Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Turning "Maybe Someday" Into Today

I’m so excited to introduce you to my new friend Kelly Suellentrop in the very first of what I hope will become a series of interviews with people I call Idea Chasers.  I recently wrote about my love of ideas and my desire to create a small corner on this blog to share stories about people who are chasing after ideas of their own.  I want these interviews to feature all sorts of ideas, the big, the not-so-big, the creative, the practical, the entrepreneurial, ideas in progress, ideas on hold, even ideas that never came to be.  I'm starting this series with people I know, because everyone has ideas.  Everyone.  And we can access stories about big and hugely successful ideas from all over the world with a click of the mouse, but sometimes the stories in our own communities are lost in the shuffle, and they are worth hearing.

Shortly after I started this blog, a dear friend of mine introduced me to Kelly as a possible resource on blogging and writing.  Kelly has been blogging at www.areyoufinishedyet.com for three years, has been featured on The Huffington Post and BlogHer and recently published her first children’s book, Absolute Mayhem.  Kelly has been generous in her support and has helped me attempt to figure out the behind-the-scenes parts of the  blogging world that I know nothing about and I’m so grateful for her.  Little does Kelly know, my questions on blogging are just the tip of the iceberg, as I’ve pretty much assigned her the title  “Personal Children’s Book Publisher/Author Guru” which has a nice ring to it.  You might want to make up some business cards Kelly.

Kelly published her first children’s book last December and graciously shares what that process was like with us here:

When did you first decide you wanted to write books for children?
Writing children's books has been on my radar since I was a child myself. I always loved both writing and drawing, and children's lit just seemed like the perfect marriage of the two. But until about four years ago, it was always just a "maybe someday" kind of thought. Then I decided to write a book for my daughter's sixth birthday. That's when I realized I really did want to make a go of it, and there was no better time than the present. So then I began the process of writing manuscripts, playing with illustrations, and researching the publishing industry.


What draws you to children as an audience?
 Absolute Mayhem was really born out of a love for my own two children. They are an endless inspiration to me. But children's literature has always been one of my favorite genres, because those are books people can enjoy TOGETHER. Reading a children's book is not a solitary act, and it's also the foundation for a child's lifelong relationship with literature. I love thinking that just maybe, my book could play a role in someone becoming a voracious reader later in life. Besides, kids are the best audience in the world. When the book was still in storyboard format, I took it to some kindergarten classes for feedback. Let me just tell you, those kids made me feel like a rock star. Their comments were so sincere and engaged. I melted when one little boy raised his hand and said, "I think your drawings are just beautiful." And who doesn't love getting unsolicited hugs? If I ever doubted continuing on this path of creating children's books, that experience cemented that I was doing the exact right thing with my life. 


Kelly shares her book with her favorite audience - children.


What did you do with the idea for Absolute Mayhem when it first occurred?   Did you nurture it?  Ignore it? Try to talk yourself out of it?  Immediately begin writing?
Well, my first book idea wasn't Absolute Mayhem. I was thinking about rewriting the book I had done for my daughter to fit a wider audience. I took the manuscript to a children's book writing workshop, and the group was less than enthusiastic about it. So I licked my wounds for awhile, during which time I started thinking maybe I should try a new idea. Absolute Mayhem came to me one evening while sitting on the deck, watching my kids play. I immediately started on the manuscript, then let it stew for about a year. I started working very slowly on the illustrations last year. So, long story short, it was a very drawn out process.


Kelly bringing Lulu and Milo to life. 

What part of the process was most challenging for you?
The most difficult part has definitely been the business side of things. I've had a lot of crash courses in things like creating a small business, collecting sales tax, operating agreements, marketing, etc. I'm a bit out of my element when it comes to all those things, but thankfully I have a lot of smart people around me who have helped. Now the challenging part is figuring out how to keep the book visible, relevant, and make consistent sales. It's a lot of work!

Did you know anything about the self-publishing industry when you began?  Who mentored you?

When I first started researching the publishing industry, I kept reading that it could be incredibly hard for a first-time author/illustrator to get picked up. One of the big reasons is that many publishing houses have their own illustrators they like to work with. I was really set on illustrating the book myself, because it was my vision. So that's when I started reading more about self-publishing. I was also lucky in that at the time, my very good friend, Maggie Singleton, was self-publishing a really wonderful book about breastfeeding, called Milk Diaries. Not only did I get to watch Maggie go through the process, but then she really mentored me as I embarked on my journey. It was so helpful to have a friend I could call and be like, "So, I have a question..." She was indispensable. 

Are you working on more titles? Anything you'd like to share?

There will be more books in the Lulu and Milo series. But I am not actively working on anything new yet, since right now all my energy is going into marketing Absolute Mayhem and my freelance writing job. My husband joked the other day that asking me when the next book is coming out is a little like asking a mom in the postpartum room when the next baby is coming.  But I do have about three partially developed ideas I plan on seeing through. The next step is figuring out which one will be the best follow-up to Absolute Mayhem!

I can’t wait to see what Kelly writes next, but for now, I hope she takes a moment to revel in the satisfaction of accomplishing her goal of publishing a book.  Writing a book is one of those bucket list items so many people share, and Kelly's story is inspiring to me because, one day, she made the choice to turn her "maybe someday" into "no time like the present" and continued pursuing her dream through the daunting but accessible world of self-publishing all the way to the finish line.  I love the gratitude she shows to those who helped her along the way and want to offer an internet sisterhood first bump to her friend Maggie Singleton for helping her navigate a road she had already traveled.  These women are living proof of the oft-quoted phrase "we rise by lifting others." 

If you’d like to learn a little bit more about Absolute Mayhem, you can find my Story Hour review of the book here or you can purchase the book and read it for yourself!  Thank you so much Kelly for your willingness to share your idea with us. 

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