What are your books about & what message are you trying to share through your children’s books?
Dawn The Deer & Dawn The Deer Enjoys The Fall are glimpses into what a quiet, peaceful little doe experiences in her day in the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate NY. Colors, creatures, sights, sounds and smells are all around her, and she stops to enjoy them all. If I could convey any message with my children’s books it would be to do as our friend Dawn does: to stop, if only for a moment, and enjoy your day. Take in all the wonderful things around you. The way the sky looks at the moment the sun hits the horizon during a sunset, the way wet leaves smell on a wooded trail in October, the crunch of fresh fallen snow under your feet in the winter. There is so much to enjoy in every new day.
What inspired you to write?
I guess you could say it was Dawn herself. Everyday my family and I would see her out and about in our neighborhood and on one particularly beautiful July morning, while enjoying a cup of coffee on my porch with my wife, I said,”Ya know, that deer is around so much we should probably name her.” My wife then said, “I’ve been calling her Dawn as I always see her around in the morning.” I said, “Dawn The Deer, that sounds like a perfect name for a children’s book!” After a few more minutes of watching her it hit me, . . . I could write a children’s book about all of the things that Dawn sees or does in any given summer day. From there, the story pretty much wrote itself as I just put to rhyme all that I saw her experiencing. The birds, the squirrels, the children playing nearby, the ravens, all of them were going about their day and Dawn was taking it all in.
What have been the challenges you’ve faced with writing / self-publishing?
My first challenge was finding the right artist to illustrate my stories. In an effort to keep it simple I tried modifying photos I had taken in PhotoShop but was not able to get them dialed in. I asked a friend who had done some cartoons in the past if he would be interested but he wasn’t able to get me what I wanted either. It was then I thought about approaching the art department at the college I work at to see if maybe there was a student who was proficient in watercolor artwork who needed a project to work on for classwork. The director of our art department put me in contact with Crystal Cochell, a senior at the time, who had recently done a watercolor map of the college campus. As soon as I saw her watercolor work I knew she would be the perfect illustrator for my children’s books. We met a few times to go over my vision for the artwork and before I knew it, she had proofs for me to approve and we were off and running.
[A note from Lulu: If you’re an author struggling to find a cover design, let us help. We sell custom cover design services.]
Aside from that I think the biggest challenge with self-publishing would be the fact that you also have to self-market your work. To maximize my efforts I try to market directly to my target demographic. You have to really know your audience and then think of creative ways to get your info to them. Having had two kids come up through pre-school, daycare, and kindergarten I already had a pretty good network of people to connect with. I combined that with a list of folks I had worked with over the years who also had young children or who may know others with kids who might like to know about my books. On top of that I’ve tried to leverage the power of social media via the Google+ platform, as well as creating posters, flyers, and ads that, in addition to actually printing hard copies, I send them out through GMAIL, Google+ and post on my personal website.
What made you decide to translate your book into several languages and how did you determine which languages were best?
A vice president at the college I work heard that I was putting together a children’s book and approached me in regards to an opportunity that he had with a not-for-profit literacy program. His not-for-profit has a partnership with a migrant farm worker program in New York State which apparently is always in need of children’s books that were in languages other than English. He was the one who initially asked if I could get my product(s) translated and specifically asked for Vietnamese, Spanish, and Laotian as he had an immediate need for those. I started looking to co-workers in our college’s Global Studies Department to see if anyone was willing to translate my book(s) and what languages were possible. Happily, in addition to co-workers, I was able to make connections with some of our international students. Now the additional languages in which my book is available are: Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian, and Spanish. The Spanish version was actually translated by the President of the college at which I work (he is originally from Venezuela). German, Norwegian and Swedish translations are in the works.
Have you seen good results from your translated versions? If so, how have you gone about marketing your book in other languages?
The migrant farm worker deal is still being finalized but surprisingly my non-English titles make up about 1% of my current sales. I haven’t been terribly aggressive with marketing the non-English titles so I attribute any sales to be from people who were associated with the translations. I know that some of the people who helped me out have told family and friends about my books and they have purchased books for loved ones back in their home countries. The dean of our China programs also took some as gifts to some of our partners in China the last time she went for a visit. Our own campus book store has expressed interest in carrying the non-English titles as well, saying that outside of the required texts they sell to students, children’s books sell the best, especially during family weekends and alumni events.
What have been some of the high points in your experience as a writer?
Honestly, the overwhelming support and acceptance by people other than family and friends has just been amazing. When I came up with the idea for Dawn The Deer it was the kind of idea that you have floating around in your head for a bit and eventually it becomes a project that you want to actually see come to fruition. It seemed like such an obvious and tangible product that I wanted a completed version in my hands that I could give to my daughter and hear her say, “Wow Dad, that is really cool!” Now, perfect strangers are recognizing the “Enjoy Your Day” message that my Dawn The Deer books instill and are sharing it with their loved ones and others. Crystal and I have been asked numerous times to sign copies of the books, and we recently conducted a reading and craft activity where after reading both Dawn The Deer books to a room full of early readers we had them think of their favorite animal and a name for it and then had them create their own book cover design with guidance from expert artist and illustrator, Crystal. It was a great feeling to have people come out with their little ones to hear my stories. Seeing early readers get engaged and jump around with excitement while naming the different animals that they saw in the pages of my books was a really rewarding experience. As we were packing up to leave the reading a little boy named Liam, who had recently turned five, came over and very quietly and politely said, “Thank you for reading your books to us today.” What more can you ask for?
Tell us about your upcoming expedition and your involvement with the American Cancer Society.
In February of 2013 I will fly to Africa to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest freestanding mountain (19,341′), and Mt. Meru, its “Little Sister” (14,997′) as part of a Journeys of Inspiration expedition. This is an annual event out of Rochester, NY that, since 2008, has raised over $400,000 for the American Cancer Society. In addition to training like mad (thanks to thousands of miles of biking and hundreds of miles of hiking, I’ve lost 70lbs in preparation for this trip), I’ve also had to raise $10,000 in order to participate. To help meet the financial commitments for this trip I have been collecting money from performances I do with my acoustic rock trio as well as using proceeds from books sales. With only a few months to go until I leave I am thrilled to report that I have met all of my physical and financial goals and my Lulu book sales are part of the reason for doing so.
Anything else you’d like to share? Advice for authors?
- First and foremost, if anyone is thinking about producing an original project they should absolutely use Lulu. I was blown away at how easy the process was and even more impressed with how professional the final products were. In addition when I had questions about options during project creation I found the customer service department to be very knowledgeable and in no way dismissive. I was immediately put in contact with someone who was understanding and accommodating while using the online help chat. It was nice not to be treated as just a number.
- My advice to anyone looking to have their books translated would be to look into your local college or university to see what opportunities could be leveraged there. While professional translation services are available I believe the networking benefits that come from collaborating on a multi-lingual project are extremely helpful in getting more people talking about your works.
- Use any and all social media outlets you can get yourself out on. I am always surprised by the people who find out about me and my projects and more so by the medium they do so on. I personally love the networking and collaboration opportunities that the Google suite of products offers when combined with the power and ease of the professional products that Lulu can provide.
- Get your products associated with a charitable cause in your area. Whether it is a sports team fundraiser for your child’s school or a community pulling together to help out a senior care facility, people will buy your products if they trust that you will be putting some or all of the proceeds to a good cause.
- If you are trying to get your children’s book noticed be sure to inform as many daycare centers and pre-school facilities as you can. I’ve also reached out to local pediatricians offices and local bookstores in an attempt to get my books in front of as many children as possible. Depending on the target age of your product you could also try the school and public libraries in your area. After that readings and reading related activities may be possible.
- Finally, enjoy your day! Enjoy your work and others will realize your personally vested interest and will respect you and your works as a result.
Morgan Siem writes for the Lulu Blog – Archived