Publishing Books

The hard truth about traditional publishing

For many writers, breeching the walls of traditional publishing seems impossible. Excepting small presses and only a couple larger ones, a writer or illustrator needs an agent to gain access to the marketplace. When you submit to an agent, you don’t always get a response, you only have to assume there’s been a rejection. For many children’s book authors, traditional publishing feels insurmountable.

Self-publishing: answers and questions

For these reasons, some are considering self-publishing.  It used to be that printing costs and distribution were negative deterrents. The question I used to ask those considering self-publishing? “Do you want to give up your garage space to store all the children’s books you’re having a hard time selling?”

Now, given the capability of printing on-demand, the printing cost and storage issue has vanished.  But there is a new quandary in self-publishing. Because anyone can publish a children’s book, self-published children’s have a reputation of being of poor quality, especially if one relies on the illustrative expertise of print-on-demand services. The question I put to those considering self-publishing now? Just because you can publish a children’s book, should you? And what should you think about if you are self-publishing?

Raising the bar on self-publishing

When I began seeing the power of this trend, the way it would allow writers and illustrators control of their publishing, I set a new objective for myself.  I want to help raise the bar on self-publishing.  I believe that every author who self-publishes must seek out the benefits traditional publishers offer.  They should have:

  • An external developmental editor
  • An illustrator
  • A book designer
  • A line editor
  • A copy editor

Stories of books I’ve helped birth

I’ve helped at least fifty writers edit their books and have have aided four authors in self-publication.  All these books raise the bar on self-publication.

In addition, I have discovered resources (including book designer, line and copy editing, and illustrators) that I can suggest to others.

Goodnight Carolina:

Goodnight Carolina

There are so many books modeled on Goodnight Moon. Most just list significant sites known in that city.  Missy and I worked hard to mimic both structure and rhythms of Margaret Wise Brown’s famous original in Goodnight Carolina.

Road Trip Carolina

When it came to creating Road Trip Carolina, Missy’s elegant lyricism had freer rein and allowed her to show her passion for all places North Carolina. That didn’t mean we didn’t have to work diligently on meter and rhymes!  Elaine O’Neil has as much love for Chapel Hill and North Carolina as Missy and her passions show in her colorful fabric collages.

Goldilocks is Back!

Robert Long and Anne Mandeville-Long came to me when their book was quite far along. Still, together we formed a synergistic trio that put even more life into this Three Bears variant. They raved about working with Jeehyun Hoke who matched their playful take on the tale with her fanciful watercolors.

What Do Llamas Do?

Katy Torney came to me with an idea for a book. It involved a hysterical real-life event that occurred her headstrong llama, Inca, ran into a large boulevard in Greensboro, NC and held up 8 lanes of traffic. She came to me with an illustrator she’d chosen. Like Katy, I fell in love with the amazing art of Leanne Pizio (not to mention Leanne herself).  I introduced them to book designer Steve Godwin and together, the four of us, synchronized word, image and the delight of creating.

Books I’ve co-created

For years I wrote my own children’s books, but I have much more fun creating collaborative books with groups.

I began teaching writing residencies when I moved to North Carolina in1990 and quickly evolved a collaborative process of linked reading-writing activities that went from imagining characters to editing a final draft.

In 2004, I began Story Quilt collaborations with textile-designer Peg Gignoux. I guided groups in creating a story and then, in a parallel process, Peg led participants in developing visual images to illustrate the allegorical tale.

In 2011, with the help of Julia Gignoux, book designer, we turned our Tell Me a Patch Story Quilt into a book.  That has led to more collaborations and founding For Kids By Kids, a team of artists who collaborate with non-profits working for positive social change to transform their principles into vibrant words and illustrations.

Currently we are putting finishing touches on  Lenna’s Gift, written with a community of Latinx youth from 8-18.  The story tells of River who wants to be big and strong and boasts of its power when flooding.  River’s friend Moon who sees the whole world gives a bigger view. “Big and strong aren’t always best. The spiders’ webs are torn, and the grasses lie bent and broken by your waters.”  River finds true strength by helping Lenna, a determined young woman with a vibrant idea for uniting the world.

See past collaborations below:

Planting Hope

Planting Hope

Planting Hope – A hard-working girl and a golden seed unite a contentious garden. This 2016 book was commissioned by PORCH in Chapel Hill and produced in collaboration with an ELS class at Smith Middle School and after-school students at Rogers Road Community Center, both located in Chapel Hill.

Transplanting Traditions: The Story of a Community Farm

Transplanting Traditions- The Karen Youth Art Group, sponsored by the FRANK Gallery, wrote, illustrated, and photographed this picture book in Karen and English. The 2015 publication documents a community that finds a home in the United States when a Chapel Hill location enables their gardening tradition to take root.

What Can A Small Bird Be?


What Can A Small Bird Be?- A tiny bird’s life gets bigger when he discovers important virtues like courage and perseverance. A partnership between the North Carolina Department of Instruction and North Carolina Museum of Art, this book was written by eight teams of teenagers across the state of North Carolina in 2011.

Tell Me a Patch

Tell Me a Patch- This picture book reveals the raucous nature of a library and a timid little pillow who is comforted by a storytelling chair. Patrons of all ages of the Hemphill Library in Greensboro, NC collaboratively wrote and illustrated the tale. This 2006 project had support from the Greensboro Public Library.