This month’s guest blog is by Laurin Mayeno, a student and publishing-consultations client of mine. After a long and determined slog, Laurin is launching her first book, One of a Kind, Like Me/Único Como Yo (Blood Orange Press), on September 21st. Here are a few of her key learnings:
I’m a First-Time Children’s Book Author!
By Laurin Mayeno
I never imagined myself as a children’s book author, until it increasingly seemed like something I needed to do. Now, more than five years later, I can hold my book in my hands and am getting ready for a slew of launch events and celebrations.
One of a Kind, Like Me/Único Como Yo is the story of a little boy named Danny (Danielito en español) who wants to be a princess in the school parade. Danny and his mom set off to find the perfect costume. Will they find it in time? I won’t tell you what happens, but I can say that the story is full of love and affirmation.
As fellow writers, here are some things you might be interested in.
As a child, my son Danny loved purple, pink, dressing up as a princess, unicorns, mermaids, and little ponies. I didn’t know any other children like him and felt very alone. He didn’t realize how different he was until he started getting teased. I didn’t know how to support him, because I knew next-to- nothing about gender diversity in children. I felt alone, and often felt that we were both being judged.
Things might have been easier if we had opened a picture book and seen a child like Danny inside being loved and supported by his family and community.
I also grew up without seeing myself, a mixed-race child, in books. Our parents read to us constantly, but few of the books had children of color and none had mixed-race children. I was an adult when I discovered a book about mixed-race women. The book affirmed my existence and helped me make sense of my experience. Suddenly, I was no longer invisible.
I will never forget how important it was for me to see myself reflected back in a book. This is a gift I want to give to children like Danny and families like mine.
I want to get this book as far and wide as possible into the world, to reach other children like Danny and give them a reason to smile and hold their heads up high. I want to reach as many children and families as possible, and anyone who has ever felt different. My highest hope is that the book will encourage dialogue and understanding so that we can all embrace gender diversity in all the ways it shows up in our children. To help with this, my website outproudfamilies.com will give parents, caregivers, and educators access to many other resources, including a discussion guide, videos, blogs, workshops, and presentations.
Multicultural children’s books are especially important as only 10% of children’s books published each year have main characters of color, and an even smaller proportion are written and illustrated by storytellers from the communities represented. My book helps inch the percentages a little higher and depicts multiple diversities—gender, single-parenthood, culture, race, and language. The book is bilingual, in English and Spanish. The multicultural team that collaborated on the book includes artist Robert Liu-Trujillo, translator Teresa Mlawer, and publisher Janine Macbeth of BloodOrange Press.
I set off on my book-writing journey more than five years ago knowing nothing, I mean nothing about writing or publishing a book for children.
Here are some things that helped me along the way.
1. Coaching and Advice
I reached out for coaching and advice from people who know and love children’s book writing and publishing.
Beth Wallace walked me through creating my first manuscript and submitting it to a publisher. Shirin Bridges helped me finalize my second manuscript, including ideas for the title. Later, when I decided to go with an independent publisher, she walked me through what to look for in a publishing contract. Maya Christina Gonzalez gave me critical feedback on my manuscript development and helped me stay true to my voice.
I got tons of feedback from fellow writers, educators, my son Danny, and friends who were willing to read the manuscript to children. This feedback helped me craft a compelling manuscript that would speak to children. I also got feedback from people who were knowledgeable about the best language to use when talking about gender diversity in both Spanish and English.
Shirin Bridges’ Writing Salon class on creating children’s picture books helped me revamp my first manuscript into something much closer to the final product, and included getting invaluable feedback from fellow writers. Her class on publishing at Stanford Continuing Education helped me grasp the pros and cons of different publishing options.
Maya Christina Gonzalez’ class on children’s book making helped me stay heart-centered in the process and opened up channels of creativity.
I made an initial attempt to translate my own manuscript, with the help of people who are more fluent in Spanish than I am. My publisher wisely sought independent review of the translation. Although the translation was technically accurate, it didn’t have artistry or feel of a children’s story. Janine made the decision to seek the support of Teresa Mlawer who delivered a beautiful retelling of the story in Spanish.
5. Platform Building
I spent more than three years building visibility for myself as a resource for families like mine, and as someone with something to say about the topics addressed in my book. This included speaking at numerous conferences, creating a website with the help of YDay Designs, recording videos about my story as a mom, becoming a blogger on Huffington Post, and establishing Facebook and twitter accounts. There is also a Facebook account for the book and I purchased the domain name oneofakindlikeme.com so that people searching for the book by name will be redirected to the correct page on my Out Proud Families website.
I submitted the manuscript a few times to a publisher that specializes in multicultural children’s literature. They were supportive of my project, but in the end were not interested. I also explored self-publishing as an option, but decided that the amount of work this would entail was beyond my capacity. I ultimately ended up just where I think I was meant to be, with an independent publisher who is absolutely passionate about multicultural children’s books.
Several people I knew, including Shirin, suggested that I connect with Janine Macbeth, who had just published her first book Oh, Oh, Baby Boy under her own imprint, Blood Orange Press. We connected in 2013 and since then have built a beautiful working relationship.
Janine also knew Robert Liu-Trujillo, the illustrator I was interested in, and didn’t hesitate to sign him on to illustrate my book.
Launching the Book
On September 21st, we will be celebrating the launch of our book with the biggest bang possible (given our limited resources). There are a series of events planned including book readings, celebrations, workshops, and interviews.
Will you help me by spreading the word, buying my book, or coming to a book launch event? I would also welcome any opportunities to speak, do readings, or include this story in books lists, blogs or reviews. Please feel free to email me at email@example.com
Thank you for letting me share my experiences. I wish you as much luck with your project as I have had in mine.
Congratulations, Laurin. And for all children’s writers and illustrators out there, the Asian Festival of Children’s Literature, one of the biggest kid lit events on the planet, has issued a Call for Proposals: “The Call is for writers and illustrators who might want an opportunity to present at the Festival. We will not be able to provide an honorarium, but we will be able to provide a complimentary Full Festival pass (worth S$500), which will give them access to attend the Writers & Illustrators Conference, Cross-Platform Summit, Teachers Congress and Parents Forum. Masterclasses are ticketed separately.” If you’re interested, you’ll find more information here. Good luck! And happy writing,