You write picture book stories for children to grow closer to God? What inspired you to write the first book?The first five years of a child’s life are so important, and I wanted durable books about life with God for my daughter during that time. But the choices were limited. There were many baby Bible versions and prayer books, but not much that showed what a day-to-day relationship with God was like. Even young children have a spiritual life, and I felt a little desperate about nourishing her in that way.
I also wanted books that could fit right in with her other books—a story about puddle-splashing that mentions the God who made them possible. So, not everything had to be a lesson or information, but more about the experience, which is really how faith grows.
You’ve now published 7 books since last year. When did you actually start writing your first book? How long did it take to write your first draft?
Once we decided to start the company, we knew there would be a long period of writing and development in-house, collaborating with others for guidance and input. We wanted to create a purposeful, cohesive collection. But at the same time, we wanted to maintain spontaneity and realistic childhood fun. This process has taken a long time. All seven of the current books were on the burner for five or more years and went through many changes.
Who encouraged you along the way?
My husband and daughter have both been incredibly encouraging and helpful—we are in it together. But we would not have moved ahead unless we felt like God was in it, and leading it. He has been the main inspiration and source of encouragement, giving just what we need when we need it most. He also brought many moms and dads into our lives who were hungering for ways to share God more intimately with their young children. They have been vital inspiration.
My writing background involves many professional paths. I started with a journalism degree and went into public affairs and public relations for several years, which led to a time in nonprofit with the Tech Museum in San Jose, which led to working for Scholastic. The one constant in all of these arenas was writing about complex topics in a variety of ways to engage particular audiences.
My first two children’s books for a publisher were Jeeves, I’m Bored: 25 Internet Adventures for Kids and Jeeves, I Need Help: Tips and Tricks for Kids on the Net. These jobs also involved public relations, sales, special events, production, trade shows, and marketing. One head hunter looked at my resume back then and said she honestly had no idea where to plug in all of that. I had no idea where it was leading either.
The publishing company, Graham Blanchard Inc. is your company. What made you decide to start your own publishing company?
My husband and I lived in the Silicon Valley startup culture for many years, which encourages risk and tolerates failure, because it is better than not trying. Graham Blanchard grew out of a hope to serve families with a community and a purposeful board book collection. For us to be clearer about the vision and understand the possibilities required that we dig in and scope out what that looked like.
We had two choices: Send out the ideas to publishers or start a new company that would carry the larger vision forward. It wasn’t a decision we rushed into. But experiences confirmed for us that there was room for a new company to specialize in the underserved niche of Christian board books for young children.
How long was it in the works before you signed the incorporation papers?
The decision to move ahead on the company was made about five years ago, and it was incorporated last year.
Are you going to stay exclusively with board books? Or do you plan to do picture books for the 6-9 age range?
We are committed to board books and the 0-7 range for some time to come. But moving beyond that in the future will always be an option.
How did you go about finding your team of collaborators? Are you all co-owners of the company?
The team grew from old connections and new ones, colleagues and friends, divinely introduced at just the right time. They are all stakeholders in a larger sense, but this is a boot-strapped company with one owner.
What are some of the promotions that you’ve done for the book that have been the most successful?
I am very impressed with the quality of blogs—the value of the content they provide readers and the engagement they have. We have appreciated their reception of a newcomer. Also, traditional and social media advertising will always be important.
Can you give me one example of a promotion that has generated more sales than another?
As a new company, we have just begun this process ourselves, and time will tell whether one promotion works better than another. But the industry has been around a long time, and it relies heavily on reviews. Sending out books to appropriate blogs, local newspapers, or opinion makers for review is probably the most cost-effective promotion an individual or small press could do.
I see you have had several different illustrators for your books. What do you look for in an illustrator?
The illustrators have a big role in the final outcome of a book. They add a whole dimension to a story through their art. Illustrating books for children about spiritual matters is not an easy job. It is a wonder to see what they come up with. We want the art to be engaging to children and to grownups. We also aim for illustrators who are professional about project management and communications—the whole experience of everyone matters. Working with them is a highlight for me in this business.
Do you see the company adding other authors anytime in the near future?
We do plan to involve additional writers and would like to publish titles authored by others by 2016. That infusion of creativity and engagement is vital for any effort to truly thrive. We have a well-defined framework and publishing strategy that will guide those choices. The submissions guidelines are posted at http://www.grahamblanchard.com/contact/
We share all the material with children of various ages and developmental capabilities to see if we are hitting the mark. Most of our editorial advisors and reviewers have children, have written for children, or have backgrounds in childhood development or ministry. One child was confused about the word “yoke” in Jesus Invites Me. It sounded too much like egg “yolk” when read aloud. So, we decided to say that in the book and have fun with it.
What has frustrated you the most in putting these books together?
All the things that make starting a publishing company possible now, are also the things that can make it the most difficult at times. Independent book publishing is exploding, and that’s a great thing! But it makes getting books into bookstores difficult. That isn’t frustrating, but it is a challenge. I’m glad to accept the challenges with the benefits, though. I have been heartened by the publishing industry in general, and the selfless advisors and mentors who have helped me with all aspects of the business along the way.
What advice would you give someone who wants to write children’s stories?
Write! And develop your audience. There has never been a better time to be a writer of any genre. There are so many audiences and avenues now for your work. And I think it’s helpful to be detached from the outcome and the idea of being an author. Just enjoy the craft, always have something on the drawing board, and share it.
What is the best writing advice you’ve been given?
A writer I greatly admire encouraged letting works simmer for long periods of time. He said he would work a year on a single professional paper. That stuck with me, and I have found it to be true with all of our books and online content: They benefit from time. And I think children’s books especially benefit from simmering. There are so few words, but many ways to put a certain idea. Time gives you the freedom to work it out.
How much time daily do you have for writing?
So much of the day involves writing of some sort, and it is my favorite thing. I love writing anything, even a user’s guide! It’s always a good day when I can write on a special project for at least an hour.
What message would you like parents and children to take away from your books?
My hope for children and parents is whatever God hopes for them. He knows them best. People of all ages seek Him in their own personal way, and I hope the books and the community we offer at our Web site help them in their own journeys. We are committed as a company to support others in this way.
Thanks so much for your questions and this opportunity to write and reflect!
Please find out more about the books, free tips for extending them beyond the shelf, and other free resources at http://www.grahamblanchard.com And participate in our community! We love hearing from others.