Pixar artist illustrates beautiful ebook in Book Creator

Mike SundyCase study, Collaboration, Creative Arts, Publishing

Part of My Heart

Part of My Heart is a magical story about a baby heart born to children's parents.

The inspiration for this story came from my (at that time 4-year-old) daughter Nora. She asked me where she came from. I wasn't ready to give the birds and the bees talk, so I gave her the emotional truth: she came from the love Mommy and I have for each other. That explanation satisfied her. I was also inspired by this quote from Elizabeth Stone:

"Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside of your body." I took this literally.

I wrote the story over four months whilst attending children's author/illustrator Lissa Rovetch's class. Also in that class was Sungyeon Joh, a super talented Korean artist/author. We had taken years of Lissa's classes at Pixar together and always felt a kinship in that we both went to emotion first. She enjoyed the story and drew a picture.

Here's an early concept for the artwork:

Early art concept for Part of My Heart

I had been looking for an excuse to collaborate with her for years so this was a wonderful opportunity. We decided to do a children's ebook together.

Why an ebook?

  • Full creative control.
  • Much faster process than traditional publisher.
  • Basically free to create.
  • Liberating to create a finished product.
  • Could share with family and friends.
  • Digital means instant global distribution and removes barriers to exposure.
  • The book would live online 24/7 as a calling card for our work.

To simplify the project, we decided to set the goal of publishing a straight ahead children's book (2-D art) as a free Apple iBook.  This would let us create and distribute the book for free.  We wouldn't need to pay conversion costs to other formats or worry about designing the art to work on multiple platforms.

We also decided not to do it as an app since we didn't want to bring in a third person to do coding/interactive elements.  We decided to keep it something we could accomplish between the two of us.

Art production and layout tools

With a finished story, we met bi-weekly over six months to produce the art.  Sungyeon created all the art and my role was mainly to give feedback.  She mostly drew directly on the iPad with the app iDraw.

In Sungyeon's words, "It's a powerful drawing tool and does cool things like layers.  The images are not too expensive in memory because it's a vector app."

For the handwritten text near the end of the process I believe she had to import into Photoshop and do that there.

Book Creator

Sungyeon used Book Creator to see the layout in continuity.  She was drawn to Book Creator because it was so easy to create dummy books.  She also found it fast and easy to import/export images from albums and edit pages quickly.  She loved using the drawing pencil tool to sketch visual notes on top of the book while we met.

"I searched Google to find the Book Creator app.  I tried a few other apps but Book Creator is the best.  It is simple and easy to use and has worked out for me."Sungyeon Joh

Art production process

Our working process was really cool: we would meet for an hour or so and Sungyeon would bring her iPad with the art loaded on it.  I would give notes and she would draw changes directly over the images right there (via Book Creator).

It really accelerated the normal cycle of feedback and editing because she could give herself visual notes in the moment rather than have to translate words into art.

How to annotate your books in Book Creator

I found I enjoyed giving feedback on the art - felt like a movie director in that I was giving my take on the layout, staging, and emotional truth of each page/scene.  It was so inspiring that I'm now looking to write/direct a short film.

Art challenges

Sungyeon had a hard time drawing humans in the beginning.  She usually draws more abstract animals or fantastical creatures.  She invested time in sketching people on the subway, cafe, and streets.  It was especially difficult to draw a human with a heart child, since they look totally different.

She wanted them to be connected even though they are different forms in her drawing style.  For example, she used simple lines for their arms and legs, and simple dots for their eyes to tie them together.

Early basic images:

Some finished art:

  • When you crawled, you made my heart happy
  • When you jumped, my heart jumped with you
  • But someday you'll find the right one to give your heart to
  • And you'll have a baby heart of your own

Exporting the book with Book Creator

Once we had the artwork and text all finalized, it was simple for Sungyeon to use Book Creator to export an ePub file.  This is the "book" file that we would eventually publish.

Publishing with iTunes Producer

iTunes Producer is a free app for Mac that you use to prepare something for sale on Apple's stores (including the iBooks Store).  We followed the tutorial on this website for how to use iTunes Producer.  You'll need to categorize the book, give other info about it, and choose sample images.  It is a thrilling experience to hit submit and know that your book will be in over 50 countries within 24 hours.

Screenshot of iTunes Producer

Tracking downloads with iTunes Connect

Apple also provides a free (noticing a theme here?) website called iTunes Connect which you can use to track downloads/sales in various countries. We've already reached Top 10 for Children's Fiction in six countries!


We signed a legal collaboration agreement up front that was a modified version of a free online form.  I encourage having an agreement so that it makes it clear up front who owns what.

We also filed for copyright in the US once we had a finished product.  It's not strictly necessary, but it was pretty cheap and makes it easier to defend your work should you ever have legal action.

Was it worth it?

Yes! It took us about 10 months to write, create the art, and publish the ebook.  With a traditional publisher it would take more like three years!

Apple and ebook publishers in general have streamlined the process and removed many of the traditional barriers that prevented independent creators from getting their work out to the world.  It was a liberating and energizing experience.  It was a great feeling to own our destiny and have full control from writing to art to layout to font choice to publishing to promoting.

Thanks to the internet and free tools, it's recently become possible for one or two people to be their own end-to-end creative enterprise with a global reach for next to nothing.  That's really exciting.  Can you say "disintermediation?"

The whole process was mostly free, except for my and Sungyeon's time.  We did pay a small fee to copyright the book but that was optional.  And Sungyeon bought the iDraw app earlier but used it for her art creation process.  

We gave the book away for free since our primary aim was to create a finished product and remove any barriers to people finding us and enjoying our work.

I enjoyed the process so much that my brother Jonathan and I are now working on a new children's ebook series.

Mike Sundy and his daughter NoraThe best part of all was that our family and friends across the globe could read something we made and it wasn't compromised by the traditional publishing process.

Hundreds of other people also downloaded it and left stellar reviews.

My favorite review was from Nora, who inspired the book. She asks me to read it to her all the time.

Sungyeon JohSungyeon Joh ("Sansu") is a children's book author, illustrator, and animator. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son.

Her artwork can be found at hellosansu.com and facebook.com/HelloSansu.

Sungyeon had this to say about the process:

"Collaborating with Mike was fun and I love his story.  I didn't have a child when I started this project.  I could only imagine what it was like to be a parent.  Mike explained and gave me inspiration - for example with details like the blue and pink striped blankets that babies get in the hospital and how parents hold their babies.

"I found reference images and imagined what it would be like to hold a baby and watch it grow.  I was pregnant with my first child during the creation of the book and am now raising my son.  Since having my own child, I feel more attached to the story and love the book even more.  It is truth.  Children are part of my heart."

Download 'Part of My Heart' for free from the iBooks Store

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