Becky Simpson's expert advice on illustrating a book & getting it published

Illustrator Becky Simpson, the author of the brilliantly I'd Rather Be Short, shares her adventures in book publishing.


Becky Simpson is the author and illustrator of the brilliantly funny I'd Rather be Short, an illustrated collection of 100 reasons why it's great to be small. The success of her debut book has led to a second book deal, and she's currently part of Adobe's Creative Residency programme, which means she's being funded for a year to focus on her personal projects as well as educate others about how to peruse their own.

Being an Adobe Creative Resident, it was only natural that Becky would be speaking at Adobe's annual creative conference, Adobe Max, which we attended in October. Her talk, titled Adventures in Book Publishing, shared insight into the publishing process and how to make it successful. We caught up with her after her session to chat about her books and side projects to find out more.

Ashleigh Allsopp: Tell us a bit more about your book I'd Rather Be Short and how you first came up with the idea?

Becky Simpson: "I'd Rather Be Short is a humorous book that's really meant to be empowering to help women, or anybody but it's geared towards women, to celebrate how they are created. I always knew someday in the future I would do books, but I had this idea and I knew it would work. I just had that feeling about it.

It was really a labour of love. I knew nobody was going to pay me to do something I'd never done, so it started out as a side project that was the ultimate portfolio piece. If I had had to self publish it, it was at least going to be a way to say, this is what I like to draw and there's plenty more where that came from. But it did end up getting published by Plume Books, which is part of Penguin Random House, so it came from a pure place of wishing it already existed and executing it in a way that was very on-point with what I liked to do."

AA: How did you find time to create I'd Rather Be Short when you were also working full time?

BS: "I think side projects might be easier when you have a job. It's a blanket statement, but at the time I had a full time job and I ran a half marathon and I thought it was the biggest deal in the world because I was never a runner. After the race I had this post-running sadness and I didn't know where to fuel all my energy, so I had the idea for I'd Rather Be Short. I decided to channel that energy and discipline into my drawings.

"It was a long time coming, and I spent a long time putting off this idea, but I knew that it was something I wanted to pursue. Doing the race gave me the energy and the discipline to pursue it with self-imposed deadlines and I stuck to them.

"By the end of that month, I had enough to submit to literary agents, and then pretty soon I got an agent, and then after that we got a book deal. I was really lucky because it was a very quick timeline considering. Publishing is a very long process, but before publishing everything happened pretty fast. The book wasn't finished before I got the book deal. It's obviously easier once you have a book deal to do the whole thing. I think that it would be really hard if I was a novelist and spent hundreds of hours writing before you know if anybody is going to pick it up."


AA: What did you enjoy most about the process of creating and publishing the book?

BS: "I think that when you put yourself into a new situation like that there are so many unexpected consequences and lessons from the process. I feel like it made me tougher and more brave and more confident. Throughout the process I didn't really know what I was getting into but I knew one step and then after I learned about that step I did the next step.

"Eventually it's like, "Wow, I have a book in stores and I didn't even know how to do this but I did it." It made me more confident with promoting it. It's really cool to have a project that you think of yourself and then to have somebody like a publisher validate it and they're willing to back it essentially and put it into the world."

Advertisement. Article continues below

AA: What did you find toughest about the process of illustrating and publishing the book?

BS: "It was obviously a lot of work and there where those moments of, "I would pay anybody any amount to finish this for me," but you can't. That's not possible. That's the thing that makes you tough. It makes you even more proud of the project, too, when you finish and you get through those hurdles.

"The thing I remember was when you're working on projects late at night, your mind gets the best of you and I had moments where I anticipated these illustrators or artists that I looked up to and thinking about them seeing the book in stores and picking it up and being like, "Oh, how did this get published?" Or, "This isn't even good." It was almost like I had a book deal but it still wasn't good enough. That I was still afraid of any judgement.

"By the end of the process I was so proud of what I did that I thought, "I'm always going to get better." Instead of seeing this as the be all and end all, this is one leg of my journey. I'm really proud of it. My style's changed a lot since then but I'm still really proud of that."


AA: Have you found the process of creating your second book easier?

BS: "I thought I would find it easier but I didn't. I think that it was more challenging. It's called The Roommate Book and it's a lot more dynamic. It has more writing. It's flow charts, and short essays, and quizzes, and hypothetical questions, funny notes, and every page, every spread is completely different. It's not a list. There's no way to get into a groove because every spread was like starting over, which was a really wonderful challenge.

"I'm very proud of it. Even though it was hard work with the first book to work your 50 hours a week and get off work and then work till 2 a.m., that's hard but at least there's boundaries there. When you're working on your freelance work, or now my creative residency work, finding the time for that was hard. It took a different kind of discipline."


AA: Tell us more about your 100 days project

BS: "The 100 days project was the first leg of my Creative Residency with Adobe. It's to add some structure to the residency. I'm working on turning my illustrations into a business and into products. It's a way to explore and play without necessarily having an end goal in mind. These don't need to be 100 good pieces of art, they don't need to be 100 pieces that sell or use, they're just 100 of anything. At the end of the day a lot of them are really bad and a lot of them are really good and a lot of them are a good place to pivot from for other projects. It's like I created this whole library of places to start."

Advertisement. Article continues below

AA: Would you recommend the 100 days project to other artists and designers?

BS: "Absolutely. It was incredible. Now I'm working on 100 days of meditating. That one I haven't really publicized. It's not so fun to look at on Instagram! But I think 100 day projects are really cool because there's a deadline. It's long enough that it's a challenge but you get some mea. I'm a really big fan of that."

AA: What's your essential piece of advice for aspiring designers?

BS: "Do the work. Make work and put it out there. You have to celebrate the terrible drafts because they're the warriors that get us to the finish line. It's important to be able to confront a blank canvas and know that whatever you put down could be terrible but at the end of the day you have many more chances and that's the only way we can make cool stuff."