It’s here! Today is the day! Give This Book a Title has arrived!
If you preordered the book, and you haven’t heard anything already, you should be receiving it in the mail or getting an alert from you local bookstore that it is ready for pickup very soon!
If you missed my live event last night — in which I gave an in-depth tour of the book, discussed the creative process and theory behind it, and answered questions — you can check it out on my Instagram page (both on my feed and in the IG TV section).
And one more enormous THANK YOU from me to everyone who has supported me and my work this weird, wild year. If not for the love and appreciation educators, librarians, and parents showed for my activities in the spring, this book (not to mention the second one, out in May!) wouldn’t exist, and I will never, ever forget that or stop being grateful for it.
I hope this book helps turn kids into more confident, capable creators, that it helps make creativity a central part of their lives, and that they will, in turn, share the products of their creativity with all of us and with the world at large — making it a brighter, better, more beautiful place to live.
Want to learn more about my activity book, Give This Book a Title, which comes out tomorrow?
If you answered yes to both of the questions above, I’ve got some very good news for you…
Tonight at 8 pm EST I’ll be going live over on Instagram to give a tour of the book, share about the creation process, do some drawing demos, and answer questions! You can find me on there at @jarrett_lerner. I plan to post the video to Facebook once the event is over, so if you can’t make it at eight o’clock, you can still check things out.
As a kid, I believed that to be an author was to be able to write easily. I assumed that authors sat down at their desks and banged out an entire novel in an afternoon, every sentence unspooling perfectly from their fingers on the first try. Thinking this prevented me, for a long time, from believing that I could be an author. Because writing was far from easy for me. I loved doing it. But easy? No way. My sentences and stories required lots of reworking before they were just how I wanted them, before they were exactly how they seemed to need to be.
All of this is why, when I work with kids, I emphasize the importance of revision. Every presentation I give, every workshop I hold — there is always a discussion of revision, often an in-depth one, and I regularly do exercises to help make this essential part of the writing process more approachable and enjoyable. Typically, the teachers of the kids I work with are extremely grateful for all this. Revision, they say, is something their students usually don’t want to talk about, much less do. But revision isn’t just an essential part of the writing process — it’s an essential part of the creative process. Any kind of creation.
If you follow me here and/or elsewhere, you’re no doubt aware that I’m an advocate for visual learners, and that I believe that visual literacy does not get the respect and attention it deserves in our schools and classrooms (though there are plenty of incredible teachers fighting against that trend, and I’m honored to call so many of them colleagues and friends).
As kids, we all draw. We draw long before we can write. And mark-making — even that done by a toddler — is a form of expression, an attempt at communication. But something happens as we grow older. So many of us stop drawing. And for some reason that is frustratingly unfathomable to me, we begin to believe that drawing, that visual expression and communication is something we either can or can’t do. It’s an either/or. We’re either born with it or we’re not.
And all of this is why, when I work with kids and adults, I emphasize the importance of revision in illustration. Because somewhere or other, as we age, we’re disabused of the notion that an author can effortlessly write an entire novel in an afternoon. But the same can’t be said of the myths that get built up around illustrators, or even just people who can, and do, draw — people who, in other words, can express themselves and communicate clearly with images as opposed to, or in addition to, words.
Recently, to try and further dispel some of these myths, I shared on social media a bit about just how much work goes into the creation of the art for a book cover. Again, if you follow me here and/or elsewhere, you’ve no doubt seen this:
This, of course, is the cover of Give This Book a Title, my first activity book (which comes THIS Tuesday, December 15th, by the way!). And this artwork — just like every single illustration inside the book — was the end product of a long process, one filled with revision and all the things that come along with it (the missteps and mistakes, the detours and doubts).
The process began, more or less, here (I say “more or less” because even this rough drawing was revised many times before it was passed along):
This is a cover art mock-up I made to go along with the book proposal that my agent and I sent out to publishers. I shared it knowing full well that, if the book sold, everything about it might change — and not just the layout or composition, but even the title. And, indeed, for a while it did. Because after the book sold and I began to work with an art director, we decided to explore alternate cover ideas. I explored some different concepts in a sketchbook, filling pages of pages. Out of all that messy meandering came just one solid, shareable idea.
A meeting was had. My editor, my art director, and I spoke at length about these two different cover concepts. We analyzed them and reanalyzed them. We tried to imagine ourselves seeing the covers for the first time — on a computer or on a phone or in a bookstore, as a kid or a teacher or a parent. We made lists of pros and cons, things we liked and didn’t like. And over the course of the conversation, and the days that followed, the items on those lists often flip-flopped, as we re-reanalyzed and thought of something we hadn’t considered before.
And then, finally, we made a decision. We went with the original concept. And that was when the work really began. First, my art director sent me this:
It was a revised version of my original mock-up, with several subtle but extremely significant alterations. For instance, the subtitle was made smaller. The cloud shape was inserted — which, even in this somewhat crude, black-and-white state, my art director knew would add depth to the cover and help set the words off against the images. My art director also gave more life and energy to the drawing by angling some of the extra images she included (like the pencils). All together, these seemingly minor changes create a more cohesive and excitingly complex cover.
With this mock-up as my template, I created a tighter ink drawing:
(Note, though, that this is the final version of the ink drawing. It went through many rounds of revision — I replaced the parachuting dot with the frantic bird, the oozing pizza with a skeptical ice cream cone, the surprised ghost with a giggling one, and two of the pencils with other writing/drawing implements, and, as you’ll see below, briefly removed the sunglasses-wearing sun and sprinting chicks, only to put them back — before we arrived here.)
Once we were all satisfied with the sizing, placement, and positioning of the words and images, I moved onto coloring. This part of the process, at first, consists of one thing: play! I dropped all sorts of colors into the drawing, trying all different kinds of combinations, then sitting back and considering how I reacted to them, and how potential purchasers of the book might react to them. Eventually, I settled on a selection of colors that I liked, and sent it onto my editor and art director.
While my editor and art director didn’t hate this, they decided the color choices were too sedate. Which, basically, is another way of saying BORING. A word we kept coming back to was vibrant. We wanted this book to really leap off the shelf (or screen). We wanted it to cause people to stop in their tracks. We wanted to catch their eye, and force them to pause and take a closer look.
So, it was back to the drawing board, so to speak. There was more play — but this play was informed by something else. Research. I studied book covers, hundreds of them. I picked through my shelf, I headed to the bookstore (I’m always looking for an excuse to head there…), I scrolled through websites. I even studied some brand logos and clothes, trying to get a sense of all the possible color combinations there were, and trying to figure out how each one made me feel.
I came up with lots of possibilities. Like, LOTS. Let’s just say, in the end, I threw 17 — yes, seventeen — different options at my editor and art director. (See: LOTS.)
Another meeting was had. We analyzed, reanalyzed, and — again — even re-reanalyzed, and finally settled on the cover as you have now seen it.
But even this long telling of the cover-creation process doesn’t quite account for ALL the revision that occurred. It would be impossible to account for all the minor alterations that took place. How many times did I ever so slightly shift the placement of the title, subtitle, and byline? Hundreds. Easy. How many times did a just the motion and emphasis lines surrounding the characters? Maybe thousands.
I hope, if you’ve joined me on this behind-the-scenes tour of this process, you’ve gained a deeper, more informed understanding of just how much revision there is in every creative product. I often say that “writers” should really be called “revisers” — because that’s mostly what we do. When it comes to illustration, there’s no similar term for it — redrawers? re-illustrators? — but the same is true. And I believe the same is true, in some form or another, for every creative endeavor. By chipping away at the myths that surround various forms of creativity — and that often prevent people from recognizing, embracing, celebrating, and sharing their creativity — I believe we can help make the world a brighter, more beautiful, and better place.
Note: my art director for this project, who is AMAZING, is Alicia Mikles. You can learn more about Alicia and her work here.Karin Paprocki, who has served (and continues to serve) as art director for all my other books, also played a role in the directing of this project.
The next few weeks are going to be a busy and exciting one for me. And, not only because of the holidays — but because, over the course of the next eight weeks, I’ve got THREE books coming out! The first, Give This Book a Title, is my very first activity book. That comes out on December 15th. Just a few weeks later, on January 5th, the second book in my Geeger the Robot early chapter book series, Geeger the Robot: Lost and Found, pubs. After a month later, the third novel in my EngiNerds series, The EngiNerds Strike Back, hits shelves.
To thank my fans and supporters, I’ve launched preorder giveaways for each of these releases:
— If you preorder Give This Book a Title, you can be entered to win a custom work of art by me — to be clear, that’s a work of art that YOU get to customize. I’ll work with you to come up with and execute something you want, either for yourself or someone in your life.
— If you preorder Geeger the Robot: Lost and Found, you can be entered to win 50 (yep — that’s fifty) copies of the first book in the Geeger the Robot series, Geeger the Robot Goes to School. And every single one of those copies will be signed and doodled in!
— If you preorder The EngiNerds Strike Back, you can be entered to win 25 copies of each of the first two books in the EngiNerds series, EngiNerds and Revenge of the EngiNerds. And as above, all of those copies will be signed and doodled in!
How do you enter these giveaways? Just send proof of preorder to LernerPreorder@gmail.com. If you preorder multiple titles, you can send proof separately or together — doesn’t matter! We’ll figure it out. And, as always, if you do your preordering from an independent bookseller, you’ll be entered into the giveaway for that title TWICE!
Preordering books is hugely, HUGELY helpful for creators. So to all of those who have and plan to preorder: thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!
My name is… Liesl Shurtliff. Rhymes with Diesel or Weasel. A soft S is the German pronunciation. A hard S is the American. I grew up with the American version, but switched to the German pronunciation when I married my husband, who speaks German and so always pronounced my name as LEE-zul. My last name is sometimes misspronounced as Shurtliss. Yikes.
I am a… lover of knowledge and learning. I love robust conversations and debates on any given subject. I love to hear other people’s opinions, interests, and expertise. Luckily, I live in a university neighborhood where just about everyone I know is an expert on something, and so I meet a lot of fascinating people who are more than happy to converse with me and share their thoughts and knowledge. It’s great for character study!
As a kid, I was… insecure, desperate for praise and acceptance, and a late bloomer. I struggled to learn how to read, which made me feel like I wasn’t all that smart. I eventually grew to enjoy reading and writing a great deal, but only when it was on my terms. I didn’t like to be assigned reading. My favorite books were always ones I chose on my own. I loved creating stories but didn’t want to share my writing or have it be critiqued or graded. Not much has changed, except I’m a little more a secure, more open to constructive criticism, and less desperate for praise and acceptance. (But still a little.)
Writing is… my way of making sense of what’s going on both in the world and inside my head. I don’t truly know something until I can express it in words. Likewise, I don’t understand how I feel about anything until I write it down. I’ve been writing in a journal and making up my own stories since I was eight. It’s my therapy and my joy. It’s also really, really hard for me. You know those people who say their story just flowed out of them like water or came to them in a dream and they couldn’t stop writing for three months straight? I loathe those people.
Reading is… revolutionary and communal. When we read words written by another human, we take a piece of them into ourselves. We see and experience the world through their eyes. This helps us develop empathy, and empathy is revolutionary.
Books are… worlds captured on paper, treasures and adventures you can take right in your home.
Did you know… when I was born my parents wanted to name me Megan. As it happened, there were a few other baby girls born around the same time and they were all named…Megan. My parents decided they’d better choose something else. So they named me Liesl, which, as I said earlier, is German and also from The Sound of Music. (If you haven’t seen the film with Julie Andrews, please fill this hole in your life immediately.) I played the role of Liesl in my high school’s production of The Sound of Music, right when I was sixteen-going-on-seventeen! And that’s as close as I’ve gotten to experiencing what feels like fate.
You can find me… at Lake Michigan in Chicago. I run along the lakefront trail nearly every day and take a plunge at the end. It’s heaven. (Except in winter. Brrrrr!) If not there, you can visit my website at www.lieslshurtliff.com and @lieslshurtliff on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
THANK YOU again to everyone who supported my most recent round of fundraising campaigns by purchasing or sharing about my Ask Me What I’m Reading T-shirts and masks. I am STILL blown away by the success of the campaigns, which altogether raised nearly $17,000! Some of that money was donated to various organizations that work to improve kids’ book access in the United States and around the world, and some was used to purchase and send books directly to teachers and librarians whose budgets, this year, are in worse shape than ever. The latter work was done with the aid of the Clear the List project/hashtag, as well as my own efforts to support teachers’ and librarians’ local independent bookstores.
Shortly after the T-shirts and masks started shipping, I received a number of requests about putting the Ask Me What I’m Reading design on some cold-weather gear. So I once again worked with Custom Ink to put together a long-sleeve T-shirt and sweatshirt campaign. The campaign went live last week, and will be up for another week or so.
Please note that the crewneck sweatshirts come in youth sizes! And THANK YOU again to everyone who has shared and/or supported these efforts of mine. Together, we’ve been able to put a lot of books in a lot of kids’ hands!
Geeger the Robot Goes to School is officially here!
I have worked tremendously hard on this early chapter book series, striving to find the perfect balance of silly and (slightly) serious, comforting and challenging, entertaining and enlightening. I hope these books help get kids hooked on reading, and leave them feeling more confident in their abilities to get through and delve deeper into longer-form narratives.
You can find Geeger the Robot Goes to School wherever books are sold or loaned (and if you can’t, for some reason, just ask your bookseller and/or librarian to get a copy for you!), and you can already preorder the second book in the series, Geeger the Robot: Lost and Found, which hits shelves on January 5th, 2021.
And don’t forget that you can join me next Wednesday, September 30th, for the Geeger the Robot Goes to School virtual launch party! It’s being hosted by the Silver Unicorn Bookstore, and more information and the link to join can be found at the Silver Unicorn site or my APPEARANCES page.
Lastly: THANK YOU once again to everyone who preordered Geeger the Robot Goes to School, and THANK YOU to everyone who goes out and gets their hands on a copy today and beyond!