A few days ago, we had to pretend Saturday was Friday to accommodate the Perfect Picture Book post (because someone was behind schedule… not naming any names 😊). Today, we are pretending Wednesday is Tuesday so we can squeeze in an extra Tuesday Debut. It’s all about time management. Or something… 😊
But I couldn’t pass up the chance to share this brand new holiday book with you while it was still the right time of year to appreciate it, and I think you’re going to find the process of this self-published picture book very interesting, not least because our debut-ess, Kizzi, and Carrie Rodell are in the process of starting up their own publishing company, Elemental Ink, with its picture book imprint, Learning Spark, and may be a submission opportunity for some of you in the future.
Just one PSA before we get to our debut: the winner of Phyllis Harris’s lovely picture book THE GIFT SHOP BEAR from her Tuesday Debut last week is Eleanor Ann Peterson! Congratulations, Eleanor! Please use the handy Contact button to email me so I can arrange for you to receive your book!
And now, I am so pleased to introduce author/illustrator Kizzi Roberts and her delightful debut picture book, THE ELVES GO MARCHING!
The Elves Go Marching
Learning Spark an imprint of Elemental Ink Publishing
Fiction, ages 4-8
Sing and march along with Santa’s elves as they pack his sleigh for Christmas!
SUSANNA: Welcome, Kizzi! It was so kind of you to join us today for an extra Tuesday Debut! We are excited to hear all about your journey to publication! Where did the idea for this book come from?
KIZZI: I get lots of ideas for books from reading and singing with my almost two-year-old. I started singing “The Ants Go Marching” to her when she was just a baby, and recently the idea of elves marching with presents popped into my head.
Ever since I took your Making Picture Book Magic course, I’ve found that I enjoy writing picture books that follow a pattern or have a defined structure. These are really fun for me, and they’re the kind of books my daughter likes to have read to her too. So, with the structure of “The Ants Go Marching” in mind, I tried to include a bit more plot and progression in my reimagining of the original song.
I am often guilty of over-thinking things, and over-editing too! I tend to rework the same thing over and over and over again, which can be very unproductive. When it comes to picture books, I’ve realized I need to focus on what I like and what is fun to read aloud. Then I trust my critique partners to help make my draft the best it can be. It definitely helps to have a fresh set of eyes on a project.
SUSANNA: We really can be our own harshest critics, can’t we? Critique partners are invaluable! How long did it take you to write this book?
KIZZI: Honestly, this book came together really fast! I have other picture book drafts that I’ve worked on for months and I’m still not happy, but this story came together from start to finish in about a month. My overall writing journey has been much longer of course. I always loved writing but got away from it for a while. In 2014, I decided to get serious about writing and joined SCBWI. Since then, I’ve tried to learn all I can about the craft of writing through conferences, presentations, and classes. I have also been lucky enough to find a fabulous group of critique partners. Good critique partners are invaluable on the writing journey, and I am so thankful for mine.
For me, I’ve found writing picture books that follow a structure come together a little more quickly because the basic framework is there, and I can focus on adding my original characters and plot. I’d recommend if you ever feel stuck in a rut, to try writing a story that follows a defined structure. Try writing something that follows the pattern of The House That Jack Built or try a new spin on an old tale like Mary Had a Little Lamb. The possibilities are endless and a lot of fun too!
SUSANNA: Those are great suggestions. I often turn to nursery rhymes and fairy tales for inspiration. Did you go through many revisions?
KIZZI: This story had about three revisions. I wrote a draft and edited it then sent it over to my critique partner, and she sent back comments. I made some changes and then sent it to her again. Usually, my manuscripts go through a lot more edits and drafts, but this one felt right after just a few changes. Then I spent a lot of time laying out the images and making adjustments so it would all look great in print. I ordered a proof from Amazon and made a few changes after seeing how some of the colors worked together then it was time to publish!
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for publication?
KIZZI: I’m so lucky to have a great critique group! I know it’s tough to find a great group of writers that are at the same point in their writing journey, but if you don’t have a critique partner, keep looking. It can take time to find ones that fit, but it’s totally worth it. I can trust my critique partners to give me their honest opinion.
One of my critique partners has worked in educational publishing for years and years, so I find her insight invaluable when making edits. For this manuscript, we both thought it was a lot of fun and we really wanted to get it out for the Christmas season. We were both happy with it and the timing was right, so that seemed like a good sign it was ready 😊
SUSANNA: At what point did you decide to self-publish rather than submit to traditional publishers? Did you try traditional first? Or did you have specific reasons for wanting to self-publish?
KIZZI: I’ve done a couple work-for-hire projects and writing for the educational market led me to start brainstorming with one of my writing friends. That brainstorming led us to start our own publishing imprint a few months ago, and it’s been a lot of fun learning about independent publishing. So, I knew when I started drafting this manuscript that I would self-publish this book. I have other projects that I would potentially still want to query agents for and go the traditional route, but I’ve also done a lot of research into self-publishing, and it feels like the right fit for me.
I think print-on-demand services have lowered a lot of the barriers for entry into the market via self-publishing.
SUSANNA: How did you find an illustrator?
KIZZI: I actually do a bit of illustrating, but for this project, I used clip art. There are different websites where you can purchase images for commercial use, and I found ones that worked together from various designers. I subscribed to Creative Fabrica (they have a website), but the other one I looked at was Creative Market. I chose Creative Fabrica because of the price point and commercial license terms. There are other sites too, but I’m not familiar with all of them. Then I designed the scenes and layout using Adobe Illustrator. I added in a few of my own elements and modified the images as needed to fit the scenes.
SUSANNA: Did you and the illustrator have a contract of any kind? What types of items did it address (if you can share a little – doesn’t have to be too specific, but in terms of what people might want to think about if they were to do it.)
KIZZI: Since I didn’t have an illustrator, I just had to make sure my use of the images was within the terms of the commercial license where I got the clip art. I know clip art won’t work for every project, and I would love to hire an illustrator in the future. For this project though, I had a lot of fun creating the scenes and I think it turned out really cute.
SUSANNA: Are you able to give a ballpark figure of any kind (or a specific one if you’re so inclined 😊) about the cost of the illustrator?
KIZZI: Since I used clip art, my cost was just the price of a year long subscription, so about $80.
SUSANNA: What was the illustration process like since you were directing it? Any particular challenges? Anything you particularly enjoyed?
KIZZI: I really liked being in control of the whole book, which is one reason self-publishing appealed to me. Using clip art means some images weren’t exactly in the right pose so I had to manipulate the images which can be tedious. Also, creating all the variations of the elves was a bit time consuming lol
SUSANNA: How did you format your book for publication?
KIZZI: I used Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign. I followed Amazon’s KDP guidelines for formatting my document (margins, bleed, etc.), but I will also have the book through IngramSpark, so I made sure the trim size was available there as well before committing to the 8.5”x8.5” size.
SUSANNA: How did you select a printing service?
KIZZI: I’m using Amazon’s print on demand services for the paperback book, and I will use IngramSpark as a distributor for the hardcover. I’ll also distribute through Barnes and Noble’s self-publishing division and upload the e-book directly to several sites. Other sites to consider for uploading an ebook directly are Kobo, Apple Books, and Google Play. I decided to put my book in Kindle Unlimited for a short period of time, then I’ll take it out of that and distribute it to other retailers. So, by next Christmas it will be available as an ebook everywhere and not just on Amazon. I’ll use Draft2Digital for much of that (aside from the ones I upload directly to). Draft2Digital gives you access to libraries via Hoopla and other services. I’m really not super familiar with the ins and outs of everything yet. There’s a lot to learn, and until you have something published, it’s almost impossible to see how everything works behind the scenes.
SUSANNA: Did you do a print run so you’d have inventory, or is your book print-on-demand? (And where is your book available – online bookstores? brick and mortar bookstores?)
KIZZI: My book is print-on-demand, but I plan to order some author copies to have on hand for school and library visits. I’m hoping to obtain those copies through a local printer, but I can also order author copies from either Amazon or IngramSpark.
SUSANNA: One of the big challenges for self-published authors is distribution. Is it true that IngramSpark can help with that?
KIZZI: IngramSpark won’t actively promote my book unless I pay for ads or promotions (still learning how all of that works), but they do make my book available for purchase pretty much everywhere. So you can ask your local library to purchase it through Ingram (or if they use a different service it will likely show up there), or your local bookstore would be able to order it too. I’m hoping to reach libraries via IngramSpark which is why I’m using them for the hardcover version. Also, different sites have different printing costs which affects royalties, so it’s important to do all the calculations before settling on a trim size and design in case you’ll end up not being able to price your book competitively enough to make any money.
SUSANNA: How long was the process from writing through publication of your book?
KIZZI: From idea to publication was about five weeks. I was really excited about this book and when the idea hit me, I knew I had to get it out in time for Christmas this year. Even though the timeline was short for this book, I feel like it was all part of my years long writing journey. If I hadn’t spent all those previous years working on my craft and learning, I wouldn’t have been in a position to create this book in such a short amount of time.
SUSANNA: Were you able to get your book reviewed by Kirkus, SLJ, Hornbook, Booklist etc?
KIZZI: The timeline has been so short, I haven’t had time to get reviews, but hopefully I’ll get some from readers 😊
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
KIZZI: I created some additional activities that can be printed and enjoyed by readers. The book has one spread of activities in the back and then there is a QR code to scan. The QR code will take the reader to my website where free downloadable activities are available. There is a printable matching game and coloring pages.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
KIZZI: After years and years of writing and dreaming about being published, it’s been a whirlwind these last few weeks. It didn’t seem real until my proof arrived, and then I was so nervous to push ‘publish’ even though I had checked, and triple checked everything. I think the path to publication looks different for everyone, and if writing is your passion, there are ways to make your book a reality outside of the traditional route. Since starting our publishing company and shifting my focus to independent publishing, it’s really changed the way I look at writing projects. I took the “write what you love” advice to heart, but now I’m also thinking “what does the market/readers want?” Finding a place where those two things intersect is what gets me most excited about writing these days. And of course, creating books I can share with my daughter 😊
I would encourage other writers to not lose hope because of rejections. This business is often pretty subjective. If you have a great critique group and use their input to make your manuscript into the best version of itself, then you can choose if traditional is the right path for you and your story, or maybe independent publishing is a better fit.
Kizzi’a daughter 😊
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers! You shared so much information that will be extremely helpful to those considering self-publishing! I know we all wish you all the best with this and future titles and with your publishing company! You’ll have to come back when it’s really up and running and do a Tuesday Debut for Elemental Ink!
Readers, if you have questions for Kizzi, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
Author/Illustrator Kizzi Roberts
Social Media/Website Links
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100088041235216
You may purchase Kizzi’s book at:
(all links below are book-specific)
We can help our debut authors successfully launch their careers by:
– purchasing their books
– recommending their books to friends and family
– recommending their books to our children’s teachers and librarians
– recommending their books to our local libraries and bookstores
– suggesting them as visiting authors at our children’s schools and our local libraries
– sharing their books on social media
Thank you all for stopping by to read today! Have a lovely, inspiration-filled Tuesday! Maybe today is the day you’ll write your debut picture book 😊
Missed any previous Tuesday Debuts? Check them out!
Karen Kiefer – Drawing God (religious market)
Theresa Kiser – A Little Catholic’s Book Of Liturgical Colors (religious market)
Lindsey Hobson – Blossom’s Wish (self pub)
Julie Rowan-Zoch – Louis (picture book illustration debut!)
Gnome Road Publishing (publishing house debut)
Julie Rowan-Zoch – I’m A Hare So There (author/illustrator debut)
Nancy Derey Riley – Curiosity’s Discovery (author/illustrator self-published debut)
Kate Allen Fox – Pando: A Living Wonder Of Trees (nonfiction)
Rebecca Mullin – One Tomato (board book)
Cynthia Argentine – Night Becomes Day: Changes In Nature (illustrated with photographs)
Anne Appert – Blob (author/illustrator)
Karen Condit – Turtle On The Track (hybrid publishing)
Renee LaTulippe – The Crab Ballet (picture book poem)
Amy Duchene – Pool Party (collaboration/co-writing)
Carrie Sharkey Asner – Blueberry Blue Bubble (self published)
Gela Kalaitzidis – Ozzie & Prince Zebedee (author/illustrator)
Caroline Perry – The Corgi And The Queen (nonfiction)