Guest Post: Indie Children’s Book Author Mike Sundy

Today I’ve got a guest post from indie children’s author Mike Sundy. 

Hi, I’m Mike Sundy and I’m an indie children’s book author. Jane asked me to blog about how I got started and what made me take the leap to pursuing writing full-time. I’ll also chat about how I started my own kids’ book company, make my own books, and handle the management/publicity work.

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Growing up, I lived all over the U.S. My Dad was an Air Force pilot so we moved a lot. That meant that my only constant friends were my siblings and books. I was just a reader until eighth grade, when I developed a huge crush on Mindy Jordan. We were studying poetry so I decided to write a cringe-worthy poem where I compared Mindy to a chrysanthemum. I enjoyed putting my feelings on paper so I wrote more bad poetry. I sent these love poems to Mindy, as only a naive junior high boy could. To my surprise and delight, she agreed to “go out” with me because of my poems. Of course, I had no idea how to actually talk to the most popular girl in school (or any girl), so our relationship lasted all of three days. But I had learned that writing could open doors.

I wrote more poetry throughout high school and college, but came from a practical family. So, I double-majored in Great Books and Computer Applications. I worked in various I.T. jobs in Silicon Valley for several years and tried to ignore the gnawing feeling in my soul that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do. My wonderful wife Tara became pregnant with our first child right before I was laid off. Those two things together caused me to take a step back and look at my career. I took an aptitude test and one of the jobs it said I was suited for was “playwright.” It was like getting permission to consider an impractical job. I decided to try screenwriting, thinking it was similar to playwriting but paid better so I could support my growing family. That was a long road and I’m still trying to break into screenwriting fourteen years later. But that was really the moment I set down the path of becoming a professional writer.

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I wrote script after script at night after the kids went to bed. My last I.T. job was at Pixar. Pixar was a wonderful place for me since they encouraged creativity and even had writing classes for their employees. Being burnt out on screenwriting, I decided to try a children’s book writing class with the effervescent Lissa Rovetch. I quickly learned that children’s books have their own craft. It turns out my background in screenwriting and poetry helped because children’s books are often brief, emotional, and visual. At last I had found a type of writing that really suited me.

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I wrote several children’s book manuscripts and talked to a few publishers. Everyone I spoke with was complimentary but said the books didn’t fit their slate. I had a publisher tell me my Part of My Heart manuscript was too simple and slight because it was shorter than a normal picture book. It was an understandable conventional reaction, but that’s all the story needed. I also worked with an editor on another story and did nine drafts of it, but each draft seemed to get the story further away from what I intended. When I workshopped it multiple times, everyone liked my original version better. I also found out that children’s book creators are typically paid very little and that it’s more of a passion project than a full-time career. And I talked to another friend who had run a traditional children’s publishing label – one of their books only sold a few hundred copies. I figured I could do that on my own, so why was I chasing the approval of a publisher?

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I decided to self-publish Part of My Heart and give it away for free. I partnered with Sansu, a Korean illustrator classmate, to illustrate the book since I felt her child-like and lyrical style would be a good fit. We made the book between the two of us with free tools and put it out on iBooks. It had a few hundred downloads at first, then trickled down to a couple of downloads per month. But then it made a Denmark iBooks store best free books list and downloads jumped up 10x overnight. Over the next few months it climbed higher and had another day where it hit the Top Ten Free books on the U.S. iBooks store. Downloads jumped another 10x overnight! The book that a publisher called “too simple and slight” now has over 37,000 downloads and 900 five-star reviews. It felt great to have readers respond to our work and some even confessed to crying.

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Emboldened by our experiment, I collaborated on a new picture book series with my brother Jonathan Sundy. He’s a talented character designer and we had been looking to do a book together. We retooled my abandoned concept called Disaster Cowboy and turned it into a tall tale picture book. Pancho Bandito and the Amarillo Armadillo hit #1 on the iBooks Kids store and #1 Hot New Release in its Amazon categories. Now I had proven to myself I could put out high-quality indie books and that people would even pay for them. The next step was a big gut check: I quit my cushy Pixar job.

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I left Pixar in February 2016 and have been writing full-time ever since. I started an indie kids’ book company called Legbug. Since leaving, we’ve published the next book in our series, Pancho Bandito and the Avocado Desperadoes. It was selected by Apple Editorial to be on their front page banner near huge authors like Raina Telgemeier and Dav Pilkey. We’re now working on the third Pancho Bandito book and I’m collaborating with another Pixar artist on a standalone book called Runaway House. Writing full-time has been very spiritually rewarding so far, if not that financially rewarding. I also still write screenplays and am working on my first middle-grade novel series.

Legbug_Logo_V1

Running a company has been a learning experience. Once we “finish” the book, the publishing and marketing side takes a few months. The publishing side includes things like proofing the colors of our paperback, tuning Amazon metadata keywords, preparing iBooks pre-orders, creating new backmatter pages, generating affiliate links, and dozens of other details. But the marketing takes even longer. It includes writing social media messages, communicating with our mailing list, running Facebook ads, doing podcast interviews, setting up giveaways, participating in book fairs, and contacting blogs. It’s fun but a flurry of activity that takes time away from more creative pursuits. But that’s the price of being an indie publishing company. It has been a long journey from writing lovesick adolescent poems to writing and publishing best-selling indie children’s books. But I get to write every day and spend more time with my kids. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

To check out our books or follow along with our indie kids’ book company blog, visit http://legbug.com.

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Mike!

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Guest Post: The Freelance Life with Alex Hallatt

Hello Rainy City Librarian readers.

Jane kindly invited me to write a little about my experiences as a freelance cartoonist/writer, so here goes….

I’m writing this in the rainy country in which I grew up – England. My parents still live here, in a thatched cottage in Briantspuddle, in the Piddle Valley (where the River Piddle runs), in real Thomas Hardy country – Dorset. I love to visit in September, when the sea is still warm, the leaves are still hanging onto the trees in the forest and the garden is full of treasures like tomatoes, courgettes (zucchini to you), raspberries and apples. It’s also the perfect place to go for walks and come up with ideas.
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Before we moved to Dorset, I lived in other parts of the West Country. I loved my home life, but hated school, where I didn’t make great friends. Coming home from school and drawing, reading, or writing was what I loved the best. All kids love drawing, but I was inspired by the comics and comic books I read to continue drawing and writing beyond the point most kids give up. I was given a Peanuts collection at the age of six and it was fantastic to see how a few words and simple drawings could create a whole world you could escape into.

We moved to Briantspuddle when I was 13 and I found my friends: other geeky kids who loved to write comics, or talk about books (Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy was my favourite book then). I continued drawing comics at University, where I studied Biochemistry. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the nerve to forge a career as a cartoonist back then, and I ended up spending 7 years working in the pharmaceutical industry. In the end, the stress of being a round peg in a square hole got to me and I quit my job, moved out of London to the South Coast and got a job as a cartoonist for a local paper in Brighton (Tomboy was the first panel I drew). That was 1999 and I’ve been a full-time freelance cartoonist ever since.

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In 2003, I downshifted even further to New Zealand. The internet meant I could live anywhere and after 5 years in NZ, my partner, dog and I moved to Melbourne, Australia for a few years, then back to the UK for a couple and then to Spain (where we are living for two years to learn Spanish). In the midst of that, my daily comic strip, Arctic Circle was syndicated by King Features and I’ve been drawing that for newspapers worldwide for 9 years.
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I draw a webcomic that wouldn’t be able to run in most newspapers, as comics that run in most newspapers have to adhere to “family-friendly” standards that seem to be stuck in the 1950s (you can’t even say “that sucks!” in a syndicated cartoon.). Human Cull appears on GoComics. It’s a tongue-in-cheek cartoon about making the world a better place by removing the really annoying people.

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GoComics is part of Andrews McMeel Universal, which also owns Andrews McMeel Publishing (AMP). When AMP contacted GoComics cartoonists to solicit middle grade book proposals, I was keen to send them something. I’ve written a lot for that age group (including my comic, Jack & Joni’s Time-Travelling Shed, which appears in a science magazine for children in Australia.) and I had an idea that had been knocking around in my subconscious for a while (my subconscious does all the heavy lifting in my work).

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I wrote a proposal for FAB (Friends Against Bullying) Club, the book I would have liked to escape into as a kid. The editors at AMP loved the writing, art and central character, but they wanted significant changes to other parts of the book. I made some changes, but I knew that if I made others (e.g.. taking out the involvement of the police at the end of the book, because of recent police killings of kids in the US), it would change the book in ways I wouldn’t like. FAB Club was too important to me to be diluted via conventional publishing, so I went the self-publishing route. I tested the first draft of the book on some 8 and 9 year olds and made a lot of changes to make it more readable. Then I had the book professionally edited and sent the final draft to advance readers for my “crowd edit”. The book evolved to become the best thing I’ve ever done. With a lot of help.

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If you want to find out more about FAB Club, or my other work, you can go to alexhallatt.com.

Thanks for reading and have fun!

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Alex
PS. I’ve attached a picture of me and Billie at work!

Guest Post: Bibliotherapy with Carolyn Dibb, M.Ed.

Please welcome today’s very special guest, children’s book writer and lover (and fellow Canadian) Carolyn Dibb, M.Ed.

Biblio-­‐what?? A conversation about kids, books and healing

As I walk onto the grounds of my daughter’s elementary school this September, I see kids in such different and varying states. Some are ecstatically greeting friends they haven’t seen all summer. In one corner of the field, a game of soccer starts up with a mostly deflated ball. Some children stand quietly beside a parent, uncertain. Others are crying, not sure they can cope with the day that lies ahead. It’s easy to think kids are all alike, but truthfully they are individuals each equipped with their own personalities, temperaments, strengths and challenges. I often wish I had a stash of books on me that I could give to the kids who are feeling a little out of sorts. Something to bolster their spirits, let them know how they are feeling is normal and that they are going to be okay.

I guess I have been a bibliotherapist in the making for quite a while. Probably, since my grade school librarian recommended a book with a character that I could relate to. A whole bunch of reading and a master’s degree later, I still think the right book at the right time can be a very powerful experience. I see the potential for it almost everywhere.

Bibliotherapy

What the heck is bibliotherapy? A question I get asked a lot! Basically it is helping through books. There are two main types:

  • Clinical Bibliotherapy: You will often see this when a therapist or doctor gives a client “homework” or books to read. Here they are usually tackling a significant emotional or behavioral issue. Frequently, these are non-fiction books.
  • Developmental Bibliotherapy: This one you are probably more familiar with! Teachers, librarians or parents read books to facilitate normal development and self-actualization with an essentially healthy population. Often these books are works of fiction.

Why does it work?

Kids have a knack for clamming up about their troubles. They don’t want to feel different, or be seen as struggling. They just want to fit in, do well, and have fun. Books can be that indirect way to start conversations that feel less threatening to a child.

In my opinion, books can help us feel normal and understood, which is super important to kids. They can give us inspiration, humour, a different perspective, and sometimes bolster courage. I often encourage kids to borrow bravery from one of their favorite characters if they feel uncertain in a new situation.

How do I do it?

In all honesty, you probably already naturally know how to do developmental bibliotherapy. You are feeling blue, or having a bad day, and you reach for a book with a story you know will lift your spirits.

When working with kids, bibliotherapy is really a springboard for discussion. After reading the book, let the child tell you what they think the story is about. Ask a few questions about it, but generally let the child lead the conversation. It is powerful to know you are not alone in your struggles. Sometimes, it is enough to know that there are others on a path similar to the one you are on now and many who have walked it before you. Reading books to children about other people’s challenges is also an excellent way to facilitate empathy.

Resources

If you notice your child is struggling with a particular issue, go talk to your local librarian. They can offer excellent suggestions on reading material for someone of any age!

Book club for kids:

Girls Leadership is a company focused on empowering girls. They have all the resources you will need to start a book club with parents and their girls. They even have the discussion questions prepared. It’s free and you can check them out at: http://girlsleadership.org/resources/book-­‐club-­‐sign-­‐up-­‐form/

The publisher Penguin Books has some a whole section dedicated to books for boys. They have some good suggestions on starting up a book club for boys. http://www.penguin.com/static/packages/us/yreaders/books4boys/index.php

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is an excellent resource. They have created book lists for kids dealing with specific areas like death, school, separation etc. http://www.carnegielibrary.org/kids-­‐teens/parents-­‐and-­‐educators/

Lastly, thank you to Jane the Raincity Librarian for letting me take up space on her page! It’s time for me to go crack open a book. Happy Fall reading!

Carolyn Dibb, M.Ed. (www.carolyndibb.com)

natalie