Maybe I Am Meant for This Line of Work

My Books!

My Books!

This week I had two wonderful opportunities to talk to kids about my books and being an author. In all my dreams of making it big and whatnot (ha), I have never really thought much about interacting with my audiences. If I ever think about it at all, it’s usually about book signings and how miserable they are if no one shows up to buy the books.

Despite not having a household name or a bestseller under my belt, I was chosen to speak at two schools. One was a preschool, the other a junior high school – quite a difference. It just so happens that I write for both age groups.

Pre-school, I figured, would be easy. I’m most comfortable with this age because 1. they’re a lot smaller than me; 2. they’re still huggable; and 3. I teach that age all the time. I knew pretty much what to expect when walking in. They might be unruly, and I may not be able to understand everything they say, but at the end of the day, they think people who write books are cool. Plus, I did this event with my co-author and friend Karen Saltmarsh, and we ad-libbed a very over-the-top version of the moment we decided to write a book together. Even the adults loved it.

Karen and I wrote a non-fiction book for ages K through 12. It’s not a sit-down-and-read-it-during-circle-time kind of book; it’s all about encouraging the creative writing spark to thrive and spread. And even though I wasn’t sure if the older preschoolers would get it, the four- and five-year-olds we visited wanted to write their own books right then and there. Then I read my book to them, and they were the perfect audience. Even the little three-year-olds listened and interacted with me. I left feeling energized and wondering why I don’t do more of this kind of thing.

OPJH literacy week cardAs for the junior high, it was their literacy week. They had a book fair and everything, and I was the guest author. Kids who were interested in talking to me spent their lunch period in the library, listening to this nothing author talk about books and the writing/publishing process. I’d had it on my calendar for a couple months, and every time I thought about it, I reminded myself that there was no reason to worry yet. Just save that for the night before, and go about life as normal.

Of course, I was still nervous. Not incapacitated or sick to my stomach, but it was the kind of thing I couldn’t dwell on much because then it would make me sick. Despite writing for this age, I don’t spend all that much time with 12- to 14-year-olds. To be honest, when I was that age, I didn’t want to be that age. I interact with them from afar, usually from the pages of adolescent fiction.

I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised when the kids were very receptive to what I had to say. They loved it when I talked to them about how they can publish books on-demand (and without waiting for a major publishing house to discover them). And when we talked about the books (and books-made-movies) that we like to read, I had a wonderful moment of wow-we-actually-get-each-other. They were even polite enough to listen to me read my children’s book, although the reactions (as expected) were much different than what I get from little kids.

There weren’t many silences at all – and when there were, it was because the kids were nervous about talking to me. Afterward, when we had some one-on-one time, several kids hung around long enough that they were late to their next class; we could’ve talked all day. In fact, I wished that they didn’t have to go so soon.

Two completely different groups of kids, two completely different situations, two great experiences. I still don’t know if my books will ever attract the interest of a so-called “real” publisher or any of those lists that seem to matter so much. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t care. But still, what I found was respect and joy – and gratitude for myself that I haven’t given up, that I keep writing when publishing and promotion are so difficult. I’m doing what I love, and it turns out that part of what this introverted author loves is spending time with her audiences.

Check out my children’s book Hero here.

Here’s A Book to Add to Your Kids’ Summer Reading List (One Big Project Done!)

Hero

Hero

Let me tell you the story of a young woman who signed onto a children’s book project.

Yes, I’m talking about me, and although I’ve always been a novel-writing kind of girl, when this project landed in my lap, I thought it was the perfect way to get my foot in the publishing world’s door.

About a year after I graduated from college, I was one of several writers contracted to write a series of children’s picture books. The first step was to provide a sample children’s story of my own creation. It didn’t need to have illustrations, so I figured it would be a piece of cake. I soon came up with a story called Hero about a boy who had to face a challenge to live up to this nickname. My job done, I promptly forgot it.

It turns out the reason I was contracted to begin with was because the creator of this series had no business in the writing world. This soon became obvious, and the project fell flat. I hadn’t particularly enjoyed the storyline and characters, so I shrugged it off and moved on.

Fast forward seven years, and a friend introduced me to a local author, figuring this might help me get one step closer to publishing my novel. The author I met was an absolute delight. She told me all about her books and the work that went into them, from getting them illustrated to collaborating with other writers to printing and selling them. (Check out her website Bluejean Books in the sidebar or here.)

While I still wanted to go the traditional route of finding an agent and a publisher for my novel, this conversation reminded me that I had a children’s book already written – and my parents’ business had a new digital press that would be perfect for printing books on demand.

Wedding Shoes by Saundra Howard

Wedding Shoes by Saundra Howard

There still was a problem, though – that of finding an illustrator. My number one choice was my mother. The image on the right is an example of one of her pencil drawings. She was an art major, and one of her many hats is that of a graphic artist. But when it comes to illustrating children’s books, she didn’t feel qualified, not to mention that she just didn’t have the time. (But I think I’ve convinced her to help me with the cover art for my NaNo novel.)

The book idea went on the back burner, where it simmered for well over a year. I learned a lot as I began to substitute teach and work with kids of all ages and reading levels. My elder son was diagnosed with several learning disabilities. I gained an appreciation for books that are easy readers versus the ones that are content-appropriate but still have to be read by parents. All of this percolated in my mind, stored up for when I would need it.

Then one day when substituting in kindergarten, I had an interesting opportunity. The kids were learning about authors and illustrators and how to create a book. The teacher, knowing I’m a writer, asked if I would mind talking to them about the process. The kids hung on my every word – it was crazy! Afterward, they asked if I had a book of my own.

That’s when the lightbulb went off. I realized I could illustrate my book myself. I’m not my mother, but I am capable of creating more than stick figures. And my six-year-old has an artistic bent, so I thought we could illustrate together. I started with a simple watercolor painting of a tree and a few sketches. Peter joined in, and we soon had enough to get started. That was in late January. I figured I would be done within a month. Ha.

So creating a children’s book is harder than I thought. Revising the copy was just one thing I had to tackle. On top of that, there’s the business end of getting an ISBN and marketing. And then those pesky illustrations pulled me right out of my element and into the realm of What in the world am I doing?

February came and went. March was busy; I worked on the illustrations on our vacation, but I was nowhere near finished. There was still hope, though. As long as I could share it with the kindergarteners before the end of the year, all would be well.

I probably wasted about a month of trial and error figuring out how to illustrate in Photoshop (yes, Photoshop, not InDesign). I would challenge myself to finish three illustrations in a week, and I’d only get halfway through one. Memorial Day weekend arrived, and I worked all day every day, staying up four hours past my bedtime into Monday morning. I thought I was done, then realized I still had several hours’ worth of work still ahead of me after I woke up.

But I finished – finally! (If you read my post last week, this was the third big project I’ve taken on in the past year.) I had my first copies ready so that Peter was able to share the book with his class on the second-to-last day of school. Kids that knew I’d been working on the book for months were excited to see it. My friends and family have been so supportive, and I cannot explain how wonderful it feels to have something in print, even if it’s not with some big-name publishing house.

Now that Hero is done, I have my work cutout for me, from getting it into bookstores to getting it online through CreateSpace. (Check the My Fiction page for when it goes live.) Until then, you’re welcome to message me for a copy – Peter and I will even sign it!

I can cross one big project off my list. It was a challenge, something I never would have considered doing over nine years ago when I first wrote the text. Finishing the book with my son has been a joy, and I finally have a real book to show for a small portion of my hard work.

Sarah and Hero

Sarah and Hero

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