Author/illustrator Fred Koehler shares some great tips and a postcard with The Sub It Club this month. Enjoy!
Fred Koehler wrote and illustrated his first book at age seven titled SAMMY THE SHOESTRING. It went on to win a shiny gold star sticker and an iced cinnamon bun from the vending machine in the teachers’ lounge. From that point on, Fred has never stopped doodling or writing stories. His first title as author/illustrator debuts from Penguin/Dial in Spring 2014 titled HOW TO CHEER UP DAD. He lives, works, and plays in Lakeland, Florida.
How do you choose the image(s) for a postcard?
I really love it when an art director from a big five publisher says “Use this image on a postcard and you’re going to get a book deal.” Since that doesn’t happen every single time,* I tend to gravitate toward images that express a simple, universal emotion. Beyond that, I look for an uncommon juxtaposition or interaction that engages the curiosity of the viewer and makes them want to know the rest of the story.
*Can’t believe that!
Do you prefer text on the front of the postcard with the image or do you prefer all text on the back of the postcard?
The super-smart author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka taught me that words and pictures are jealous lovers. I think that means that you give equal attention to both at your own peril.* My preference is to have an image all by itself on the front with no text. But sometimes short text can creep in if it makes it funnier or pushes the story further.
Do you create illustrations specifically for your self-promotion pieces?
My sketchbook and I are pretty tight. I draw during meetings, during church, while I’m on the phone, and probably lots of other times I shouldn’t be. Every single sketch is part of an exploratory process toward a concept that will hopefully be a book one day. So in reality, every illustration I create is for self-promotion.
Some illustrators create a series of postcards and send them out over time. Do you create a series or stand-alone images?
I LOVE to see it when illustrators are thoughtful enough to execute a concept across several postcards. It does, however, make me jealous that I’m not as clever as they are and have never found the right idea to do it.
How often do you send out postcards?
Not nearly enough. I’ve often felt that my writing is stronger than my illustrative ability, so I’m always second-guessing whether or not a particular image is “good enough” to represent me as both writer and illustrator.* Those images are few and far between. So are the postcards.
*Second-guessing. Writers do this. Illustrators do this. As a writer and an illustrator you do this twice. Second-guessing x Two = Fourth-guessing?
Who do you target with your mailings?
Like every aspiring artist, I would like to reach a magical market segment called “anyone who will pay attention.”* For my ideas and pictures, that segment seems to be children’s publishing. And since my process pushes toward a book idea, I’ll send to both editors and art directors. This particular postcard was mailed out to art directors and eventually landed on the desk of Kate Harrison at Dial Books for Young Readers. She read the story that went with it and signed up a two book deal.**
*I’ve heard of these elusive people…
**A two-book deal! Congratulations x Two = YAAAYYYY!
How do you compile your mailing list? Any tips on keeping a list and sending out?
Oooh. Here’s a great place for a super-secret pro tip*. Several years ago a small group of us got together to start a group blog. We voluntarily compiled our lists of editors and art directors to make a colossal master list. We kept it in a simple spreadsheet.**
*Love the sound of this!
Do you have any tips on the production process?
I heart Helvetica. And Helvetica Neue. And Franklin Gothic Condensed. And hand lettering. But more importantly, I prefer to design and select fonts in such a way that the art takes center stage and everything else blends into the background. If the art is incredible, I believe you could scribble your contact information in crayon and you’ll still get the call.
Do you use any online services? What are your favorite places to get postcards printed?
My greatest successes have come with small local printers and mail processing shops. I know I could upload everything to some website in the middle of nowhere for a lot less money, but my local printers know me and they go way, way, way above and beyond to make sure I have what I need and that it’s correct.
Thanks so much for sharing all these wise words, Fred. And I hope that one day I will know what happened next with those elephants!
Check out Fred and his work at these convenient locations:
If you’re joining us for the first time at the Monthly Postcard Post, you can catch up with a general article on postcard mailings for illustrators and previous featured illustrators in the archive (there’s a tab above too). See you next month.