A big sigh of relief! My third book – Beato Goes To Indonesia is off to the printer. It took over 6 months to get it ready and it will be another 3 months before it hits bookshelves.
How did it all happen? Over the past few months, a lot of friends and strangers have come up to me inundating me with questions – How did I get the idea to write children’s books? How did I get started? How did I find a publisher?
It turns out a lot of people out there want to write a book. They may already have an idea but never realized it.
Here’s my journey in the book writing process. I hope it helps you ignite your interest in writing books. If not, enjoy the read…
Coining an Idea
In Fall of 2015, I was researching children’s books that had a give back component. As I begin to explore bookstores, I found out that there were very few children’s books on culture and travel. Yes, there was the occasional one about Native American or Jewish history, but nothing that showcased the entire world, or at least many our cultures. Since I am already a strong proponent of diversity education through my nonprofit organization, Go Eat Give, I felt there was a need to educate young readers. So, I took my own travel experiences and developed a theme for a series of children’s books.
I work from home a lot and my Norwegian Forest Cat, Beato, often follows me around, sits at my desk, or takes a nap curled up next to me in the couch. I figured, what better way to show the world than through the eyes of a cat? Funny cats are all the fad these days!
Working with Illustrators
One thing I knew I wanted in my books was excellent quality pictures. I had seen very simple graphics, sometimes even amateurish ones in the bookstore, and I wanted my books to stand out. I started searching for professional children’s book illustrators online. Through UpWork (a project sourcing website) I posted a query, vetted out illustrators and narrowed down my choices to 3 people. One great thing about the site is that you can have people working with you from anywhere in the world. Prices are set by the parties, and the website handles agreements, payments and timelines. After interviews and test jobs, I decided to go with Deveo Media Studio in Romania. I would have 3 people working with me – a project leader and 2 illustrators.
Finding a Publisher
Next, I had to find a company that would publish my book. I researched different publishing models – self-publishing is where you do everything yourself including creating covers, designs, layouts, editing, printing, obtaining ISBN number, listing in bookstores, etc. Amazon offers easy and affordable ways to do this, so I toyed with the idea. Pros: You keep all your revenues from sales. Cons: Up-front investment of time and money, inventory fulfillments and ongoing efforts.
On the other hand, you can pitch your book to a traditional publishing house, such as Random House or Penguin Books. If they like your idea, they will give you an advance to work on it and print it under their brand. Pros: No personal investment, name of a branded company attached to you. Cons: You will lose most editorial control and earn pennies on each book sold.
I attended a few seminars, researched online and spoke to friends, and decided to go with a hybrid model. I sent a pitch to Mascot Books, a publishing house based in Virginia. The owner, Naren Aryal, who is originally from Nepal, emailed me back within a couple of days. We set up a call and discussed all aspects in detail – they had a team who would provide all the services – editing, design, covers, printing, listing, registration, printing and fulfilment, while I could use my own illustrator and have full control over my work. The agreement involved an investment, but it was a fraction of what I would pay if I self-published.
Speak of diversity – we now have an Indian author, Norwegian cat, Romanian illustrators, Nepali publisher and a USA printing press!
Establishing a Platform
One of the first questions Aryal asked me was about my platform. Did I have social media followers, was I speaking at events, blogging regularly, had a web presence? He wanted to see all the numbers in detail.
Whichever publishing route you decide to go, your reach is the first thing publishers want to see, even more than your book! If you are a well-known figure, your books will not only sell more easily, outlets would take less convincing to carry it.
I cannot stress enough the importance of marketing much before the book comes out. Doesn’t mean that if you are not a celebrity, you should not publish a book. But start creating that circle of influence early on with your potential readers.
I have been writing professionally since college. My topics have ranged from events, food, restaurants, personal finance, local businesses, people’s profiles, young couples, to travel and volunteerism. Until now, I had no experience writing for kids. This was a huge challenge!
I wrote my first book with little constraints and then went back a dozen times to edit it. Finally, when I sent the draft to my editor, it came back with lots of comments. Writing for kids is a whole different ballgame. You must have shorter sentences, distinguish between thoughts vs. speech, identify who is talking in every sentence, and have very few words on each page. In my case, I wanted my children’s picture books that made kids smarter. The last thing I wanted to do was publish another book about a rabbit who talks in rhymes and offers no net knowledge.
Marketing and Selling
Again, irrespective of the publishing platform you choose, all publishers require you to do a considerable amount of marketing on your own. This is something I learned over the past few months as well. Gone are the days when authors went on 30-day multi-city launch events. Now, you are responsible to host your own book launch party, reach out to bookstores in your neighborhood, look for speaking engagements, and maintain social media channels.
I thought if I write a good book that is educational, attractive and meaningful, parents and kids would flock to it. But after signing at Barnes and Noble at Mall of Georgia (the biggest mall in the southeast) and at The New York Times Travel Show in New York City (which had 30,000 attendees), I realized that most people go to buy a book only once they have heard about it through other channels. Very few people still walk into a store, browse around and pick up something by an unknown author.
Want to be an author? Start marketing yourself first, then write a good book and find a publisher who allows you to have freedom over your work. Good luck!