You’re a school counselor so you work with children, but when did you get interested in writing stories for children? How did you come up with the idea for your first book?
My own father died when I was five-months-old. I always had this yearning to know who he was and to know stories about him and our short time together. With that background, I knew as a mother that no matter what happened to me, I wanted my children to know about their little family.
I tried to start writing in one of those store-bought baby books when my daughter was born. The questions they asked in the baby books were so trivial. I was frustrated because there were important things I wanted her to know. So, I went to the store on November 26, 2010 and bought a journal. I was going to just write random facts I thought would be important to her one day. But, when I put pen to paper the facts were spun into fairy tales.
That's intriguing. So how did those stories become a book?
Although the actual journal entries are quite different from the chapters in the books, the Sugarplum stories grew from those journal entries. In addition to writing my daughter's stories, I wrote stories about her friends and family. Almost every character in the books is a blend of loved ones in my daughter's life that I can tell her about one day.
What do you want readers to take away from these stories?
I wanted to teach my daughter our family values and the importance of faith, family, friends and food, which is why I wrote these books. Those are the same values that I hope that other young readers are able to get from the Sugarplum Recipes Series.
Since the series is called Sugarplum Recipes, I have to ask how you chose the recipes?
The chapters each inspire their own original recipe. And original they are! Some of my daughter's favorite cookies from the series are my Catawba Worm Cookies. These cookies will be featured in Tessa Beth & Co and the Cookie Ministry Kids to be released in the spring.
Last year at Thanksgiving, I was working on the recipe and I baked these cookies to take to our family dinner. I didn't think a thing about it when I wrote Catawba Worm Cookies on the sign-up sheet for what everyone was bringing. My family knows that I bake cookies for my books so I just assumed they would realize it was a sugar cookie recipe I was working on. When I walked into Nana's kitchen that day, all eyes turned to me. People had the strangest looks on their faces. "What?" I asked. There was a collective sigh in the room when I uncovered the sugar cookies and set them on the counter.
My sister finally said, "We have been worried sick that had started on some health kick and you had made cookies from dried Catawba worms." Please rest assured, this recipe and all of my other recipes are free of dried worms.
How long did it take you to write that book?
When I have an idea swirling in my head, I put pen to paper with no thought to plot or outline. Because of that, there are many scraps of stories I simply put aside and think to myself this may one day become a chapter in a book . . . or maybe not. I may eventually pull from those writings, so in all actuality I have been working on some of my books for years.
Who encouraged you along the way?
I have received so much encouragement on my journey. God has opened (and closed) so many doors for me and has been a lamp to light my path. My family and friends have inspired me, read manuscripts and opened their homes to me so I could go to SCBWI conferences. They have gone on road trips with me to writers’ conferences and worked with me in the kitchen to create cookie recipes. My sidekicks at SCBWI have supported me and cheered me on after a particularly "apocalyptic" book critique. My church, community and online followers have all been blessings to me and my writings. And my editor, Taylor Morris, was particularly instrumental in keeping me encouraged.
How many rewrites do you do on your stories?
Sugarplum Recipes started out as one book with twenty chapters. In the style of Winnie the Pooh or Little House on the Prairie, each chapter of the original Sugarplum Recipe story was episodic and could stand alone. There was not a plot-line that ran through the entirety of the book with a beginning, middle and end. Now try to imagine those stand alone stories are pebbles. After many rewrites with my editor, those pebbles were shaped into beads and strung together on four different necklaces with a beginning, middle and end. In the end, those four necklaces were actually four individual books.
Who helped you with the editing?
I have been blessed to be able to work with Taylor Morris as editor. Taylor actually worked on a project very similar to mine with Giada De Laurentiis from the Food Network and her Recipe for Adventure Book Series. Taylor has done a fantastic job of keeping me encouraged and helping me map out where my stories are going.
Did you try the normal route and try to find a traditional publisher to handle your book?
Yes, I attempted the traditional route of finding an agent and a publisher. Because my stories are faith-based chapter books with recipes, it had to be just the right person at just the right time. So far, the right person has just been me. : )
When did you decide to self-publish?
At my last SCBWI conference I prayed, as always, that the Lord would put the right people in my path to guide me on my journey. In the sessions, I accepted the fact that my chapter book and cookie recipe combo simply did not fit with what agents and editors were looking for. Coincidentally, it seemed there was a constant stream of people in my path telling me about a self-publishing success story. Until that point, I had been very resistant to the idea of self-publishing. The first thing I did when I got home from that conference was to connect with a freelance editor through Elance. And so began my journey down the road of self-publishing.
How did you go about finding an illustrator?
I connected with my illustrator through the same website called Elance. I posted a job and received bids. Marianna Andrrusyshyn stood out of the crowd and I was blessed to work with her. She did an outstanding job.
Prior to publishing this book and the second book, what type of publishing credits did you have?
I debuted as an author when I released the first two books in the Sugarplum Recipe Series in July 2015. I have another book in the series coming out in December 2015. A fourth book will be released in 2016.
Since self-publishing means you do it all, what has been the hardest learning curve for you?
I have really stretched myself in so many areas. With all the research that I have done, I feel like I should have a college degree in children's book writing and self-publishing. I now know words like SEO and social media. Katie Davis' How to Promote Your Children's Book was an invaluable resource and simplified the marketing process for me.
What type of publicity do you do to promote your book?
I have mostly used the internet and social media. I also went on a virtual tour with Sage's Blog Tours. Working with Sage and her bloggers was a wonderful experience and it opened the door to other opportunities. I also have some actual speaking engagements scheduled for later this fall.
What has worked best for you in generating sales?
I think I have probably seen the most publicity through Facebook and my virtual book tour. My website has also been a tremendous asset.
What do you know now about writing/publishing now that you wished you had known sooner?
I wish I had connected with an editor earlier on and I had started developing an online presence sooner.
What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?
Join a professional writer's organization such as Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and go to writers' conferences. Going to SCBWI conferences has been the most impactful to my career as a writer. Also, get connected with a freelance editor.
Any last tips you'd like to add?
Here's some resources that have been helpful to me, I'd like to pass along:
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - www.scbwi.org
Elance - www.elance.com
Taylor Morris - http://www.taylormorris.com
Katie Davis - http://katiedavis.com/books/
Sage's Blog Tours - http://www.sagesblogtours.com/
That's it for today's interview. I hope you are intrigued by Wendy's writing and her recipes to learn more. Here's some great links to do that.
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/1gWkW7G