Welcome! My name is Michelle Dalson, and I will be interviewing Amber Box (aka: Elaine Grey), author of the children’s book, Bees in my Sleeves. That’s right, she is a writer of children’s books! And yes, she has experienced the stressful process of writing, publishing, and most of all, marketing. She has taken the time to share her author journey, along with some helpful tips for other writers and aspiring authors who dream of achieving that bestseller list!
Michelle: Hello, Amber. Thank you for taking the time to discuss your writing journey. I’m curious about the writing journey of a children’s book. Please, tell us a bit about your background. How did you grow as a writer? What inspired you to write what you write?
Amber: When I was young, I had severe nightmares. I used to write them down in a journal when I woke up so I could remember them and try to figure out what the meant. This was the beginning of writing for me, it became an outlet to release the pent up negativity that came from these dreams. Though they have no gone by the wayside, for the most part, the writing stuck with me over the years.
I put my writing aside as I tried to figure out my direction in life, where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be. I ended up chasing a biology degree and working in the medical field. A couple of years ago I had to resign to take care of some family issues, and it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. The break from working allowed me the chance to see that what I was doing, while I enjoyed it, was not what I wanted to be doing. I took this opportunity to go back to school and change majors to Creative Writing and English. The break also allowed me the chance to put pen back to paper and develop some ideas that had always hung in the back of my mind.
Being a writer, the love for the craft never goes away. In my case it was simply put on hold, and I am thankful to be able to practice it again.
I am a stay at home mother of three children under the age of four. In addition to my children’s books, I am working on a paranormal novel as well as various short stories. I am on the editorial board for Vimfire Magazine and do volunteer editing for Landesa. I am also working on an Internship with Millyard Creative with SNHU, where I am a full time undergraduate student. I will be pursuing my master’s next fall.
The Planning Process:
Michelle: Wow, interesting. I’m glad to hear you’re involved with writing! Let’s discuss one of the books that you’ve published. Describe how you planned the storyline of this book. Did you outline your chapters before you wrote them? Did you keep a document where you jotted down all your ideas as they came to you?
Amber: I just recently published Bees in My Sleeves: My First Book of Poems. It doesn’t exactly follow a storyline, but it does have a theme. My children inspire a lot of what I write and this was no exception. My son, who is three, loves to “read” and be read to. He doesn’t know how to actually read the words, but he memorizes the story. He gets bored easily with books his age and the idea came to me to put something together that uses language in a more exciting way, while still being age appropriate content.
Michelle: It’s typical for children to get bored while reading. Did you have any ideas in your story that you felt would keep the child engaged while reading?
Amber: I wrote out ideas in a notebook and then fleshed them out one by one. For each poem, I wanted there to be a unifying them, which was simply a day in the life of a child. What they like to do, what they like to see and eat, bath time, bedtime, etc.
I found it easiest to keep my ideas all together so I could add to them as I thought of something, so I used a smaller notebook that I could carry with me anywhere. I often found myself adding notes as I was out running errands. You wouldn’t be surprised to see me pull my notes out in the middle of the grocery store or the doctor’s office.
Michelle: Sounds like you kept yourself organized! And it’s great that the ideas were just fleshing out for you. It’s a great feeling.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors about planning for a novel or any book in particular? Would you advise them to follow the same steps you took to plan your book? Why or why not?
Amber: It is a little bit different planning a novel and planning a children’s book, so I would advise them to follow the steps that work for them. I do believe in having the trusty notebook nearby at all times for any spark of inspiration. One thing I don’t like to do when writing a novel is to just write it and let the story come together. I find that when I do that, I tend to have holes in the plot or characters. My advice for this is to use either storyboarding or an outline (both of which I have used) to keep your thoughts in order.
The Writing Process:
Michelle: Okay, let’s move onto the writing process of your book. First of all, how many drafts did you go through before you finally published your book?
Amber: For writing my book, Bees in My Sleeves, I went through probably ten different drafts. Once I finalized each poem, I would put it together, scrap it, then rewrite and rearrange it. I also had to consider artwork and layout when putting it together, so that was a factor as well.
Michelle: So even as a writer of children’s books, you would still be spending lots of time revising and editing. Tell us a bit about the editing process. Did you work with an editor? Did you find him/her helpful?
Amber: The editing process for me is step-by-step. I begin with an overall look at the piece as a whole. Then I go through and do line edits. Once that is done I let someone else review it and provide feedback. When I get it back, I make any necessary adjustments, line edit again, and then do one more overall edit. I also try to put some space between these steps so that I can look at it with fresh eyes. The goal here is to put out the best work possible, and that is not going to happen if you just review your work once or twice. We have a tendency to read what we think it should say instead of what it actually says, and putting that space between edits can help with that.
Michelle: Exactly. It’s almost always helpful to receive feedback from other readers. But you do have to consider the experience these readers have with critiquing. Did you have an editor look over your book after sending it to your readers?
Amber: I did not use an editor for this project. For larger projects, I do find it necessary to have another set of eyes editing my work.
I used several beta readers, and I do this on all of the stories I am working towards publishing (with exception to poems and shorts). Beta’s a great way to get invaluable feedback on how the story reads and what you can work on to improve it. They have a tendency to catch things you don’t because the writer is so engrossed in the story. When using beta’s it is really important to use someone you trust to give you honest feedback. I am not opposed to letting a loved one read it (spouse, parent, etc), but don’t let them be the only one. Also, don’t have too many beta’s that you are overloaded with feedback because you can lose your own voice in the midst of theirs.
Michelle: Great advice. No matter what kind of book you’re writing, it is important to have other readers give you feedback. It really is an important part of the writing journey. What would you like to tell aspiring authors about writing, rewriting, and editing a novel?
Amber: The most important advice I ever got was to read. This is how we learn and grow as writers. Don’t just read what you like or what you are used to, read what you want to write, what you think you may hate, what you have no interest in, everything. And then write, daily if you can, to continue to hone your skills.
As far as rewriting and editing, make sure you do both and do them more than once. The moment you finish your story is not when you finish the novel. That’s just a draft, you have to go back and edit and purge parts and flesh it out where needed. You will end up with a much better story, and then you do it again.
The Publishing Process:
Michelle: So let’s hear about the publishing process of your children’s book. What route did you take to publish your novel? Large press, small press, or independent publishing?
Amber: I self-published Bees in My Sleeves because it was a small project and I hadn’t initially intended on it being published at all. It was more a project for my children. I ended up doing it because of the feedback I received from other parents and how they related need that I felt this book addressed.
Michelle: I see, that’s a reasonable choice. But like many authors, I‘m sure you still encountered some obstacles with this path. Describe the pros and cons of this publishing route for you and your book.
Amber: Pros: You are in control of everything, from cover design to price to what stays in the book. It gives me complete freedom to treat the book as I want it treated.
Cons: Marketing is very time consuming (although this is true whether you self publish or use a traditional publisher) and it is very challenging. The upside to the marketing challenges is that you really get to know your fan base on a personal level.
Currently, I am shopping for a literary agent now for my upcoming projects because my schedule makes it difficult to deal with all the nuts and bolts that go along with self publishing.
Michelle: So what would you say are the key factors a writer should think about before choosing one of the three publishing routes?
Amber: Know your market. Don’t submit your work to publishers that work with only romance if you are writing a cookbook. That seems like it should be evident, but sometimes it’s not. When researching agents and publishers you need to do your homework, check out their catalog so you have an idea for what they are looking for. Also, if you self publish, make sure you get an editor or do a really good edit yourself (several actually) before publishing your title. Independent publishers are great, but you want to make sure you know how much of the work you will be responsible for. Often, writers go with a small press and don’t realize that they will be a key element in the marketing plans, it takes a lot of time, so just be aware of the conditions that your publisher sets forth.
The Marketing Process:
Michelle: Now let’s move onto the process that almost every author and aspiring author hopes to succeed with: marketing. Explain how you drew people to read your book. Any marketing strategies you used?
Amber: I have a blog and Facebook page where I have been working to build an audience. I participate in author events like blog hops. I am in the process of trying to get my book in with my local school districts. I also will be posting a YouTube video in the coming weeks of a reading from the book. I have also passed out my book to local businesses that focus on children and/or parents. I have also created bookmarks and postcards for advertising, using only profits from book sales. I presold my first case, and then used those profits to purchase the books, so I have not been out of pocket any funds for this book. My ultimate goal is to get these books successfully placed within schools and libraries to encourage reading in young children.
Michelle: I’ve heard of people using Youtube to advertise their books! I’ll have to ask you more about that in the comments.
But I was wondering if you have used goodreads to promote your book. Goodreads is a very popular site for authors of novels, but I’m curious if you’ve used it to market your children’s book.
Amber: I actually have not used GoodReads.
I use Facebook daily. I post engaging questions so as not to only talk about my book. I am still working on building that platform.
Michelle: How about twitter? How much time did you dedicate to connecting with others on twitter?
Amber: I don’t use Twitter very much at the moment for my children’s book, but I do use it frequently for articles I have written and other publication projects.
Michelle: Wow, I’d like to have a look at those articles! I’m curious to see what you have written besides your books.
What other websites did you use to promote and sell your book? Any websites you recommend for other authors to promote/sell?
Amber: Getting reviews on Amazon has been helpful, but otherwise, I find that most of my success has come from outside of social media, such as from phone calls and visits in my local area.
Michelle: That’s great to hear. It’s important to make connections both online and in person.
Is there any additional advice you’d like to give to aspiring authors about marketing?
Amber: Don’t be scared. It’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of learning, but it’s entirely worth it. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I have a mentor that has helped me tremendously. He owns his own business and his marketing advice has been invaluable. I think that online is a great way to sell a book, but you can market yourself locally in a way that gets you noticed…more than just a Facebook status can. If you can find a mentor, great! If not, I highly recommend getting out and getting involved in your community.
- Website address: www.ElaineGrey.com
- Facebook contact info: facebook.com/ElaineGreyAuthor
- Twitter contact info: @BoxAmber
- Books (you can provide links): http://www.amazon.com/Bees-My-Sleeves-First-Poems-ebook/dp/B00MQDVZ6M/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1412197435&sr=8-1&keywords=bees+in+my+sleeves
If you have any questions about Amber, her books, or would like to know a bit more about how she handled the planning, writing, publishing, and marketing processes, leave your question in a comment below!