Updated: Aug 2
Author life chose me; I never dreamed of writing children's stories and publishing books. I certainly did not have it on my top 5 list of things, but I'm sure that being an author is what I am meant to be. Since 2009 my life has revolved around graphic design, and that's all I knew. I studied it in college and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Graphic Design in 2015, and that's what I was focused on making my career. I always heard many people are in different jobs than they studied in college, and I refused to let that be me. And yet here I am. Of course, there's nothing wrong in changing career interests, but for some reason, I wasn't going to allow myself to waste all the "blood, sweat, and tears" that went into earning my degree and not use those skills as my leading career, and I held onto that thinking for a bit too long.
In 2015, after graduating, I had the naïve thought that I would immediately find the perfect web design job, climb the corporate ladder, and secure a senior designer/tech position within five years. Boy, was I in for a reality check! In the first three years after graduating, I applied to over 100 job positions and went on over 20 job interviews. I eventually gave up the desire to be a web designer. Graphic design has always been an interest of mine since elementary school, and it was something I enjoyed as a hobby, but my dream job was always to work with architects and help design/build accessible homes for individuals with physical limitations, like myself. This is something I still hope I'll have the opportunity to do one day.
So after multiple interview letdowns, being treated patronizingly by interviewers, job scams, and some other wackiness... I gave up my desire to be a web designer. In 2018, I became an ADA Coordinator. After realizing the numerous unsettling reasons why I was not getting hired, I knew that there must be something else for me. After 25 or so years of living this so-so-kind life of mine and dealing with many biased people, I've become very good at reading people and their intentions. I've had dealings with people treating me condescendingly and have experienced gaslighting. Still, you would be enlightened to know that many people do it unintentionally and don't even realize how it comes off. I have had my share of straightforward rude people, and many people have broken my spirit unintentionally but, for some crazy reason, these people think just because I'm disabled that I can't be treated like any other person that came in for an interview. As an ADA Coordinator, I wanted to be an advocate for individuals with physical limitations who are more than capable of employment but are not given a fair chance. ADA Coordinators also make sure that public spaces are accessible to everyone.
Think about this —— when was the last time you went to a store, restaurant, theater, library, museum, zoo, park, or anywhere and saw an employee in a wheelchair? Me? Two times! I have seen it twice in my 30 years of living and visiting numerous places. That's bad! I hope to one day be the cause of that change. I even applied for a job with the social security disability department and was turned down after passing their required exam. It's time for a change!
Why am I an author? To bring change. Why am I a self-published author? Because I refuse to allow myself to be told no, and not be able to do anything about it.
I love being an author! I love making a difference in the lives of children! I love making a difference for families! I love that I can bring diversity and disability inclusion to the book industry. I love that the author life chose me!
As an independent author, I knew absolutely nothing about book publishing. I mean nothing. So what do you do when you know nothing about something? You research and teach yourself how to do it.
In late 2018, I began writing my now best-selling story and children's picture book, "What If We Were All The Same!" At that time, I was a volunteer tutor and got the inspiration of the story from the beautiful children I was helping. Now, I look back at what I wish I knew and think of how much I still have yet to learn. I look back and can definitely say that I am very proud of myself and how far I've come from being the naive young woman in desperate need of a job to an award-winning author writing stories that little children of color and little children with disabilities can see themselves in as representation is of utmost importance (another blog for another time).
My advice to you: DO IT! Whatever you're scared of, do it! I was terrified when I started writing; so many doubts filled my head. I doubted myself and my capabilities. Like I mentioned, I knew nothing about publishing, barely had the financial means to cover any of the basics, and was terrified no one would even purchase one copy.
Here I am 3 1/2 years later, with over 15,000 copies as a self-published author. DO IT! If there's a will, there's a way. I am a Black children's author who writes diverse children's books. I am a disabled children's author who writes inclusive children's stories. I am an award-winning author who wants to bring change and is committed to publishing picture books about diversity and picture books about friendship. I am an author and hope to be one of the best children's authors in the decades to come.
My advice to children's authors:
There is room for your story! Yes, the market is flooded with stories, but no one has the same story and perspective. That's the beauty of writing!
My 5 top tips for you: (in no particular order)
RESEARCH. I'm a member of many author groups on Facebook, and I can't begin to tell you how much bad advice is being spread by people who do not know what they are doing. Having these groups is a great resource, and asking for design feedback is a huge advantage, but please do not rely on one person's word as your answer to researchable knowledge. I've seen many authors write their stories and then say, "Now what? And then complain about not knowing what to do. Research! There are many excellent self-help books out there for children's authors that lay out the step-by-step process of publishing your story. There are great YouTube videos by successful indie authors and associations like IBPA, ALLI, and SCWBI that can help you migrate through this vast market. I remember seeing an author ask how a friend of hers could give her an ISBN and people telling her it was possible. It is not. If you want your book to sell, please invest in a how-to book. Two that I recommend are: - How To Self-Publish A Children's Book: Everything You Need To Know To Write, Illustrate, Publish, And Market Your Paperback And Ebook by Yvonne Jones AND - The Book by SCWBI (I think you have to be a member). Both books have great information, from the basics of ISBNs to writing a press release.
DON'T RUSH. Good things come in due time. A book that is rushed for publication does not get a winning start. So much can be missed, from typos to illustration mistakes. You always want to give yourself time to review your manuscript, check your final edits, review each illustration, and review your final physical copy before you publish your book. I have learned this the hard way. Although I did not rush, I didn't thoroughly examine every aspect of my book. I had typos that were missed and illustration issues that I was reluctant to address. Make sure you think each stage through. Is this how you wanted your story after editing? Is this how you wanted the characters to look? Take your time and be sure to review.
HIRE PROFESSIONALS. Please do not ask a family member to edit your book unless they are an actual editor. There are so many rules in the English language, and you wouldn't think it's that hard or complicated, but you may want to think otherwise. Children are learning sentence structure in school and will know when your book isn't properly written. They know grammar marks, punctuation, predicates, adverbs, rhymes, nouns, fragments, and all the proper sentence structures. A professional editor can catch any written mistakes and help you fix them. You definitely do not want to publish a poorly written book and risk the potential of a wonderful story selling. Do not ask your nephew to illustrate your book unless they have great artistic ability and can draw proportional characters. Hiring an editor and illustrator can get expensive but remember the saying, "You get what you pay for." You can find many qualified candidates with reasonable pricing. I like using Reedsy.com for editing as you can negotiate pricing and choose between several people. For illustrators, if you're on a tight budget, reach out to soon-to-be graduating art students. Many talented young artists would be willing to illustrate for you and work with your budget. don't expect free work; a lot goes into illustrating, which is why I stuck to web design.
HAVE A CONTRACT. If you're hiring outside help, be sure to have a contract. If you use a site like Reedsy. com no need as your manuscript will be protected by the site's agreement. But for example, if you're using an illustrator you found on Instagram, be sure there's a contract with specifics. How long will illustrations take? What's the price? Who will own the illustrations? Will they receive royalties? What will happen if they are late completing the project? What if you don't like an illustration? Will their name be on the book cover? What if you cancel the project? All this and more needs to be considered and clarified in the contract. There are sources you can Google and find one to edit.
MARKETING NEVER STOPS. Start marketing your book as soon as you can, at least six months before the release. As soon as your book cover is complete and before interior illustrations begin, you need to let the world know it's coming! You need to build hype and anticipation for it. People can't buy a book that they don't know is there. Use social media, Goodreads, your website (a must), Google Books, email newsletters, and press announcements to get your book out there and have a chance of a winning start.
Writing a children's book is not as easy as one may think, and writing an award-winning children's picture book will take time, money, and hard work, but if you do it right, you can do it.