Tuesday, April 26, 2016

From Start to Finish with Children's Books: Author Interview with Kerry McQuaide


You are the author of a delightful series for pre-school children that feature the adventures of Midge and Moo. Who or what inspired you to write about these two characters?
There is a real “Midge” the books are based on. She was two and half years old (ten years ago!) and always carried her toy bear. But because kids are funny and have their own ideas about the world, she insisted he was a cow and called him Moo.

If she put him down for even a minute, she would ask, “Where’s Moo?” It became a favorite game, and that was the original inspiration for the peek-a-boo books, Lost in the Garden and Moo is Missing. But Midge and Moo took on a life of their own. I was fascinated with how kids could imbue a toy or a blanket with so much courage, love, and personality. Moo gives Midge the confidence she needs to explore, learn, and grow.

Did you try the traditional route of seeking a publisher and/or agent to market your book? When did you decide to self-publish your own imprint?
Before self-publishing was a viable option, I did submit my books to agents. I had two manuscripts accepted and shopped around to publishers. But at the time, the financial crisis was in full swing and there was a lot of uncertainty in the publishing world. I waited months and months in between each submission to the publishers. Submitting to three or four publishers took eighteen months, so a lot of time went by! At the same time, I was hearing stories of editors leaving their publishing houses, leaving authors who had signed with them orphaned—so to speak—when a new editor with different preferences took over. I also knew that if my manuscripts were sold, there was no guarantee that they would allow me to illustrate my own stories.


What happened next?
The uncertainty, the waiting, the lack of control—there was nothing about the process that suited me!
Then all of a sudden, Kindle tipped, and authors started making real money self-publishing. There were the wild success stories, like Amanda Hocking, but there were also a flood of mid-list authors who were making enough money to write full time. (I think that’s something that most people don’t know—many traditionally published authors still have full-time or part-time jobs doing something besides writing to pay the bills.)

The technology developed over the last few years and the distribution channels became available and affordable for children’s books. By 2015, everything was in place to make it possible, and I decided to become an indie publisher.

I know that there is still a lot of unnecessary vitriol between some advocates of traditional publishing and some advocates of indie publishing. I think each author has to know themselves, their strengths, and their preferences. Then they have to know the landscape—copyright, contracts, and the financial reality of their specific situation—and then decide for themselves.

If you do self-publish, I think you have to see yourself as a publisher. You have to do all the things a publisher does with the same level of professionalism and excellence.

Who helped you polish your story? Are you active in any writing critique groups?

I am part of several author groups, a member of SCBWI, I have a group of friends and moms who beta read for me, and I hire freelance editors.

Tell me about the indie-pub process for you. Were you overwhelmed in trying to learn everything about publishing from print format to cover design and marketing?
The process is not easy, but five years ago it was not even possible. I am grateful we now have access to the technology and distribution channels that allow me to create and sell my work. I write, illustrate and format all my books myself. I graduated from Parsons School of Design with my BFA, and over the years I have worked as a graphic designer, a website designer, and a marketing manager. I use all of those skills and more as an indie publisher!

I use the Adobe suite—Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign—for the print layout and EPUB conversion for iBooks, Kobo and the other digital retailers. I use the Kindle Kid’s Book Creator for the MOBI files for Amazon. The technology is still in flux. But I love it. I love the creative control. And again—things change so quickly—you need to be flexible and willing to try new things.

How did you go about choosing your marketing plan?
My marketing plan is a constant experiment.

I just signed a deal with an App developer, who is going to use my Midge and Moo characters to develop content based on the books. Their educational App is downloaded in 89 countries, so it is both an income stream and a way for me to reach new audiences. They found my books not through Amazon or another bookseller but through my Instagram feed (https://www.instagram.com/kerrymcquaide/). So I would definitely recommend trying different things—marketing by trial and error.

Why did you choose to write for children?
I have always loved the way words and images work together to tell stories—picture books, comic books, and even the funny pages in the Sunday paper. I love Shel Silverstein and Charles Schulz. I thought there was magic in that kind of storytelling, but (I think like a lot of people) I was told that wasn’t a realistic way of making a living. So I worked in web design and marketing full-time and then freelance.

But I continued to read children’s books and to sketch and write stories. I found myself sketching and planning book after book in my spare time. I have drawers and filing cabinets full of stories that I ill probably never publish.

What are some of the promotions that you’ve done for the book that have been the most successful?
Price promotions and discounts have been some of my most success ways to reach new readers. Right now, A Day with Moo, the first book in The Adventures of Midge and Moo series is free on iBooks, Kobo, and Kindle. In the back of the book, I offer the second book in the series free when you sign up for my mailing list. There are four (soon to be five) more books in the series with coloring books and activity books coming soon as well. If you and your little ones love Midge and Moo after the first two books, then you can keep reading about these two characters.

It is still early in the children’s eBook market. Many people discover Midge and Moo through the free eBook and then order the other books in print. Right now 90% of my total sales are in print and only 10% digital. But I think that will change soon.

When the iPod first came out, Steve Jobs said, “1,000 songs in your pocket.” Very soon your kids will have access to an entire library of picture books at their finger tips. Tablets are so convenient and becoming less expensive and more durable all the time.

What would you tell other authors to avoid?
Avoid the belief that there is one magic bullet that will make your book a success, and avoid anyone who tells you that this is a way to make easy money or passive income! Any promotion you do will give you a boost and expose you to new readers, but the next day you will have to do it all again. And you have to continue creating new stories.

We all know that in art and writing you have to find your own voice. The same is true for marketing. You need to love your readers and do your best to delight them. I approach every promotion with that attitude. I set out to make my readers laugh or brighten their day.

What advice would you give someone who wants to publish their own book?
I learned the hard way that it is very hard to gain traction or attention for one stand alone book. I started with one book called, Dogs Rule! But I didn’t have a follow up book. I had nothing similar for them to read next.

It wasn’t until I had published multiple Midge and Moo books that I gained any momentum. I would say write three or five books (preferably in a series or related to each other in some way) before you publish your first book. It can be painful to wait, but you will have a huge advantage when you do publish.

If you are interested in self-publishing, I would recommend reading the books Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success) by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant and Successful Self-Publishing (How to self-publish and market your book in ebook and print) by Joanna Penn. These two books provide a great overview of everything involved in actually making a living as an indie author.

What has frustrated you the most in putting your books together?
The most frustrating part of the process is producing different files for the different retailers. iBooks, Kobo, Nook, Kindle, plus subscription services like Overdrive and Oyster—they all have slightly different file requirements, which requires extra production work.

But I was a website designer when all the sites were written by programmers in HTML, then the first web editor was available, then Wordpress templates came along, then services like SquareSpace. It became easier and easier to get very professional looking results. And I think the same kinds of solutions will develop for children’s (fixed format) ebooks.

What has pleasantly surprised you about publishing your books?
The response from readers is amazing! Parents and grandparents, who read my books with their little ones email me thank you notes. I’m hearing from readers on Facebook and Instagram. I am finding out firsthand what people like best about the books. I wasn’t expecting so much reader interaction, but I love it!

What is the writing best advice you’ve been given?
Write more. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in revising and editing and rewriting. But I have learned more from writing ten stories than rewriting the same story ten times.

What message would you like parents and children to take away from this book and future books?
When I read books to my nieces and nephews, we all cuddle on the couch in a pile. It is still magical to me when we all laugh at the same part. Or we read a book for the zillionth time and they ask the same questions over and over. “Is her mom mad at her?” or “Why is she sad?”

They are processing the world they see reflected in the books and the human emotions they experience in their own lives through theses stories. If Midge and Moo can make you and your child laugh at the same moment, or if my stories can help you talk to your child about love, kindness, and friendship, then I am a happy author.

What other books are in process?
Oh, I have so many stories in the works! But the very next book coming out this spring is a Midge and Moo coloring book. I will be hosting a “Coloring Book Extravaganza” giveaway on my Facebook page the month of May 2016: https://www.facebook.com/kerrymcquaidebooks.

Any other thoughts on writing you’d like to add?
Play, experiment, and take risks. Have fun! And share that fun with your readers.

That's all for today's interview. There's a lot of info here. Hope it gives you some new direction in your writing. If you'd like to learn more about Midge and Moo and follow their everyday adventures, here's how to get started... Download your free copy on iBooks, Kobo, or Amazon here: http://kerrymcquaide.com/a-day-with-moo-a-best-friend-book-the-adventures-of-midge-and-moo/
Connect with Kerry on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kerrymcquaide/
or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kerrymcquaidebooks