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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Indie-Publishing for Picture Books: Author Interview with Ben Wilder

What inspired you to write Big and Small, God Made Them All?
I tell you what, it was a long time coming because I actually had the title in mind years ago. But to go back to my childhood for a second, I've grown up with a love for the outdoors, for animals, the ocean, and nature in general. This environment we get to live in always astounded me, and as an adult now, it still does. So as is the case with any good art, whether it's music, paintings, drawings, literature, it points back to a talented and creative artist. That's what this book is about. The inspiration is the trees, the animals, the ocean, the wild nature that God designed, and it's pretty amazing!

When did you actually start writing your book?
I started writing this book in late summer 2015.

How long did it take to write your first draft?
It's a short book, but I'd say over the course of a couple weeks I had a good first draft going.

Who encouraged you along the way?
I didn't tell a lot of people about what I was up to specifically, but my family knew, so they were very encouraging. As the book progressed, a few close friends were cheering me on as well.

Prior to this picture book, what was your publishing and writing background?
My 
writing experience  is in television, actually. I started as a production assistant at CMT in 2006 and by the end of my time there I was an associate producer and writing scripts for a few of the highest rated shows on the network. I have always enjoyed writing in it's different forms, but this my first experience in the literary world.

Are you active with any children’s writers groups?
Not at the moment.

The publishing company, Driftwood Tree Press is your imprint, correct? What made you decide to start your own publishing company?
Yes, this is my imprint. The decision to start this publishing company came after hearing advice from people with more expertise than I have, and doing research about the best way to go when an author is self-publishing. The entire process was new to me, so I simply went with what most 
indie-publishers were doing, and trusting the advice I received.

Did you do your own formatting or did you hire someone?
I knew I needed a team of experts to help this book become a reality, so I hired a designer to come on board for the formatting, page layout, cover and back cover layout, etc.

What was that process like?
It was fun "drafting" a dream team for this project. I ended up hiring an illustrator, editor, and designer. I researched quite a bit for each. I came across a website (Reedsy.com) which is where I found my editor, and indirectly my designer. There's an gigantic world of talented people out there, so it can take some time to find the folks you like, but Reedsy definitely helped, and various professional websites with reviews, portfolios, etc were great to browse through.

Did you send your manuscripts out to other publishers or agents prior to that?
I was in touch with two other publishing companies that had imprints designed for new authors but just didn't feel comfortable going that route, so I decided to indie-publish. I wanted to have more control than I felt like those companies would allow.

I love the whimsy of your front cover. How did you go about finding an illustrator?
Childrensillustrators.com has a huge list of illustrators and after looking through quite a few portfolios, I still wasn't sure I found a match. I researched other sites, other artists, and traded emails with a few artists. But then going back to childrensillustrators.com I came across Laura Watson and that was all she wrote. I knew she was the exact artist I wanted.

What did you look for in an illustrator?
Detail. I wanted a strong attention to detail and the more portfolios I browsed, it really came down to the eyes. What I learned is that a lot of personality can be shown through the eyes of the characters or things being illustrated. Some artists had great illustrations, very talented people out there, for sure, but all the eyes in their creations were the same. In Laura's work, you can almost eliminate everything but the eyes and still know exactly what the emotion of the character is. 


To me, that was huge. For this book, I wanted each animal, whether it was a scary one (like an alligator) or a friendly one (penguin, or elephant, etc), to come across as kind and happy, showing lots of personality. They had to be somewhat realistic, but extremely cute.

Did she work strictly from your text or do you give her suggestions of how you want the story to be done?
The book text definitely lends itself to pretty specific images so I didn't give Laura many notes beyond that at first. I wanted her to have freedom to create without restrictions.

What made Laura Watson the right fit for you?

Her art was the perfect balance of whimsical, yet realistic, full of personality, cute, detailed, artistic without being abstract, and again... the eyes!

How many changes had to be made before you chose the illustrations you wanted? 
Not many changes in the illustrations. i think we went through a few rounds of revisions, but I'd say half of the artwork was approved on the first rough sketches I saw. We spent more time on the cover than any other illustration, because we knew how important it was to have a great cover.

What has frustrated you the most in putting together this book?
I think it was the "not knowing." As a first time author, and indie
-publishing, there was (and is) so much I didn't know from book size, to types of paper, image bleed, when to publish, who to publish with, how many pages is ideal, color choices, etc. So many decisions to make!

What has pleasantly surprised you in the process?
Having a team that was as excited as I was to make the book. I know being hired as an artist, editor, or designer can be looked at as just another job, but they were so supportive, offering ideas and encouragement all along the way. It really was a dream team.

What do you know now about writing and publishing you wish you had learned sooner?
I'm not sure I have a good answer to this. I think the most important thing for anyone who wants to take this step of publishing their first book is to take the first step. Whatever that first step is for them. I believe I learned what I was supposed to learn at the time I was supposed to learn it. I will say this, I wish I would have taken the leap sooner. I had the title in my head for many months, but didn't act on it, and I wish I would've done that sooner.

What type of promotions have you done for this book?
I'm trying a lot of things, but it mostly comes down to social media. The majority of sales so far have come from connections on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Other promotions I've done are giveaways on Goodreads and Facebook, a tie-in with a children's organization in Nicaragua, and a couple of posts on blogs designed for parents. The book was published fairly recently, so I still have a few ideas for promoting it the rest of this year. I'd like to have a few book signings, more giveaways, and things like that.

What promotions have been the most successful?
I did a giveaway on Facebook recently and it seems to have drummed up quite a bit of chatter. As far as creating the most buzz, it was the book trailer. I posted this weeks before the book was published and it definitely helped create excitement about the book. I highly recommend book trailers for a new book coming out!

What’s the best writing tip you’ve learned or been given that you’d like to share?
My editor shared with me a line that I won't soon forget. We were going over what parts of the book were strong and others that weren't strong, and she said about a particular line, it might be time to "kill your darlings." The phrase (from William Faulkner, I believe) resonated with me, and will help me even in the future as I write.

What other works do you have in the process?
I have the idea for my second children's book. I'm super excited to get started on it. It's very early in the process, but I'm hoping it will be as fun to create as this first book was.

What message would you like parents and children to take away from your books?
I love animals, so I'm guessing any theme in the books I create will come from that love. But going a little deeper than that, I hope that parents and children will become more curious about the things I write and that will lead them to do research on their own about whatever the subject is. Especially for this first book of mine. 

It's a story about animals, but really it's a story about God and his love for us. He created so many amazing things in the world and more importantly, he created mankind and lets us enjoy all the other things he made. Seeing the diversity in nature, the detail and the way animals each have their quirks, reminds me how big God is and yet, he's in the details. I'd love for anyone who reads this book, whether they agree that God created these things or not, to at the very least become curious enough to wonder.

What future plans do you have for the publishing company?
More books!

Any last words or tips?
To the readers and the buyers of my book, whether you know it or not, I am YOUR #1 fan. Keep reading... and thank you! For anyone thinking about taking a step of faith in any endeavor, do it. There may be some downs with the ups, but I doubt you'll regret it.

I like that. Thank you for the interview. If you would like to know more about Ben and buy this book, here's the way to get started.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1JQpv10
Website: www.benjaminwilder.com