Sunday, November 1, 2020

A Very Corona Christmas: Santa Stays Home

One Crazy Year


This has been a crazy year. Nevertheless, I have been amazed by how differently everyone has been experiencing it. I know a lot of people who have complained this year that nothing has happened. No vacations. No conferences. No nothing (I apologize, but sometimes a double negative just sounds appropriate). However, I feel like just the opposite is true. Yes, we haven't gone on holiday. Yes, I wasn't at any events. But, yes, this year everything has been different. Although many of these things have been stressful for me, they have also pushed me to see things from a different perspective. 

What Would Santa Do?

One morning while talking with my children about Christmas, I began to think about what Santa would be feeling and seeing this year. So together with my children, we brainstormed what life would be like at the North Pole in the midst of such a chaotic year. It was fascinating to hear the children's perspective of how Santa would react to the Covid19 epidemic. Of course, they were worried about Santa's safety. He's rather old, and children know already that it would not be good for an elderly person to get the coronavirus. In addition, my kids expected that a lot of the same things that they experience, must happen at the North Pole, too.

Elves watching kids
on Zoom

Soon, it was clear to me that there was a story to be told. How would Christmas look this year for Santa? I sat down at my computer and didn't leave until I hadn't written the entire text to A Very Corona Christmas. Every few minutes one of my children would come in and ask me if I was finished. I would have to read to them how far I was and then they gave me their input on what I had already written. Soon, I got a lot of, "Mom, you have to add this..." and "Don't forget to add this..." I also got critique now and then, too. If it weren't for my kids, this story would have never happened. Once again, I am thankful for their inspiration and great ideas.

Santa baking bread
during lockdown

A Very Corona Christmas


Once my story was done, I sat back and thought about what I wanted to do next. I realized that this book should be published. Children this year really need something to look forward to. They deserve to have a great Christmas. A Very Corona Christmas would be perfect to remind kids that Santa would never let them down, even during a pandemic. Nevertheless, I needed illustrations. It was already mid-October. I knew, I would need to have the entire project finished in about 7-10 days. I honestly didn't know if that would even be possible. The illustrations for Little Jack Thomson's Magnificent Brain took me most of a year. Was I crazy to try to illustrate a book in a week? 

Santa-tizer on
Santa's new sleigh
I decided that I was going to at least try. I started sketching. Then I googled Santas and elves and sketched some more. I looked at some other illustrators that I really enjoy. I love Laura Numeroff's books, such as If you Give A Mouse a Cookie, and how the illustrations pop out of the white background. I also enjoy Benji Davies characters and their simplicity. Personally, I also think that good illustrations tell a story that the text cannot tell by itself and have little jokes that only adults might understand (as long as they are child-friendly, of course). David Shannon is a perfect example of this. Although I have a tendency to get too detailed, I really concentrated this time on trying to make the illustrations simple and not to over-think. I knew I didn't have much time and I wanted the story to shine through. 
Santa reading a
letter from the President

9 exhausting days later, my book was finished. I hit the publish button and off it was sent to the big library in the clouds. This time I even surprised myself. I hadn't realized that I was capable of writing, illustrating, and publishing a book in 8 days. This year has been crazy and has pushed me in a way that I didn't know was possible. Life is short. There is no time to waste. If you have an idea, it's time to make it happen.

A Very Corona Christmas is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.





 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

A Pandemic Silver-lining

How Writing a Covid19 Children’s Book 

Changed the Way I Publish

February was not a good month to be sick with a cough. Nevertheless, I had one and it ended up being one of the worst colds of my entire life. At the time, Covid19 was just becoming an issue and my continual coughing caused more fear than sympathy. Therefore, I went into lockdown before it ever became a bad word. Then my kids came down with my colds, homeschooling began, and questions about this mysterious virus began to get real. It was impossible to keep the kids in the dark. They began to worry and their questions became harder and harder to answer. Will we get to go back to school? When can we see our friends? Why can’t grandma visit? Is grandma going to die? Will you die? Can I die? These are not easy questions to answer, especially when no one really knew that much about Covid19.

Lockdown Inspiration

One afternoon while playing around with torn construction paper, I suddenly realized an easy way to explain to my six year old about the virus. Just as many of my stories come to me out of the blue and overtake my thought processes, this one wouldn’t let go. The story of a happy, carefree green line whose life changes suddenly when one day some of the orange and purple lines in her town begin to turn crooked. I began tearing paper, scanning it in, and writing down the story that had appeared in my head. Within 24 hours, I had assembled the beginning of a book which would end up becoming one of the most popular children’s books about the coronavirus. I called it TheDay the Lines Changed. 

My Advantage

By early March stories about the notorious coronavirus began to arrive from all corners of the globe. I began to realize that the story that I had written to console my boys had marketing potential. Large publishers need months to years to bring out a story as they require the collaboration of various people from book designers and illustrators to marketing experts. As someone who had already self-published a couple of children’s books and done my own writing, illustrating, and book design, I realized an opportunity. I quickly got to work. My last book had taken a year to write and illustrate. Nevertheless, within a week I had published the first draft of The Day the Lines Changed on Amazon. I decided to give the first two months earnings (March and April) to local charities which support children’s mental health. After April, I figured if the book was still making some money, I could use the extra cash to pay off my Master’s degree. At the time, I thought I would be lucky if I sold a couple hundred books and I never imagined that the pandemic would get so out of hand.

Learning by Doing

Unlike most children’s books, coronavirus children’s books were an absolutely new idea. I began to look on Amazon everyday. I would type in “coronavirus children’s books” or “pandemic picture books” and see which books continually came up. I began to get to know the competition, which grew by the day. Quickly I began to see why some books sold more than others. The cover looked more professional, you could look inside the book and read the story, the idea was great, or the blurb especially appealing. I began tweaking my story. I improved the cover. I improved my blurb. I increased the look inside function to 70% so that people could read my story. I made a story-time video on Youtube. I began to advertise and post on social media. I started doing interviews. I learned basic analytics. Soon, my numbers began to improve. 

I also decided to contact other authors of coronavirus children’s books. I looked at who was in the top ten and I sent them each a letter. I introduced myself and asked them why they wrote their book and their story. Soon, I began to see a trend. We were mothers, teachers, and all had some artistic experience. In addition, we were all privileged enough to be able to have had the time to do what we did. Writing, illustrating, book design, and marketing all take precious time and usually amount to little income. None of us had a traditional book contract, but we all had the ambition to venture into the unknown. We had all decided that the benefits outweighed the risks. Interestingly enough, for many of my colleagues, this was the first book that they had ever self-published.

As Covid19 began to really hit the US hard, teachers all over began to talk on social media about what they were going to do when they went back to school. Having worked as an educator for many years, I knew I could help out. I used my research to write an article on my blog The Best Coronavirus Children’s Booksfor back to school. I began to receive more emails from teachers wanting to use my lesson plans in their class. More than any newspaper article or interview, social media post or podcast, word of mouth about my book began to fuel sales. By August I began to sell 40 books a day and at its peak, I was selling well over a hundred. In September, The Day the Lines Changed was featured in the Washington Post as one of the top coronavirus children’s books on the market and had made over 10,000 dollars. My book had gone further than I had ever imagined possible.

Moving Forwards

Publishing a coronavirus children’s book has taught me more in 6 months about publishing than all of the writing classes and seminars I’ve been to in my lifetime. A book is so much more than its text. When I wrote The Day the Lines Changed, I didn’t know what would happen. But, I knew that if I didn’t take a chance I would never know what could happen. The worst case scenario was that my book would fail. I was willing to accept that. It is only after you have accepted that you can handle the worst case scenario that you can begin to look at how you can achieve the best. At that point, you can only move forwards. Thank goodness I did.


For more info on The Day the Lines ChangedKelleyDonner.com

Monday, October 5, 2020

How to Make a Realistic Island Model

This past weekend we had the most dreary weather imaginable - cold, wind, and drizzle all day long, perfect weather for getting creative. My ten year old son had an assignment for school to create a realistic model of an actual island. This couldn't be a made up island, it had to be an actual replica, so we decided to take on the challenge. Everything in the island was made made from stuff we found around the house including cardboard, aluminum foil, sponges, glue, Modpodge, and paint.

My son loves Jurassic Park and wanted to do Isle Nublar even though it is not an actual island. Therefore, after much discussion, we decided that making a replica of the big island of Hawaii, where most of the film was shot, was the next best thing. After explaining to him that we could not make the model as big as our kitchen table, we compromised on making a replica about as big as a piece of A3 paper. 

All three of my boys got really into this project and helped out. In the end, they were all really proud of their work and thought that their island looked about as real as it could get it. I was very impressed. If you want to make one of your own, here's how.





How to Make Your Island

Step 1: Making the base

We began by looking through images on Google for pictures of Hawaii. We finally found a topographical map of the island and printed it out at the size we wanted.Then we cut out a few of the main layers from the page and used them as patterns for cardboard cut-outs. For the mountain peaks, we crumbled up aluminum foil.

For the water, we used a base of cardboard.  Don't forget to trace the area in the middle where the island will go later. Then glue rolls of aluminum foil to make waves and hot glue them onto the base. Try to make the waves look as if they are crashing toward the island. When you have made enough, take another piece of aluminum foil and press it over the entire base.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

How to Add Reflective Tape to Kids' Coats and Jackets

When it comes to children's clothing, there are a few things I just don't understand. Like why aren't double knees mandatory in jeans for children under 6? Even if it's popular, whose great idea was it to make skinny jeans for toddlers? And finally, why are reflectors not mandatory on all jackets and coats for children? They are a must so that cars can see your children with enough time to stop.

Soon will come the days when I pick my children up from school in the dark. So once again, I had to go online and buy a roll of reflective tape and no-iron bonding tape. This time I bought a large roll (a few yards) as I realized that none of my kid's jackets had reflecting bits on the back and I didn't want to have to buy more again next year.

How to Add Reflective Tape

If you want to add reflectors to your children's coats, it's not difficult.  All you need to do is cut a piece of reflective tape. Then stick the double-sided bonding tape on all the edges, peel off the other side and stick to your coat. I wash my coats quite often and so far washing has never caused the reflectors to come off (Children picking at the edges with fingernails is a different story).

Do not buy the iron-on reflectors or the iron-on bonding tape. Most jackets are synthetic and cannot take the heat needed to correctly adhere the tape. Your reflectors will peel off. 

I don't know if anyone will be trick-or-treating this year, but if you are out and about with little ones, stay safe. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Ready to Self-Publish Your Children's Book? Read This First.


Self-Publishing Tips Children's Book - Kelley Donner
Self-publishing is not as ‘easy’ as it's cracked up to be. Sure, theoretically anyone can do it. But, just because it's easy
 to put your book online does not mean that you should or even that it will make you any money. The reality of self-publishing is that it is a very tough business, especially on Amazon. You are going against big publishers who have a ton of experience putting their books on the market. How will you make sure that your book stands out? 

8 Things I Have Learned Self-Publishing


1. Have Reasonable Expectations

Too many people make the mistake of thinking that if you put a book on Amazon it will sell itself. The reality is that your book is one book in a vast library of over 8,000,000 books. If you do not advertise your book, you will not sell a single copy and no one will know it exists. Just because you sneaked your book into the largest public library in the world, does not mean that anyone will find it. If you are not worried about sales, go to point two. If you would like to make some actual cash, then you will need to make an advertising plan and consider how much money you want to spend. Most newbies do not sell more than a few hundred books. If you would like to make more than that, you will need to do a lot of work researching the best ways to market your book to your niche

2. Don't Rush It

Most authors spend months to years perfecting a book before they bring it to press. If you have only spent a couple of weeks, your book is nowhere near finished. Join a critique group, have other authors read your work, or pay for an editor to help you out.  Even bestselling authors send their texts to editors to be improved and this process often takes longer than writing itself. My tip. Edit. Edit. Edit.

3. Reflect on Your Illustrations

How do your illustrations compare to other books on the market? When your washing machine breaks down, you hire a repair person who is an expert to fix it. Your illustrator should be an expert, too. Illustrators work hard at their craft and should be paid for their expertise. If you think minimum wage is reasonable, your book will look minimum, too. This is why traditional publishers have their own in house illustrators who they know are experts in their field. If you want to sell lots of books and you are not an artist, do not do your own illustrations. Also, finish all of your editing before you find an illustrator. 

3. Show Your Book to Strangers

Your family and friends will always say your book is great. They love you and don't want to hurt your feelings. You need to find people who do not know you who are willing to read your book. Join a local writers group. Go to your local library and ask your librarian if she knows of any people who would be willing to anonymously critique your book or mentor you. Ask if you can read your book for story-time and see how children react to your book.

4.  Spend Time Coming Up with a Superb Title

First and foremost, your book needs a good title. This should not just sound good, but should also explain to those who do not know you or your book what they are going to expect when they read it. Also, make sure that your title does not sound scary, does not have any negative connotations, and is free from anything that could be considered controversial. A good title stands alone. In addition, look up your title on Google and Amazon and see what other books and products have similar names. This is an important step that shouldn't be forgotten as once your title is uploaded, it is almost impossible to change.

5. Your Cover is More Important Than Your Book

When people see a link or advertisement to your book, the first thing they will do is look at the cover and read the title. Often this is only a tiny thumbnail image on a mobile phone. If the title is illegible or does not catch their attention, they will not even read your blurb and they will definitely not buy your book. Your cover should tell us about what we will expect in the book. If you are doing your own cover, take time to look at other popular books in your genre to see how a good cover looks. A cover is not just an image and a title, its layout, typeface, and understanding industry standards. Zoom out until your image is very small and see if it still works. My advice is to only do your own cover if you have experience in book or graphic design. Unfortunately, you can usually always spot a first time author by the cover of their book. A good cover sells a book because you only get one chance to make a first impression. 

6. Write a Great Blurb

Amazon, for example, only shows the first 2-3 sentences of your blurb and then writes 'more...' You need to catch people's attention in those first few sentences so that they click on either the 'more' button or buy your book. Hook your reader. Tell them why your book is so great and give them a taste as to what your book is about. While putting together my Best Coronavirus Children's Books blog post, I looked at hundreds of product pages and the majority of pages I saw were from first time authors.  Many, were teachers, parents, and medical workers who decided to try to break into the children's book market for the first time. Although some of the newcomers surprised me with their concepts, ingenuity, and talent, others had absolutely no idea what they were doing. Nowhere in your blurb, for example, should you put yourself down and say that you are not a professional writer or illustrator. This may be true, but keep that information to yourself. If you are a teacher, than promote yourself with your experience working with children. If you are a parent, use that. And, don't forget to write in the third person. 

6. Research Your Categories

When you upload to KDP you are allowed to pick two categories for your book. Normally, these are general categories. If you want your book to be a bestseller, you will need to do some research. Most of the 'bestselling new releases' are in categories you probably didn't even know exist. Find other books in your market, see what categories they are in, and add your book to the categories with the least amount of competition (that of course still represent your book).  

7. Use the Look Inside Function

When I went researching coronavirus children's books, I was amazed at how little information authors give about their books. I rarely buy a book just based on the cover. Although I will buy a fiction book based on the blurb, for a children's book I need to be able to look inside. If I don't know what your book is about, why should I buy it? Write to Amazon and have them set the 'Look Inside' feature to at least 50%. You want people to read your book and get hooked. Tell people in the blurb what your book is about and why you wrote it. The more info, the better. My bestselling book The Day the Lines Changed can actually be read in its entirety on my website. So far this transparency has actually improved my sales. 

8. Don't Stop Now

 In order to be successful as a self-publisher, you do need to research what you are doing and treat it like a business. Begin researching how to advertise your book to your niche. This is different for every author. Think of why your book is newsworthy and hit up local media. Call your local paper and television station. If you really want to make it in self-publishing, you will need to have more than just one book. Like many, I didn't begin really earning money until my fourth or fifth book. It takes time to get to know the industry. If you are serious about publishing children's books as more than just a hobby, join the Society of Children's Book Writer and Illustrators. They offer invaluable courses on how to write and illustrate, critique groups, and have chapters all over the world. I would never have gotten to where I am if I hadn't joined this wonderful group of people.

I hope these tips help to get you started. Good luck! If you have any questions, add them to the comments and I'll try to answer them as soon as I can. You'll find more information about A Little Donnerwetter Books and my current projects on my author website at KelleyDonner.com.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Blog Tip: The Toy Whisperer

This week I discovered The Toy Whisperer, a website from Rene Yapp, a blogger from Canada. I especially enjoyed her post called "Are we there, yet? When will this be over?"  where she discusses some valuable tips for parents about how to handle their children's fears about the pandemic and lists various resources and children's books which are great for handling the situation. 

The Toy Whisperer has a lot of fantastic posts including current issues such as  coronavirus fatigue in children and how to deal with children's emotions and anxiety about going back to school.  In addition, if you are looking for the right toys for your child, The Toy Whisperer has a huge list all chosen from an educator's perspective.  

Toywhisperer.blog

Monday, August 10, 2020

Back to School Giveaway

Back to School Giveaway
Maybe it's one of my quirks, but if I like a book, I often write the author. Of course, not everyone writes me back, but you'd be amazed how many do.Therefore, in the past few weeks, I have gotten to know some of the other writers and illustrators of the best coronavirus children's books on Amazon. 

I have been happily surprised to find that most of them are mothers, teachers, and absolutely wonderful people. Four of them and I have gotten together to do a giveaway. If you would like to take part, you have the possibility of winning all five of these great books.

Earth Takes A Break by Emily House 

The Day the Lines Changed by Kelley Donner

School Coronavirus Do’s and Don’ts by Adrienne Barber

Not Forever But For Now by Heather Malley 

Ben Builds A Friendship by Dorothea Laurence (author of Paula and the Pandemic)

To enter, just head on down to Instagram to @alittledonnerwetter and you'll find all of the instructions. They're pretty simple. Contest runs until August 14, 2020. Good luck!