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.
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