In August of 2020 when I was wandering around a historic gold-mining town in the center of Wyoming and realized there were no children’s books for my son about the area, I was struck with the feeling that I should create one. I had never written a book before nor had the desire to do so. My mom had mentioned it a few times but we never put much weight onto it. It was more like a “that would be fun someday” idea.
Well, once I mentioned the idea to her a fire lit under both of us and we realized Wyoming needed a book like that for children. For all of you fellow writers or business owners sometimes it takes just a tiny spark of creative energy to create a beautiful product. Here are 10 things we learned through writing South Pass: The Gateway to the West.
10 THINGS WE LEARNED FROM WRITING A CHILDREN’S BOOK
01. Have a partner
Ann and I (the coauthors of the book) were consistent about meeting every Sunday over Google Meet. We called these meetings our “Sunday meetings” and they happened almost every Sunday. At first the meetings were just researching together, and then they morphed into writing which then turned into figuring out the publishing process. After nine months of meeting on Sundays our product was born.
02. Mark out key events on a timeline to help you work towards the next step
We had a rough idea of when we would like this book to come out. We were hoping for the spring or summer of 2021. Since we were self-publishing we could loosely decide when things would happen. The longest part was getting the book perfect so we could send it to a printing company. Once the printing company had it, we had to wait for them which took about a month. Making sure you have a rough timeline of when things should happen is important to keep you motivated and make sure you finish the project.
03. Use a company that supports self-publishers
The first time we printed our book we decided to print 300 copies. Those sold out in about nine months! We realized printing local was way too expensive. We found a company called Ingram Spark which supports self-publishers and distributes your book through a magazine on a national level.
04. Give your rough draft to a few key people you trust to read and edit
It is extremely vulnerable to write your own book and self-publish it. We hardly told anyone our idea even after our copyright was finalized. We didn’t want to be talked out of it or have someone dampen our spirits. When we finally did tell people about it is was because we needed them to keep the project moving (i.e. our illustrator and an editor). We only asked two people to “edit” it and we talked to Sali Allard, our illustrator, to make sure she wanted to provide her artwork for the project.
05. Constantly check the reading level of the audience you are writing for
Ann and I knew we wanted to write a children’s book. The research we were doing was sometimes high-level stuff that we had to take down to an appropriate level for children. This required a lot of discussions and required us to run it through a few Lexile levelers and reading levelers to make sure it was still an appropriate reading level for children. Another great resource to check the reading level is Hemingway.com.
06. Be your own publisher & copywriter
When budgets are tight it’s fun to learn new skills because you can’t afford to outsource them. When our book finally came out nine months after we started writing, I had to promote it to our friends and family. We used mainly social media to get the word out, but also reached out to local stores who might be interested in selling it too. I learned how to be my own copywriter, and utilize tools like Canva to promote the book in a professional way.
07. Use the strengths of those working with you
I know not everyone needs or wants a coauthor. However, it was such an amazing collaboration effort to work with my mom in order to produce this book. I loved getting to meet with her every Sunday over Google Meet. Also, we each have our own specialities and gifts which makes the load a little lighter to bear because you can work with each other’s strengths. If there is a person you trust with this huge endeavor you want to take on then I strongly encourage you to bring them into the project. If having a legal contract makes you feel better about working with another person then write one up! Don’t let the fear of idea-clashing stop you from creating something beautiful with another person. The benefits outweigh the risks in my opinion!
08. Once it is published, continually be putting it out there in the world in fun and creative ways. People love supporting locals
Once the book started selling and we were getting a positive response from it I loved meeting with locals around Wyoming to promote it. Talking to people is a strength of both my mom and I though! Once you have released your product out into the world, be proud of that product and let everyone know about it. You would be amazed about who it really resonates with that you would have never suspected. We were asked by so many people to carry our book in their stores and it sold so well! Keep talking about what you do and be proud of it, and the rest will fall into place!
09. Use the people around you for their talent
Our illustrator, Sali Freese Allard, is related to Murphy. She had been painting the South Pass area since the 1970’s and already had several pieces of artwork we could use. It would have been silly not to ask her for this particular project. I know having an artist in the family isn’t the case for everyone, but start paying attention to the talents of the people around you and you’d be surprised at what you will find. It’s better to collaborate with people than do it all on your own.
10. Treat it like a business and put value on the product you just created
Before the book came out we had a rough idea of some things we would need to do to collect money, have online orders go through etc. We used Square.com to produce our free website and take payments for us. We also set up a separate bank account where money from Square could go. And now, it’s a business for both Ann and I. We update the bookkeeping monthly, reach out to vendors to restock copies, do the marketing, and sell it at different events around Wyoming.