Today, I am feeding my writerly addictions and chatting with newly published author, Sandra Hershenson. We met through 12×12 in 2012 and she is delightful! You can find her talking about lots of fun writerly stuff on her blog here. Sandi has a new book called Annie and Me, that is now available on uTales. She was kind enough to share with me her experience with uTales, a fairly new ebook publishing company with a strong international community of authors and illustrators, geared towards creating books for children. I have to say for the record that I love uTales!
And now, for the technical chitchat, ie BIO and complimentary author pic see below :D.
Sandi’s Bio: Children’s book author, member of SCBWI-LA, mother to 4 wonderful daughters. After reading this description, my husband reminded me that I would not have my wonderful daughters without him. Sorry honey. . . so yes, I am a wife too! I am a perpetual volunteer, so please don’t ask me to do anything more. . . I will probably say yes, and my laundry pile will just continue to grow as I work on your project.
And now, on to the interview…welcome Sandi!
Can you tell us more about your journey to publication with uTales?
Let me me begin by thanking you so much, Kerie for asking me to participate in this interview. I have loved all of my experiences with uTales so far, and enjoy sharing it with other writers.
I first learned of uTales through a Facebook post, and right away signed up for a free 15 day trial with the site. I spent some time looking through the books that had already been published on the site and shared them with my kids. They all really enjoyed what they saw, and liked the animation and sounds. As much as I enjoyed what I saw, I had a difficult time wrapping my head around digital books for children. I have always loved holding a book in my hands and turning the pages. Teaching my own children to turn the pages always brings back fond memories for me. That dream of seeing my own work on a book store shelf still dangled in front of me.
However, I decided that as a pre-published author I had better try to get myself into the world of digital publishing or I might never get a foot in the door. Since I am not very technically savvy, the uTales process scared me at first, but after I watched the ‘How-to’ videos it felt more comfortable. I also liked that stories must be approved by an editorial panel before being published. I did not want to self-publish. I wanted someone else to tell me that my work was good, I didn’t want to assume that my work was good, and be wrong. After all of that, I joined the uTales Collaborators page on Facebook, and started to search for an illustrator.
Your book, Annie and Me, is a super cute tale about a little girl whose best friend moves away and her fear that it will change their relationship. Is there a story behind this story or is it one of those ideas that evolved on its own?
Yes, there is a very personal story behind it. In fact, Annie and Me is one of the very first manuscripts that I wrote, and one that truly sparked my interest in writing for children. Almost 5 years ago the family that lived next door to us moved away. We were all very close to one another–adults and children alike. My 2 oldest daughters, as well as the 2 oldest daughters in their family were as close as sisters. We moved into our homes 2 weeks apart, and our younger pair of daughters were born only 1 day apart. We shared every day of our lives together–good, bad, and ugly. We endured pregnancy, death, sickness, and success. We spent every Halloween and 4th of July together.
When they moved away, all 4 of the girls were sad, however my own children felt left behind. They felt as if their friends were moving on to bigger and better things, and they couldn’t help but wonder if they would be forgotten. Shortly after our friends moved away, I began to write Annie and Me, however today it is absolutely nothing like how it began. It was 2,000 words, in rhyme, and had about 3 different stories all woven into one. I have since learned a great deal about the picture book format, and I have been able to separate those stories into individual books.
It is amazing how many lives a manuscript sees before publication, lots of dust bunnies to chase and edits to be done. You were able to collaborate with a wonderful illustrator, Barb Dragony, on this book? When I read, Annie and Me, I really felt the illustrations fit the text well, they are adorable. How did you and Barb find each other?
Barb is an amazing illustrator. I feel that she was the perfect person to bring Annie and Me to life. We found each other through the Facebook uTales Collaborators page. After I decided that I wanted to try publishing this way, I posted that I was an author looking for an illustrator. Three different illustrators responded to me that they would be interested, and they sent me links to their work. Barb’s style really stood out to me as something that matched well with the feel of the story. If you look on the Facebook page, you will find many authors and illustrators who post requests like mine. I think that this system works really well.
Was there a lot of interaction between the two of you about the books layout and style or did you let her make most of those decisions?
I have absolutely NO artistic ability whatsoever! I have trouble drawing a straight line with a ruler. I really needed to rely upon Barb for layout and style. I organized the text according to where I felt the page breaks should be, and she created the illustrations to match. We communicated mostly via email, and through the uTales site. When I uploaded text or made changes, I would email her and tell her to take a look. She did the same for me. We would both make suggestions to each other about where we felt adjustments were necessary. The entire process took us a few months to complete– and that was mostly due to our own personal schedules. Actually, through the entire process, we only had 1 phone conversation. She lives in Ohio and I am in California, so being that we are in different time zones, email communication seemed to work best for us.
I love the ease and interaction of meeting fellow illustrators and writers online, it is wonderful and an easy way to collaborate. One of the biggest challenges for any author is marketing. Did you and Barb discuss a marketing plan for Annie and Me or is that something you are doing separately?
Marketing is definitely a challenge! After the book was actually published, we realized that we needed to do some promotion. We have both advertised to family and friends, hoping that they would spread the word. We also have promoted through social media and blogging. We are now in talks of other ways to get the word out there. We would like to do a book trailer, but neither one of us really knows how to do it, so it will take some work to figure it out.
I can understand that, marketing is something that most creatives are always looking for ways to improve and learn about. It is no easy task. You were also one of the many people involved in creating a book called The Friendship Alphabet, also available on uTales. Can you tell us more about this project, how it came about and your part in it?
I am thrilled to have been a part of The Friendship Alphabet. The Friendship Alphabet was put together by 30 different collaborators from all over the world, and under the supervision of Nils von Heijne–it was his idea. Emma D. Dryden who leads the editorial panel for uTales also advised us throughout the entire process. Being that the collaborators lived in so many different countries, all communication with one another was done through the uTales Facebook page. We were able to ask logistical questions, brainstorm, and offer support to one another all in one place. While we never have met face to face, I personally feel as though I have made new friends through this international project. None of the collaborators on The Friendship Alphabet will receive any income from the book. One hundred percent of the proceeds are being donated to Pencils of Promise, a group that helps to create schools in underdeveloped communities throughout the world.
I became directly became involved with this project once again through the Facebook page. I actively check the page to see what everyone is up to, and I saw Nils’ post brainstorming his idea. Right away I wanted to get in on this fantastic opportunity, so right away I signed up to work on the letter A page. Then I panicked. I realized that if the readers don’t like what they experience on the first spread of the book, they may not turn the page to read about the letter B. We were also responsible for the entire 2 page spread for our letter. Since I struggle to draw a stick figure, I contacted Claudia Fehr-Levin, another very talented illustrator. Claudia lives in Israel, and she and I are currently working together on another book for uTales. She jumped at the opportunity to get involved and did an amazing job. I hope that the readers are turning the page.
It’s such a wonderful project, I love hearing of new ways writers and illustrators are working together in the digital market. As a 12x12in2012 participant have you found that you are writing more and do you like having a place to post your progress and interact with other writers?
I am loving 12 x 12 in 2012. It has forced me to write much more than I previously had been. The other thing that influences the amount of writing that I do is my online critique group. We submit work to the group every 2 weeks, and I have been very on top of that. I really like having the opportunity to share my progress. No matter what, I will complete this challenge because I have set this goal for myself, and I can’t let myself down. I was always the type of student to be very upset if I turned in a late assignment, I will kick myself if I don’t get my 12 drafts done on time. The interaction with the other participants has been amazing. Everyone is so supportive. We all act as cheerleaders for one another. It is a fantastic group of writers. I feel very inspired by everyone.
It is a great challenge and such an amazing and supportive group, I have had a lot of fun with it. With little ones about I know it can be difficult so how do you find the time to feed your writerly addiction?
Finding the time to write is the biggest challenge of all. I have 4 daughters ages 12 and under, and they all have very demanding schedules. This is actually the first year (I think in terms of school calendars) that I have been able to truly focus on my writing because my youngest 2 daughters are now in first grade and are gone for the full day.
I take everyone to school, spend my morning taking care of my house, grocery shopping, laundry, etc, and then the afternoon writing before I leave to pick them up. I do my best to not write when they are with me, as they really need Mom to be Mom. However, I do keep a note pad in my purse, in my car, and next to my bed just in case I get a major idea that I don’t want to forget.
Yes, I always have my notebook and sketchbook, you never know when something wonderful and grand will strike the imagination! Thanks Sandi for being here and sharing your experience with uTales! I’m sure, Annie and Me, will be shared over and over again by families all around the world. It has been my pleasure to chat with you.