MAKING OUR OWN MARKET: Kirsten Cappy on marketing African American titles

June 9, 2014
Don Tate, Kirsten Cappy

Don Tate, Kirsten Cappy

 

For our series, MAKING OUR OWN MARKET, Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, a book consulting company, tackles the subject of marketing books created by or about African Americans.

 

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 Taking Book Marketing Off the Page, Out of the Park

by Kirsten Cappy of Curious City

For me, children’s book marketing on the Brown Bookshelf or off has never been about social media, press,  coverage, or other perils of “self-promotion.” For me, marketing has always been about storytelling and discovery.  The best marketing finds ways to:

  • retell a story beyond the framework of the book
  • engage readers deeper in the story
  • create partners for the book by finding commonalities
  • exhibit the book in unlikely locations

A bulleted list is meaningless, of course, without stories. Let me tell you a few. Let’s go out of the park and off the page to show how my small firm, Curious City used these marketing methods on a group of exceptional African American titles.

Beyond the Framework: Book Trailers

A book trailer is not a must in releasing a book. Yet, when we look at the challenges of getting a book stocked by a  bookseller or the challenges of a reader walking into a store and saying, “that book is for me,” book trailers can be a way to bring the book to where readers are. A book trailer can “retell a story beyond the framework of the book” to a targeted online community, classroom, or a lone librarian or book buyer—all outside the confines of the traditional browsing experience.

How could I not want to open Don Tate’s illustrations for She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story (HarperCollins) by Audrey Vernick to a wide audience? The day Don sent us the original scans of the art (complete with splashes of paint on the edges) was more than memorable. We choose to weave Don’s work with the narration of actor Dion Graham. Graham is known for TV roles including regular spots on The Wire and Law & Order, but for those in the book world, he is known as the voice of Kadir Nelson’s audio for We Are the Ship. Dion Graham’s is the kidlit voice of the Negro Leagues.

By sharing the trailer with bloggers who cared about female sports leaders or the Negro Leagues, we were able to “create partners for the book by finding commonalities.” Their blog posts would have been decent coverage for the book, but NJ author Audrey Vernick thought an additional partner might be the city of Newark where Effa Manley is still known. Audrey took the book and trailer to the firm that does publicity for Newark. Before we knew it, the city and minor league team based in Newark decided to honor Effa Manley with a special day at the ballpark that Effa and her husband had founded.

SP 5/5 SCHMERLER BEARS HINDASH

On a summer afternoon, cases and cases of the book were given away at the gate (courtesy of HarperCollins) and the book trailer played on the jumbotron. Dion Graham’s voice filled the stadium and Don Tate’s illustrations filled the screens. The team management liked the trailer so much, they played it in a free advertising jumbotron slot for the rest of the season, exposing the book to 1000’s of baseball fans. This was indeed an “unlikely location for an exhibit” of Don Tate’s work.

The book trailer can also be used to give voice to an African American character or subject when the author wants to be back stage, especially when the author of an African American title is White.  We used the trailer for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (FSG) to allow author Phillip Hoose to introduce Civil Rights heroine Claudette Colvin. After the intro, however, Phillip takes a step back (both in the visuals and the audio), clearly indicating that this is Claudette’s story, not his book.

Deep Reader Engagement: Reader Expression

Author Terry Farish had the privilege of becoming close to an extended family of Sudanese refugee girls and women in Portland, Maine. The mothers, worried about their daughters, welcomed Terry to write about their daughter’s struggle of being African and trying too quickly to become American.  The Good Braider (Amazon Children’s Publishing) was vetted and blessed by the community before publication. After publication, however, Terry was hyper-aware of her whiteness. “Please, please do not put me behind an author table,” she said in our first meeting, “I do not want to be the face of this book.  It is not my story.”

OD Bonny Photo

In “creating partners for the book by finding commonalities,” I reached out to a young Sudanese hip hop artist and shared a galley of the book with him.  A few months later OD Bonny told me the book reminded him of his flight out of South Sudan alongside his brothers.  I asked if we could pay to use one of his songs as the audio for a book trailer.  He responded, “Why wouldn’t you want a song of your own? I’ll write it. Tonight.”

When I heard his song, “Girl From Juba,” I realized that it was not just marketing, but a reader’s genuine tribute to a work of fiction. An author can have no greater gift.  I also realized that I did not need to be the one to produce this trailer. I transferred the book trailer funds to OD and the music video/book trailer was created with an all Sudanese American cast (save one Irish kid), crew, and director. The video had 1000 hits within a week, not of book professionals, but of Sudanese and African American young adults that follow OD’s music.

Getting  a reader or a small group of readers deeply engaged can lead to a product which can become an incredible discovery tool for your book. A group of middle school students were the first ones to read Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. Using photocopied galleys, librarian Kelley McDaniel led students in a discussion of Claudette’s life.

While Kelley was doing this, I was reading the book with a group of college Art Education majors. Together we designed a way for the middle school students to express their thoughts about Claudette in art. Because 14-year-old Claudette refused to give up her bus seat nine months before Rosa Parks became famous for doing the same, and because Claudette testified as a teenager in the court case that rang the death knell for transportation segregation, I proposed we exhibit the student’s art on a public bus.

CCTTJ Art Photo

Imagine the conversation I had with the bus company! They listened carefully and responded, “You want to talk about the abuse of African Americans onboard buses…on my bus system??” The NAACP representative who had planned to attend with me could not come at the last minute, so I had to figure out how to answer on my own. By the time I left, the bus company had not only said “yes,” but had given me old bus advertising signs to use as our canvasses.

Using a combination of small grant funds, school partnerships, and community sponsors like the NAACP, we launched the exhibit by flying Claudette Colvin in for a preview. After a lifetime of silence and before publication would make Claudette’s story national, this was the first time she had seen her words in print.  The effect was breathtaking. This exhibit in an “unlikely location” toured the city for a month, introducing riders to a story they had never heard. You can read more about the reproducible Understanding Courage Project here and see more photos here.

CCTTJ Bus Exhibit Photo

Create Partners: Interns, Education, & WordPress

I have buckets of examples of how blogging on WordPress about the content of your title leads to discovery. When you take the non-fiction elements of your book (yes, even your novel) and explore them deeper in blog posts, you are creating delicious fodder for the search engines.

Working again with the local arts college, I designed a semester-long course of study on Bill Traylor, the outside artist brilliantly profiled in Don Tate’s book It Jes’ Happened (Lee & Low). An intern, Morgan Cremins, studied not only Taylor, but the illustration of Don Tate and R. Gregory Christie. Together Morgan and I built a website  in support of the book where she blogged about all she had studied.

IT JES Curric

Paired with that site was an art curriculum created out of the same college’s Art Education department. The curriculum allows children to recognize, experience, and create with Bill Traylor’s visual lexicon. That curriculum served as an opening for Don Tate, R. Gregory Christie, the art educator Kelly McConnell, and myself to be the first outside educators to work at the American Folk Art Museum in New York. Tate and Christie appeared at the museum in conjunction with a Traylor exhibit.  You can see photos of the appearance and art project here.

At the event, children created amazing art inspired by Bill Traylor. One of the most powerful moments came when Don Tate stepped forward to talk with kids about the depiction of African Americans in Bill Traylor’s work and in R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations. When a white 9-year-old raised his hand and asked the white staff educator why the Bill Traylor figure’s had the “bump on their back,” the educator became flustered and tried to move on. Don stood and explained that Bill Traylor emphasized the large “backends” of African Americans seen from his street corner in Montgomery, AL.

IT JES Exhibit

“As an African American man,” Tate said, “I am proud to have bigger lips, a bigger nose, and yes, maybe a bigger butt than my white friends. It is what makes me unique and I am proud of it.”  The children, wide-eyed and smiling, accepted this as an uncomplicated and intriguing truth. And the program rolled on.

Books on the Brown Bookshelf share the same marketing challenges as any children’s book published, but they offer more opportunities to retell stories that break out of the framework of the book, pull children of all races deeper into the story, build crucial partnerships between different sides of the race equation, and have the freedom to exhibit themselves beyond the traditional confines of children’s publishing outlets. Let’s go off page, out of the park. and show kids the essential stories they have been missing.


Making Our Own Market with Irene Smalls

June 4, 2014

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Irene Smalls is an award winning children’s book author with publishers like Scholastic, Simon and Schuster, and Little Brown. Not only that, she has presented programs at the White House Easter Egg Hunt, toured internationally and most impressively taken her career into her own hand. Study her website and you’ll realize that her motto must be “I am the master of my fate.”

My Nana

 

 

 

 

 

Determining My Fate  Two books, My Nana and Me and Pop Pop and Me and A Recipe, from a major publisher went out of print. The publisher gave the books no real support or marketing. They ignored my suggestions on how to promote the books. I suggested ebook and Spanish versions, but they did not agree. I feel strongly that I don’t want someone else determining my level of income. I decided to put the books back into print. My first thought was as a self-publisher but the inherent credibility issues and lack of marketing muscle behind self-publishing made that a last choice. Luckily I was able to find a small ebook/print on demand publisher who was interested in republishing my titles.     I negotiated a contract that gave very limited rights to the publisher.

Pop Pop

 

 

 

 

 

That is the major reason I am exhibiting at the world’s largest book fair in Frankfurt, Germany in October of 2014. At the Frankfurt Book Fair I can present my books to publishers from 120 countries to sell translation rights, etc. When I went to the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair I negotiated two international contracts for two of my titles.

Marketing My Books Authors have much more flexibility now than they did in the past. I have signed up for Apple’s ebook publishing program and a few others. The key element is the marketing effort you put into your products. Make contact with any celebrities you know. The celebrity angle helps. The challenges are time and money to support your book. You have to make marketing your books a semi-full time job. You have to allocate the money to support your books either to hire someone to help or to design, print and promote yourself. Some authors are not salespeople. To be effective you must sell, sell, sell. Authors have to wear a character, if necessary, to sell their books.

Rewarding Myself The rewards are clear. It is better to be “captain of your fate” versus letting people who really don’t care about you or your books determine what happens. When you are successful you maximize income from your efforts. But, it is not an easy thing to do. Authors must look at their books through market lenses. I recast Pop Pop and Me and A Recipe as a cookbook for kids and grandparents. I wrote an etiquette guide for kids to accompany My Nana and Me. The illustrator and I put together Spanish versions of the titles. Grandparents are very important in Latino culture. What is important is not what the books mean to me but what they mean to the market.

Also, as people of color, we have to go global. United States publishing as Walter Dean Myers http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/where-are-the-people-of-color-in-childrens-books.html and his son, Christopher Myers http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/the-apartheid-of-childrens-literature.html?_r=0  noted in the NYT has such a limited and narrow view of books by authors of color for children of color. We have to move beyond the US.  Technology can save us if we learn how to use it effectively. The market is not good or bad, it just is. We have to learn how to use the market and market forces to our advantage.

Irene Smalls and the Frankfurt Book Fair: Join us at the Frankfurt Bookfair, the world’s largest, in October of 2014 Details at http://www.frankfurt2014.com See our Frankfurt video

Click on http://www.irenesmalls.com for more about Irene Smalls’ fascinating career.

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks

 


MAKING OUR OWN MARKET: JQ Sirls, Illustrator, Author and Founder of Moodi Studios

May 30, 2014

IMG_0319Why I chose Kickstarter to fund my Children’s Picture Book

by JQ Sirls

There are many reasons why I decided to go in the route of Kickstarter, all of which stem from a common idea about people in my generation (millennials). People of my parent’s generation often claim that we are lazy, entitled, ungrateful, selfish, the list goes on. The truth is that we are a highly observant and instinctual group of people, who have watched how the effects of following certain traditions harmed our parents, grandparents and families in general. 

I witnessed past generations endure jobs that they hated, while missing special moments with their families, only to be laid off later on down the line, for someone younger who will accept less pay. I chose to honor their sacrifice, by using it as a trampoline to aim higher, so that no one in my family will ever have to endure that pain again. I took control of my own destiny by starting my own multimedia company that also publishes books. I would not only publish my own books, but in time, merge multimedia with physical product development to potentially create a whole new market for children’s storytellers.

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JQ paces the story, inks final touches to NO MONSTER NO!

Yes, I could have published traditionally, and done exactly what history’s insanity cycle said was the correct path to comfort and happiness. But I witnessed too many others get burned from following that path. Many authors and illustrators of color follow the traditional path of publishing. They publish to critical acclaim, they win many awards, only to end up wondering why their books aren’t given the same marketing support as fair skinned creators. I did not want to become another goldfish in the same ocean. These are just a few of the many reasons why I chose Kickstarter over traditional publishing. It was my goal to shift history’s insanity cycle, and to create a better path for tomorrow’s children’s book creators. For the children’s book creators who came before me, I want to make them proud.

In 2007, my company, Moodi Studios, wrote and successfully funded our first picture book, No Monster No. The story is about a bold little girl who takes the monster under her bed to school and teaches him manners. I’d heard about Kickstarter through friends whose projects had been successfully funded. I was raised on two core principals: do better than the best you can with what you have and no matter what, keep moving forward because motion itself is a professor. So, without any extra marketing funds or heavy marketing experience, I started a campaign. However, the first campaign failed, and boy-oh-boy, was that an emotionally heavy learning experience. But without that failure, I wouldn’t have learned the steps that allowed my second campaign to soar beyond expectations.

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Here’s what I learned:

1. Focus your fundraising on professional colleagues and social networks. And don’t rule out total strangers who are meeting you and your work for the first time. Imagine going to a department store and being exposed to something really cool. You talk about it, share it, and support it with a purchase. Then after you make that purchase, it’s like you justify it by getting others to agree with how cool it is and have them get one too. It’s kind of like that. They don’t  necessarily know you, just the work you represent. Close friends and family will likely be the last to support you — if at all. Keep them informed, though. When they see your success, they may want to join in at a later time.

2. No one is too little or insignificant. You will need to promote your Kickstarter campaign in various IMG_0279ways — but for now, lets focus on blogs and social networking (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc). When you create a crowd-funding campaign, you are asking hundreds of people to be somewhat tech-savvy and pay for something they can not interact with. That requires trust. Social Media and blog articles create that trust, and trust is equivalent to the rarest stone on earth. Blogs allow you to communicate who you are, what you do and what you are trying to say. Much like what’s happening with myself and this very article. Social media, on the other hand, is like cable television where everyday people are searching for new channels to ‘follow’ for new content. Like television, many people do not want to think. You have to think for them. Your job is to create specific content that cater to the specific needs of a specific audience. You then have to remove the bells and whistles of distraction and communicate your topic simply and effectively. I am still learning this. Once you do that, your following that will come to see you as the foremost authority of a certain topic or product (think Apple and a new iPhone or Oprah and practically anything). Your following will buy whatever you sell and pledge on your crowd-funding campaign through trust. However, If you focus only on big blogs, like Huffington Post, or Buzzfeed, and promote on social media with no clear niche definition, you could miss the golden opportunity to grow outrageously. Smaller blogs (blogs with very little following) should never be counted out as they need content as bad as you need crowd-funding pledges. If the blog grows, you grow. Social media is crowded with millions of people who do millions of things. You will stand out through consistency of posts, clarity of topic, and discipline of work-ethic. If you plan on crowd-funding your book, Trust is your best friend.

JQ sought and received the support of various music and media stars, such as Da Internz and Timbaland, pictured here.

JQ sought and received the support of various music and media stars, such as Da Internz and Timbaland, pictured here.

3. Define it as it is—crowd-funding is pre-ordering. Never look at your campaign as soliciting  for donations. You are selling a product and getting pre-orders for that product. Market or sell it as anything else and you destroy the cool-factor and lose the magic, as you look like your are begging. Your product is amazing and one of kind. When people make a pledge, they are securing a copy of your first edition. I can’t stress this one more.

4. Don’t assume that everyone knows about Kickstarter and what it is. Even though Kickstarter has had millions of dollars pledged from millions of users, you have to assume and act as though NO ONE has ever heard of it or crowd-funding before. Then, you must assume that more than half of your potential pledges are people who think the internet is out to get them and steal all their money. Go with that assumption from the beginning and have a clear, holding-of-the-hand method to address it.

JQ documents his journey

JQ documents his journey


  • 5. Create an amazing video. Luckily for us, we had a cinematographer, video editor, audio engineer, and motion graphic artist on hand to create a nice video. However, with the first campaign, I failed in not having a great shot of me reading the book to kids. I added these features just days before the campaign ended, only reached half of my goal, making it unsuccessful. But I did use the same video for the second campaign that I started just two weeks later that eventually became funded. 

 

Here is what I learned from the second campaign (that succeeded).

1. There is power in happiness and a positive mind. Basic laws of attraction work here. You have to believe and be happy. It’s infectious and people are drawn to it like a magnet. They want what you have. The first campaign I let lack of support and struggle turn me into a stressed out bitter guy — totally the opposite of my own message with Moodi Studios. The second campaign, I approached it with peace and tried to remain childlike and optimistic. My faith changed for the better and I noticed other people noticing it.

2. People tend to help those who help themselves. Many people were moved by my determination to get back up and try again just weeks after the first project failed. If you believe in it this much, then it’s worth pledging in to find out why.

3. Don’t just post, become social. Don’t get on social media and talk at people like a club promoter. Engage in things with them and build a conversation. Let your profile or page say all that is needed to bring them to Kickstarter, with a post or two a day. But engage with people on their topics and ideas. Post a comment and retweet. Being self-centered will not create a following. I highly recommend the book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, by Gary Vaynerchuk. Whether or not you choose crowd funding, it’s a must read if you have a product or service you are selling.

4. “Thank you” goes a long way. There is nothing else more to write on that.

5. Like-ability is golden. You have to be likable and charming. If you aren’t, then let your campaign be led by someone who is. Be completely honest with yourself and set your ego aside for the success of the project. No one should want to punch you in the face after watching your video. 

Launching NO MONSTER NO with friends and family.

Launching NO MONSTER NO with friends and family.

And the biggest step of all:

6. Trust your instincts and embrace failure.I cannot stress that more. If you allow it, your instincts will tell you step-by-step what works and what doesn’t work. They already know what you want to do as they are the compass to how you will get there. Kickstarter success is primarily instinctual. It’s entire model is to grab and touch the hearts (and wallets) of people. But you have to embrace fear and failure to hear your instincts clearly. My biggest fear during my first campaign, was failure and the embarrassment of everyone seeing that failure. My ego, pride and hinge of doubt caused me to become deaf to my instincts and walk with panic. Following your instincts involve further risk, and when you are already in the midst of a larger risk, taking another is scary. However, when I eventually saw failure and embarrassment from the first campaign, my greatest fears came to pass and they didn’t kill me. I was just fine. The book didn’t explode and life as I know it didn’t end. I jumped off a cliff, expecting wings, but fell on my face instead. From there I learned that as long as you trust your instincts and jump, you can survive the fall. So keep jumping and embrace the fall. Embrace failure.

Celebrating with young fans at a school visit

Celebrating with young fans at a school visit

http://www.moodistudios.com


Greene on the Scene

May 29, 2014

 

heistAny time a new book enters the world is a great day. But it’s even more thrilling when the book comes from one of our own. The Brown Bookshelf co-founder Varian Johnson celebrated the birthday of his new stand-out middle-grade novel, The Great Greene Heist (Arthur Levine Books), on Tuesday. It’s already winning raves.

Today, Varian is featured in Kirkus. You can read the article here. Elizabeth Bird wrote this review in SLJ. And check out this inspiring movement: Bookstores are taking varianThe Great Greene Heist Challenge where they work to make Varian’s book a New York Times bestseller. A big thank you to author Kate Messner for championing Varian’s book and issuing the first challenge to readers. The contest runs through June 30.

We’re proud of Varian and so excited about his success. Learn more about him and his books at his site. And get your copy of The Great Greene Heistnamed a Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book of 2014, today. Here are links to two wonderful indies to make it easy: Buy The Great Greene Heist at Book People.

Buy The Great Greene Heist at The Book Spot.

Thank you for supporting our brother and showing that diversity matters.

SOME BUZZ:

“The Great Greene Heist is one crazy cool caper!”

Rita Williams-Garcia

“A smart, charming, and hilarious novel featuring one of my favorite protagonists in years. I’d follow Jackson Greene anywhere, and The Great Greene Heist is a fantastic ride.”

Matt de la Peña

“The elaborate bait and switch of this fast-paced, funny caper novel will surprise its readers as much as the victims.”

Kirkus, starred review


MAKING OUR OWN MARKET: Why I Leaped into Print-on-Demand and Ebook Publishing by Carole Boston Weatherford

May 28, 2014

Carole Boston Weatherford starting writing poems in childhood and never looked back. Her first picture book, Juneteenth Jamboree, about a summer celebration in memory of the Texas Emancipation, was published in 1995 by Lee & Low Books She’s written numerous picture books, board books, poetry collections, chapter books, and more, including the award-winning The Sound That Jazz Makes, a poem that traces the history of African-American music. It’s our great pleasure to re-introduce Carole Boston Weatherford and her exciting latest ventures!

africaweatherfordA year ago, my son Jeff Weatherford and I partnered in establishing Great Brain Entertainment, a digital media company that produces books, video, and graphic T-shirts. The company’s has released two books: Africa, an ebook for preschoolers; A Bat Cave: An Abecedarian Bedtime Chronicle (for Pre-K-1). Princeville: The 500-Year Flood, a new chapter book edition of an out of print picture book title, is coming soon.

 

Here’s why Jeff and I became publishers.

  1. Printing and publishing have been the family business since the 1950s. My father was a printing teacher, I have been an author, editor, publicist and professor, and my son Jeff is a digital and fine artist. I may have ink in my blood, but Jeff has microchips in his. Ebooks and print-on-demand publishing are a natural evolution for both of us.
  2. For years, self-publishing was synonymous with vanity publishing. Then, services like Amazon CreateSpace provided a model that skipped the middleman and gave author-publishers higher royalties. Granted, few self-published books or ebooks become bestsellers. Fortunately, self-publisher don’t need blockbuster sales to make a profit.
  3. I had seen other upstarts succeed. I figured I could too—with my son’s help. I watched with awe as professor/blogger Sylvia Vardell and poet/ex-lawyer Janet Wong launched Pomelo Books. Using the print-on-demand model, the new press published the Poetry Tag ebook series and several Poetry Friday anthologies for K-12 classrooms. I am proud to have contributed to their projects.
  4. I want to meet my readers where they are. Today’s children are practically born with tablets in their hands. Reading Rainbow is even an app.
  5. Ebooks are the fastest growing segment of book sales, especially for children and young adults. I want a stake in that digital future.
  6. At a time when unemployment rates are high among young men, the publishing business is my son’s way of making a job for himself. Through his digital media company, Great Brain Entertainment, Jeff is putting his degree in computer graphics and animation to work.
  7. I couldn’t wait to show off my son’s mad design and illustration skills. We’re pitching collaborations to major publishers. While we await acquisition decisions, we are publishing on our own.
  8. Although I have 40-plus books and several projects in the pipeline at major houses, the wheels are turning slower in the publishing industry. The intervals between my new releases grew longer. I did not want to fall off the radar. Self-publishing gave me more control over the timing of my new releases.
  9. There is a market, and need for, more multicultural books and ebooks. The number of multicultural children’s books being released each year has plateaued at fewer than 100 titles a year. This at a time when the U.S. population is increasingly diverse.
  10. The reason I became an author in the first place was for my words to reach readers. I have built up a backlist of out-of-print and never-published titles, which editors say have promise but are too “niche.” For an ebook or on-demand publisher, the so-called niche doesn’t need to be as large as that of an established press facing higher overhead and lower profit margins.

This has been an adventure. Not that we have worked out some of the kinks in production, marketing is the next frontier. I had hoped to trade on the name recognition that I have as an award-winning children’s book author. To promote the books, Jeff plans to use social media more aggressively.Image

Carole Boston Weatherford, the author of more than 40 books, is a professor at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.

 


MAKING OUR OWN MARKET: Share your books

May 23, 2014

This week, we’ve shared books by three stand-out children’s book creators who have chosen to publish their own work, Zetta Elliott, Jerry Craft and Kathleen M. Wainwright. We know there are more great authors and illustrators our readers should check out. Please post your self-published titles, link and a one or two line summary in the comments. We can’t promise a future feature or review, but we hope showcasing your work here will get it on more people’s radars. Thank you for using your talent to create books for kids.


MAKING OUR OWN MARKET: Kathleen M. Wainwright, Independent Publisher

May 22, 2014

kathieWhen I read Summer in the City written by teacher and blogger Kathleen M. Wainwright, I was taken back in time. I remembered playing hide-and-seek and freeze tag with my neighbors and cousins, sailing on the swing at the playground, chasing fireflies under a quilt of stars. With illustrations by Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor winner Nancy Devard, Summer in the City delivers something magic. We’re happy to feature Kathie in our Making Our Own Market series.

Here’s her story on choosing to be an independent publisher:

I decided to self-publish because I had a story I wanted to share with the world and I wanted to share it on my terms. Initially, my plan was to use a vanity publishing  company but after following the advice of Jerry Craft, I decided to put my goal on pause and really research what it would take to start my own publishing company. That is when my role shifted from a “self-published” author to an “independent publisher/entrepreneur.” In 2013, I started my publishing company, Willa’s Tree Studios, LLC. Summer in the City was my first publication and a year later I published my newest book, Ziggie Tales: Ziggie’s Big Adventure. Going the traditional publishing route would have been ideal at the start of my journey as a writer, and it is something I would consider if the opportunity presented itself. However, I truly enjoy the publishing process, the creative control and the opportunities that come along with working as an indie author.

Why did I initially choose to self-publish?

I first wrote Summer in the City in 2006, did a search on the internet, and sent my manuscript out. I never heard anything back from the two or three places I sent it. This could be for several reasons, but it was most SITC_SZ_ASSORTED_FRONT_COVER_EDITlikely due to my story being underdeveloped at the time. I had a vision – I knew exactly how I wanted to transform my readers when they read my book. I knew the type of illustrations I needed to make this possible. I just didn’t know where to start so I stopped. I put my publishing goal to the side and wasn’t really sure at the time what would happen. Over the years I would tweak it here and there changing a sentence or two. But Summer in the City didn’t truly come full circle until I sat down with my illustrator in 2011 and added my final revisions as we mapped out the illustrations and layout of the book.

I actually think waiting to publish on my own was the best thing I did. During the time between writing Summer in the City and actually publishing the book I made great leaps as an educator. I earned my Master’s degree, a certificate as a reading specialist, began my second Master’s while pursuing a certificate in special education, and successfully completed National Board Certification for Professional Teachers. I also participated in several organizations, developed lasting relationships with other professional leaders. I created a teacher’s blog, The Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher, which now has a following of over 6,000 readers. All of these experiences have helped to position me for making my presence known as a new up and coming children’s author.

Once I decided to start a career as an independent publisher I did a great deal of research. I attacked this process as if it were another program or certificate that I wanted to complete. Only this time my instructors were established authors, illustrator, publishers, bloggers, marketing professionals, and content specialist. I read whatever I could get my hands on, I asked hard questions, and I hired a consultant. I used my network and I soaked up any bit of information that I could get my hands on. I took a few writing courses and I bought a ton of books. I even flew out to New Mexico (to visit my mother at the time) and had the opportunity to schedule a meeting with someone who had established their own publishing company and was willing to let me sit down and pick his brain.

I founded Willa’s Tree Studios, LLC in February 2013. Willa is my grandmother, my mother’s mother who passed when I just a few months old. My grandmother represents the foundation/ roots of our family and my mother, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and I represent her branches. Collectively we are Willa’s Tree and she lives on through us and the legacies we leave behind – for me, my books.

In 2010, the plan to independently publish was intentional. It was something that I wanted to do and knew I would find success with. I wanted the control over what my book would look like. I wanted to choose my own illustrator and I wanted to control my timeline. Although the Ziggie Tales Front Cover.inddprocess came with a hefty price tag, I looked at it as an investment and knew that it would take work if I wanted a return. I was told by several people in the industry not to pursue publishing on my own and to wait for a publishing company to pick me up. But at this stage in my career, I didn’t want to. I wasn’t concerned with not putting out quality work. I am an avid children’s book collector and have over 1,000 children’s books. I know what quality looks like. I wasn’t concerned with the amount of work I would have to put in to marketing and promoting- the consensus was it doesn’t matter, independent or traditional, you have to be willing to market your own book. In fact, that is one of the aspects I enjoy most about being an author. I wasn’t afraid of failing- because it has been instilled in me that “if at first you don’t succeed, try again.”

I don’t want to paint a picture that independently publishing a book is easy- it is not! It is a lot of work and I am still learning. There are so many things that I would like to do but because I am not a full-time writer it is challenging. Additionally, I don’t have the backing of a large distributor just yet so that is also a major bridge I have to cross. I take advantage of any opportunity to share my book (i.e. teacher conferences, school visits, career fairs, flea markets and bazaars, speaking engagements, etc). Because I wear all of the hats, I am responsible for seeking out those opportunities and making those connections- and this can be overwhelming at times, too. Despite all of this, I love this process and I am looking forward to what this journey shall bring.

Currently, I am drafting book two in my new Ziggie Tales series- Ziggie Tales: Ziggie’s Trick or Treat. My goal is to release this book by October 1, 2014.

Kathleen Wainwright is a dedicated teacher in the School District of Philadelphia. She is also an adjunct instructor at her college alma mater, Temple University, where she teaches foundational literacy courses to pre-service teachers. Kathleen is the writer of the teacher’s blog, The Diary of a Not So Wimpy  Teacher. She is also the creator of Not So Wimpy Teacher Resources, specializing in Common Core Aligned reader’s companions for a variety of children’s books. For more information about Kathleen Wainwright, visit www.kathleenwainwright.com.  


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