing the miniature map of New Zealand (an accident), learn some Māori place names and if you wish, please send me some feedback—I do like constructive feedback. If you don’t come across the book I still thank you for taking the time to read this article.
If you come across Waffle Travels New Zealand please have a flick through, find the one page that is missing the miniature map of New Zealand (an accident) . . .
My top tips for self-publishing
These are probably just common sense but I still had to learn them!
- Have the manuscript edited by a professional. My spelling is atrocious, and my family don’t pick up on all the spelling and grammar mistakes (I once learnt this after I had 100 books printed). It gives me peace of mind to pay someone that edits for a living to check over my books.
- I check all of the books I receive. I have found a few restaurant menus in the back pages of my books. While one sported some very nice-looking dumplings, I didn’t think anyone would want to buy that particular copy. It is tedious but there are occasional printing mishaps and it is best to check all the books.
- Put the words in the middle. This one sounds simple, but it is something I always trip up on. As an illustrator I tend to get carried away with the pictures and the words end up squished right up the top or the bottom of the page. I just made that mistake last week with an illustration, there is a lovely big picture and the words can barely be seen in the top right-hand corner.
- Don’t give up when you fail. I have had so many knockbacks with my books and there are times when I have been very frustrated. I have lost hard-earned profits I made, I have had to use failing technology and been held back by my own lack of knowledge or skills. I knew of no one in the book, publishing, marketing or illustration industries and I would often send out emails asking for advice with no reply. But you can get there, it just takes a bit longer. Just think, every time you make a mistake you know what not to do next time. Don’t give up!
Waffle Travels Aotearoa New Zealand
By Hayley Elliott-Kernot
Published by Round Door Design
Hayley Elliott-Kernot is part-time carer, artist, illustrator, and since lockdown a part-time student, based in Taranaki. She has a longstanding love of anything fantastical and whimsical which prompted her to write stories as a child and start visual art in her twenties. Hayley has won multiple awards for her visual art and her children’s book Tatty Catty created in collaboration with Susannah Whaley was an award finalist in 2021. Forever inspired by her love of children’s books her goal is to one day create illustrations that can themselves inspire and enchant.