Help support Indie Kidlit! Behind the scenes with…Keith Allen

Ever wanted to publish a book? Well here’s your chance — sort of. Keith Allen is an artist, paper- engineer and pop-up virtuoso. He is launching a 30 day Kickstarter project today (6 September), that if successful ,will see the realisation of What a Mess! A Pop-Up Misadventure. It is an undeniably stunning book, with a message just about every parent can get behind — so, when Keith got in touch, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to get the word out and learn a bit about the growing self-publishing movement in kidlit.

TiaT: Tell us a bit about your background — how did you get into pop-up book making?

KA: I’m a Cleveland-based artist, living with my wife and two fun-loving children. I work for the greeting card company, American Greetings, as a full-time Senior Product Designer. I love it, and I’m always creating, either at work or on my own time. I began working with pop-ups nearly seven years ago when I was asked to make some pop-up cards as a freelance project. At that time I enjoyed working with paper — making paper-toys and party centerpieces — but I really had little experience with pop-ups. So, I purchased a book by David Carter called The Elements of Pop-Up which has been my bible for paper-engineering. Plus, my friend Seth Larson, a paper-genius, gave me some great advice and helped me along the way.

TiaT:  What can you tell us about What a Mess!?

KA: The story is a silly one with a subtle message promoting the importance of clean-up time and taking personal responsibility. It follows two siblings on a misadventure of epic proportions after their messy room becomes so out-of-control that it explodes from their doorway, sends them to the top of a toy mountain, spins them around in a dust-tornado, and much more.

TiaT:  Who or what inspired you to write this story?

KA: For most things, my two amazing kids are my biggest inspiration! And in this case, it was their LOVE of play. Well…more like their dislike for cleaning-up — they REALLY don’t like to clean-up. This inspired me to create a story that would turn this mundane chore into something fun for them.

TiaT: What do you think pop-up adds to the story?

KA: In my sketchbook, I have lots of story ideas written down, but this one kept coming back to me. I loved the idea of having this mess literally rise and fall out of the pages. I wanted the book cover to feel like it was the only thing holding back the chaos and silliness inside. Not every story works well with pop-ups and vice versa. Each spread  needs to feel like a big event and be interesting enough to be a large pop-up, and I thought this story worked perfectly for that.

TiaT: You are self-publishing this book — how does that work?

KA: This will be my second self-published, complex, pop-up book. I learned quite a lot from my first book, A Day in Rehoboth Beach. The key is to find a good printer and manufacturer. Pop-up books require a lot of hand assembly and only a specialized printer will understand the complexity of building one of these books. I have a good relationship with one of these manufacturers and that is who will be producing the book once our funding comes in.

My many years of experience in product design and development has helped me understand how to set jobs up for production. There is a lot that goes into it behind the scenes, such as color-correction, dieline building, and pre-production work. Once we fund, I’ll form an LLC and become a mini-publishing company. At that point, there is a lot that goes into importing, shipping and distribution, but I have experience with that from my last pop-up book.

TiaT: You mentioned your funding will come from a Kickstarter initiative — for the uninitiated (like me!) what is a Kickstarter ?

KA: Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform — it’s an excellent resource for startup companies and projects getting off the ground. The biggest hurdle in publishing is coming up with the initial investment to cover production costs — that’s why many turn to publishing houses. However,  publishers are often unwilling to take the risk of investment on a new author with an expensive book like a pop-up, so to find one could take years. Kickstarter lets the author bring the book directly to their fans and customers, which is actually the traditional publishing model. It works like this:

1. The artist sets a goal. In this case, it’s the production cost of the book.

2. The artist sets a deadline — 30 days to collect funds to reach that goal.

3. Fans can ‘back’ the project by giving money for book ‘pre-orders’ and/or special options that are only available through Kickstarter.

4. If the funding goal is met, I go into production immediately. Not only have the fans purchased some great items, they’ve actually participated in making this project a reality!

5. If after 30 days the campaign falls short of the goal, no money is collected and the project never gets off the ground. That might sound harsh, but it actually protects the backs and myself because I literally couldn’t produce the book without that investment.

TiaT: So how can we get a copy?

KA: Check out the Kickstarter! You will not just be ordering a book — you will be a making this book a reality and that is pretty darn cool!

About Stephanie Cummings

Stephanie Cummings is a former BBC Journalist sharing her lifetime love of children's literature and illustration with her two young daughters -- and now with you, too, through Two in a Tepee. Stephanie has an academic background at the undergraduate level in literature and has master's degrees in both anthropology (material and visual culture) and design. She started her professional life in an art gallery and ended up producing radio programmes for BBC Radio 4, before deciding to become a stay at home mum. She lives with her handsome husband (who is sometimes invited into the tepee) in leafy north London.

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