Why have you decided to self-publish?
My picture book “Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy was published by Dancing Dakini Press, a small publisher who specializes in endangered species and the natural world. It was released in November 2015 and now I’m working on two books that are based on 2 e-books that I wrote and illustrated 3 years ago. They are on Amazon: Jackson’s History Adventure www.amazon.com/dp/B01CRIMHYY and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure www.amazon.com/dp/B00NH0OMUO
The protagonist is a boy who doesn’t like traditional schoolwork, so he finds a different way to learn, by painting. Since he’s an artist, I’m publishing the physical books as picture books the reader can color along with Jackson. I’m re-doing them, based on new edits, but my publisher for the orangutan book isn’t interested in them since they’re not about the natural world.
Would you pursue traditional publication?
(see above) For the 2 new Jackson books, and for another that I’m thinking about (about water conservation in the desert) I formed a publishing company called AntHill Books. All I did so far was check that the name wasn’t being used, and start a website called www.anthillbooks.com . I haven’t registered it and the books aren’t finished. A meetup group http://www.meetup.com/E-Publishing-and-Online-Book-Promotion/ that I go to for book marketing advises against using your own name as the publisher if you’re self-publishing so I just made one up.
Do you have an editor? Did you edit your own manuscript? Do you have advice for other authors editing it themselves or hiring someone else?
The publisher for the orangutan book is also a free-lance editor. She edited the orangutan book for free since she was also the publisher. I paid her separately to edit the other books that I’m publishing. Luckily for me, she is also a fabulous artist, so she was able to edit the words AND the illustrations. She was great, it was well worth the money. I think it’s vital to hire a professional editor, who is much more than a proofreader. He/she will charge you, so my advice to get the most for your money is to submit a manuscript as close to PERFECT as you can get in : spelling, punctuation, grammar, word usage, sentence structure, consistant point of view, consistant tense, flow, continuity, etc. If you’re not good at that, run it through a critique group first, for free. (of course you reciprocate by critiquing them) Then you pay the professional editor to help you find your voice, make it more interesting, powerful, etc.
Where have you decided to publish your books? (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, etc.)
I found a local printer that seems OK, and other authors I know have used them. They are not a publisher, they just print what you give them, so it has to be perfect. (Ergo, the pre-editing is necessary.) I’ll probably put them on Amazon since the e-books are there, and the coloring books are companions to them. The Orangutan book is already in Barnes & Noble and I have done author reading events. They don’t usually like self-published books, but maybe I can ride on the coat-tails of my traditionally published one and wedge the new ones in. I’ll try it. I didn’t even know about Smashwords until this interview, so I’ll research whoever they are.
Did you format your own book? Did you run into any trouble formatting it? Do you have any advice to fellow authors about formatting their books?
The orangutan book was formatted for me by the publisher. The 2 new books, I’m formatting myself, and it is the usual nightmare. Since I’m an artist, I am OK on composition and making each page look nice. Since each page is an illustration to color, with little text, that part is relatively easy. And I am using a digital painting program, “ARTrage” that I love, and have used for a few years. It’s kind of like Photoshop and the layers make it easy to change your mind a million times. That’s actually the fun part. The nightmare is the technology of getting it into a PDF to send to the printimg company. I see I am not alone on the technology shortcomings, since I was at a meeting of authors yesterday and one showed me her self-published book that had a lot of text. It was left-justified, but not right-justified. I mentioned that I also couldn’t figure out how to do both, but thankfully most of my pages have only one line. Half the authors there didn’t know what right-justified meant.
Who created your cover art? If you did it yourself, could you explain how you did it? If someone else did it, how did you hear about their services? What was it like working with them?
Since I’m an illustrator (and I’m actually more confident with that than writing) I illustrated the picture for the orangutan cover, and the editor/publisher/designer cropped it, picked the font, and composed it. Now I am doing the cover design for the 2 other books and I have re-designed it 6 or 7 times and just today my sister pointed out another glaring error, so tonight I’m at it again.
You said you’re more confident with your illustrations than you are with your writing. How did you decide that you wanted to write books?
I took a class from Molly Idle a few years ago. (She is now a Caldecott Honor winner) I’ve been drawing for years, but the writing is fairly new. The class was “Writing and illustrating Children’s Picture Books.
What was it about the class that made you want to pursue book writing?
I think all the students were there for fun, just a lark. But Molly was very serious about it, gave homework, etc. It was 8 weeks and I got hooked, so I signed up for the advanced course, another 8 weeks. (some students quit when they saw it was serious, but I was intrigued by the challenge. I joined SCBWI right away 🙂
What does SCBWI stand for?
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I learned in the class that writers who don’t draw can submit a story to a publisher, and the publisher will find an illustrator. But the reverse is not true. An illustrator, who has a story idea, cannot submit to a publishser and have them find a writer. 🙂
So you wanted to get into writing so you could tell your own story?
Exactly. But I had to read books and take several workshops on writing for children. I was too stilted and formal, at first. 🙂
What about your writing has changed the most in writing for children?
Thankfully I have a good editor (she also owns the publishing Company, Dancing Dakini Press). She helped me with even things you’d think were simple, like when a kid trips and falls, should they say “Yikes!” or “Whoops!” or whatever. She helped critique the illustrations, too. One suggestion was to have a random dog or cat in the background, even though it’s never mentioned in the story. She also asked me to “mess up” the kid’s bedroom, toys on the floor, etc. I had it very neat.
What have you found most helpful in marketing your book? What have you found least helpful? Is there anything you want to warn authors to stay far, far away from?
I’ve found the meetup group the most successful. If that’s not available to authors, they should definitely form a support group and share ideas. I’ve also read several books on marketing and joined webinars. Least helpful was an online course on marketing with Facebook, that I’m half-way through and it’s vague and not very helpful. I wish I had my $97 back. And now I get ads from every marketing guru in the world wanting me to buy their sure-fire program. Stay far away from that. I’ve done 3-4 book fairs and sold an average of 10 books each time. I always share a booth to keep costs down, and only go locally so I don’t have hotel expense. I’m also doing author visits at elementary schools.
How do you approach schools to do author visits? What is the experience like speaking with elementary students?
I think the atmosphere has changed since recent tightened security at schools. In every case I either knew one of the teachers, or had a friend that did, who could recommend me as being OK, not a terrorist. So it was fairly easy to set them up. I am coming for free but most authors charge. I have only done a few, so maybe when I get more famous I will charge.. I send an order sheet to the librarian 3 weeks before so he/she can give it to the teachers to send home with the kids. The librarian or library clerk books the authors. so that is my first contact. The kids are a ball. I’m a grandma so I love reading to kids anyway.
On the sign-up form, you said that you wanted to focus on character and plot development. Why do you think this is important for young readers?
I’m trying to ignite a love for reading in young kids, and I think falling in love with a character does that. As far as plot goes, I took a workshop on plot development from a teacher who teaches it at the college level, for novelists and screenwriters. Everyone else in the class wrote novels, and the teacher was stressing the need for conflict, crisis and resolution. They were writing about bullying, teen suicide, self esteem, divorced parents, etc. I asked if it was really important for me since my readers were really young. I wanted my plots to be all sweetness and light. She was adamant that I couldn’t dodge the crisis requirement. Even if its only that he can’t find his underpants in the morning, there has to be a conflict and a resolution. Now I get it. It helps a child grow in problem solving ability.
On the sign-up form, you said that your favorite character is Jackson, and you want readers to identify with him wanting to learn in a different way. How important do you think it is that teachers allow their students to learn in ways that are more efficient for them, and what can schools do about it?
I was a teacher many years ago, and unfortunately there is always a time crunch. I tried to individualize as much as possible, My critique teacher when I was doing my student teaching course in college kept reminding me to aim toward the mainstream kids, and I got his point, but I love those kids that fall through the cracks. I had a sixth-grade kid who was struggling in almost every subject, but helped his father who was a car mechanic. I asked him to bring a cam shaft into class and stand in front and explain to everyone (I didn’t know either) how it worked. He kind of blossomed a little after that. Still struggled, though. And the principal didn’t like the dirt and oil..
What do you want readers to take away from Jackson’s desire to learn in different ways?
That if a kid can use his own passion (in Jackson’s case it’s art) as a conduit to explore other things, it might not be as fast and efficient as reading and listening to the teacher, but I think the knowledge will be stronger and stay with him. I also think self-esteem is a BIG factor in learning readiness.
How do you connect with your readers?
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linked-In. I also have an email list I built through Vertical Response, an email server like Mailchimp. I do a monthly blog about author-related topics for the meetup group and occasional orangutan blogs and news posts. I also post illustrations on all the social media.
What do you love about being an indie author? Do you hate anything about being an indie author?
I love learning new things. Both the technology and the marketing are a challenge but I love challenges. The only thing I hate about being an indie author is that some stores and venues assume your book’s quality isn’t as good as traditionally published books. In most cases they’re right so it’s a stigma indie authors have to overcome by raising the bar on quality.
Would you like to see your book in another medium? Audiobook, film, TV series, video game…?
I’m working on a self-made video book trailer now to use for advertising on You-tube. (AGAIN with crazy technology, and trying to do it cheaply!) I took all afternoon to make a 20-second clip of me holding the book next to my face and talking. My sister was the amateur camera-woman. The out-takes are laced with profanity expletives from both of us. Now I’m trying to figure out the editing software so I can add the stills of book pages.
I also designed a board game with orangutan game pieces, and a path of rainforest dangers, predators, escape routes, and 3-dimensional cardboard trees at the corners to hang your game piece on. I submitted it to a publisher that makes anciliary products, but haven’t heard back yet.
Is there anything else you want your readers to take away from your books?
Learning can be fun. Also in my orangutan book, I am trying to impart a love for an endangered species. I didn’t want to put anything sad in that book, like the fact that orangutans are almost extinct, or that habitats are disappearing, etc, because a young kid can’t do anything about it. I just want them to love and respect wild orangutans, and make a difference when they grow up.
When a young orangutan wakes in his nest of leaves, his day in the rainforest begins. He swings through the canopy searching for food, visits the river below, and encounters other Borneo wildlifesome of which create great danger. At day’s end, the young orangutan settles into a new nest of leaves with his mother, ready for another adventure tomorrow.
Purchase it here!
Jackson, a third-grader, loves painting and drawing, but not studying History. Challenged with a school assignment he finds boring, writing a history report, he makes it fun. He uses his imagination and his art to time-travel through an exciting adventure, painting his way from prehistoric caves to the NASA moon landing.
Purchase it here!
This is a whimsical and funny story about Jackson, who loves art and uses painting to explore his world and his imagination. He’s anxious about a flight he’ll be taking alone. His problem-solving method is painting to learn about the history and science of aviation, and thus calm his nervousness.
Purchase it here!
Jackson’s History Adventure Coloring Book
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Rita Goldner received a Bachelor of Arts degree with a concentration in Art Education from Rhode Island College, and is now a full-time author and illustrator of children’s picture books. She experiments with a variety of media while designing a character, and for the final version, paints digitally. Rita is currently a member of several art leagues, and is a published member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She teaches workshops on plein air painting, and a monthly volunteer art class for veterans.