Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Opportunity Dances

Today, I interview Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt, author of the new book, "You Think It's Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?" Sheri tells us how she got the inside track on this mysterious woman, as well as sharing her thoughts on platform and her views on what makes a good children's book.

Tell us about yourself.
I am an award-winning freelance writer and editor who pens features and profiles of people and places for businesses, websites and publications. I’ve written for American Profile, Family Circle, Ladies' Home Journal, The Washington Post, inflights, and lots of regional mags. I also write books and reviews.

Tell us about "You Think It's Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?"
My book is about a James Bondish tooth fairy – an “action gal” who “lives for danger and suspense” as she makes her nightly tooth hauls. She doesn’t rely on fairy dust, but on her cool high-tech gadgets. She zips along on her jet-propelled tooth board, for instance, and she uses her amazing Tooth-o-Finder, which looks like a watch, but the face shows the continents. As each kid’s tooth drops out of his or her head, the Tooth-o-Finder picks up its distinctive “ting, ting, ting” – think homing beacon – which is how the Tooth Fairy knows when and where to pick up teeth. Another cool gadget is her Spy-o-Binoculars, which she uses to scope out each kid’s house to “plan her entry.” The rest of the book shows the obstacles the Tooth Fairy has to deal with – such as pesky pets (“Cats want to swat me, squash me, squeeze me, even eat me”) – as well as things kids do themselves – such as hiding their teeth deep in their pajama pocket or in their smelly sock. Basically, the book is a night in the life of the Tooth Fairy, told from her perspective, and her instructions on where kids should place their teeth so that she can zip in and out. She does have to get around the entire planet before morn!

How did you come up with the idea for this book?
I decided to take a Highlights Foundation workshop, on writing picture books, at the Foundation’s headquarters in Honesdale, PA. About a week before the workshop, I still had yet to come up with a picture book draft, which was one of the requirements. Nothing like pressure to get your muse working! So that morning I decided I wasn’t getting out of bed until I came up with a story. For some reason I got to thinking about Santa, and then my mind then traipsed through all the story characters I read about as a child. For some reason I stopped on the Tooth Fairy. Why, I wondered, was she always pictured as this winged dainty creature, when nightly hunts for teeth probably took a lot of effort? That’s how my story was born.

You've had a pretty diversified writing career, your first books were for others wanting to build a career and you've seemingly made a switch to young children's books. How did you do that?
You’re right. I started my writing career by writing newspaper articles, then magazine articles for the adult market. But then I began to itch to write books. I didn’t have the guts to write an adult book, so I approached a children’s educational publisher to see if I could wrangle myself a book project. I was willing to write anything just to get my name on a book spine! So my first three books were career guides geared to middle and high school students, for Thomson Gale. They were a lot of work, as I had to interview a lot of people working in art, law, and the military, as each chapter (six or seven in each book) highlighted a different career. I basically told kids what they could expect as far as job duties, pay, work hours, stresses, joys, etc., buoyed by quotes from my interview sources. I don’t recommend that route to other writers, and not only because of the work-for-hire arrangement, which generates no copyright or further income. Those books were hard to write because of the strict style and format requirements. Can you say “dry”?! And the editing process was excruciating. But the books had one up side: they convinced me I could tackle a book length manuscript. With that experience under my belt, I went after an opportunity to write two children’s activity books for Nomad Press, a small educational publisher, for readers nine and up. One is called “Great World War II Projects You Can Build Yourself,” the other is “Amazing Maya Inventions You Can Build Yourself.” I’m very proud of them. Hey, can I share a quote on my wall by my computer. It reads: “Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor.” I think that’s so true. Really, once you decide you can do something, you find opportunities presenting themselves. So that’s why I then wrote a middle grade novel and my tooth fairy picture book. “Why not?” I asked myself. I’ve been able to write everything else I’ve tried. The novel is still unpublished, but my agent believes it will sell, and Tooth is selling very well. In fact, I’ve earned out my advance in just six months and it’s been scheduled for a second printing by Chronicle. ;-

Talk about 'platform,' the buzz word in book publishing today. How does a writer concentrate on building a platform and still concentrate on writing?
Writers have to wear a lot of hats—and they have to become masters of focus and time management. It has taken me a while to get comfortable with the marketing side of the biz, but it’s a necessity if you want your books to sell well. Specific to platform, we have to “help” people “see” us as we want to be viewed. But the word “platform” doesn’t necessarily mean expertise in an area. It might just mean that your father is the President.

If we writers can find a way to get connected to something, and have others accept us in that role, then we have a platform. Actually, I think a writer can have numerous platforms. I certainly intend to build one as a funny picture book author, but that’s not the whole of who I am or will become. I love it, actually, when people list ALL of their “platforms” in their bio. You know, like: “actress, yoga instructor, publicist, chef, and author.” I think, “What an interesting person!”

What is the single most effective marketing you do when your books come out?
I use my email tagline to promote my books. Right now my tagline even includes part of the review Tooth received from Kirkus Reviews, which is one of the pubs that librarians read before deciding what they’ll order for their libraries. I’ve had a lot of people reply to an email and say, “I didn’t know you wrote all that!” I also think e-newsletters are also very effective at reminding people that you’re out there. Too, I think collecting contact info on my writer site is good business, because the info can be used in a lot of different ways.

How do you diversify your business between writing books, writing for magazines and doing speaking, editing, etc.
I just finished writing up a marketing plan for You Think It's Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?, so any other deadlines have to work around that. I’m also actively building my school visit “platform,” because school visits can be quite lucractive. I know several authors who average a school visit every week!

What is the secret to a successful children's book?
That’s a tough question, because writing is so subjective. What I like, you may yawn over. What you like, I might think was a waste of electricity, ink, and trees. HA! But I do know one thing: kids have very short attention spans, so the dialogue has to really keep moving, and the story has to include characters that they can identify with or be enchanted by. Picture book text is helped immensely by the pictures, but a novel or chapter book must be strong enough to stand on its own. One of my favorite classics is A Wrinkle in Time. A more contemporary example is Love, Ruby Lavender.

Do you model your writing from anyone?
No. But I read a heck of a lot, so I hope the good writers are rubbing off on me!

Where can readers find your book and what's next for you?
You can find all of my books on the shelves of online bookstores, and you can walk into any bookstore and order them. Local bookstores/chains have my books on their shelves, as do some mega independent bookstores, like Powell’s Books in Portland, OR, but I don’t kid myself that Tooth is in every neighborhood store (yet!).

What’s next?
Getting my novel sold and writing more picture books. But I ‘d like to make most of my income in 2008 from school visits. That’s why I’m attending the ALA Winter Meeting in Philadelphia this weekend—face time with librarians is critical to getting national gigs.


Blogger Suzanne Lieurance said...

Hi, Kerri,

This is a charming picture book!

For more with the author, listen to a podcast interview I did with Sheri a few months ago for Book Bites for Kids at the National Writing for Children Center.

Have a great day!

Suzanne Lieurance

7:57 AM CST  
Blogger Patricia said...

Hi Kerri,

Nice interview. If you'd like additional information and perspective for hopeful authors, consider an interview with me.

Patricia Fry

7:22 AM CST  
Blogger Dawn said...

Thanks so much for this informative interview with Sheri (and thanks to Sheri for offering her insight). I am working on a children's book right now, so this was a great read for me!

1:26 PM CST  
Anonymous Sheri said...

Thanks for the interview, Kerri. I had a lot of doing Suzanne's as well. Best of luck to you, Dawn! Hope to hear you're publishing soon. ;-)


2:06 PM CST  
Blogger Sheri said...

Oops! Meant to add my website address: www.Bell-Rehwoldt.com & www.4kids.bell-rehwoldt.com


2:14 PM CST  
Blogger Sheri said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:16 PM CST  
Blogger Ghost Girl said...

Fabulous! Thanks for sharing this, Kerri. And "Hi" Sheri. Sorry I missed you at ALA!

Mary Ann

3:11 PM CST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sheri's enthusiasm makes anything seem possible. Here's to being on the dance floor. By the way, anyone who wants to know more about the Highlights Foundation workshops Sheri mentioned can find out at www.highlightsfoundation.org.

Kim T. Griswell
Coordinating Editor
Highlights High Five

3:23 PM CST  

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