How to Publish a How-To Book/ A Guide for Artist-Authors

Yesterday, I was part of a panel discussion entitled “How to Publish a How-To Book: A Guide for Artist-Authors” at the Philippine Readers and Writers Festival, an annual event organized by NBS in cooperation with the local publishing industry. Was honored to share the panel with the young and talented self-taught fashion illustrator Pete Rich, author of “My Fashion Sketchpad” (Anvil Take Five, 2018).

Here were my tips:

Forget about quitting your job…for now. Take your head out of the clouds for the moment. Your dream to publish should not make you neglect or abandon your well-paying job, but instead make you fight to keep it. In the beginning, even if you sign up with a publisher, you will need to put out some money to make your dream book a reality. Authors earn from royalty fees and not salaries. Royalties are computed as percentages taken off from book sales. Royalty rates range, for most publishers, anywhere from 5 to 20%, and the rate is contingent on several factors, like, the roles you played in the book-making: Were you the writer as well as the illustrator? If you just provided the text, then you will have to split up the royalty with the illustrator. Are you a newbie or an established author? Needless to say, a royalty rate lower than 5% is exploitative.

To illustrate: to even make your first million, you’ll first have to sell 5 million pesos worth of books. Say your book costs P500. You will have to sell 10,000 copies to make 5 million pesos sales. And this will only be true if your royalty rate is 20%. A 20% rate is rarely offered to newbie authors. It is a rate reserved for established, tried-and-tested best-selling authors.

Authors may also earn by selling their manuscript outright for a one-time payment. If the book turns out to be a best-seller, though, the author may not have claims on future revenues the book and its subsequent reprints will generate.

So, hold on to that day job!

First, do some soul-searching. Set aside time to do a Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis of yourself. Be very honest with yourself.

What are you an expert at? Whose view is this? Will other people acknowledge your expertise on the topic? Will they agree with you? Will they be willing to write a testimonial book blurb for you if you ask them?

Whatever your topic choice will be,…
You should be passionate about it.
You have been doing it for a considerable time.
You do it very well, much better than everybody else.
You should be able to break down the topic into easy-to-follow lessons.

Look at your bookshelf. Your book collection should give you a good idea of what kind of books your target audience also collects. Why? Because we tend to want people who have the same tastes like us as our audience. Noting this, what kind of book would you like to publish? Have there been books published on your chosen topic? Were you satisfied with them? If it were up to you, how will you improve them? What will you change? If you were happy with them, can you be able to tell what works in the books you like? Note the scope of topic, manner of presentation, design of the book, number of pages, size of book, etc. 

Go to a bookstore and see what books are written about your topic. Is there a book similar to the book you had in mind? Are there too many books similar to the one you want to write? Will your book have a fighting chance against these books, in the mind of your target market?

 Take note also of the different publishers and the kinds of how-to books they publish. Which publishing company do you think is likely to carry your book?

Find a gap.

The gap you identify may be in the form of a book. Or the manner your chosen topic has so far been tackled in books currently in the market. Do you have anything new or revolutionary to offer? Do you think your idea is potentially marketable?

Having done your homework, now you can allow yourself to dream. What mood or tone will your book have—authoritative? friendly? humorous? inspiring?

Visualize your book. What do you see when you flip the pages in your mind?

Now, get to work, and write it down!
It’s like writing your thesis all over again. Decide on the scope and limitations of your topic. Narrow down your topic to a manageable size that can be covered in one book.

 Draft a course outline. This is a good exercise for determining how the book will flow through several pages or chapters. It will help you define and refine the scope and limits of your topic, as well as identify potential snags that can make the writing of your book problematic or altogether impossible.

To further convince yourself that your book idea is viable, try writing and illustrating some chapters. At this stage, you have the opportunity to test the mood and tone of your book, and to refine or revise the text or visuals accordingly. By taking time to do this, you make your work easier, by making your book idea less abstract and more concrete in your mind.

Make your pitch.

 Publishers’ submission guidelines are available online. Look up your target publisher and check out their site. Or simply type the keywords “submissions + publisher name”.

 Understand that every day, your target publisher may receive hundreds of unsolicited emails or letters from people like you who want to be published. Your submission will most likely end up in the slush pile without any guarantee of being considered, much less, read. This is the risk you will have to take. You will have to figure out ways on making your submission stand out.

When putting together your proposal, the publisher will have its basic requirements, and these include the table of contents and sample chapters. Just give a teaser for your book that will pique their interest.

 There are too many horror stories of publishers plagiarizing submissions. To protect your book idea from being stolen, submit only to reputable, established publishers, and even then, it will be good to exercise extra caution: do not include the most important chapters, or vital research documents, and with regard artworks, do not submit high resolution original artworks. Reserve these for when you get a call for a meeting to discuss the book project. Say that you will be happy to show more of your book idea if your can have an appointment with them. And never turn over your manuscript or artworks to them unless you sign a contract. Make sure you get a notarized copy of this contract.

Publishers do not like it when you make simultaneous submissions. But in case you cannot avoid doing this because of the timeliness of the topic, mention this in the cover letter accompanying your submission.

Self-publish. And, in case your book idea never gets published by mainstream press, it is not the end of the world. There is always the option to self-publish, if you really believe in your book.

Consider making your content avalilable online. You can feature sample pages on your personal website or sites like Pinterest, and offer the complete content as PDF or e-book for a subscription fee. 

There are several excellent eBook self-publishing platforms online: CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, Lulu, Google Play, etc.

There are also options for desktop publishing, too. Central Books publishes books on demand. They offer design and layout services apart from printing and securing ISBN for your book.

 You can promote your book online and send to buyers through couriers. Consider non-traditonal venues for selling like the Komikon and Komiket events, as well as coffee shops, galleries, art and novelty shops.

Be patient, and creative. There are several things you can do while waiting for a big publisher to pick up your book idea, and most of them as fulfilling as being actually published. Make good use of social media like Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook Pages, and Twitter to promote your work. Publishers like play it safe and check out pages with huge followings, and they like to buy the rights to content that is trending. Your social media followers are a captive audience for your book, and this opportunity is not lost on the publisher.

Good luck on your book!


The Lure of Neverland


At one time or another in our lives, we’d stumbled through a rabbit-hole with Alice into Wonderland. Set out for Narnia and Seonee Hills on an adventure. Fished with Haroun in the Sea of Stories.

Good books inevitably change us.

This is a reprint of a journal article I’d written 19 years ago, when I was just beginning to write and illustrate books for children.

Reprinted from The RAP Journal, Vol XXII October 1999. Published by the Reading Association of the Philippines. Dina Ocampo, Editor.

Tobias, M. M. (1999). The Lure of Neverland. The RAP Journal, XXII (October), 26-31.

10 hours in Dubai

The hotel checkout at Sharjah Hilton was at 12 noon and I had been all set to go earlier to the airport, spend the night there and wait for my 3 AM flight. But what does one do when she has fifteen hours to kill? Good thing my kind-hearted Dubai-based cousin Roman took pity on me and told me that he and his lovely wife Arlyn will pick me up and take me on a quick tour of Dubai.

Wondergirl Ilay

Wonder IlayImage copyright © 2017 May T Papa

I met Ilay in 2012. Mama Lyzeth told me that we will get along well, because Ilay loves books.

True enough, when Ilay and I met, we instantly became friends. She had just undergone a very delicate operation that took out a large tumor from between her eyes. But from her wide smile, her very quick and playful manner, it didn’t seem as if she had just gone through something very scary and painful. She was only four years old.

She must have some kind of superpowers, I thought. Amazing kid!

Ilay and her mother live in Bataan. They just come to Manila for Ilay’s treatments. Even if I wanted to visit her, Bataan was just too far away. Years passed, I was able to see Ilay grow up, through the photos Mama Lyzeth shared on her Facebook page.

“Ilay’s first day in school” Mama Lyzeth captioned one photograph. “Ate Ilay makes it to the Top 5 in class,” she captioned another. I was happy Ilay was growing up to be a happy, smart, and pretty young lady.

Last Sunday, Mama Lyzeth sent me a PM. And then I saw Ilay’s new pics. Apparently, all these years, Ilay’s health has remained very delicate..

“Things are not looking look good for Ilay,” Mama Lyzeth wrote. “The infection in her blood has reached her brain. She continues to fight, but we expect to lose her anytime now. She is already very weak.”

At age 9,  Ilay is fighting her  bravest fight, but her mortal body cannot keep up anymore. We are lifting Ilay up to God, in whose loving arms she can finally find comfort and rest.


Nakilala ko si Ilay noong 2012. Nasabi ni Mama Lyzeth na magkakasundo kami, dahil napakahilig ni Ilay sa libro.

Noong magkakilala kami, agad nga kaming nagkaibigan ni Ilay. Noo’y kakalampas pa lamang niya sa isang delikadong operasyon na nagtanggal ng malaking tumor sa pagitan ng kanyang mga mata. Ngunit di mo ito mababakas sa napakalaki niyang ngiti at liksi ng kilos. Tila walang nakakatakot o masakit na pinagdaanan. Apat na taon pa lamang siya.

Baka may superpowers siya, naisip ko tuloy. Pambihirang bata!

Ngunit sa Bataan nakatira si Ilay at ang kanyang nanay. Lumuluwas lamang sila kapag magpapagamot si Ilay. Gusto ko man siyang dalawin ay napakalayo ng Bataan. Sa kabila ng lahat, sa paglipas ng panahon, nasubaybayan ko ang kanyang paglaki mula sa mga letratong ibinabahagi ni Mama Lyzeth sa Facebook.

“Unang araw ni Ilay sa paaralan,” ani Mama Lyzeth sa isang letrato. “Top 5 si Ate Ilay,” aniya naman sa isa. Nakakatuwang makitang lumalaki si Ate Ilay na isang masiyahing, matalino, at magandang dalagita.

Bigla na lang noong Linggo, pinadalhan ako ng mensahe ni Mama Lyzeth. At nakita ko ang mga bagong larawan ni Ilay. Sa kabila pala ng kanyang masasayang letrato, sakitin pa rin pala si Ilay.

“Hindi maganda ang lagay ni Ilay,” aniya. “Umakyat na ang impeksyon niya sa dugo sa utak. Patuloy pa rin siyang lumalaban, ngunit ‘di na namin siya inaasahang magtatagal. Napakahina na ng kanyang katawan.”

Sa edad 9 na taon, ang pambihirang si Ilay ay lumalaban sa pinakamalaking laban ng kanyang buhay, ngunit hindi na kakayanan ng kanyang katawan. Itinataas namin ang aming pinakamamahal na si Ilay sa kandungan ng Panginoong Diyos, kung saan siya makahahanap ng ginhawa at pamamahinga.

Nurture vs Nature

How much does nature contribute to an individual’s formation? How much does their environment influence their being? Is behavior inherited (ie genetic) or acquired–or both?

“Nature is what we think of as pre-wiring and is influenced by genetic inheritance and other biological factors. Nurture is generally taken as the influence of external factors after conception e.g. the product of exposure, experience and learning on an individual.”


According to their LinkedIn page, “Al Jalila Cultural Centre for Children is founded on the belief that culture is essential to understanding both ourselves and the world in which we live today. The overall aim is to enrich the cultural lives of children and prepare them to welcome their future.”

This, I believe, is what the world needs to nurture confident, culturally literate and emotionally intelligent kids–a cultural centre like the Al Jalila Cultural Centre for Children. The Centre encourages creative self-expression. They even have a 24-hour family radio station, Pearl FM (with 5 studios) where kids can call in and talk about just anything.

I was privileged to be taken on a tour around the complex, and I was just awed at the facilities and the conceptualization, creative energy, as well as resources that brought the centre to life.

Grateful to the Sharjah Book Authority for arranging my storytelling activity at the Al Jalila Cultural Centre for Children as part of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2017. Thanks also to Ms. Ayesha Juma, AJCCC Director for Program Management, and the very accommodating AJCCC staff for making me feel so welcome and taking me on a wonderful tour around their centre.

Sharjah Scrapbook

Sharjah is widely considered to be the cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates. It is a city that beautifully juxtaposes the old with the new. For the 2017 Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, we were billeted at the Sharjah Hilton which had a vantage view of the sunrise over the Khalid Lagoon. The sunrises are spectacularly beautiful from the hotel, as the city’s sand-colored palette amazingly reflected the colors of the sun.

The story behind our bee book.

I believe that the true test of a brand story’s worthiness is when it can explain complicated things to a child.

Shell Philippines gave me my most challenging commission yet, a picture book that will engage young and old readers alike, and call their attention to urgent environmental concerns.



I have a dream job. and it really all started with a dream.

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