1. What is your new series of children's illustrated books about? JZB: My new series of children’s books is called the Salty Splashes Collection™. The cast is a precocious bunch of cartoon characters, all animals, who live in a world that’s unconventional yet relatable, to both children and adults. The components of this cartoon world resemble real life, and the dilemmas the characters face are familiar and amusing. These first three books introduce the characters and their world, and get them to an eerie island where the scene is set for an adventure of epic proportions.
2. What inspired you to create them? JZB: The first spark of inspiration came from my new puppy. My initial story, however, was very different from the end result in this new collection. Along the way, I met my publisher who loved my writing, but admittedly hated my first draft. He convinced me to start over from scratch. The missing pieces to that story were found in my surroundings in Santa Barbara: namely the Channel Islands and their history, as well as my backyard bobcat. These components became the anchors to the Salty Splashes world. From there, the story seemed to fall into place, as if it was always meant to be told.
On a technical level, another source of inspiration to write the Salty Splashes™ series came from my observation that there’s a dearth of good literature for elementary school kids. My books are a hybrid: they bridge the gap between picture books and chapter books. These substantial stories can stand against the best of them on literary merit, but the hand-drawn storyboards also give kids cartoons to go along with those stories, resulting in a very satisfying reading experience for both kids and adults. In fact, I just got an unsolicited video from a father, whose 9-year old daughter was so enchanted by reading a review copy of Book #2, that he wanted to share her personal opinion. It’ll be posted on my website soon. That’s the biggest inspiration for me; the smile on a child’s face and listening to them reading the words I wrote. It’s priceless.
3. What were the challenges to putting them together? JZB: The main challenge surrounding these three books was that they were originally one long story; I initially thought I was writing a chapter book. But once the characters developed, and their unique personalities and humorous dilemmas evolved, the story was begging for illustrations. My publisher had a clear vision of storyboards to correspond with my rhymes. Together with our illustrator, we made what’s become a “movie on paper.” This “movie” was too long, however, for one children’s book. So we broke it into three bite-size pieces that could be read independently of each other. This was a challenge, and there’s much more to this story but, in short, we proved a lot to ourselves; namely that we can do three books at one time. But also, that we had the patience and pride to hand-craft these books into what I believe is perfection, in both literary merit and artistic beauty.
4. What is the lasting message of your books? JZB: The Salty Splashes™ stories center around family, friends, getting into trouble and finding adventures, but eventually learning and doing the right thing. They’re about old-fashioned values, loyalty, and respect for one another. The other message of my books is: Don’t be afraid of words! Although Salty Splashes™ books are beautifully illustrated, and these cartoons are the initial draw, they’re not just picture books. They’re actually a hybrid that bridges the gap between picture books and chapter books. Kids these days are pretty savvy. They can adapt to computer use before they start first grade. I believe kids are ready to test their reading skills with artfully crafted tales that engage them with great visuals. When you get inside a Salty Splashes™ book, you’re going to want to read what’s going on with these pictures. The mix of easy and more challenging words enables kids to painlessly enhance their vocabularies as they enjoy the detailed storyboards. There’s no better time for kids to jump into learning new words than during their elementary school years. In short, the other message is: Why not let your kids get educated while they’re being entertained?
Any advice to fellow writers? JZB: Write from the heart and write well. Edit your work down to the meat of the story and don’t be afraid to cut out all the fluff. I probably cut over 2,000 words of rhyme in total across all three books in order to make it more balanced for a young reader. As I read the tightened, edited stories now, I realize they actually read better than ever. Although I was reluctant to cut so much at first, my publisher talked me into it by promising me I could add back all the deleted sections into a longer, unabridged version for a future publication. Basically a screenplay for the animated movie. That was enough bait for me to cut, cut, and cut some more.
5. Which elements make for a really good children's book? JZB: One of the most interesting developments behind Salty Splashes was the feedback from my focus group of elementary school kids who read an early prototype. Listening to your audience or your target market is essential for success in any business. In my business of children’s fiction, I listened to my readers. They wanted a family unit that had a Mom and a Dad. They wanted to see the cartoon characters have adventure and fun that they could relate to. So I incorporated many of their suggestions into these books. Add to that some valuable lessons about morality to satisfy parents and adults, and you’ve got yourself a relevant product with a long shelf life.
6. Where do you see book publishing heading? JZB: The industry is in a very interesting position today and an eye-opening statistic is how small, independent publishers are fueling industry growth. Small presses are nimble, creative, and exciting. Their nimbleness allows them to move on a dime to follow market trends and be opportunistic. Their creativity stems, in part, by their lean structure, both with manpower and capital. Counting every dollar wisely leads to creative ways of marketing, among other efficiencies. What’s exciting about small publishers is that they’re looking for holes in the market -- missed opportunities -- and they’re often resourceful enough to fill them once they’ve identified what those niches are. I see independent publishing as a bright light in the industry.
I think publishing may be heading back toward its roots: back to the time when the dominant players were the creators and the curators of stories, the writers and the publishers. The phrase “content is King” will always ring true. The creators of content, in my view, are gaining power as the channels between writers/publishers and readers become more direct, and are paved ever smoother by technology and digital platforms. Technology can be the best friend of small business. Social media allows lean companies that are shrewdly creative to affordably make a huge impact on consumer awareness. If they can support a great social media campaign with a customer-friendly, e-commerce website, they can offer their books on-line, directly to the consumer.
This is a great example of my favorite lesson from math class: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Publishing is business, after all, and business is always about the economics. In this case, not just the economics for large publishers, but also for smaller, independent publishers and authors. In the end, however, as long as all the players in the industry integrate forward with technology, and bring great content to those who love to read, the industry, as a whole, will continue to thrive.
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2013 ©
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