.Do you have a great idea for a book?
Fantastic! You need to figure out your next steps.
A book takes a long time to write, and it's a lot of work. Perhaps your first thought might be to find a publisher who will buy the book before you start writing. Why invest lots of time without the guarantee that a publisher will be interested? Or, you may wonder if you would be better off finding someone else to write it for you.
Here's the tough news. Every book starts with a great idea. Great ideas are a dime a dozen. Agents and editors are eager for them, but agents can't sell (and editors can't buy) books without a proposal for nonfiction or a full manuscript for fiction. It's the execution of the great idea into a well-written book that really gets publishing professionals excited.
If you've heard real estate agents say that the most important aspect of a house when going to sell it is "location, location, location," then the book equivalent is "execution, execution, execution."
A good idea might pique the interest of an agent or editor, but the request to read actual pages will follow quickly. If you don't have the pages to send soon after receiving the request, agents and editors will move on to the next project. Not that they aren't interested, but in their eyes, you aren't ready with what they need to move forward. This means that you need more than a good idea before you send a query.
You might be better off with someone else writing it if you are an expert in an area and don’t have time because you have a busy career already. This only works well, however, in a few scenarios. One is if you are willing to pay a ghost writer up front to complete a full manuscript before submitting. That's risky since there's no guarantee of publication. Another is if your book can be sold on proposal to a publisher for enough money to make it worth a writer's investment of time and effort before the whole book is written. These types of arrangements are viable almost exclusively for practical nonfiction (how-to, self-help books). For fiction, a good idea usually isn't enough to get a professional writer interested in joining your team.
Another aspect of understanding that a great idea alone is not enough is that no two people will tell a story the same way. Retellings of familiar stories can be fresh and exciting even when the reader knows the basics because a writer's individual interpretation provides new insight to the characters, situations, and challenges. The plot might differ in each version in important but nuanced ways. The setting in a different time or place will influence how the characters act. And of course, each writer's voice is distinct.
The artistic rendering is what elevates a great idea to a brilliant story. If the idea behind your story is the same or substantially similar to other books already published, then yours will be distinct because of all the parts of the story beyond the basic idea. The central idea gives the gist of what will happen in the story, but the parts that make it special can’t be conveyed in the idea. Since a writer's individual voice and presentation of characters and narrative arc are what make it unique, the idea alone cannot adequately convey a writer's individual artistry.
Once you have a great idea, your next step might involve asking yourself some questions. What makes your story different from others? Is this idea fresh enough to stand out from other books already available?
A great idea is the seed for every book, but alone it’s not enough to get a book deal. You’ll need to take the idea and craft it into your own, individual story.
If you've got a great idea, then it's time to start writing!
How did you come into your career as a paper engineer?
I started my career in paper engineering as an intern at the pop-up book studios of Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. After graduating from the Pratt Institute with a degree in Illustration I studied under Robert and Matthew for several years, before opening my own pop-up book studio.
What is your creative process/What does your creative process look like?
My creative process is different for every project. Generally though it starts with the concept, what will I make pop-up. From their I use card stock, scissors, glue, and tape to create a rough mockup of each spread of the pop-up book. Going back and forth with the publisher to refine the pop-ups I then create a color mockup with all the art added to the pieces. Once that is completed I am able to work with the printer/manufacturer to help them reproduce the pop-up for mass production.
What do you think draws people to your work?
I think people are drawn to my work because I try to make sure that my work always has an element of the unexpected. I try to create situations that no one has ever seen before. Also, I think people just love pop-up books, and are excited to see new was of paper engineering.
Outside of your work, what do you like to do?
Outside of my work I love to be in nature. I live in Brooklyn, New York so it is sometimes hard to get to the natural world. but i am in the giant park near my house whenever possible.
What is a cause you care about?
The Climate Crisis. I think it is the most pressing issue happening today. We need to be focusing and rethinking our understanding of humanities impact on the environment, and changing the way we interact with in on a national, international, community, and personal level. Only a systematic restructuring of our society will allow us to whether this change.
Who are some creators who have inspired you?
I think one of my biggest creative inspirations is Michel Gondry. I remember seeing his music videos on MTV when I was a kid and I was totally blown away by his ingenuity. His film ‘Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind’ is still a touchstone for me in how you can tell a story.
Another important creative figure is the illustrator Charlie Harper. His use of geometric forms to distill down the natural world has had a major impact on my work. Whenever I am stuck I go back to his work.
What is your advice for future and aspiring book creators and pop-up designers?
Pay attention to the details. It is the small, specific moments in the first hour of engineering a spread that matter. Take the time at the beginning to set up your pop-up page so that it can do what you need it to do. Sure you can put a bunch of bells and whistles on it, but make sure the bones are in the right place first.
What does your working space look like? What do you need in order to be productive?
My studio is 2 desks next to each other with all my tools on one desk, and all my ‘attempts’ on the other. I need lots of room to spread out and lots of time to flesh out ideas and make mistakes. And music, I need to be listening to something while I am creating.
Talk to us about music. What are your favorite songs for writing? How do you switch it up? Do you have a theme song for yourself as an industry professional?
I don’t know that I have a theme song, maybe I should get one. I have been listening to a lot of female musicians lately: Neko Case, Slater Kenny, Solange, some Heart. I really try to mix it up. I also listen to a lot of audiobooks while I work. I end up associating different projects with whatever audiobook I was reading at the time.
What has it been like working with Dunham Literary?
I have really enjoyed working with Dunham Literary. It is always reassuring to know they have my back when dealing with clients. They have a smart, measured wisdom that insures the working relationships with publishers run smoothly, allowing me to focus on the work that I get to do.
What are your favorite elements of this new book?
Honestly I really love how excited all the fans are! It is so trilling to see how fans of Stranger Things are interacting with the book already. People seem really excited about it. Regarding the book itself, I think my favorite part is all the transformations and secrets I was able to sneak into the book. There are a lot of fun surprises through out the book. I hope readers find something new every time they open it.
What was the hardest part of this project to complete? Which pop-up is the most intricate or complicated to make?
I think the hardest part of the Stranger Things Pop-up to make was spread 1, the scene with the Basement/the Upside Down. I wanted to showcase the transformation from one world to another. There is a pull tab in the center of the spread that changes the whole scene. That was definitely the hardest part of the project to do.
Geek out on Stranger Things a bit! Which characters and scenes do you like the best? What plot twist surprised you the most? Have you had nightmares about demogorgons and One (as Vecna)? What do you hope happens in season 5?
I love Stranger Things. I have loved it since the show first came out, and I have really been enjoying the newest season. I think the way they have managed to layer this seemingly ordinary town and these ordinary kids with this supernatural, extraordinary world is fantastic. It is such a great and inventive show.
I have not had too many nightmares about demogorgons. Though staying up late working on the pop-up book might have given me a nightmare or two, haha. I can’t wait for season 5. I think they are going to do a really good job of ending the series because they know how important the show is to so many people.
Thanks, Simon! Stranger Things: The Ultimate Pop-Up Book is available now!
Keep an eye on this page for agency news, author interviews, and more!