The Postcard Post: Maral Sassouni

The Postcard Post welcomes illustrator Maral Sassouni. Get ready to be inspired by her images and enlightened by her know-how. Lots to learn here!

Maral Sassouni grew up in a small beach town in southern California, where she spent her time reading, drawing and swimming.
 She’s been illustrating since graduating from UCLA, where she studied design then animation.

At first her illustrations were made for grownups, appearing in newspapers and magazines all over the country. But now she creates illustrations for children’s books. Much nicer!

Winner of SCBWI’s Portfolio Grand Prize in 2013,  Maral’s work has also been honored by the Society of Illustrators (NY), 3×3 Picture Book Show and SILA.  Her work has been exhibited worldwide in group shows of children’s illustration including Sarmede (Italy), Museo Franz Mayer / IBBY Congress 2014 (Mexico City), Nami Island International Illustration exhibit (Korea), and Illustration West (LA).

Based in Paris since 1992, Maral now divides her time between France and California.  Her new picture book, THE GREEN UMBRELLA, will be published by North South Books in February 2017.


How do you choose the image(s) for a postcard?
When sending cards to children’s publishing houses, I want to demonstrate an ability to tell stories with pictures. What works well is a design with a main character as its focus — and that character should be involved with other characters or something in the setting. Interaction, movement and emotion are all part of a visual narrative,* so if you can get them into your postcard image you will have a better chance of getting an art director’s attention.

All of that said, this isn’t a recipe for pie. The right combination of ingredients will not necessarily result in a wonderful image with that indefinable je-ne-sais-quoi. It can’t be decided by committee, it is more intuitive and personal and feral than that. You’ll know it when you get there!
*This can serve a checklist to help illustrators choose postcard images— a good place to start!

“Tiny Reader” (postcard front).

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?
I like to have my name on the front. 
I know from working in art departments (of newspapers, magazines, and ad agencies) that favorite postcards will be displayed on a bulletin board in a public area. People will look, but not bother to turn the card over to see the name. If your name is on the front there’s more of a chance that it will be remembered. (PS. With a name like mine, it takes lots of repetition before it stays in a person’s memory…)

“Tiny Reader” (back). Great way to communicate some accomplishments.

Do you create illustrations specifically for your self-promotion pieces?
I’ve done it both ways—via existing art and via specially created art—and find there is something to be said for each approach. 
By creating art specifically for a postcard, you give yourself a dream assignment, drawing the kinds of characters and settings that you do best.

On the other hand, using existing artwork is not only faster but also seems to reinforce the value of a good piece, by showing it in a few different contexts (i.e., promo postcard, book cover, portfolio sample, and so on).*
*Good point.

Crocodile Factory (front). This postcard is based on a spread from “Crocodile Shoes,” a fully illustrated dummy that Maral both illustrated and wrote.

Some illustrators create a series of postcards and send them out over time. Do you create a series or stand-alone images?
I love the idea of a series, but it would probably only work if you sent the postcards out regularly and frequently enough — something like once a month. It wouldn’t work for me, because I can’t manage to do mailings that frequently!

On the other hand, I haven’t done it before but I really like the idea of having the front and the back of the card related in some way. Like a two-panel sequence, for instance:  inside/outside of the same scene, or front/back. It could almost be like having a mini-series within a single postcard!

Crocodile Workshop (front). This postcard was also based on a spread from “Crocodile Shoes.” (see below)
Crocodile Workshop (back). Maral splashed an illustration (from “Crocodile Shoes”) across the width and handed them out at the SCBWI Conference (where she was awarded the Grand Prize!!). She also popped them into envelopes and mailed them out to publishers later on.

How often do you send out postcards?
I usually do two mailings a year, even though I want to do more. I time one of my postcards to book events that I attend (the SCBWI conferences in LA and NYC, plus BEA* and ALA** stateside; abroad, book fairs like Bologna or Montreuil). That way, the postcards can be hand-outs as well as mailers.  I make those postcards larger, like 5’ x 7”, and sometimes have the back filled with imagery and text (so I need to mail them in envelopes, an extra expense!). The other postcards, not destined for book events, are smaller: 4” x 6”.* Postage is less for these, obviously.
(BEA* = Book Expo America and ALA** = American Library Association annual conference.  Both of these events are held in different cities each time.)
*I like the idea of using the bigger postcards as handouts. Hmmm….

The dummy of “Crocodile Shoes,” cover and postcards. Great idea for a conference.

Who do you target with your mailings?
I target children’s publishing houses, sending out a card to each art director, designer and editor.

How do you compile your mailing list? Any tips on keeping a list and sending out?
I started out by typing the info from SCBWI’s The Book and the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market into the Contacts app on my Mac (I used to use Filemaker Pro, but find it unnecessarily complicated now).  I wanted to have the basic information on my computer’s hard drive.

After that, all I have to do is add to it and make sure the information is current.  I stay alert, reading things like Publishers Weekly and The Bookseller. And I’m also quite attentive in bookshops and libraries— you can often find information you need in the picture book itself. Social media is another way to stay current.

Right before I do a mailing, I verify whether there have been any changes in terms of staff or address. Harold Underdown’s website is very helpful for this — on it, he tracks who’s moving where. Other than that, a lot of Googling is involved.

Another double spread from the dummy, with Crocodile in his workshop (plus postcard, front view).

Do you have any tips on the production process?
I do my design in Photoshop, following the template from the printer: bleed lines, trim lines and “safe area” (staying at least 1/4 inch away from trim line for any text or important bits of the image).

I use no more than two fonts: one for my name, another one for the text in a small point size, sans serif (contact info and sometimes prizes and honors).

I try to keep a consistent look.  Front and back are designed the same in terms of fonts, colors and layout. The back of the postcard has an image as well, and sometimes I keep it the same from year to year… it is on my Twitter, too. But I haven’t been too too strict about branding because I also think fresh images and new designs are also good for catching attention.

One important tip is to be aware of postal restrictions and mailing fees. The USPS has very clear guidelines about size and position of the mailing address area, the postage stamp and the barcode along the bottom.

Bear in mind that different sized postcards have different postage rates (as much as 15¢ difference per postcard… it can add up fast!), which is another thing to remember while you are designing the layout.

If you are mailing more than 200 at a time, then Bulk Mail is less expensive. Though it has some other restrictions (dimensions of the mail, etc), it’s worth looking into for bigger mailings.*
* All these tips and links are so helpful. Illustrators, take note!

If you are in France**, the acceptable size range for cards is: 14 X 9 cm (minimum) to  23.5 x 12 cm (maximum). Check La Poste for more details:
*I just happen to be in France so this is très handy!

After Maral signed with agent Jen Rofé (of Andrea Brown Literary Agency), she made this card as part of the agency mailing. It is larger than the others: 8.5 x 5.5 inches.

Do you use any online services? What are your favorite places to get postcards printed?
I’ve used MOO in the past, both in France and in the US. Though they’re more spendy than other online printers, I find the quality to be excellent. And the option of creating so many different designs is really useful, especially for book fairs and other occasions where you meet with an art director face to face (they can choose what they like best. Win-win!).

Other than that, I have found a local printer (Printop) that I am really happy with. Good quality and prices, fast turnaround, and the convenience of dropping off and picking up the finished product (bypassing all delivery charges and glitches!!). They really go the extra mile to make sure I get what I want…

Thanks so very much, Maral! What great info and lovely illustrations.

To learn about Maral’s process, click on this link:
and here too:

Check out more of Maral’s work here:

If you’re joining us for the first time at The 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.


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