Our guest has a lot of knowledge, information, and advice to share, so make sure you've got a snack (I'm offering homemade blueberry muffins today if anyone would like one... or two... :))
And now please join me in giving a warm welcome to the lovely Vivian Kirkfield!
First, a few words about Vivian for those of you who haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting her.
Vivian Kirkfield is a mother of three and an educator and author who lives in the Colorado Rockies. She's passionate about picture books, enjoys hiking and fly-fishing with her husband, loves reading, crafting and cooking with kids during school and library programs and shares tips and tactics for building self-esteem and literacy in her parenting workshops. To learn more about her mission to help every child become a reader and a lover of books, please visit herPositive Parental Participation blog or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vivian adds: for almost 50 years, I've been involved with the care and education of young children...teaching kindergarten and Head Start and operating a successful home daycare while raising three amazing children. Throughout my life, I've had a passion for picture books...I've always loved to listen to them, look at them and read them...and I've always wanted to write them. When my childen were young, I entertained them with stories I made up in my head...often scribbling little stick figures and pictures to accompany the tales. Several years ago, my daughter-in-law drew illustrations for one of those stories. Perhaps, one day, The Balloon Man, will be published. Thanks to Julie Hedlund's 12 x 12 Challenge and Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Book Friday, I've had one of the most joyous years of my life, giving free rein to the picture book ideas that tumble around in my head and connecting with an amazing kidlit community.
Now, on to the educational, informational, inspirational, so-sensational interview :) (I almost said the Muppet Show - where did that come from? :))
SLH: Good Morning, Vivian! Thank you so much for joining us today. Let's jump right in with the first question, shall we? Did you try the traditional publishing route? What was your experience?
VK: I started writing Show Me How! in 2005 and sent out several dozen one page letter and email queries to literary agents who, from looking at various lists (in books and online), seemed to be involved in parenting/activity books. I got back many nice no’s...and five or six positive responses. Each wanted to see a book proposal. I picked a husband and wife team with a small literary agency in Massachusetts...she said that was the type of book she specialized in. I won’t say our relationship was of no benefit to me...however, she did nothing by computer and so everything was a slow, snail-mail process. She had a specific book proposal format in mind and I spent 3 years, honing the proposal until it was “perfect” in her eyes. My husband wanted me to go elsewhere with the proposal...but I was so timid, I was unable to push myself to change...even though I was not happy with how the process was going. When the proposal was “perfect” she began “shopping it around”...again all communication was through the mail, although she was always available to me for phone calls...but because of my shyness, I wasn’t really comfortable talking to her on the phone. After a year of submitting the proposal to many publishers with no success, I decided to self-publish, a route my husband had pursued to do a second edition in 1999 of his book that had been published by Stackpole Press in 1986. In 2003, he also self-published a small paperback on a different topic, so we felt we had, at least, a little experience and some good contacts. When I sent the agent a letter, informing her of my decision, she replied that she thought that would be a great path for me to take. A WORD OF ADVICE: If you opt to have a literary agent represent you, make sure you feel very comfortable with the way he or she goes through the process and ask questions of anything you are unsure of.
SLH: What made you decide to pursue self-publishing?
VK: Well, part of that answer can be found in #1. In addition, traditional publishing these days is different from the way it used to be...now the author is expected to do his or her own marketing and promotion...unless of course your name is Sarah Palin or Barack Obama or Madonna. Also, there is the financial side to consider...when a traditional house publishes your book, you might get a small advance (unless you are Sarah Palin, Barack Obama or Madonna) and then a tiny piece of each book sold...after the advance amount is deducted from the first profits. When you self-publish, the book is yours and the profits are yours...after deducting your expenses to publish...and these can vary quite a bit, depending on whether you publish electronically or by print...and that can vary depending on who prints it and how many copies you have printed and the type of paper, whether color or black and white, binding, etc. A WORD OF ADVICE: Before making the decision to self-publish, find out how much it might cost and think about how much time you have to devote to the marketing and promoting of your book and also how you will market and promote it.
SLH: How did you go about self-publishing?
VK: As I mentioned in #1, my husband had already self-published two books, so we felt we had a relationship with the printer he had used. We had already set up a company (MoneyPenny Press, Ltd.) as an LLC (for that we had to get a lawyer to draw up papers...but a person could do it more easily and cheaply by being a sole proprietor...but that gets into legal issues which I am not qualified to say anything about) and so all we basically needed was the company that would print the books. I did go online to check out some of the ones that were available at that time and we felt that Jostens (the company that had done his books) offered the best prices...and we already trusted them. They are a nationwide company that does the class rings and class yearbooks...but they also have a small press business printing section. I called and they assigned me an account rep and she fielded the questions and concerns and would email me the answers. They were also very easy to speak with on the phone and were great to work with.
In addition, I got copies of John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Books and Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, as well as several other self-publishing books from the library...and read them cover to cover. There is also a wealth of knowledge and info available on the Internet now. A WORD OF ADVICE: Do your research and then ask others who have self-published before you make the final decisions about who will print your book or where you will electronically publish it...the choices are overwhelming...advice and info from someone who’s been there is priceless.
SLH: Did you hire an editor?
VK: I did not. :) My husband, son and sister all read the manuscript several times...my husband for technical corrections, my son for technical and word usage and word flow corrections (looking at it from the point of view of the age group of parents I was targeting) and my sister for technical, word usage, word flow and functionality corrections (looking at it from a mom’s point of view...she, by the way, suggested having pictures of the completed crafts and/or recipes...but it was too late for that...the next book in the series will definitely be much shorter and will include pictures, even if they are black and white photos for cost reasons). Then my daughter took on the job of formatting the manuscript with some input and advice from a friend who is VP and website guru at a small publishing company. His help was amazing...I should have taken him up on his offer to help me with my book website. A WORD OF ADVICE: Decide what you can do on your own...and what you can’t...and find the dollars to pay for what you can’t because it is so very important to put out a professional piece of work...especially something that is self-published.
SLH: How did you choose your illustrator? If you hired an illustrator did you have a contract? Did you have a lot of back and forth discussions?
VK: I was very lucky...my daughter-in-law is a fashion designer and she is very artistic. Andrea had already done some charming illustrations for a picture book I had written many years ago. (We never went ahead with publishing it...although I did send it to Random House...my niece had worked there years before but still knew someone who walked it over to one of the editors...I received a lovely personal letter that said it was a sweet book and encouraged me to pursue other publishing houses...however, I was involved with Show Me How at that time, so it sits in a drawer...maybe it’s time to dust it off. :)) My daughter-in-law drew the cover and also the images that appear on every page...so I didn’t have to worry about image rights.
SLH: Did you hire a cover designer?
VK: No, as I explained in #5, my daughter-in-law did the cover. The book recommends three activities that can help build self-esteem...reading, crafting and cooking. She borrowed photos of my own children when they were in the two to five-year old age range and she drew them in the cover picture...so Jason, the oldest who was always book-crazy, is the one reading the book, Peter (her husband), who loves to cook and is an amazing amateur chef, is stirring up the bowl of veggies and Caroline, my youngest who loves to craft and makes beautiful framed scrapbook-like pictures to give as gifts, is sitting with a bouquet of construction paper flowers. So for me, the cover is extremely meaningful. Because of Andrea’s artistic eye, it is also balanced and eye-catching. A WORD OF ADVICE: They say the cover is one of the most important elements of your book...and I believe it. If you have your book traditionally published, you have nothing to say about it. But, if you self-publish, your input should be important to whomever you hire...make sure it is a cover that would compel you to take the book off the shelf.
SLH: What formats is your book available in? Hardcover? Paperback? E-book? Print-on-demand? How did you get it into each format (e.g. if it's available on Kindle and Smashwords did you need different formats and were you able to get the book into those formats yourself or did you hire someone?)
VK: Show Me How is available in paperback. We did not do print-on-demand...Jostens is a traditional off-set printer...so the printing quality is great and their staff have quite a lot of experience. That said, even though I specified early on that I wanted the pages of the book to stay open when someone opened it and put it on the table, they used the wrong type of paper (short as opposed to long...or the other way around) and so the book snaps shut. They sent the first copy of the book in advance of the delivery of the order...and when I saw the problem, I called and they were amenable to giving me a discount...and free shipping. There is also a Kindle edition of the book which was converted from the word/pdf file into the Kindle format by the publishing friend of my daughter...for a reasonable fee...that was an area I was not willing to try myself. A WORD OF ADVICE: Do your research and know what you want and make it clear and put it in writing when contracting with anyone concerning your book.
SLH: How have you gone about marketing your book? What has been most successful?
VK: If only I had known...how often do we hear that? I took a “Build Book Buzz” course with Sandra Beckwith in the summer of 2010 and learned about the whole new world of book marketing and promotion. That course was one of the smartest things I did in this book journey...it helped me focus on what I needed to do and gave me many of the tools I would need to do it. But it couldn’t do it for me.
My book was published in September of 2010...I started my website and blog and Twitter and Facebook (personal page...still have not completed the page for Show Me How..why the resistance, I don’t know...I guess I’m not sure I am doing it correctly) in August of 2010. The internet can be an extremely valuable marketing tool...but you need to be established and have a following. If only I had known...I would have started years before. In addition, I believe it would have been better had I hired a professional web designer who understood the complexities of SEO optimization, keywords and the other elements that are important in having a successful website. Again, I opted for my daughter and daughter-in-law...both did a fantastic job...but neither was an expert in that...and both have full-time jobs...so after they set everything up, I took over and maintain everything myself. Although I’ve learned a great deal, I still have a long way to go.
As soon as my books were delivered:
· I put out a press release through PRWeb...this did get some buzz going...but I know that a press release program consists of multiple releases...at least one a month if one wants to get good publicity results and I was not able to fund a program like that.
· I began sending out copies to everyone who had done an endorsement. (I got quite a few wonderful endorsements by contacting authors and illustrators of the picture books recommended in Show Me How...they read the book and loved it...never be shy about asking for a testimonial if you are proud of what you wrote).
· I also began to connect with mom bloggers and others who I thought might be willing to read the book and review it. Over the last year and a half, there have been over three dozen reviews and guest posts.
· My attempt to connect with the media (local reporters, parenting section of the local newspaper) has had limited success.
· I contacted the volunteer department of our local school district and arranged to do a Show-Me-How Story-time with Miss Vivian program of reading and crafting in the kindergartens and Pre-K’s on a bi-weekly basis.
· I also contacted the local children’s librarian and have done several library story and craft programs.
· I walked into a few local bookstores (really hard for me because of my shyness) and was able to place my book in them. I also connected with a children’s boutique in Chicago (where my son lives) and was able to place the book there (and have done an event there as well).
· I contacted the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and was lucky enough to have them endorse the book and recommend it to their chapters as a great resource for families who have children with diabetes (one of the chapters bought 15 copies...but I never heard from any of the other chapters).
· I took part in several local events, paying for a booth in two of them (Fun Fest where I partnered with PBS and Festival of Trees where I partnered with the Ecumenical Social Ministries) where I crafted with children...at the PBS Kids Fun Fest last summer, over 200 children did crafts at the Show Me How table.
· I was interviewed on two blog radio programs.
· I entered Show Me How in the Indie Awards for Excellence in Books...and was a finalist in the Parenting/Family category.
· I respond to HARO queries (Help A Reporter Out) and Reporter Connection queries. These are free services (of course, their parent companies are each selling publicity packages) that send you an email every day or several times a day. In each email you will find queries from journalists, reporters, authors and others who are looking for experts in different fields. If you see a query that speaks to your expertise, you can answer it and hopefully, the journalist will want to use something you said. This, I have found, is great free publicity, especially for a non-fiction book like mine. Last December, I answered a query from a writer for Parenting Magazine. I was quoted in the lead article of the February issue and my book was mentioned. Before February, I had only sold a few copies of my book on Amazon. During the month of February, 65 copies sold on Amazon. I’ll be quoted again in an article in the September issue and also in Parents Magazine...not sure which month yet. This avenue of marketing does take a lot of time...and you have to be willing to write something of value to people who may not want it or need it...however, I’ve seen that it can work really well.
· I connected with Lexie Lane who runs www.Wikimommy.com, a site like Wikipedia, but specifically for moms. I’m the Portal Mom for the Children’s Portal and have contributed a dozen or more articles. Again, it’s a lot of writing...but hopefully, the exposure will pay off. At the very least, I know I am contributing articles that will be of value to parents who can easily access the website.
I’ve definitely tried a bunch of marketing avenues...probably too many! For me, the school/library programs, event booths, blog reviews and giveaways, books in bookstores, bookstore events and media coverage (a few articles in a small local paper) have provided a very poor sales result. The article in Parenting Magazine was by far the leading sales getter. A WORD OF ADVICE: Each of us has a particular comfort zone...some people love speaking in front of groups...others love social media. Check out the various ways you can market your book and pick the ones that you enjoy...and make sure you leave time in your day for your family and yourself...the blogging/social networking/school visits/etc. can wear you down...and the whole idea of it all is, after all, to enjoy what you are doing!
SLH: Do you do school/library visits or library/bookstore readings/signings? How have sales been in relation to those visits?
VK: As I mentioned in #8, I have done school visits (21 classroom presentations this school year and 24 last year and 3 PTA programs this year) plus 3 library programs and 6 bookstore events (and I work four days a week...now you know why I sometimes miss commenting on some of the PPBF posts). At every presentation and event, all the children and/or parents receive a printed flyer that has a short bio and contact info along with a sample book summary, craft project and recipe from the book and a bookmark that has a picture of my book cover, two endorsements from famous picture book authors (Clifford the Big Red Dog and Angelina Ballerina) and my contact info. I’m sorry to say that all those school presentations only resulted in less than half a dozen books sold...at one PTA meeting I sold 4 books, none at the library programs and only a few at the bookstore events, which are usually poorly attended. They say it is not the book...but the hook...that gets people to buy a copy. To be fair, I think when parents come to a library, school or kid’s event, they are not coming with the thought of buying a book...they are coming with the intention of enjoying a story or craft with their children. And I think that if the bookstore does not do a good job of getting the word out, the author needs to...the question is how? Before a story and craft event in August (geared to kids who would be starting school for the first time) at a local Family Christian Bookstore, I put up posters at the local Vitamin Cottage, Whole Foods and Sunflower Market (after obtaining permission from the managers of each store...another difficult hill to summit for a shy person) and tweeted about it and posted it in the online parenting calendar of the local newspaper...one person showed up from a town 40 miles away because she had seen it in that online calendar and had a daughter who was hesitant about going to kindergarten. I was thrilled to do the program for this child...and there were a few other kids who wandered over and took part...their parents were shopping in the store and made their way over when they were ready to leave...but I have to be honest and say the turnout was disappointing. If someone has the secret of how to publicize this type of event, I hope they will share it. :) A WORD OF ADVICE: They say it is important to plant the seed. If you want to get your book out there, you have to get out there with your book.
SLH: What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self-publishing?
VK: Self-publishing takes effort...and patience...and determination...and motivation...you need to do your homework...it takes some outlay of money...but the rewards can be wonderful. A WORD OF ADVICE: A support group is a necessary resource...whether it is family, friends and/or an online community.
SLH: Any particular pitfalls to avoid?
VK: As I said in the answers above, know what you want as far as type of book format...get recommendations for printers, PR companies, etc. from people who have done it already...put everything in writing (if you are paying out your money, you want to make sure you get what you pay for)...make sure your manuscript is word perfect (because there will only be a few mistakes instead of many when it has been checked over and over and over again and is word perfect). A WORD OF ADVICE: Before you sign anything, read it several times...and have someone you trust read it also. Don’t rush into anything...but don’t procrastinate either...your book won’t get out there unless you take a leap of faith!
SLH: Anything else you'd like to add?
VK: Authors who self-publish need to think about how they will price their book...you need to be competitive...but you need to make a profit. There are various formulas and templates you can find online and in printed material to guide you. From experience, I would say it is important not to overprice your book...the potential buyer who takes it off the shelf may experience sticker-shock. Unfortunately, I did that...but lowered the price as time went on and I got a better sense of what people were willing to pay. That said, it's also important not to underprice the book, as when you place the book in bookstores or other venues, they will want between 30% and 50% of the final sales price. When you list your book on Amazon, they also take a cut (I think it is 20%)...if you have your book listed on Amazon through their Fulfillment Program (they keep copies in their warehouse and they ship it out), their take is 55%. If you sell your book on your own website, using PayPal to enable purchasers to easily buy it, PayPal takes a small cut...a little more than 5%, I think.
Thank you so much for that wealth of information, Vivian! I'm sure I can speak for everyone when I say we have all learned so much!
If you'd like to find, visit, follow, like Vivian, you can find her here:
And now, you all have the opportunity to be the lucky person who wins a signed copy of Show Me How, a book that any teacher or parent will find invaluable, and that writers can use as a resource for great picture books! Just leave a comment telling why you'd like the book!
Thank you all for joining us for today's interview. I know it was long, but I hope you all found it as enlightening as I did