Behind the Scenes of Writing My First Book + BIRTHDAY GIVEAWAY!!

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Welcome to my special Birthday post!  In celebration of my 27th birthday tomorrow, I am not only giving a little behind the scenes scoop on writing my first book, but I’m also hosting a giveaway!  I will be giving away 5 hard copies of Alex and John’s Scientific Adventures: The Big Explosion! to one lucky winner and will provide a personalized message in each copy.  Giveaway details are at the bottom of the post.  For more information about the book itself, click on the link title or the cover photo.

Birthday

 Back before my days as an accountant, homeowner, and MBA grad, I was a 21 year old undergrad who had been working at a job that was so fun teaching kids about science in ways they could easily enjoy.  The learning was not only hands on and interactive, but it kept the children’s interests and inspired me to write the series Alex and John’s Scientific Adventures.

It was the summer of 2010 and I was teaching a science summer camp.  Each day, we would go outside at lunch time.  While the kids would play on the park, I’d sit on the bench watching and writing, that is when I had a minute from counting the kiddos to make sure they were all accounted for.  The idea of my first book came very easily.  I jotted down a quick plot and then began writing.  And like that, after the week of summer camp and writing during lunch, I had my first draft.

I quickly typed the draft into my computer and began the never-ending editing stage.  I edited and edited, probably to the upwards of 50 revisions over a year and a half.  I had many friends read the story and provide feedback and for that I am so grateful.  I’ve also added a little Special Thanks section of the book to show my gratitude.

So finally, I had the story exactly how I wanted it and I had the page formatting down.  It was time to hire an illustrator.  One of my close friends had been following my journey through creating the book the entire time and just so happened to be an illustrator.  So, without hesitating, we began working together.  But, it was not all happy.  I felt like there was a lack of quality and timeliness.  Not because she had poor quality work but because I had a completely different style in mind.

When we were close to completing the book, we toured around a printing facility, picked out the paper type, and I ran all the behind the scenes numbers.  While crunching numbers, my illustrator and I were talking about shares and it all went downhill.  My illustrator felt like she had done half the work for the book and wanted 50% of the profit but that was too much for me.  I wanted to split the profit, part for whomever sells the book, part for the publisher (Oh yeah, I also had my own business ABCmile, LLC once upon a time and used it to publish my book)  I’ve since dissolved the business), part to the illustrator, and part to myself.  This did not leave room to give the illustrator 50%.

Since we were unable to come to an agreement, I decided to go another direction.  I called the printing company and had them put a hold on the order and went searching for a new illustrator.  Firing my illustrator was a great move for my book hands down.  But, I did end up losing a good friend because of it.  But now that I think about it, I’ve lost touch with all of my friends from that era of life anyways.  We all move on.

Somehow through the third degree of separation, I got in contact with a teenager on the complete other side of the country.  We signed an agreement at the beginning of the project and she did fantastic digital work for the entire project.  I was so impressed with her professionalism and the quality of her work.

So, back to the printers I went after countless edits and rearranging pictures.  Of course, the day after the books began printing I was reading the story to a child I was babysitting and I noticed a typo.  URGH!!!  I couldn’t believe it.  It was a typo that was created because of moving the pictures around so many times.  Since printing had begun, there was nothing I can do and I decided to be okay with that.  It’s not the first book to have a typo in it.

Book Release Party

After over a year of anticipation, on September 24th, 2011, I hosted my Book Release party!  I was so excited to see my friends and family come out to support me but what blew me away is that many of my teachers came to the event.  Most notably, my favorite teacher from high school, the business teacher, and two of my elementary school teachers.  I had searched high and low to get in contact with my previous teachers and two of my teachers from my elementary school time came!  Not only did they show up, they both brought work of mine that I had done in their class for me to sign.  I didn’t even know teachers kept work that long!

I do have the second book in the series ‘The Rocket-Ship Adventures’ written but I haven’t been quite happy with it.  It’s been in the editing stage now for five years.  If anybody wants to take a look and add their input, feel free to send me an email to kari@keepitsimplediy.com.

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Editing Tips

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So, you have your story complete and you are ready to edit, but you don’t know where to look.

Firstly, edit your work before you send it to anyone else.  When you edit your work, be sure to make sure you stay in the same tense throughout your story.  Also, check to make sure your storyline fits into place.  If it doesn’t, change it up.  Once you are sure that your storyline is firm, check for the ‘juice.’  Every story needs to contain spice to gain interest and engage your reader.

Next, have others read your story.  You can start by either going to your target audience, or going to a third party.

If you choose to go to the target audience, ask them what they like about the story, what they didn’t like, what they wanted more of, if there are any new ideas that could take the story to the next level.  Sometimes it’s hard to write for an audience if you are not part of the audience yourself.  For example, we have all been children at a point in our lives, but how many of us can truly put ourselves back in those shoes and feel as passionately about something that to adults seems so small?  Children are great for adding the imagination and magic to stories.

By going to a third party, ask them to make sure your formatting is correct, you are using proper grammar, you don’t hinder too long on a part of the story that is not necessary, etc.  They can also answer the same questions as the audience.  Each editor will be coming from a different point of view, and will have something new to add to the piece, so seek out many people to edit your piece for you.  If you do not agree with something an editor is saying, don’t change it.  Ultimately, your voice is what needs to be shining through in the piece.

Did I use a professional editor?

No, I did not use a professional editor.  I had around ten people edit my story and I read my story to children in the age group for it.  One person who edited for me is great with the imagination and bringing the story to light.  Another, is great with grammar.  I have some who were good at catching formatting or other errors.  Without each different editor, I would have missed out on improving in one or more of these areas.

Would I recommend using a professional editor?

I can’t say yes or no to this question.  There are positives and negatives to it, as there is to everything in life.  An up-side is that you know your work is in good hands and will be edited very thoroughly.  However, hiring a professional editor has its financial costs and could be straining on a strict budget.   Also, if you are hiring a professional, are you hiring a team or an individual?  You still want to make sure you are getting a variety of editors from different reading backgrounds because your audience will all be coming from different backgrounds.

Other thoughts:

Do not rush your editing.  It may take fifteen edits before your piece is ready to move forward, but it will be worth it to be patient and put as much in as you can.  Plus, it’s better to catch any issues before you start preparing your work to be finalized.

Do not take offense to the feedback you receive.  The feedback is a way for you to improve and make your story more memorable.  Everyone has room for improvement, and the best opportunity is when someone shows you where those areas are.

Thank your editors.  You can do this any way you would like. You could give them a gift certificate, write them an appreciative letter, mention them in your book, etc.  With the AJSA series, I’ve chosen to mention my editors in the book to show my appreciation.

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Writing Styles and Editing Your Book

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After finishing your story outline, you are ready to write your first rough draft.  This is where knowing your audience is really important.Let’s say I was writing about a bouncing ball.  Watch how the simple story ideas change as the audience changes.  Can you guess who the audience is?

I love to be outside.  I eat outside, I run outside, and I play outside.  I like to play with my ball outside.  I throw the ball in the air.  It comes down and bounces up real high.  I like to play with my ball outside.

One day, Isacc and Naveah were playing catch in their backyard.  Naveah threw the ball to Isacc so hard that it almost knocked him over.  Since Isacc didn’t want to be hit with the ball again, he came up with another idea.  They were going to have a competition to see who could throw the ball the highest!  Isacc took the ball and threw it as high as he could.  When the ball came down, Naveah caught it and threw it up to see how high she can throw.  On the way down, the ball hit the ground and bounced back up as high as the top of the tree.  Both children laughed and they continued throwing the ball high into the air.

There are many benefits to young children playing with bouncy balls.  They can learn hand-eye coordination and depth perception, as well as shape and color recognition.  Additionally, they will learn sharing skills by interacting with other children and the balls. 

According to Newton’s first law of motion, an object needs to have an external force exerted upon it in order for the object to be set into motion.  The object then uses kinetic energy while it is moving, and when the object returns to its motionless state, it is said to have potential energy.  For example, a ball sits on the floor.  At this point, it has potential energy.  Then, Jimmy picks up the ball and bounces it.  Jimmy provides the external force, which comes from him bouncing the ball.  While the ball is bouncing, it is using moving energy, or kinetic energy.

Did you say that the first example was for toddlers and early readers?  Or that the second was for elementary aged children?  How about the third being geared towards parents?  Or the last being geared towards students, teachers, or researchers?

Things to Remember

For children’s picture books, the main purpose is to have the story be a learning experience for the child.  The child will use the book as a guide towards how the world works.  There is always something, whether physical or moral, to be learned.

For children’s chapter books, the main purpose is to encourage the child to read.  To do this, you need to make reading fun.  Children this age love adventure, mysteries, and being able to pretend they are in the character’s shoes.  Make sure to add a lot of extra description to the main story line to peak your reader’s interest.

When writing for adults, remember to maintain a certain level of professionalism and respectability.  Try not to use slang in your writing as it makes others more skeptical.  At this point, your audience is completely capable of pulling out hidden meanings and translating metaphors.  Use less description or ‘juice’ as you would for a children’s chapter book because the adult likes to be able to create the fantasy in their head.  Leaving a little for mystery is a good thing; just make sure not to overdo it.  You still need to have your story line firm.

Lastly, when writing for research and learning purposes, use a guide to ensure that you are formatting your work correctly.  Each piece of educational literature has a rhyme and a reason for how it is done.  Make sure to research enough before you attempt to create your piece.  Don’t forget to maintain professionalism in your writing as your target audience is adults.

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