Pop-up book tales, trials & triumphs with Keith Allen

Keith Allen, pop-up book artist, presenting at the CDPUG meeting.

As a tribute to his departed Grandfather, Keith Allen created a pop-up book… that is, he, his brother and Grandmother created a pop-up book. Keith served as the paper engineer, his brother as the illustrator and Grandma was the storyteller, marketer and calligrapher/artist. The story centers around what a fun and special place Rehoboth Beach is – after all it is where his grandparents lived, his parents met, where he proposed to his wife and where his children have had many an adventure riding the same carousel as he.

Keith, his brother and Grandmother: the team that created A Day in Rehoboth Beach.

This foray into creating pop-up books is a side project for Keith, who is a 15-year veteran designer with American Greetings. He is the author and artist of two pop-up books: A Day in Rehoboth Beach and What a Mess. A third pop-up book is currently in the edits/review stage.

Before creating pop-up books Keith made the transition from a two-dimensional designer to a pop-up artist at American Greetings. An art director there noticed Keith’s three-dimensional characters. He was approached about working on pop-up cards. Keith, perfected his paper engineering skills with hands-on trial-and-error plus gleaning insights from the library book The Elements of Pop-up by David A. Carter and James Diaz.

Pop-up book creation steps – from Keith’s second book What a Mess.

Marketing was easy for his first book, A Day in Rehoboth Beach. Everyone in Rehoboth Beach knew his Grandmother and she appeared on TV and radio to promote the book. Many businesses supported the project through donations that earned them a place in the book acknowledgments.

Businesses are acknowledged for their support in the bookA Day in Rehoboth Beach.

People wished to get their hands on this great pop-up book about Rehoboth Beach right away. But… the publishing is an even longer process, taking a year! These books are hand assembled overseas; there are no pop-up book publishers in the United States. Keith conducted his own pop-up book publishing research on Google and Alibaba, finally settling on a printer/manufacturer in China.

Keith sends a sample white book to the publisher/printer.

Good communication with the publisher/printer was key. Numerous items were sent to the printer: a sample white book, a depiction of how the page will look when printed (accomplished through clever use of Photoshop laying the color illustration over a photograph of the white book page) and artwork complete with die lines and tabs.

Artwork sent to print with die lines and tabs.

The importing and logistics was another story in itself – Keith indicated this could be an entirely separate presentation. He mentioned a brief panic when his shipment was going to be sent to a different port, due to a paperwork misunderstanding, and hinted at other stressful situations. He acknowledges now that having a customs broker and a logistics company involved would have been best.

Keith rented a van and picked up 3000 books in Philadelphia. Three thousand was the minimum order for a pop-up book due to manufacturing time and cost. Excitement and happiness had to abound that day as this long project was completed. But, boxes were opened to reveal numerous problems.

Keith rents a van, picks up the books and discovers big problems.

A third of the books were damaged or improperly printed. The glue should be dry before closing the book. These books were closed too soon after gluing and so the glue did not adhere. Illustrations had gone awry. There was a headless boy riding a cart around Rehoboth Beach!

Printer error created a headless boy riding a cart around Rehoboth Beach!

Two thousand books were able to be salvaged and these sold out quickly. A highly popular book, many more could have been sold shortly after this first publishing. A new order was placed for seven thousand books but with the wait time of a year, as the initial popularity diminished, sales cooled.

Since that time Keith has joined the Movable Book Society, a knowledgeable and helpful group that includes such pop-up book powerhouses as Robert Sabuda, Matthew Reinhart and David Carter.

By the time of a second pop-up book, What a Mess, Keith had two young children. Between working full time at American Greetings and sharing in the care of two kids, he was able to carve out time at 5:00 AM to work on the book. Hence the name 5:00 AM pop-up book project.

Keith Allen Pop-up Book Artist presentation for CDPUG meeting
This second book project was dubbed The 5:00 AM Book Project – coffee is necessary!

With the knowledge gleaned from his first pop-up book, the assistance of the Movable Book Society as well as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators the second pop-up book project went more smoothly. Keith decided to generate interest in the book by blogging. This daily posting kept him accountable and moved the project along. When stuck with problems his readership would chime in. One helpful paper engineering solution came from a follower in the Philippines! This constant posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Tumbler was becoming too time consuming. Keith realizes now that finding your audiences’ social media platform, and concentrating on that alone, would have been more efficient.

To build an even bigger audience Keith posted video lessons on how to make a pop-up book and posted photos of paper cut-out illustrated characters in various places. All this content marketing lasted for one and a half years!

After finishing What a Mess Keith, contacted numerous publishers only to hear frustrating comments such as: change the book to something about trucks or change an illustration. There was over a year of his life invested in this book. It was finished and ready to publish! Keith noticed major pop-up book artists such as Robert Sabuda were self-publishing; he decided to self publish too. He utilized Kickstarter – offering rewards and special custom illustrations depending on the level of monetary investment.

Kickstarter was used to raise funds for publishing.

Keith researched best practices for Kickstarter. The first day of a Kickstarter campaign is critical and determines one’s success. Plus, a crowd funding effort should not last longer than one month. Knowing this Keith continued to generate interest through videos and posts. He brought his audience with him to have a successful first day on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter goal was $20,000. Keith surpassed that amount.

Keith’s initial Kickstarter day was a rousing success!
A sample white book page from What a Mess.
Same page fully printed from What a Mess.

Keith captivated all of us. Numerous audience members, including myself, purchased A Day in Rehoboth Beach or What a Mess. Thanks Keith for your humor, talent and insights!

Keith showing a favorite page from What a Mess

You can find Keith at MessyPopUp.com. He is available for workshops, school visits and book events.

Photos: Laura Dempsey

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