Once Upon A Time

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//by Kate Jolley

Don't over-think. Just write. Just publish. Just do it. That's the advice offered by countless published authors, all of whom took initiative despite the fear of failure and slim odds for success.

Megan Champion and her husband Hank followed what some might call a reverse approach to writing their book, If Your Monster Wears Pajamas. Their journey started with dolls, and the dolls started as Hank's sketches—baby monsters
in pajamas. He hired a costume designer to turn five of his favorite sketches into prototypes.

After he and Megan married, she was determined to take Pajama Monsters to the next level. She found a local seamstress to produce a few more prototypes and contacted bloggers for online reviews.

Though the dolls were selling online, both Hank and Megan knew something was missing. The husband and wife team
had discussed writing a book together, and now the opportune moment had presented itself.

Because they had already brought the Pajama Monsters to life through their son’s bedtime stories, the bulk of the work was illustration, on which Hank worked for nine months. Due to publishing industry barriers for new authors, the pair decided not to go through a traditional publisher. After much Internet research, the Champions published a few books through
Bookmasters in Ohio.

The next step was marketing. Through participation in events like One Spark and a toy fair in New York where they were voted one of the top toy trends of 2014, they were able to put their brand on the map.

“We were just figuring it out one little piece at a time,” says Megan. “We went through a lot of planning and preparation,
and ultimately put ourselves in a position to get lucky.”

If Your Monster Wears Pajamas is the first of an upcoming series. At 32 pages, the book is slightly longer than most  children's books because the couple feels strongly about spending quality time reading to children.

“We want this to be an experience for the family,” says Megan.

The desire to create memorable childhood experiences is a similar trait among first-time children's book authors.

“Parents have sent me pictures of their child reading my stories, and it's the most heartwarming feeling,” says Sherry  Kittle, a published children's book author and illustrator who splits her time between Sarasota and Indianapolis, Indiana.

An art major, Kittle illustrates her own stories on bristol board in pencil and then ink, adding color only with colored  pencil. It is a process that she had been practicing at home with her children for years.

Through social media, online sellers like amazon.com, and book signings, Kittle has been working tirelessly to market her books, utilizing her family's retail furniture stores in Indiana and Ohio for in-store sales. Her advice to aspiring authors is straightforward: “Don't waste time wondering if your work is good enough to publish. Just give it a shot.”

Since December 2013, Kittle has published five books—most recently, The French Fry Garden—through Peppertree Press, an independent, full-service book publishing company in Sarasota.

If words are your thing, but illustration doesn't come naturally, there are always teaming options. Peppertree has access to about 30 freelance illustrators who are popular with the publishing company's authors, says Julie Ann Howell, publisher and founder of Peppertree Press, which has 667 titles and publishes about 50 children’s books a year.

The publishing process at Peppertree takes roughly four months. The illustrator needs two months to complete the artwork,
and the actual production takes another eight to ten weeks. Peppertree then goes a step further and offers their authors promotional items like posters and business cards.

The publisher also gives content suggestions to first-time authors. For example, Howell recommends rhyming to capture a child’s attention and always pushes for a “teachable moment” at the end of the story.

“I am so passionate about this company,” says Howell. “I think my favorite part about [publishing] is not the story itself but hearing the story behind the story: how the author was inspired to write.”