Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Writing for the Love of the Craft: Author Interview with Michelle McBeth

You’ve recently published your first children’s picture book, A Case in Candy Land. When did you decide to write this book?
Although I have been writing bits and pieces of children's books over the past twenty years, I actually began my writing as a career in January 2013. In December of 2013 I decided to write a short chapter book series for readers who don’t read much because books are simply too long for them. I had a lot of fifth grade students like that when I was teacher. This book is only ten short chapters and full of illustrations for more interest. I tried to make the wording simple for a quicker read. It still comes out to fourth grade level though based on sentence length and word difficulty.

In order to find a high interest concept, this book started from an alternate universes idea that popped into my head. But I thought it would be too mature for the age group I wanted to write for, so it eventually morphed into this story about a world where people travel from one land to another through the Hall of Travels. Each land is unique in its purpose such as Candy Land, Toy Land, Hairstylist Hollow, and Doctor Dale. Traveling only takes a moment. It is like a time machine, but instead of changing times, you change lands.

Who helped you polish your story? I had a few friends who read my manuscript as well as my two sons. My sons hear a lot of, "Read this please and tell me what you think." Based on their comments as well as what I know about polishing techniques, I made changes in my manuscript.  

Are you active in any writing critique groups?
I do not currently have a writing critique group, but I am actively seeking one specifically for authors of children's literature. I believe this kind of feedback can be extremely valuable to writers.

Prior to writing this book, what was your publishing and writing background?
I have been writing stories since I was four years old. Off and on throughout my life I have submitted small pieces for publication in school newspapers and journals. I began writing children's books about twenty years ago, but did not feel that things were clicking in place for me to be able to publish until last year.

In 2013 I had a children's short story series published in a local journal. I also self-published a parent guide for Autism that year. Children's fiction has always been my true love--both reading and writing--so I am pleased to be coming back to it in my new Hall of Travels series.

Who encouraged you along the way?
My two teenage sons have been my biggest fans. A few years ago, I found out my younger son had been sneaking into my stash of writings. He was impressed with what I had written and encouraged me to finish my books and start publishing. My sons are not afraid to tell me what is good and what is bad about my writing either!
Did you try the traditional route of seeking a publisher and/or agent to market your book? Because I felt I had the skills to self-publish, I chose to try that route first. I have not yet sought out an agent or publisher, but I have not discounted the idea. I chose to self-publish after meeting a fellow author in December 2012 who was self-published. She told me about some of the advantages of self-publishing and how easy the process could be.

Tell me about the process. How did you decide where to publish? How much research did you do?
After meeting the self-published author who had published through CreateSpace, I began researching the process and what this company had to offer. I did not shop around because I felt this company perfectly fit what I wanted. Another reason I did not shop around was because I did not need any of the additional services self-publishing companies often provide. I had the skills and the resources to do the design, layout and illustrations without outside help.

The majority of the research I did before designing the book involved what a good layout looked like. I researched font type, size, margins, bleed, illustration size, etc. This was time consuming on my first book.
What are some of the promotions that you’ve done for the book that have been the most successful?I am still in the beginning stages of learning how to self-promote my books. To date I have run a Goodreads Giveaway for my book, I have printed postcard sized flyers that I give to everyone I come in contact with, and I have given free books where I believe it would do the most good.

I feel that promoting myself locally has had the biggest impact. Giving my book to the local library and schools is a great way to become known in my own community.
How did you go about finding an illustrator?
I am an extremely fortunate author because I have two sons who are artists! My fourteen year old son, Ryan, who has the drawing style I needed for this book, was my illustrator. Our informal agreement was that when the book(s) began to make a certain amount, he would receive a percentage of royalties.
    
Did he work strictly from your text or did you give him suggestions of how you want the story to be done?
I told Ryan exactly what I wanted for each illustration and then left it to him to draw it in his own style. After each illustration was complete, I reviewed it and then asked for edits if I felt the picture did not quite convey what I wanted.

What has frustrated you the most in putting these books together?
Doing everything myself in the publication process has its rewards, but is also frustrating because it is so time consuming. I could have had this book written in a month, but it took four additional months for layout, design and illustration. Creating my own Kindle version of the book was frustrating as well because I don't own an e-reader. This made it more difficult for me to figure out how the concept worked. I won out in the end!
What has pleasantly surprised you in the process?
I have been pleasantly surprised by how professional the book looked when I actually had one in my hand. Other people have also commented on how professional it looks. I can hold that book in my hand and say, "I created this!" It is an awesome feeling.

What suggestions do you have for someone who wants to write children’s stories?
First, find out what kids are reading. Read books written for different age groups to find out what the differences are. Second, find a way to spend lots of time with children. Observe them. See what kids like, how they behave, what makes them tick. Then, write, write, and write some more. Read your work to children to get feedback from the audience you are writing for.

Submit your work. Take rejections as feedback, not as a sign that you should stop writing. When you get negative feedback listen with a discerning ear. Some of that feedback will make you a better writer. However, always stay true to yourself and your style. Above all, love what you are doing. That love and passion for your work is the proof that you are doing exactly what you should be!

What is the writing best advice you’ve been given?
The best advice I heard from a fellow author is, if you are writing to make a bunch of money, you are in the wrong business. You should be writing because you love it so much you couldn't imagine doing anything else.

How much time daily do you have for writing?
I spend several hours a day writing in some capacity whether on my blog or writing stories. I also spend quite a bit of time arranging stories in my head before writing them down. 

What message would you like parents and children to take away from your book? 
All of my books and stories are written with one thing in mind. I want the readers to feel they enjoyed themselves. And after closing the cover of the book, I want them to have a smile on their faces. If they learn something new from the book, such as new words or concepts, well that's a bonus. A Case in Candy Land is spiced with humor and fun characters to create the fun factor. My author blog is called, "Sunshine On A Rainy Day" because this is what I want to be to my readers. In my opinion, there is already enough darkness in the world. I do not want that reflected in my books.
What other books do you have in process?
I am currently creating the sequel to A Case in Candy Land called Trouble in Toy Land. The first book was written in Henry's voice (the main character). The second will be written in Amelia's voice (the next door neighbor).

After this book, I will consider publishing a new series for middle school that I have begun writing. It is one boy's humorous perspective on puting up with his crazy family.
Is there any other tips about writing or publishing you’d like to add?
My additional advice as a self-publisher is, unless you have the skills to create a complete book yourself, consider trying the traditional route first. This way you can concentrate on the writing and allow them to concentrate on the publication. There are trade-offs either way and you have to carefully consider which would be the better choice for you. 
That's it for today's interview. Hope you'll take Michelle's advice and submit your writing for publication. However, before you do make sure it is professionally edited and polished.

If you'd like to learn more about her writing and blog, here's the links...
http://michellejmcbeth.wordpress.com
https://www.facebook.com/michellejmcbeth