Updated: Apr 28, 2020
I am going to write a series of blogposts on the whole process of writing my first book - from Blank Page to Published (and all the struggles and lessons I learned in between). I'm not entirely sure how many posts there will be, but I will try to keep posting about the process until I hit 'Publish' on KDP, and maybe with a few follow-up posts about how it's going.
I started this with zero experience and no idea about how to get a book published (I didn't even know self-publishing was an option at the time), but I am learning so much along the way and wanted to start documenting everything - mostly for myself so I can remember what I did and hopefully do it again for the next book (fingers crossed), but I also hope it can be helpful to others who are thinking about writing and self-publishing children's books. I will also share some links to helpful and resourceful websites that I have used. (I am still new and learning, so if you read this and think I could do things differently or there is an easier and better way, do let me know - leave a comment or email me - I'd love to hear from you!)
Part 1: From Blank Page to the First Draft
I've wanted to write this story about my dad for a while and had started several versions of it. My first attempt was more of a memoir for adults, so I was writing the actual events using my own personal voice. It was not easy because there were lots of gaps in my memory and the dates and timeframes were all a bit mixed up. I also didn't know how much detail I wanted to go into about all my family members and relatives. After about a year or more of starting, stopping, restarting, I decided it was probably best to let that one go. It was not easy to say 'goodbye' but I knew I could not spend any longer working on something I had so little confidence in finishing.
When 2020 came around, I set myself a goal to write a children's book as one of my New Year's Resolutions. I had wanted to write one since I'd started teaching, but I mostly just wrote stories for my students as reading passages. I also had a few ideas for a series I wanted to write, but I was unable to develop them fully and I couldn't figure out the endings quite yet. I still had my dad's story on my mind and knew I wanted to get that story out there. In February, I finally decided to transform my dad's story into a fictional one for children. I could still base some of it on real events but I could also be more creative about. It would help me achieve two goals at once!
I chose to write the story using a series of diary entries from a young girl's perspective because I wanted show more of her inner thoughts and emotions throughout the events and it seemed like it was the most logical way to do that. So after jotting a few ideas down, I started writing. I thought, 'How hard could it be? It's based on my own story anyway, and I could easily finish it in a few days.' Big mistake! Plus, I'd never thought that writing a children's book would be so difficult. There are a lot of words and phrases you would not normally use for a young audience, and the topic itself is not an easy one for children to read already. You also need to communicate a lot of details within a certain word limit, which was the most difficult part for me. In my first attempt, I was 300 words in and I was still writing about the first scene. There was too much (unnecessary) detail, sentences and quotations that were too long, and I realised I needed to start over. AGAIN!
So what was my big mistake? I skipped the most important step: planning, which included mind-mapping and outlining. I didn't think it would be necessary for such a short story, but it is actually VERY important! You'd think that as a teacher who had always taught her own students to do the planning before writing would follow her own advice, right? Well, I was very disappointed in myself at this point. I didn't doubt my writing ability at all - as I had done a lot of writing during my teaching career as well as a freelance writer - but writing worksheets, teaching materials, assessment papers for children etc. are not the same as writing a children's book. I had to humbly admit that I wasn't quite ready to write anything until I was more prepared.
I actually ended up watching some YouTube videos and signed up for some online courses on writing for children, and re-learned how to write efficiently and effectively starting from the initial idea to a final conclusive ending. I learned a lot from all those videos and courses, particularly the lessons reminding me about the importance of planning and also to NOT edit while writing the first draft (which was exactly what I had been doing for all my previous stories). The courses also taught me that writing children's books really IS harder than it seems! A lot of people think that it is easy, but it really isn't! I started doing it thinking I could write a whole series of children's books within a few months. NO! You are writing for children, yes, but you also need to appeal to adults - the parents - who are actually going to be spending the money to buy your book! I had not even thought about this issue before I started the process. So you can't just write a book you think kids would like. You need to write a book kids would like AND can convince their parents that they should read and own that book. Plus, the words are only half the book (if that). You need to have an appealing and attractive cover, a blurb that gets readers' interested to keep reading it, and illustrations that kids would enjoy looking at more than once, as children's books are meant to be read and reread over and over again (more about illustrations and blurbs in the upcoming posts). Knowing all of this helped me to start again with a clearer plan and end goal in mind.
Soon after I came to this realisation - that I had been doing it all wrong - I took out a sketchpad and drew out my first mind-map for the story. Even though I had everything in my head already, it was much easier to write them all down in one place instead of having to recall from memory about all the details. After drawing my mind-map, I wrote out an outline of how many days the story would include and which event would occur on which day. I didn't touch it again for a few days. When I sat down to actually start writing, I finished the whole story in two days! The words just flowed so easily and I didn't spend too much time on one scene either. I made it all the way to the end this time! It was a first draft only, so it was not the perfect story yet, but at least I got it all down! (This was the picture book version, so it was a relatively smooth and quick process. It wasn't until a week later that I decided to write an extended version for early readers.) The fine-tuning and perfecting is all in the editing process.
To be continued in the next post...
Some useful links and resources:
Go From Blank Page to Best Selling Author In As Little As 90 Days
So I joined this online program in mid-February and it's been exactly 56 days (8 weeks) at the time of writing this post. So I'm about 62% of the way. Will see if I can do it in less than 90 days!
Self-Publishing School provides, not only hundreds of video tutorials, but also one-on-one coaching through Zoom video calls with a personal mentor, one-year access to a Facebook group community of other students, as well as professional authors, coaches, speakers and entrepreneurs with experience in self-publishing. Everyone there is extremely supportive and helpful and you can connect with so many great authors to build your network! They even have weekly group coaching calls which are all done live via Zoom. They have a lot of other discounts for platforms such as Reedsy, and software such as Publisher Rocket (more on these in the next posts), if you are a student. You do need to invest a bit into it, but they have everything you need to know about self-publishing in one complete system and you have lifetime access to those resources. It can also save you months of research, and trial and error.
If you are interested in the program or want to know more about it, feel free to email me. I can REFER you so you can get a DISCOUNT and a FREE BOOK about self-publishing! So, let me know BEFORE you sign up!
This website from John Matthew Fox is full of great resources as well. He offers courses on writing for children. His courses include videos, quizzes, PDFs, and writing challenges. He is a children's book author himself, as well as an editor, so you can check out his courses and services.
I can't remember how I found this channel but it is wonderful! I haven't read any of her books before, but I have learned a lot from her videos! She is a self-published author of YA fantasy novels and teaches you - in great detail - about writing, working from home, starting and owning your own business, publishing, marketing and promoting your book. She has a great personality and makes all her informative videos super fun and entertaining as well! You can learn a lot from her. She has also written and self-published a children's book called 'The Confident Corgi'. She has done very well for herself as a self-published author and YouTuber.