Have you always wanted to write a children’s book? I’ve talked to a number of teachers who have terrific ideas for kids’ books, but aren’t sure how to get started. Maybe you, too, are wondering how to write a book and how to get published.
Anyone with an interest in children’s books is going to love the information that Philadelphia-based, National Board Certified teacher and author Kathleen Wainright has to share with us. Over the next ten days, she’ll be sharing info on different education blogs around the web in promotion of her new children’s book, Summer in the City. I’m proud to partner up with Kathleen and kick off her virtual book tour today by having her answer a few questions about her publishing experience as an independent author.
Developing the book’s concept
Summer in the City was inspired by my days growing up in the summer. I grew up in a close knit neighborhood. We could play outside almost anywhere because wherever we were, there was always someone who knew me or my family. We would spend our summer days at the historical Nile Swim Club (the first and only African American private swim club). When we weren’t at the pool, we were at the park or the candy store, or we were just playing outside…the entire neighborhood was our playground. My summer days were blissful!
In 2006, I was taking a children’s literature course to fulfill my requirements for a master’s in literacy. On the day I wrote this poem, we had been discussing poetry and my professor shared one of my favorite poems by Eloise Greenfield, Honey I Love, with the class. This poem has a sing-songy rhythm and she tells a cute story about the things she loves. Later that night, I just felt like writing a poem about something I loved….my summers growing up. I’ve always enjoyed writing poetry, so it is normal for something to just come to me once I have an idea. It was fun reminiscing about “back in the day”, the memories just fell out of my head and onto the paper. When I finished this poem and read it over a few times, I knew that it was going to be my first children’s book.
Writing the book
I wrote the poem that turned into the book in 2006. When I wrote the poem….it probably only took about ten minutes! What I would do, however, is go back from time to time and tweak it here and there. I guess you could consider that the initial editing stage. This went on for about 3-4 years. Once I decided that I was going to publish it on my own, it went through another round of edits.
Editing the book
Once I started sharing my story with people outside of my family, primarily with prospective illustrators, my book started to transform. One particular illustrator, Jerry Craft, gave me very insightful feedback that helped me to form an overall theme or message in the book: “growing up back in the day, we used our neighborhood and simple things to have fun instead of the technology used today.”
When I started working with my illustrator, Nancy Devard, she also had suggestions and we made a few edits together. There were some things that I was not willing to change. I wanted to make sure that my vision and voice remained in the story. What I found in the editing stage is that everyone has an opinion about how something should be worded or something that should be added or taken out. I was open to listening to the different ideas that were shared with me, but at the end of it all, I stayed true to my summer memories while tweaking a word or two so that children from all backgrounds could relate.
I did not particularly care for the editing process, lol! But I knew it was a necessary step in publishing the book. What I appreciated as an independent publisher was that I had total and final control over the changes made to the text. This is not usually the case when working with a traditional publishing company.
Illustrating the book
Nancy Devard, a Correta Scott King award winning illustrator, illustrated my book. I first saw Nancy’s work in The Secret Olivia Told Me written by N. Joy. I loved how she used the silhouettes throughout the book. This was in 2009. I read in her biography that she was originally from Philadelphia but I wasn’t sure if she still lived here or not. I felt very confident that if she were to read my manuscript, she would fall in love with my book and want to illustrate it because, in my opinion, it was that good. With her being from Philadelphia, I felt like she would be able to relate to the memories that I described in the story.
I did a search on the Internet and took a chance (well….several chances) and started to make the attempt to contact her. This wasn’t easy because there wasn’t much information on the web about her. When I couldn’t find a personal website or email, I started to reach out to the company that had originally published The Secret. I even sent them a manuscript hoping that they would love it and choose Nancy as the illustrator! In 2010 I still hadn’t heard from her and I guess a part of me really didn’t expect to so I just moved forward with “self-publishing” at the time.
I had a contacted a self-publishing company (which I would advise you NOT to do if you are ever interested in seriously publishing a book). They did the illustrations for my book and I hated them and knew that if I was going to publish this book, the illustrations had to reflect my vision. So, once again, it was back to the drawing board.
I began reaching out to Nancy again, this time believing and hoping that she would respond. At this point my vision for the book started to evolve. I knew that this wasn’t just a project. This was now turning into a career move. Not wanting to put all of my eggs in one basket, I began reaching out to other illustrators and authors. One day while talking to my neighbor about the book, I just happened to mention Nancy’s name…would you believe that my neighbor knew her family? She said she would put in a good word for me and about a week later, Nancy emailed me! I never found out if was because of my neighbor, I’m not even sure if my neighbor ever made contact with her family to even pass the message on. However, I did know that Nancy responded to my email and it was up to me to get her to accept a contract.
I first started talking to Nancy in August of 2011. She FINALLY agreed to work with me in December 2012. Let’s just say it took several meetings, a small project (initially she just agreed to do my cover art and urged me to begin shopping for a publisher again) and a lot of convincing that this project will be ground breaking! Once she agreed, I wrote up a contract. We agreed on the terms and we began working on the project. We met about once a month to discuss the illustrations and the layout of the book. Nancy worked as the graphic illustrator/designer; she prepared the images and the cover for the printer. She fell in love with project as well. She did an awesome job of capturing “West Philadelphia” and classic childhood memories that anyone could relate to.
Publishing the book
Initially I was going to go with a self-publishing company. When they did the illustrations, I hated them and began looking for an illustrator on my own. I spoke with one illustrator, Jerry Craft, who really just filled me in on independent publishing. He didn’t know me, but he spent over an hour on the phone really just letting me know how to go about publishing a book on my own. I remember him saying, “if you are willing to put in the work you can do this on your own…and save yourself a lot of money!”
The short version of what I did was: Secured an illustrator and printing company. Purchased my own ISBNs. Developed a marketing plan and researched how and where I would be selling my book. In the midst of that, I did tons of research, spoke to anyone who was willing to help and began building a network of people and resources. You need that network. You also have to be persisent and committed to a finishing the project.
Finally, I established my own publishing company, Willa’s Tree Studios, LLC. I also changed my thinking. I no longer considered myself a self-published author, I consider myself an independently published author (because it has a positive connotation–self-published sounds like a hobby). Most importantly, I just stuck with it. It was a very long process. It took a lot of patience and at times it was frustrating. Once I took away a deadline, however, it made the process less stressful and I just went with it.
Promoting the book
I am a teacher with a deep love for literacy. I am also a blogger. When I first began to blog it was for fun. Then it dawned on me. I could build a following while I wait for my book to be finished. As a blogger I became even more tech savvy, met some great teachers, and added many resources and individuals to my network. When developing my marketing plan I immediately knew that I could use my blog and social networking to my advantage.
The virtual book tour was on the top of my list. I also developed a Facebook fan page and began promoting my book on there a few months before the release date. My sorority sister designed my website and shared some information on how to brand myself as an author while also promoting my book. When selling any item, packaging is everything! To come up with great ways to package my book, I put on my teacher hat and did what I do best! I planned a variety of activities that could be used with my book. I also had a good blogging friend, Rachel Reyna from Fisher Reyna Education, volunteer to create a reading comprehension resource that includes test prep comprehension questions! To promote the many uses and benefits of my book, these resources will be given away for free for every purchase made on TeachersPayTeachers. To promote sales from my website, I’ve included a game of jacks and a jump rope or jelly bracelets with every book ordered directly from www.kathleenwainwright.com.
Although electronic purchases are great and will assist with sharing my book around the world, I received great support and insight from author Kelly Starling Lyons who advised me to think locally before nationally. So as my book grows in popularity on the web, I will be doing a lot self-promotion throughout the Philadelphia area before moving on to touring across the country (dream BIG!). I will be working with libraries and schools to get my book in the hands of children throughout the city.
Advice for teachers or parents who want to publish a children’s book
I would advise anyone who is interested in publishing a children’s book to just do it!!! Whether it is to just fulfill a dream or to make a name for yourself as a published author, it is a process and definitely a learning experience. It also one of the most rewarding things I have accomplished. If this is something that you are interested in, start by doing some research on what the self-publishing process entails. I already shared the gist of it, but soak up as much information as you can. There are many blog posts, websites and books dedicated to informing others about how to independently publish a children’s book.
Secure a good illustrator. They say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but in all honesty, we do. Initially, the bulk of your budget will go toward your illustrations. Find a printing press early. Shop around first for quality, then for reasonable costs. Find out what the requirements are for submitting your book to be printed (i.e. what type of file, measurements, etc.). This will save you some frustration in the end. Finally, become comfortable with social media…Facebook is a marketing giant! There are many opportunities and resources available to those who are willing to network on the web. Take full advantage of any opportunity to talk about your venture!
I hope you’ve found Kathleen’s information helpful! I can relate to so much of what Kathleen wrote, and strongly agree with her advice to start your own publishing company. No one is more passionate about a book than its author, and so I believe the author should maintain control of his or her own book and keep the majority of the profits. You can check out the Publishing a Teaching Book page of this site to read about my experiences and advice on being an independently published author of teacher resource books.Thank you, Angela, for allowing me to share my experiences with you and your readers! I hope you all enjoyed learning a little about me and my journey toward becoming a published author. You can pre-order the book and the free companion teacher resources here. I look forward to the next 9 days of virtual visits as I continue to share my experiences and *freebies* that compliment Summer in the City! Tomorrow, Shawna from The Picture Book Teacher’s Edition, will be sharing her personal book review of Summer in the City. Don’t forget to stop by and get a reader’s view of the book along with a cute freebie!
Kathleen Wainwright is a dedicated teacher in the School District of Philadelphia. She received her Bachelor’s of Science degree in education from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, and her master’s in education with a focus in literacy, from West Chester University, in West Chester, PA. Kathleen also teaches literacy courses to aspiring teachers at Temple University and developmental reading courses to incoming freshman at Delaware County Community College. Kathleen recently earned National Board Certification in Literacy: Reading-Language Arts (Early and Middle Childhood). She enjoys sharing her personal teaching experiences and educational resources in her blog, The Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher (www.notsowimpyresources.com).