Happy Holidays! As we wrap up 2017 I have my final Paper People Interview of the year. This month, Jodi McKay, author of WHERE ARE THE WORDS? shares her wisdom and Words with me about her debut picture book release. She’s also offering a giveaway! Seems like a great Christmas present, don’t you think? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. I hope you enjoy our visit!
Jodi, thanks so much for joining me today! I’ll start with an icebreaker in honor of my southern roots… “Can I get you something to drink?” Why thank you for asking! So, um, what kind of drink are we talking about? Let me go kid friendly and say a Root Beer Float, OR, a Boston Cooler. Either way, I win because, you know, ice cream.
Yes! I love any excuse to have a good chocolate malt. Great idea! Everyone at my house is a big fan of WHERE ARE THE WORDS?! I know we aren’t the only ones either because every time I try to check it out, I’m on a waiting list! It’s such a unique concept but before we jump into it, would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you started writing for children? Wow, thanks! You just made my day! I have always found a sense of comfort and excitement when cracking open a picture book and my happy place truly is the children’s section of a bookstore so writing for kids came quite naturally. It wasn’t until after my son started school that I felt like I could really dedicate myself to learning about how to write for children and then actually write. Five years later, I am still learning and still writing, but now I have some experience under my belt and an office (in my house) where I sit and write in the company of my dog, Ralph and cat, Albi. They love my stories.
In an earlier interview with Laura Sassi, you offer some of my favorite advice ever. I’ll remind you… “Engage your senses to find that spark… Creativity comes in various forms so be open to everything.” I completely believe this! I try hard to find a balance of keeping my BIC (butt in chair), without being tied to my laptop. What are your favorite places to find inspiration? I’ve found that I am struck with story ideas at the oddest times so I suppose inspiration finds me. I’ve come up with concepts while resting in downward dog, watching cartoons, driving (not the safest), heck even Robin Roberts from Good Morning America said something that resulted in a story. That’s what I meant about being open- be present to whatever situation you’re in and story ideas will bubble up and out. If I’m feeling stuck, however, I usually plug in the headphones, crank up the classical, and take Ralph for a walk.
I do the same! One day (thinking positively) I’m going to have to dedicate a book to my dog because our walks are so productive. I usually listen to Kid Lit podcasts, or something energizing and inspiring to get me excited. I save the classical music for when I’m writing… then it’s all instrumental, all the time. So, what’s your favorite creative outlet, besides writing? I really enjoy taking pictures. In fact, I will be taking our Christmas card photo soon which usually ends up with lots of yelling to get everyone to look at the camera at the same time. This is not easy when the animals are trying to get out of their costumes and the kid is laughing hysterically. Yep, I said costumes and we’ve had some epic cards come out of my creative photo shoot ideas.
That’s amazing! I usually make ours from whatever decent pictures are saved on my phone, but this year I stepped up my game a little. (No costumes here, though). I have to say, in all of your interviews that I’ve read, your voice is wonderfully authentic. Sometimes I feel like that’s one of my biggest struggles, keeping my voice and following the guidelines/formulas/formats. Do you ever struggle with getting your voice into your stories? Sure do. For me, the struggle is trying to do something different to explore other forms of writing and losing my voice in that process. For example, I recently tried to write a quieter book, no humor, more poetic language and… nope. My author voice is usually quirky with a type of humor that makes you want to elbow someone and say, “Ha, get it?” When I am true to that then the story ends up working.
My boys, ages 4, 5 and 33 quote your book all the time! They look at each other (or me) and say, “Will you stop with the peanuts?” and then fall over laughing. Mission Accomplished! Was WHERE ARE THE WORDS? your first picture book manuscript? How long was it a ‘work in progress’? It was not my first, but it was the one that was different from anything I had ever written. It didn’t take me too long to write, but as usual, longer to revise so I would say that it was a work in progress for roughly 6 months before I was asked if I would be interested in sending it to an editor. I know that is not normal, but It’s such an abnormal book that I suppose this particular journey was meant to be.
Since it was a concept book, did you struggle with finding mentor texts? There’s one that comes to mind for you, but having such a unique storyline must’ve made it tricky. Full discloser- I did not use a mentor text. Phew, I said it. There’s Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Alfie the Apostrophe by Moira Rose Donohue as well as other punctuation type books, but I didn’t use them to help guide me. I knew what I wanted to write and how I wanted to write it. Full, full disclosure- I rarely use mentor texts unless I’m really stuck or want to try something new. I read a ton and make mental notes on what works or what doesn’t work, but I don’t often run to those books when I write. This is why writing and reading programs like ReFoReMo are essential for me. They push me out of my comfort zone and make me approach writing differently.
I have my sights set squarely on ReForReMo this year. I’ve not participated before, but I’m a member of the Facebook group and have already learned a lot. So, back to your book, Exclamation Point and Parenthesis were my favorite characters! (But then again, I often overuse both of those, in case you hadn’t noticed.) Was there a character that you related to more than others? Oddly enough, I’m a bit like Period. I don’t consider myself to be an excitable person like Exclamation Point and I don’t ask a ton of questions. I am a listener, although I’ve been known to throw in an aside here and there much like Parentheses.
On December 20, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy early Book-iversary! Do you have plans to celebrate? Does it still feel a bit surreal? Wow, it’s been a year already? I hate to say it, but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t really thought about how I might celebrate. Any ideas? I think I’ll do a giveaway on Twitter so look for those details in the next few weeks. It does feel unreal that I have a book on store and library shelves, but I mostly feel grateful. There were a lot of people that made this happen- my family, my agent, my editor and the team at Albert Whitman, Denise Holmes who was the illustrator, and the community of children’s book writers with their endless supply of support. This was a team effort so when I celebrate, I will toast to them.
Do you remember the first time you saw WHERE ARE THE WORDS? on a bookstore shelf? Yes! I had that slow-motion running, arms wide open kind of scenario happen and when I got to the shelf I turned around and showed my son that my book was in a bookstore. That was something else. I still get a little giddy when I see it in stores.
I’ve always thought that would be a hugely significant moment, in fact every Paper People interviewee so far has been able to tell me the exact time and place. I’m curious about marketing strategies. What worked well for you when it was released? How did you get it on those shelves? Marketing is tough, especially when you’re not used to sales. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to promoting my work and myself, but what I did learn and applied was to start well ahead of the book release date. Set up a blog tour at least three months in advance to get exposure and to let people know who you are. Invest in promotional material a.k.a. book swag to send to reviewers or to give to folks at bookstores, conferences, book signing events, or as part of a book package giveaway. I also took time to get to know some of the independent bookstore owners in my state either by stopping by their store or by working with them at a book event. They are always so gracious and willing to host book signing events or carry books of local authors, mine included.
What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I had to think about this one for a while. I wasn’t surprised by much in terms of marketing, sales, or even how hard it would be to sell another book to a publisher. I suppose what has thrown me a bit is how I still compare my journey to those of other authors. Isn’t that horrible? It makes me feel like an ungrateful jerk sometimes, but then I check myself and keep writing.
No! That’s not horrible, I think that’s one of the most honest answers you could have given. No doubt those of us on the pre-published side think that ‘so much’ changes, but the reality is that very little actually does. (I’m assuming.) Is there anything you’ve learned in the past year that you wished you had known in advance? I wish I had known that not every book published receives the same amount of marketing or recognition by the publishing house. It took me a while to figure that out and I should have asked my editor or the marketing team where my book fell on their list. This is common for all publishing houses and had I done my research, maybe I would have found more ways or been more creative in promoting my work.
Do you have anything coming down the pipe, awaiting publication? Where can we find and follow you on social media? I may very well have some good news, but I’ll need to wait until the time is right to make that announcement. Sorry! While I wait, I have stories in line to be submitted to editors, I have stories on my computer waiting to be sent to my agent, and I have stories in my head begging to be written so I’ll stay busy. If you want something to do while you wait, feel free to head on over to my website (check out my teacher’s guide, school visit info., or critique service!), send me an email, chat me up on Twitter or Facebook, find me on Instagram, or follow my interests on Pinterest.
Thanks so much for letting me stop by Magnolias & Manuscripts. It’s always fun to talk with a fellow writer!
Thank you for sharing your WORDS and wisdom! Jodi has been kind enough to offer a giveaway, see below. The giveaway will run for one week; enter for your chance to win
(I know, its my first giveaway and it doesn’t look right, but click the link-
I promise its there!)
And don’t go far! I have a long list of 2017 debut picture book authors that I hope to add to the 2018 Paper People list. Join me in January as I talk to Annie Silvestro, author of Bunny’s Book Club and then Anna Forrester, author of Bat Count in February. I’m not quite finished for the year though, I still (hope) to have another interview and a blog post or two, and my Holiday Contest entry will be posted this weekend! As always…
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!