Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Keeping your Writing Dreams Alive: Author Interview with Lozetta Hayden

My author today has served children in the roles of mentor, counselor, home-school provider, daycare owner, foster parent and teacher. Using those skills, she currently works as an educational consultant and motivational speaker. What's tops on her list is to remind students to DREAM and to do a little dreaming herself.

You’ve recently published your first children’s picture book called, My Alphabet Nightmare. Who or what inspired you to write this story?
When I was in my junior year of college, I wrote My Alphabet Nightmare as a class assignment. My now husband, drew the pictures and we had a rough version bound at the local print center. I would read it to different groups and sometimes take a copy with the words only and let the children illustrate it. They loved it! When my professors read it, I received an A++ and was told that I should get it published.

This was back in 1993 before the internet was fully functional and self publishing wasn't a thought. Weary of selling my creative rights and future royalties, I placed it in a file and waited for the right time to proceed.

Who helped you polish your story? 
Since my college professors had already critiqued the book, there wasn't much left for me to do when I decided to publish it. I did have fellow educators review the proof for errors, before authorizing the final print version.

Prior to writing this book, what was your publishing and writing background?
Prior to writing My Alphabet Nightmare, my writing experience came from writing poetry and creating my own teacher materials. Many times I didn't find what I was looking for or didn't feel the materials available were effective. I discovered students were more engaged with the material I composed and this resulted in academic improvement. As a matter of fact, I discovered writing with a purpose came easy.

Who encouraged you along the way?
I received the greatest support from my husband David. As I mentioned, he was involved with My Alphabet Nightmare from its inception. Throughout the years, he would encourage me to submit it for publication, saying "This book is too good to sit in a file. Think of all the kids that are being denied the opportunity to enjoy your creation."

Our children also knew about the book and constantly asked when I was going to publish it. I remember an exact moment in time when I decided that I had to follow through with publication as a tribute to my family. They too needed to see that DREAMS do come true!
I love the concept in your bio of how you encourage children to DREAM which is an acronym for Decide, Reach, Embrace, Achieve & Move. Can you give me an example of a time when you could see this concept clicking with a child?
As I reflect on the many opportunities to share the DREAM concept, I fondly remember children reciting, "Decide Reach Embrace Achieve & Move", weeks and sometimes years after I taught them. However, one fifth grade class in particular, seemed to grasp the concept as a group. I was requested as a long term substitute, by the principal, when their regular teacher had to have emergency surgery.

When colleagues found out which class I was providing coverage for, they wished me luck and looked at me like I was just sentenced to a prison term. I found myself a little apprehensive, but quickly dismissed the feeling knowing that I never let anyone's opinion of a group influence mine. In the beginning the students were off task, lacked motivation and at times were disrespectful. I shared my journey with them, set the expectations and encouraged each of them to take ownership over their choices and therefore the outcome.

I implemented an incentive program and acknowledged effort and perseverance. The entire class rose to the DREAM challenge, improved both academically and socially, and began to embrace the steps to actualizing their dreams. I still keep in touch with many of them and attend their honor roll assemblies.

When did you decide to self-publish?
Like many aspiring authors, I wanted the manuscript to be picked up by a traditional publisher. Early in the process I realized that I wanted to keep as much creative control over the final design as possible. Therefore I decided to pursue self publishing.

Tell me about the process. How did you decide where to publish?
I spent countless hours researching the self publishing process, joined the Society Children Book Writers & Illustrators, subscribed to blogs and developed a plan. After weighing the pros and cons, I decided to use Createspace as my publishing companying. This decision was influenced by the ease of their upload process and affiliation with Amazon. The whole process took over two years from deciding to publish to receiving the final copy. During which time I was teaching full-time.

What are some of the promotions that you’ve done for the book that have been the most successful?
School assemblies are a great way to promote my book and my message. During the 45 minute assembly, I use a power point presentation and a dance to help students plan tangible steps to accomplishing their dreams. Books that are preordered are addressed to each child ad inscribed with the following: "Always follow your DREAMS they do come true. Decide, Reach, Embrace, Achieve, Move. Schools can opt to receive a discounted price on the books or 20% of all sells.

I also attended Book Expo America in New York City this past May. My Alphabet Nightmare was part of The New Title Showcase and I had a space in the Author's Hub. This provided a great opportunity for networking with potential customers and vendors. I am currently negotiating with a company I found at the conference to develop an app and ebook.

How did you go about finding an illustrator? What did you look for in an illustrator?
From the moment I decided to publish My Alphabet Nightmare, I knew I needed an illustrator that had a passion for drawing, great skills and a connection with the story. I found my illustrator, Manuela Pentangelo, during one of my many late night internet searches. I stumbled upon examples of her work, looked her up on Facebook and visited her website. My husband was uncertain about using her since she was in Italy, thinking it would complicate the process. However after "stalking" her facebook page and getting a better feel for her personality, I was positive she was meant to illustrate My Alphabet Nightmare. It took a year but my husband also agreed that she was destine to illustrate the book.

Was your illustrator paid a flat fee or paid through royalties or a combination?
She was paid a flat fee and all correspondence was through email, Facebook and Paypal. Throughout the process, she would asked for clarification and make suggestions. Though we have never met, I feel a kindred connection to her. She breathed life into each page and embraced the project as if it were her own. Since then, she has completed three additional projects for me and I consider her a vital partner.

What has frustrated you the most in putting these books together?
My biggest frustration has been that without an agent a company, like Scholastic, will not even consider the my works. I understand that they are inundated with requests but wish a bridge program existed. Not that I am opposed to having an agent. I'm just waiting for the right partnership to present itself.

What has pleasantly surprised you in the process?
I was pleasantly surprised by the easy of the printing process with Createspace. My illustrator uploaded the file and we worked with the staff to ensure a quality project.

What advice would you give someone who wants to write children’s stories?
With so many wonderful children's stories available, I would advise an aspiring writer to create a high quality project that engages. Finding a skilled illustrator with great work ethics is critical because the illustrations are just as important as the text. Lastly, I think it necessary to field test the proof copy before going to final print.

What is the best writing advice you’ve been given?
The best writing advice I received was to take writing seriously and hold myself accountable to deadlines.

How much time daily do you have for writing?
I recently made a conscious decision to write as often as possible. To aid me in accomplishing this goal, I carry my iPad or notebook with me everywhere. I write while eating lunch, waiting at appointments or sitting at my bistro outside. My favorite location to write is the beach!

What message would you like parents and children to take away from your books? I want my books to captivate children and make them want to read them over and over again. The repetition will help with mastery of various reading skills. It is my desire that my works make it easier for parents to engage with their children. I like to "hide" learning throughout the pages. There are also additional resources on my website to extend learning and help encourage a love for reading.

What future plans do you have for publishing?
Until recently, I considered myself an educator who also wrote a book. Now that I've embraced walking in my destiny, I say I'm an author who also teaches on the side. I have other manuscripts completed and plan to submit them to traditional publishing companies, but am willing to take the self publishing route, too.

One of my favorite stories I recently completed is called No Principal For the Day. The students tricked the principal, Mr. Ive Ben Strick, and the teachers into not coming to school. They thought it would be awesome but quickly learned what happens to schools without any rules. I am anxious to see the chaos leap from the pages.

Is there any other tips about writing or publishing you’d like to add?Now that I'm out promoting my book, I meet a lot of people who have also self published or desire to. The best piece of advice I have is to ensure quality work prior to printing and marketing your work. Invest in editorial services, find a skilled illustrator familiar with children's books and do not rush a substandard project to print. Consumers shouldn't be able to tell the difference between a book that was self published or one done by a traditional publisher.

That's it for today's interview. If you'd like to learn more about Lozetta's books, here's some options.
www.myalphabetnightmare.com       www.facebook.com/myalphabetnightmare

If you live in the Baltimore, MD area, you'll have the opportunity to meet her in person at the author's tent at the Baltimore Book Festival on Friday September 26th. Here's a link to more details on the festival.  http://www.baltimorebookfestival.com/home. At the New York Book Festival in June,
My Alphabet Nightmare received an honorable mention.