Indianapolis-based designer Jenny Tod recounts the highlights and challenges of diving head-first into the spirited world of children’s literature. She shares the lessons learned through self-publishing and the joys discovered in pursuing personal goals.

What inspired you to create “Brunch, Brunch Baby!”?

The earliest idea of creating “Brunch, Brunch Baby!” came from a challenge presented by a speaker at a design conference I was attending. She asked us all a simple question: “What are you creating for just yourself right now…not for anyone else, but just for yourself?” In that moment, I realized that my answer was…not a whole lot. I had, however, had a long-standing desire to illustrate a vibrant and captivating children’s book, and with my son Roman on the way, I immediately realized that if I wanted to achieve this goal in time to enjoy reading it with him while he was still young, I would have to get the ball rolling on it pretty quickly.

I wanted to create something that he would love, something that he would be proud that his mom made for the sole reason of showing him how much she loves him, and how much she wants to spend time with him. I also wanted to create this book as a way of teaching and reminding him that he can accomplish absolutely anything he has enough determination to do.

Coming up with the brunch theme was relatively easy, since I’ve always had fun illustrating food, and when I was brainstorming ideas for activities that bring families together, I thought of how much our own family bonds over weekend brunch. When I started talking about the idea and searching for someone to help write the copy for the book, Jordan was eager to help. We sat down together to develop the concept further, and out of that session came the idea of a brunch-themed alphabet book. We were sold!

What are your hopes for “Brunch, Brunch Baby!”?

As I mentioned before, my primary hope for this book has been to create something that Roman and I could enjoy together. This has shaped my overall desire for the book, which really is to provide opportunities for families everywhere to be able to sit down and spend time reading and engaging in such an exciting and educational activity together. As a creative, I hope that the concept of “Brunch, Brunch Baby!” can serve as a resource to help children enhance their creativity and explore their own visual thinking abilities as they search to discover the letters illustrated out of food items. I would love to see this book inspire younger generations to entertain their imaginations and cultivate and explore their own forms of creativity.

What was the self-publishing process like?

Self-publishing seemed daunting and unattainable at first. When I began researching online, I didn’t find a step-by-step publishing process, so I gleaned the information I needed to create my own. I wasn’t willing to wait on a publisher in order to accomplish this personal goal and get the book out into the world, so this was my best option.

Once I found the information I needed, it was fairly easy to move forward. We were fortunate enough to be able to self-fund the project, which was a blessing. Simply put, we took the concept from writing and sketching to designing and refining. We researched until we found the right printer to partner with, and then worked out the financial details. Once we obtained an ISBN and registered with the Library of Congress, we submitted the files and began the proofing process, where we went back and forth on reviewing digital and printed proofs of the book pages. As soon as we sent the final files to the printer, we didn’t see anything more of it for several months, which gave us the chance to hone in on our promotion and marketing efforts.

What unexpected obstacles did you encounter throughout the process? How did you overcome them?

The greatest obstacle in the way of creating the book was the timeline. Since this was a side project for me, I needed to find time to fit it in to the already-sparse open spaces in my calendar. With owning two businesses and having a family, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to devote as much consistent time to this as I would have liked to, but I also knew that it was going to take even greater strides of intentionality to remain steady in scheduling and motivating myself to stick with it for a long period of time. “Brunch, Brunch Baby!” took about 18 months from concept to completion, and those 18 months included the time it took to formulate the idea and find the ideal writer who could help carry out the pieces of the project that I couldn’t do myself. I discovered that when you just start talking to people about the idea and explaining a bit about what you’re hoping to do, it really helps you connect with the right people. As I proposed my thoughts to a group of friends from church, Jordan quickly expressed interest in writing the copy, and I recognized that his experience in teaching elementary schoolers would be incredibly advantageous for this book.

Another obstacle in regards to the timeline had to do with the printing process. We chose to partner with a printer who was able to save us a good amount of money, but the compromise was the length of time it would take to produce the books. As a result, the full process took closer to three months start-to-finish; not included in that time was the proofing of the finished product, which took about a month in and of itself before the printing even began.

The last significant obstacle we faced was the need for feedback. After having worked on this for so long, we realized that we needed to open up the floor and receive outside opinions about the work if we were truly going to keep refining and improving our content. A few weeks before submitting our final files, we invited a select group of close friends and professionals in the design, writing and literature spaces to offer their critiques. This was one of the best decisions we made in taking “Brunch, Brunch Baby!” to the next level. After an afternoon of receiving feedback and suggestions, we made some remarkable changes including deleting and redesigning entire pages from the ground up. We changed the cover page completely, and the end result is much better for it. We learned that we couldn’t be too tied to anything we created, because as we were receptive to our friends’ critique and willing to make changes as a result, the alterations made and new ideas implemented produced designs much better than what we could have created otherwise.

What advice might you have for someone wanting to pursue a personal side project?

Honestly, just start. You can’t let yourself spend too much time thinking about it or else you will come up with every negative “what if” and eventually talk yourself out of it. Motivation and inspiration comes as you continue taking those steps forward and engaging in the process of trial and error. Rather than asking yourself what could go wrong in pursuing that goal, give yourself just a few minutes to think about what could go right, and then go make it happen.

Another piece of advice I want to extend is to leverage your network and reach out to the people around you who are active in the industry, and be confident in asking for advice or suggestions. Throughout my career, my requests to sit down with others over coffee and ask questions and learn from them have consistently been met with eager acceptance. Professionals generally love the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences, and especially in the creative space, we all want each other to grow and succeed in their unique passions and interests.

Lastly, I urge you that in whatever you are creating, make sure it’s something you are passionate about, something that brings you joy and fills you up. This alone will keep you pressing forward when you hit roadblocks or when you need to put in late nights to stay on top of your deadlines. For me, illustrating food is the most fun project I could think of, so not only did I enjoy the work I was doing in designing this book, but the idea of holding the finished result in one hand and my son in the other as we read “Brunch, Brunch Baby!” together was enough to keep me motivated to max out my illustrating capacity and make it the best it could possibly be.

Do you think you’ll create more children’s books in the future?

I did really thrive in creating “Brunch, Brunch Baby!”, and I can absolutely see myself creating another children’s book at some point down the road! As a creative, of course I already have potential ideas for the second and third books in the series, and I love the idea of working with a publisher on those to see if we could make them even bigger and better. For now, I think I will definitely take some time to rest in the completion of this one and just enjoy it with Roman. In the meantime, I would be open to partnering with any children’s book authors looking to turn their book dreams into a reality through illustration and design!

To learn more about “Brunch, Brunch Baby!” and purchase copies of the book, visit www.brunchbrunchbaby.com.