I’ve been teaching an online Children’s Picture Book Writing class through media bistro for six years years and recently launched an advanced class for graduates of the introductory class (I call the two classes PB1 and PB2). In the course of teaching these classes I’ve had a chance to work with hundreds of aspiring picture book writers and help their first books transform from a vague idea to a fully-realized manuscript.
Late last year, when I began developing my advanced picture book class, it occurred to me that my students might want to know more about the many paths to publication that beginning writers have taken. All my students start in the same place – with the desire to write for children but not much of a road map. But after their six weeks with me, they have gone in many different directions. Some have found agents. Some have submitted to editors directly. Some have worked with large mainstream publishers. Some have worked with smaller or niche houses. Some have self-published.
Curious to know what paths people have taken, I've begun tracking down former students to hear their stories. Below is the first in what I hope will be a regular series of interviews with writers who have found different ways to get their work into the world in this very competitive publishing sector. I chose Nicole Lataif as my first interview because she took a path I knew almost nothing about. Her first book, Forever You, was published through a Catholic publishing house called Pauline. I think her story will be instructive not only for people writing for any kind of religious readership, but for anyone who is writing for a particular niche or a specialized audience.
Dashka: Thanks for stopping in at Start At The Beginning. Tell us about Forever You.
Nicole: At the most basic level, this resource for Christian faith formation introduces children ages 4-8 to what being human is all about. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, or catechist, you will find this resource to be helpful in explaining the concept of a "soul" to your children.
Dashka: Who is publishing it?
Nicole: Pauline Books and Media a Christian, traditional publishing house of the Daughters of Saint Paul, an international congregation of women religious dedicated to serving the Church through the media of social communication. They have 13 stores around the US and in English speaking Canada.
Dashka: Why did you decide to go this route? Did you consider a mainstream publisher?
Nicole: My route to publication was unique. I was given an opportunity to have lunch with my [now] editor, after an introduction from a friend brought us together. At that luncheon, I explicitly asked what she was looking to publish. It just so happened that I had extensive experience in the subject matter for which she needed a writer. I had also wanted to write about this topic for a while. So, it was a perfect match. I encourage anyone who is able to meet with an editor to be sure to have questions ready and know what you can and cannot do. Originally, I submitted a proposal for 3 books (A PB, a novel and a chapter book!). That was crazy on my part. I retracted the novel and chapter book ideas and worked exclusively on the PB, which is what eventually got published. Thank God for my editor was patient! In sum, ask direct questions and don’t bite off more than you can chew!
Dashka:What are the advantages of publishing with a Christian or any kind of niche press?
Nicole: The advantages of publishing with a Christian house are (1) to work with a niche market and (2) identify with my audience to create a more effective product. Firstly, by choosing a niche market, I am able to stay focused on what one group of people wants/needs, instead of trying to be everything to everyone. I am able to become an “expert” on one group of buyers. Secondly, I am living the lifestyle of my audience. I AM my market. The people who buy my book are just like me in their interests and passions. The topics I cover in my book are messages that I know are needed from experience. Write what you know.
Dashka: Are there disadvantages?
Nicole: The disadvantage is that I do not have a large marketing budget from my publisher. I do have a wonderful publicist provided by Pauline Books and Media, but her time is limited. Should you sign with a smaller house, and now sometimes even if you sign with a larger house, be prepared to market your book heavily.
Dashka: In my experience, that's true even when you do work with large mainstream publishers! Writers have to learn how to promote, whether they want to or not. So how are you marketing and promoting your book?
Nicole: My marketing plan is extensive! I have a few years of professional experience in marketing, which helps a lot, so I developed a 3-year plan. I also hired a book-marketing professional for a few hours to fill me in on what I didn’t already know. In the first month, I sold 46% of what the publisher hoped I’d sell in the first year. To reach this, I did heavy social media promotion, blog interviews, cross-promotion with other websites, and asked my friends and family to help spread the word. Those numbers don’t mean much--the true test will be: where am I in a year?! Two years? Etc? My publisher does help me in many ways, especially with brainstorming, making contacts and advising me when I have questions. However, they have limited resources.
Dashka: What have you learned about the publishing process that you wish you knew at the beginning?
Nicole: I knew this at the beginning, but I think it is important to mention: no matter what your marketing background, no matter how much support you have at home, no matter what, what, what—you probably won’t make enough money to survive exclusively as a writer. You need to be fully prepared for that reality. I also wish I knew how much marketing would be involved in the process. People think getting published is “making it,” but it’s just the beginning. Set aside time each week to promote your book. Lastly, come up with a website to build a relationship with your customers. It could be a blog, an interactive site, anything, but you need something. I did this here: www.kidsfaithgarden.com.
Dashka: Your website offers tons of resources to keep readers coming back to your site -- it's a great model for writers of all kinds! Do you think you'll use the same publishing path for your next book?
Nicole: It all depends. If this year renders positive results, I will absolutely consider it! As a support system, my publisher goes above and beyond to support me. If we work together again, I would be so pleased.
Dashka: Tell me about the process of finding an illustrator. Did Pauline involve you at all in the process?
Nicole: I have never met or spoken to my illustrator. I submitted my manuscript and saw the final product a year later. The publishing house had complete control over the illustrations and the illustrator is totally uninvolved in the marketing of the book.
Dashka: Do you have any final words of advice for people interested in following a similar path to publication?
Nicole: Check your motives. If you are writing to be famous, you won’t be. If you are writing to be rich, you won’t be. If you are writing to get out a message that you feel is important, go for it! Also, plan for the process to take years (and I’m talking double-digits). Writing is arduous and long, so be sure to enjoy the journey! Write to simply enjoy the process, not to reach some kind of destination of publication (because, most people don’t get published).
Dashka: Excellent advice, Nicole. Creating good work has to be its own reward, because the monetary rewards can be elusive. Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed for the blog!