by Francine Puckly
24 Carrot Writing welcomes picture book writer Donna Mae, author of MARSHMALLOWS GALORE (illustrated by Brandon Fall) and THE WOOLY ADVENTURES OF PURL (illustrated by Valeria Issa).
Thank you, Donna, for taking the time for this interview and congratulations on the release of your second book, THE WOOLY ADVENTURES OF PURL. Can you start off by telling our readers a little bit about the development of this story idea?
Certainly. The idea for the story blossomed while I was knitting. It’s a very focused and present-moment hobby, almost like meditation. I recalled how difficult knitting seemed when my Mom taught me. When I got the hang of it, I didn’t want to stop. I loved it. The idea of a little girl being obsessed with knitting (as most knitters can be) seemed like such a fun idea for a children’s book. So we see what happens when a little girl receives knitting needles and a pet lamb for her sixth birthday!
Why did you choose self-publishing over the traditional publishing route?
I am in the 6th decade of my life, and I knew getting traditionally published could be a lengthy process. Actually, someone at my critique group said she knew an older writer who wanted to get published but decided to do it herself because “she needed a book before she died”! It was funny but at the same time it resonated with me.
Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. What do you feel has been the key to your success as a self-published author?
People want to try self-publishing because they think it’s an easy road. Print on demand gets them on Amazon without a lot of out-of-pocket expenses. My intention, however, was to have a hardcover children’s book with jacket. I knew Barnes & Noble could pick it up if it was worthy and looked professional. On-demand sites only print paperback, so that was not an option for me.
I really believed that for me, taking fear and doubt out of the equation would make everything work smoothly. I took a whole visualization approach--I visualized my book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. Together with my intention as well as meeting the requirements, it has worked for me.
But self-publishing is not for everyone. You have to be willing to do the work. Staying open to possibilities is key. I think my thoughts and attitude jettisoned me through the process. One example is that this fall I was part of a vendor/craft fair at a school in Holden. My sales were so-so, but I looked at it in a positive way. I accepted the day and knew anything could come from it. One of the teachers from the school bought my books and loved them, and a week later I got an opportunity to showcase my book for an author visit! Put yourself out there. Don’t allow frustration to stop you. Keep a positive attitude. Believe in yourself.
How did the publishing process for THE WOOLY ADVENTURES OF PURL differ from that of MARSHMALLOWS GALORE?
I took the same steps with both my books, yet different illustrators and their expertise made each process unique. My first book, MARSHMALLOWS GALORE, was illustrated by Brandon Fall, an experienced, talented illustrator from Colorado. His work background had been in film illustration at Disney. He had illustrated many children’s books before mine and was able to give me some much-needed advice and direction. I learned about page turn and illustrating excitement and all about single- and double-page spreads. My second book, THE WOOLY ADVENTURES OF PURL, was illustrated by Valeria Issa, a young professional woman living in London. The language, of all things, created a little challenge. We did a lot of laughing as some of the terms we use are not translated the same in England versus the United States. Also, the five-hour time difference was a little tricky. Additionally, sending my books to print proved a different experience. When you, your illustrator, and the printing company are all on different time zones, it takes patience and persistence to get the product finalized.
How do you market your books? And do you have any marketing advice for other authors?
Out-of-the–box thinking is crucial. New and unique ideas for events and school visits make the difference. True, being shelved in Barnes & Noble has given me access to in-store readings and posted events, but the possibilities to market a book are endless. Here’s a short list of what I’ve done and would recommend:
You have to be creative and take risks if you want to succeed. Stay positive! Miracles happen in common hours!!!
How is your writing week structured? Do you set weekly writing goals or targets?
I take a very gentle approach to my writing and try not to beat myself up if I don’t meet a target goal. Meditating helps me focus and come up with story ideas. When I get ideas I write them down, and I revisit them often to see what might make more sense to me this time compared to last. I come up with ideas often. I write weekly. And I’m always working on the next project. Staying focused has become second nature. (Finally!)
You said in a recent radio interview that you had an epiphany in 2005 to “make your life work.” Can you tell us a little bit about how that impacted your life and your writing?
As a person, I was quiet and shy on the inside but a little loud and bold on the outside. My inside and outside didn’t match. My epiphany was the realization that my life needed fine-tuning. I needed to make my life work. I wasn’t sure what that meant but I was so filled with joy that I started writing. I wrote every day. I wrote sweet rhyming poems about my husband and my children and everything in between. I wrote a funny poem about the Red Sox and it got published. I wrote a poem for a famous roadside lobster shack in Maine and sent it to them. A year later, the senior editor at Downeast magazine emailed me to ask if they could put my poem in a book. It was at that moment I revisited an old dream of mine. A “knowing” that had been told to me when I was a young mother. “Someday you will write children’s books.” Just like that. I know it sounds crazy but that is exactly how it happened for me.
I joined SCBWI, read books on writing for children, read blogs and turned to social media to see what other authors were doing. I was welcomed into my critique group. I felt like a duck out of water but forced myself to keep at it no matter what. My new self was blossoming and I needed to find where it might take me. So, thanks girls for believing in me when I wasn’t sure I believed in myself!
I know that you are a member of SCBWI and participate in an SCBWI critique group. How does peer feedback factor into your writing process?
My peer feedback is essential to my writing. They offer up all their years of knowledge and expertise. So, from having zero books to self-publishing two children’s books, you can say they are my lifeline.
I get so much more than I can give. I’m still in awe of the fact that they have welcomed me into the group. We all come to this wondrous world of writing with many different backgrounds. Some have been writing for 10 years while others have been writing as far back as they can remember. But we all have something of value to offer.
Which picture book writers have inspired you and your creative work?
As a young mother reading to my own children, we loved Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, and anything that rhymed. For whatever reason, it’s rhyming that I write and love. It’s comfortable. It’s like putting a puzzle together—you have to make the pieces fit.
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
Read, read, read. Join SCBWI, go to conferences, listen and learn. Know that everyone has his/her own special voice in which to tell a story. But most of all, remember there’s room for everyone. Stay positive, work hard, believe in yourself and never look back!
Find out more about Donna Mae at www.donnamaeauthor.com.
Donna will be back later this spring to talk about book videos and trailers and other forms of book promotion. Check out her MARSHMALLOWS GALORE video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F7AMRRsRCc
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