It’s Author Interview Thursday and I’m so glad you’ve joined me and our featured author today. Before we proceed in delighting in the tasty nuggets of wisdom spread across this interview, I’d like to draw your attention to something. I would like to keep you informed of all the awesome authors coming on AIT over the coming weeks and months plus other interesting developments in the publishing world as I see them. Simply enter your name and email in the box located to the right and it’d be my pleasure to fill you in on the latest on Planet DC. You’ll also get a free coloring book you can share with a loved one in your life. Now unto today’s main event.
Every successful author has their own signature style that is recognizable by their fan base and that helps to keep this fan base loyal and eager to consume all that the author publishes. Our featured author’s many best-selling books are testament to this. She not only writes but also illustrates her books. I admire her brutal honesty and her hard working and professional approach to publishing. She has a lot to share today, so please join me in welcoming Mary Lee.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up being a children’s book author?
I’ve been a Graphic Designer for about 10 years so I’m used to working with Illustrators and Editors. When I was a kid I liked to write and draw but my art teacher told me there was no money in it and said that Graphic Design was a safer choice. I like design but I have a lot of ideas that nag at me. I read an article about self-publishing on Amazon and that sounded like an easy way to get my work out there without being scrutinized and watered-down by a client.
I was also looking to earn an extra few bucks to get my kids an outdoor play-set.
What can a reader expect when they pick up a Mary Lee book?
Adorable characters, teachable moments and something a child enjoys that won’t annoy the parents. Lots of stories have morals but I tend to sugar coat the moral so it’s not too obviously good for you. These are books for very young kids 0-6 so expect lots of cute and lots of color.
What is the process from when you get an idea for a book to the point it gets published?
When I get an idea I like, I’ll make a note of it on my phone. Days, maybe weeks later I’ll come back to my list of ideas and think about which ones a parent might actually want to buy their child and why. Then I’ll write a rough draft. That draft I may toss or hold onto for another few days or months. Maybe it’ll give me an idea for another book. If I still like the draft after a while, I’ll tweak it, show it to some friends and then send it to proofreading.com. Even thought these are short books, professional proof-readers are a must and can save a person from many bad reviews.
Then my favorite part is making the cover. I’ll work on what the characters look like first, do some sketches and then commit to a cover. I think every other illustration is just an extension of the feeling and general look of the cover. Depending on how much time I have and the complexity of the artwork, I may complete a page or two a day. Then I have a couple more people look it over, test it on my kids and upload it to Amazon. A day later it’s published.
What marketing methods are you using to promote your book?
This isn’t my strong suit and I’m still learning but I have a Facebook fan page, a Twitter page, a blog, and do select days. I’ve used Bookbub, Goodreads advertising and asked a few mom bloggers for reviews.
How do you handle bad reviews?
Depends on the review. If the review is well written and had good points I take it as feedback to improve upon. If the review is barely readable phrases written at 3am by someone possibly drunk, I roll my eyes. If the review is a passionate attack against the book, saying “I hate it” twenty different ways, I admit I sulk a little, whine to my husband and go get my chai tea, fluffy dog and an episode of Madmen to make me feel better.
A word of caution to newbies, never engage a reviewer. There is a pack of negative reviewers that will pounce on you if you so much as inform them they are violating Amazon or Goodreads rules. I wrote a blog post about bad reasons to give a 1-star review, which was mostly comprised of things against the rules and was pounced on with 1-star reviews that said only “I don’t like kids books.” Amazon and Goodreads will never remove these reviews or obscene bookshelves with profanity so my advice, don’t engage reviewers or ever mention the word “review” on a public site. Even good reviews, I’ve read, you shouldn’t engage to just thank them as it makes people uncomfortable. Some people feel they are just writing to other customers to help inform their buying decisions and that it’s a privacy violation for an author to be engaging them.
Most children’s book writers employ the services of an illustrator. However, you write and illustrate. What comes first to you – the story or the images?
The story should always come first. It greatly influences what the character looks like, their personality and whom the book is targeted to. Yes I’ve come up with characters without a story before and they are sitting on my computer waiting for a story to come along that makes sense for them.
What advice can you give indie authors with regard to working with an illustrator to ensure the vision of their story is effectively communicated to the illustrator?
Read through the copy with them, page by page and tell them what you were envisioning for the scenes. Don’t be too strict so the illustrator has a little creative freedom. Illustrators can make better work if they feel they have a creative partnership on the book rather than doing exactly what they are told. Make sure they send you sketches and work-in-progress so you can have feedback before something is finished.
Lastly, you get what you pay for. The best illustrators are not cheap. You could have a great relationship and great communication with an illustrator but if the talent is not there, your vision will suffer.
Toy Story or Shrek?
What about “Wreck it Ralph?” Yeah I know it’s the videogame equivalent of Toy Story but I love the Vanellope character. She reminds me of me as a kid.
Which are scarier, Monsters or Dragons?
In recent kids movies, neither. Adult movies, monsters are the stuff of horror. With dragons, if you stay away from their lair, they usually leave you alone.
Do your kids inspire your work and what do they think about Mom the author?
The baby wants to eat my books and my 6-year-old wants to see them and is curious. He’s getting to be too old for them but he still asks to read them as they are done.
You’ve lived in quite a few places in the United States. Which place gave you the fondest memories and why?
I had a particularly delicious and romantic meal in Sonoma many years back that convinced me to have children.
What is a typical day for Mary Lee?
Wake up – scone – brush teeth – makeup – coffee – work – lunch – work – gym – pick up kids – help with homework – dinner – play with trains and Xbox – put kids to bed – Watch “America’s Got Talent” or “Madmen on Netflix” – pass out.
What can we expect from Mary Lee in the next 12 months?
I’m getting into the holiday spirit with my books. A Thanksgiving book is next and then maybe a Christmas one. I don’t plan that far ahead.
Where can fans and readers of your books discover more about you and connect with you?
Any advice for authors out there who are either just starting out or getting frustrated with the publishing industry?
Don’t expect too much or stake your livelihoods on it. Just because someone has a success story doesn’t mean they will be selling any copies a year from now. The market changes constantly and while I don’t want to discourage anyone, I think people should know that the vast majority of authors do not make a living doing it. While several could live well on January sales when everyone is filling up their new Kindles they got for Christmas, they may be eating Ramon noodles come the slow summer months.
I have to admit Mary that that last statement you made is something most people don’t hear about and is the sad reality of the publishing world. Still, I believe you’re a shinning example that with hard work, an understanding of the market and the willingness to pursue various avenues to market one’s books, great things are possible. You can connect with Mary by following her on Twitter by clicking the link below.
You can also connect with her on Facebook at the link below
I have several of Mary’s books on my iPad and have read them to my young children at bedtime on several occasions. You can view her entire published work on Amazon by clicking the link below.
Great interview with Mary. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for your publishing wisdom. My 2 year old LOVES Big Girl Potty, so we are so delighted to have found these lovely books by Mary.
Thanks for stopping by Julie. I’m so glad you liked it. Like you, I have several of Mary’s book and actually read one of them tonight to my bambinos.
I’m a fan of Mary Lee, have always been since her first book came out. It has been lovely reading your interview with her David! Well done to you both!
Hi Joy. Great to discover another fan of Mary’s books. It was a pleasure to interview Mary and I look forward to reading her future publications.