Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Guest post: "Meticulosity: The Key to the Children’s Book Self-Publishing Crossover" by Debra Mares

Even for those used to writing in different genres, there are no secrets to writing a children’s book, other than what Dr. Seuss describes as, “meticulosity.”  Dr. Seuss was brilliant enough to make up words...and get away with it; he also has Random House publishing his works.  So I’m going to go out on a limb and say it not only takes “meticulosity” in the writing, but also in the distribution and marketing of the self-published children’s book.  Much of the writing (plot, acts, characters) follows the same development as other genres, however the publishing and marketing of children’s books are a bit different from adult books.  Take these 10 tips to help guide you in your crossover to children’s book genres: 
1)   Revise, revise and revise: Like any other genre, editing and revising the writing is key. This is no different in a children’s book.  It’s This Monkey’s Business is less than 700 words, but we strove to perfect every line and every rhyme, time and time again.  When I didn’t have the answer of whether something fit, I asked!  There’s a lot of components that go into writing children’s books, such as whether a child will grasp a concept or idea, whether they will understand a certain word, whether it will appeal to the adult reading to the child, whether the child will relate to a character or animal, and whether their emotional development will allow them to process the message of the book.  It’s a lot. But asking for help and collaborating with a team of people makes the process much easier.  I collaborated with a team made up of a youth, professional illustrator, graphic designer, school counselor, marriage and family therapist, parents of young children, childhood development expert, social worker, professional writer, writing coach, poet, editor and book printer to make this possible.  It took a village.
2)  Know your agent: Take the time to research what publishers and agents look for in children’s books. Some are looking for human characters, some are looking for multi-cultural characters, some are looking for parenting tip and childhood development issues to be addressed, while others are looking for pure entertainment.  Make sure you know why and who you’re writing for, before beginning a challenging endeavor. 
3)  Develop a plan early on: Develop a clear writing, publishing and printing timeline, even before you finish the writing stage, at least 90-120 days in advance of the release date.  It really does take equal effort to write a children’s book as it does to publish, distribute and market it.  Remember to give each stage an equal amount of your energy. There are many online timelines for book launches to use as templates. 
4)   Develop a concrete marketing plan and budget: Make sure you have a marketing plan, timeline and budget for your book, which includes website development, social media presence, mailing list sign-up, and a link to purchase your book.  Invest in yourself and if your means allow for it, set a self-publishing budget...then stick to it.  Your marketing plan should include dates by which you will secure multiple signing/release venues in different geographic areas you have a fan, friend or family base, dates by which you will create email lists, distribute invitations and press releases, and finalize all details for signing parties.  Make sure you’re factoring into your timeline presentations about your book and allowing at least 6 weeks for the marketing of any event.  Ask friends or family to consider hosting one event each; don’t be afraid to ask. 
5)    Consider your printer: Consider nontraditional local printers in addition to online print-on-demand sources to print your book.  Local printers can print your book immediately, especially if you build a face-to-face relationship with them so you can have books on hand.  On the contrary, print-on-demand sources have shipping costs and added rush fees.  Depending on your geographic area, children’s books typically require more public readings, story-time readings, and bookstore or library appearances, where you will want to have a flexible printing source to go to in order to have books on hand. Otherwise add an additional 60-days to your timeline to allow for order and shipping time.  Your audience will typically be children you can read to or parents and adults who will want to purchase your book to read or donate to children.  Many times, this will be a local audience, so make sure you have plenty of books on hand.  You never want to lose an opportunity to sell your book and reach a potential fan or reader.  If you need to, secure their contact information or provide them with a book order form you can easily create before the event.  The buyer/reader can fill out the form immediately with payment and contact information so that you can secure the potential reader fan. 
6) Secure online distribution sites:  As a self-publisher, you will want to ensure your children’s book is accessible around the country or world.  The easiest way to do this if your printer does not have the capacity to distribute nation or worldwide, will be to enlist the services of an online distributor.  The great thing about is they have a service called Advantage, which enables an independent author to sign up and send their books to an Amazon warehouse to be packaged and distributed worldwide.  Royalties and sales profits are deposited directly to the author’s bank account and annual reports for tax reporting purposes are conveniently provided at the end of the year to the author. Like other print-on-demand companies like CreateSpace, which are associated with Amazon, Advantage will allow your product page to appear on worldwide, so anyone can access your book for sale. 
7)  Secure personal author appearances: In marketing your children’s book, research storytime events for children, typically at libraries or bookstores to read and discuss your book with your readers and audience.  Many libraries have preset schedules of storytime, which will allow your book to be promoted. Ask to participate in those. Make sure you have books available for order or purchase and discuss with the library or bookstore whether you can sell books and whether the store will charge you a commission or sales fee for the transaction. Always have on hand invitations for your next event or books to sell.  Make sure your readers, audience or anyone you come into contact with has a way to stay in touch with you (have business card on hand or invitation for next event), knows what your next project is, and make sure to secure their contact information to add them to your mailing list. 
8)  Consider your audience: Consider how wide your audience is for your children’s book.  Originally, I believed It’s This Monkey’s Business was exclusively targeting children affected by domestic violence.  But upon further brainstorming with my development and marketing team, I realized domestic violence is such a universal issue, it was worth discussing with all children.  I wished for all kids reading the book, they would come away with empathy for a child or family going through this.  It broadened my target audience and book appeal.  It’s good to think about the scope of the audience early on. 
9)  Carefully select your illustrator: Illustrators make ideas come to life and children’s book require a good working relationship between the author and illustrator.  So carefully select who you will work with, especially if your book is a potential series as you may want to engage their services again.  It’s important to consider whether you will be hiring your illustrator as an independent services contractor and you will purchase the illustrations (which may cost you more) or whether you will have a long-term relationship with the illustrator who will potentially collect royalties on the book sales along with you, and possibly charge less up front.  Whatever agreement you reach, make sure it’s in writing and both parties are in agreement to the terms.  Although it’s a good idea to have words stand alone on a page, a good rule even in a children’s book is to make the words work even if a blind child is being read to.  That said, it’s still important to have illustrations help carry the message through.  It’s important to identify what matters to you before selecting an illustrator.  It’s This Monkey’s Business’ illustrator Taylor Christensen came recommended by my friend who works in the movie industry, designing and printing movie posters. I liked that Taylor was young, brilliant, and had a good reputation in the industry for working efficiently.  Meeting deadlines were important to me since we were on a strict timeline with a goal to publish in October, domestic violence awareness month.  Taylor was looking to expand his animations portfolio to include book illustrations, so the relationship became mutually beneficial, which was important to me. It also caught my attention that he loved to draw animals and considered making characters of them, a real treat.  He was also open-minded about working under the direction of my 16-year-old niece Olivia, who I was already collaborating on the project with.  Once he read the story, he was very enthusiastic about creating illustrations that would appeal to children and support a story with a strong message.  His enthusiasm and dedication to the project was important to my niece and I, so we knew it would be a perfect fit; and indeed, it was. 
10)       Engage your audience: One of the fun parts of developing a children’s book is that there are many stages and opportunities to engaging your reader audience as opposed to an adult novel.  I often posted on Facebook and Twitter to get audience feedback on things like illustrations, the cover, the characters and the colors.  I invited readers on the journey of publishing, from character development to sketches to rough color roughs of the illustrations, to get their input.  It engages the audience and helps get more reader feedback in the creative stage. It’s important to use this to the author’s advantage, especially with children’s books.
For Independent Author Debra Mares, violence against women is not only a topic in today's news, it's a topic in her crime novels, cases she handled as a county prosecutor, and now it will be the topic in her first children's book It's This Monkey's Business.  Debra is a veteran county prosecutor in Riverside currently specializing in community prosecution, juvenile delinquency and truancy.  Her office has one of the highest conviction rates in California and is the fifteenth largest in the country. You name it - she's prosecuted it - homicides, gang murders, domestic violence, sex cases, political corruption, major fraud and parole hearings for convicted murderers. She is a two-time recipient of the County Prosecutor of the Year Award and 2012 recipient of the Community Hero Award.

Debra is the granddaughter of a Mexican migrant farm worker and factory seamstress, was born and raised in Los Angeles, was the first to graduate college in my family, and grew up dancing Ballet Folklorico and Salsa. Her own family story includes struggles with immigration, domestic violence, mental health, substance abuse and teen pregnancy, which she addresses in her novels. She followed a calling at 11 years old to be an attorney and voice for women, and appreciates international travel and culture. Her life's mission is to break the cycle of victimization and domestic violence. 

Debra is also the co-founding Executive Director of Women Wonder Writers, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization implementing creative intervention and mentoring programs for at-risk youth.  In 2012, Debra self-published Volume 1 of her debut legal thriller series, The Mamacita Murders featuring Gaby Ruiz, a sex crimes prosecutor haunted by her mother's death at the hands of an abusive boyfriend. In 2013, Debra released her second crime novel, The Suburban Seduccion, featuring "The White Picket Fence" killer Lloyd Gil, who unleashes his neonatal domestic violence-related trauma on young women around his neighborhood. 

To bring to life "Cabana," Debra partnered with 16-year-old Creative Director Olivia Garcia and Los Angeles based professional illustrator Taylor Christensen

16-year-old Creative Director Olivia Garcia attends high school in Panorama City, California, is the Los Angeles youth delegate for the Anti-Defamation League's National Youth Leadership Mission in Washington D.C., an ASB member and AP student and enjoys reading, crafting and knitting.

Taylor Christensen is a Los Angeles-based illustrator holding a BFA from Otis College of Art & Design, focuses on fantastical creatures and surreal imagery, and produces artwork for illustration, character and concept design.
Her latest book is the children’s picture book, It’s This Monkey’s Business.
For More Information

Monday, September 22, 2014

Interview with Beverly McClure, author of 'A Pirate, a Blockade Runner, and a Cat'

When Beverly Stowe McClure was in eighth grade, her teacher sent her poem “Stars” to the National High School Poetry Association, and she was soon a published writer in Young America Sings, an anthology of Texas high school poetry. Today, Beverly is a cum laude graduate of Midwestern State University with a BSEd degree. For twenty-two years, she taught children to read and write. They taught her patience. She is affectionately known as the “Bug Lady” because she rescues butterflies, moths, walking sticks, and praying mantis from her cats.

Most of the time, you’ll find Beverly in front of her computer, writing the stories little voices in her head tell her. When she’s not writing, she takes long walks and snaps photos of clouds, wild flowers, birds and deer. She also enjoys visiting with her family and teaching a women’s Sunday school class at her church. Her articles have been published in leading children’s magazines. Two of her stories are in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL ANTHOLOGIES, and she has nine novels published, two of them award winning novels at Children’s Literary Classics and other competitions.

Connect with Beverly on the net:

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, A Pirate, a Blockade Runner, and a Cat. What was your inspiration for it?

A: One summer, on a visit to our son and his wife in South Carolina, we went to Folly Beach, not far from where they lived, to watch the sun rise over the water and lighthouse. It was a beautiful sight. But what caught my attention more than the sunrise was the lighthouse sitting in the middle of the inlet. It was deactivated years ago, but was used during the Civil War. A lighthouse must have a ghost, right? My mind started chasing different scenarios as to who the ghost was and why he was a ghost. What kept him from finding rest? A blockade runner worked nicely, since the ships came into the harbor bringing supplies to the city. Other ideas popped up, too. Pirates were quite active in the area although in earlier years. But, if they were ghosts they could have been around for years. So I added a couple of pirates to the story. And what’s a good ghost story without a cat? My MG/Tween novel APirate, a Blockade Runner, and a Cat was born.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.

A: Thirteen-year-old Erik Burks is a typical young teen. He plays baseball and likes to hang out with his friends. When his dad leaves home, Erik’s life changes in ways he could never imagine. First, his mom takes Erik from Texas to South Carolina where they move in with her sister. Second, he meets the weird twins that live down the street and that claim they’ve seen a ghost ship in the harbor. Third, Erik doesn’t believe that ghosts exist. Fourth, he soon discovers he might be wrong.     

Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?

A: I had fun creating Erik and the twins, typical teens, if you count a girl who can read mind dreams typical. The ghost pirates are based on real pirates, and I did a lot of research to learn about them and their ships so the historical facts would be accurate. I am a slow writer and it took probably two years to write and edit the story. No major bumps along the way. I had visited some of the places in the story, like the lighthouse, and tried to remember what they were like.

Getting the pirate language just right took some research too, but was a lot of fun. Avast, matey. I discovered fascinating information about the two pirates that ended up in the story.

Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?

A: I try to put the characters in exciting circumstances. In novels for MG readers, the kids like action. They’ll stop reading if they’re bored. Forget description unless it moves the story along. I let the characters get in trouble so the reader will wonder if they’ll get out of it. At this age, friendships are important. And they need trouble. Lots of trouble. Ghosts are just right to cause trouble, along with a cat that Erik hates, and the feeling is mutual.

Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?

A: Sometimes, I look at the blank screen on the computer and think, Okay, where do I start? Will anyone like this story? Can I even write it? The only way to deal with anxiety is to start typing. Yes, there will be many changes, at least for me. I usually rewrite the beginning a jillion times. If I don’t get those first words down, I’ll never have a story. So I go for it and hope I’m headed in the right direction.

Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?

A: I’m a morning person. Usually I work on my WIP from 9:00 AM to 11:30 or 12:00 noon. Then I take a lunch break and maybe check emails or look at blogs. (I’ve done some mail early in the morning before I started writing.) Around 2:00 PM I do edits if I have a manuscript that’s been sold, or else I check my blogs and post on other blogs. Evenings, I write reviews, do critiques for my critique groups (I’m in two), and whatever else needs to be done.

I’m retired from my teaching job, so I have no outside work to interfere with my writing. I’m a playmate for my cats, but other than that, my time is my own.

Q: How do you define success?

A: Success to me is writing novels that help young people enjoy reading, and if they take anything away from the story that makes their lives happier or more understandable, that’s an added bonus.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?

A: It’s hard when your family doesn’t support you, but I feel we each have the right to pursue our dreams. I’m not saying neglect your significant others. Don’t neglect yourself either. Let them know how important your writing is to you. They may surprise you and understand. If they don’t, find time when you’re alone, or make time to be alone, even if it’s only 30 minutes or an hour. Maybe while they’re at work, or anytime they go out for whatever reason. Don’t give up. Follow your dreams. You only have one life.

Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?

A: Oh, yes. A writer has to be driven; otherwise, why would we sit in a chair for hours a day, typing our hearts away, for pennies a day (at least in my case)? Perhaps we’re a little insane. And the beauty of it is we don’t care. We’re doing what we love.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

A: Just thank you for hosting me today. Thank all you awesome readers for your comments and thoughts. You’re the ones that keep us writing, you know. If you have a chance, stop by my blog and see what’s happening.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Interview with Katreina Eden, author of Bible Bands: Create Your Own Faith-Based Rubber Band Jewelry

Katreina Eden grew up in the Midwest, eventually landing in California, where she went to law school and then ran her own law firm for a number of years. She currently works as the Executive Vice President of Cedar Fort, Inc., in Springville, Utah. Katreina also owns and operates Organiwic, LLC, an all-natural candle company, with her sister. She enjoys being out in nature and spending time with family. Aside from being published in various legal journals, this is Katreina’s first trade publication.
It's  apleasure to have you on my blog, Katreina! How did you come up with the idea to write Bible Bands? The idea was actually suggested by the owner of our publishing company because the topic was a huge trend but we wanted to add a bit of a twist to what was already out on the market and we thought the Bible themes would also help inspire kids.

How was your writing process like? The hardest part about writing the book, aside from learning the art and then creating my own designs, was taking all the step-by-step images. Going into the project, I thought it would be difficult to come up with my own design ideas, but once I learned how to make the jewelry, coming up with my own designs to match scripture themes came pretty easy. I was surprised about that part. Some of the technical aspects of the designs were a little more difficult to create than others once I had a vision of what I wanted so it was a matter of trial and error until the design worked.

What do you hope children will take away from your book? Mostly I hope kids will learn that they can have fun while being spiritually uplifted as well. I want them to be able to embrace their spiritual beliefs, whatever they may be, through living life, not just when they happen to be in church.

This is your first book. Are there any more on the way? Maybe. I'd like to write more, but I'm also extremely busy. It will probably depend on if this one is successful.

You're also an attorney and vice-president of Cedar Fort, Inc. Tell us about that. Ever since I was little, I have been rather determined and let's say ambitious. I like learning. Going to law school and practicing law was just something I wanted to do at the time and I am grateful for the knowledge and training law school and the practice of law has provided me. I also enjoy helping good businesses succeed and being involved in that actual process. Cedar Fort is a great place to work and I feel we are trying to accomplish great things by inspiring the world through books.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of writing this book? I think the most rewarding aspect is seeing other's reactions to the book. I had no idea others would find it so enjoyable. Initially I took on the project because it made good business sense, but it has turned in to more than that.

Anything else you'd like to share with readers? I would just say live your dreams; nothing is impossible with God's help.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Review: ‘Bible Bands: Rubber Band Jewelry’ by Katreina Eden

bible bandsBible Bands is a fun, educational how-to book for children who love making jewelry. Not only does it teaches how to make lovely designs, but it also strengthens children’s faith by combining hands-on creativity with Bible verses and stories.
Rubber band jewelry seems to be the hottest new craze, so Eden’s book comes at the right time. Though at first glance, when you look at the jewelry, it might seem complicated and difficult to make, especially for kids, the author demystifies it with simple step-by-step instructions accompanied by colorful photos. I found the language and descriptions clear and straight-forward, easy for most kids to understand, though the younger ones will need guidance from an adult, at least at first. There are over 12 designs, from the simplest to the most elaborate.
Eden incorporates faith with verses and symbols, such as a blue and white pattern to symbolize Christ’s baptism, a heart design to remind you of God’s love, and a multi-colored weave to match Joseph’s coat of many colors, among others.
Bible Bands doesn’t come with the looms or bands, but you can find these at most craft shops. This will make a lovely gift for any child, especially those who are into crafts. It is also a good book for those long summer and Christmas holidays, as it will keep children entertained for hours. Recommended!
Find out more on Amazon.
My review was previously published in Blogcritics.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Book Review: ‘Stolen Dreams’ by Christine Amsden (new adult fiction)

StolenDreams_med-193x300I can’t believe this is the last book in the Cassie Scot new adult paranormal mystery series! I really have enjoyed this series a lot.
If you’re new to the series, I advise you to pick up the books in order:
In this the final installment, talented author Christine Amsden brings the infamous Scot vs. Blackwood family feud to a close, but not without filling her story with enough intrigue, mystery, twists and surprises to keep you thinking about the characters for a long time.
And this is, really, the biggest draw in these stories, the characters, especially Cassie and Evan. Cassie has been such a likable protagonist throughout the series, smart and strong and opinionated, yet caring and warm-hearted. Evan –yes, arrogant, condescending and overprotective Evan — has also been the perfect hero. They were school sweethearts…until Evan’s father stole her powers from her and gave them to Evan, thus starting a conflict between them that brought them to the depths of despair, especially for Cassie.
There are many subplots in this book, but the main problem happens when Cassie’s father is killed and she and her family think that Evan’s dad is the one responsible. The primary storyline has to do with finding out if this is true or not and, if not, then who, in fact, is responsible.
There are many surprises in Stolen Dreams, and I enjoyed all of them. Fans of romance will especially enjoy the focus on Cassie and Evan’s relationship. I loved the ending. In sum, this was a wonderful series, and the author delivered a satisfying closure. I wonder what she will come up next? I’m certainly going to be on the lookout for her future books.
My review was previously published in Blogcritics Magazine.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book review: Tanner Builds a Block Tower, by Anita Banks

Tanner Builds a Block Tower is an adorable picture book for ages 3-6 by debut author Anita Banks. It tells the sweet story of a little boy with big dreams:
"I'm going to build a tower. It's going to be bigger than the trees. It will touch the sky."
But as he carries his blocks into the garden and encounters different animals--ants, ladybugs, a chipmunk, a rabbit, and a cat--something unexpected happens and he will have to figure out where all his blocks have gone. Will he get to build his big tower, after all?
Anita Banks has created a charming, totally sweet picture book that will both educate and entertain. Young children will learn about animals and numbers as they follow Tanner on his adventures. The illustrations are lively and colorful and well suit the story. Anita Banks is a name to watch out for!


Title:  Tanner Builds a Block Tower
Genre:  Children’s Picture Book, ages 3-6  
Author:  Anita Banks
Publisher: Wee Creek Press

About the book:  Tanner is determined to build a tower with his blocks. Despite the distractions of the garden’s various animals and losing his blocks on the way, Tanner joyfully shows determination and perseverance.

About the author:  Anita Banks harbored her secret of writing since she was in junior high school where the desire took seed in a creative writing class. She still journaling, reading, running and traveling, but nothing compares to playing with her grandchildren.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Review: The Tooth Fairy Trap, by Rachelle Burk

Title: The Tooth Fairy Trap
Author: Rachelle Burk
Illustrator: Amy Moreno
Publisher: Wiggle Room Books
Format: Paperback
Pages: 69
Price: $8.09
Genre: Fantasy chapter book

Book description:

Bluma is a young tooth fairy who is allergic to her own fairy dust. She faces many problems during this night of tooth collecting, but her biggest challenge is Brian's fairy trap. Bluma can succeed in collecting his tooth only with the help of the boy's grouchy hamster, and a few things she has collected through the night. An illustrated chapter book for young readers.

My thoughts...

This is a charming, magical picture book about a super cute tooth fairy and her adventures as she does her duty visiting the various children's homes during the night. Children will be enchanted by the story as our young tooth fairy, Bluma, tries to come up with a clever way to get the tooth from Bradley without falling for his trap. To do so, she must come up with ideas and enlist the help of a furry friend. 

The language is simple, yet playful and lovely. The black & white illustrations by talented artist Amy Moreno complement the book perfectly. The Tooth Fairy Trap is a beautifully written tale that will delight children and adults alike. Highly recommended! 

Find out more on Amazon

Visit the author's website.

Visit the illustrator's website