Tag Archives: children’s writers

Hangout with A. J. Cosmo. We discuss his Monster A-Z series and children’s indie-publishing

AJ and I talked twice on Google.  This time didn’t record because frankly I didn’t know what I was doing.

After Youtube told us the video was removed for being too long, Youtube changed its mind and let the video up.

Don’t worry you only see my face for a few minutes, I eventually switch it to AJ.  And I didn’t (still don’t) know how to show both of us in the window.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15uv3xbBk8M]

Check out the interview I did with AJ last year.

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Amazon helps children books authors with updates

I noticed last week when I uploaded a short story to Amazon that there was a new change in KDP for children’s writers.

Now Amazon allows you to add the grade level and age range for your book.  Before this needed to be down just in your blurb.

This change allows for people to find your work by searching for grade level or age range.

And as someone who writes for kids, this is all win.

Amazon wins again.

Oh yeah, here is the short story mentioned above. Which is level for 2nd through 5th graders, thank you very much.

Aliens. Baseball. 99 cents.

Aliens. Baseball. 99 cents.

Raymond Bean-Best Selling Children’s author answers some questions. Only one question about farts though.

I am a teacher, and I write books.  I am not the only one.  Raymond Bean teaches 4th grade in New York City, and has two best selling series with Amazon, Sweet Farts and School is a Nightmare.  He teaches 4th and I will be teaching 5th, and judging by pictures we both seem to have the same hairline.  But the difference stops there, as he has written two series and is on his way to releasing a third series.

He was nice enough to answer a handful of questions.  But it was how we came to connect through James Altucher deserves a mention.  James is also a best-selling indie-publisher whose recent Choose Yourself sold over 40,000 copies in it’s first month.  Enough to put him on the Wall Street Journal’s best seller’s list, and the New York times for that matter.  But because he didn’t sell them in stores the New York Times list doesn’t include his work.  That’s a post for another time. (See my review of Choose Yourself.  James retweeted my review, and consequently that was the biggest day on my blog so far.  There is a lesson there.)

James does a weekly ask me anything through Twitter on Thursday afternoons.  Typically I can’t participate because I am in school during that time, but during July my schedule is a little more open.  After the success of James’ Choose Yourself and a subsequent post on Tech Crunch about self publishing 3.0, I asked him on Twitter how would his advice differ for selling children’s books.  And this is how James replied:

Three things on this:

  1. James thought I asked a great question.
  2. I stumped him enough that he passed me off to Raymond Bean.
  3. I steal James’ idea and interview Raymond myself.

And from there Raymond was nice enough to respond to the tweet and then was nice enough to answer some questions for me.

(I believe this is a very important 21st century skill.  We should be teaching our students and children to expand our connections through technology.)

Enough backstory, here are the questions that Ray was nice enough to answer:

1.       How long have you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always written.  I remember a pencil box I had in elementary school (probably second grade) that had an elaborate scene of kids having a snowball fight on the cover.  I wrote speech bubbles next to each kid.

2.      Did you ever send the manuscript for Sweet Farts to agents or publishers before sending it to KDP?

Yes, I sent Sweet Farts out to many publishers and several agents before and after self publishing on Createspace/KDP.  Amazon Publishing ultimately picked up the first book and the rest of the series.

3.      Did you use any services from Createspace such as editing, cover design, or illustrations?

Createspace does all the services for my indie titles.

4.      How long did it take for the book to begin selling well?  Was it immediate or did it take a while for mouth-of-mouth to kick in?

It took about three months for sales to kick in.  I was lucky because the book seemed to generate a good deal of word of mouth between readers.

5.      Where did you get the idea for Sweet Farts?

See the video.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTwd-3s9FJM&w=560&h=315]
6.      What sort of promotion did you do?

I gave away a good deal of free copies.  It was way back in 2008.  I think I was fortunate because self publishing hadn’t really exploded yet.  Once my book started selling on Amazon it pollinated with other popular children’s titles and its discoverability increased dramatically.

7.      When did Amazon approach you to sell through their imprint?

I don’t remember exactly, but it was in 2009.  I remember googling Amazon Publishing and nothing came up.  I took a leap of faith that Amazon would grow its publishing business.  I’m glad I did.  Today they are growing at an amazing rate and announcing new imprints all the time.

8.      What sort of advice would you give to new writers considering self-publishing?

I think the most important thing is to get your work out there where readers can find it.  Once it’s available, write more.  Self publishing helped me land a fantastic agent and kick start my writing career.

9.      What do your students think of your success?

They’re very supportive.  I try to use my love of reading/writing to encourage my students to read and write more.

10.  Who is your favorite sports team?

I’m a big basketball fan.  The Knicks for sure.

Thanks so much to Raymond for taking the time to answer my questions.  If you’re a teacher of old elementary school students I would recommend checking out his work.

In spite of basketball being his favorite sport, Raymond’s upcoming book is about baseball.  Which is my personal favorite sport.  So I will be checking it out.

Any other indie writers I should track down and interview?  Leave suggestions in the comments.

Also check out my interview of best-selling children’s author AJ Cosmo.

Interview with Children’s Indie Writer AJ Cosmo

I recently reviewed James Altucher’s “Choose Yourself” and in the spirit of Choose Yourself I emailed AJ Cosmo, an indie children’s book writer, a request for an email interview.  That’s how the 21st century works, you want to work with someone or talk with them, go ahead and email them and see what happens.

I was lucky, AJ was nice enough to agree to answering my questions.  Thanks so much AJ for taking the time to answer my questions.

1. When did you publish your first book?

My first book was published on the Amazon Kindle in December of 2011. It was called “Gordon’s Gravy.” It was about a man that kept asking for gravy for his turkey until he got it. I had tried to get published under different pen names for different types of books but, like most writers, was met with silent rejection. Amazon opened up an opportunity for writers such as myself to approach an out of reach market. I didn’t understand at the time just how difficult self-publishing could be.

2. You write in one of your books that you were a teacher, what did you teach?

Great question, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to clarify this. A. J. Cosmo is a pen name that is a collaboration between two different writers. We have both been teachers but Jeff, the J. in A. J., taught primary grades for nineteen years in Southern California (seven of which were special needs.) Chris, the C in Cosmo, has worked as a class assistant, an adult ed. teacher, and a Sunday school teacher. Chris, that’s me, has done all of the illustration and most of the writing while Jeff shaped the direction of the stories and edited the prose.

Back in January, we decided to stop collaborating and Jeff turned the pen name over to me. Though Jeff still makes sure of the books’ merit, I can no longer in good faith use the same bio, so I have since evolved it. Thus the odd divide in my work. However, as a writer and an illustrator, I hope to teach and entertain beyond the confines of a classroom.

3. How do you illustrate your books?

I illustrate using a grab bag of methods that I have acquired and developed over the years. I prefer to change the method each time I approach a new book and tailor the style to the type of story I’m telling. “My Pet Raptor” was done by painting directly into Photoshop using a Wacom drawing tablet. This made the drawings painterly. “Monsters A to Z” used a more complicated method where I first drew the pictures in pencil, scanned them, added the paper texture, and then colored in Photoshop. This gave the monster illustrations a handcrafted feel. “Hug Bat” was illustrated like a coloring book. I first drew in non-reflective blue pencil and then inked over top of it. I then scanned the images, which eliminated the blue lines, and color filled the white areas. This is similar to how animation is done.

None of these processes would be possible without Photoshop. It is a wonderful tool has enabled me to quickly illustrate new books.

4. What sort of promotion have you used?

None. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. The books themselves are the promotion. I created them fast enough and had them all linked together. I put the ads for the other books at the end of the book (I do not put any of the acknowledgements or copyrights at the front of the book, only the end.) I enrolled the books in Kindle select so that I could put them up for free. And that was it. The new books promoted the old books and something of mine is available for free every week on Amazon. It’s a tremendous amount of work and ultimately unsustainable, but I feel that it is at least honest. If you want to read my work, it’s easy to get a taste of it.

Now that I have a foundation for my work, I have started to slow down and work on more interesting and complicated projects. In doing so, I also have to start traditional promotion. It is incredibly difficult, but I enjoy it immensely when I get to communicate with people who have read my work and find out about their lives and their families. I have an open policy on my twitter account @ajcosmokids that I will help out any artist or writer struggling with their work.

5. What was your most successful book and why?

The Monster That Ate My Socks” hands down. That book has had a life of its own from the get go and I am one proud parent. I don’t have a firm grasp on why it connected with an audience, and I don’t think other artists fully understand their own appeal, but I have my theories. When I write I try to regress to an eight year old and create what excites that mindset. The idea for Sock Monster came from doing laundry, go figure, while “The Imagibles” came from reminiscing about my imaginary friends that I had when I was a child.

Children’s books need to appeal to children as well as adults. You need to engage them with a good story, and surprise them along the way. I try to deal with issues that children will face in their daily lives: bullying, getting in trouble for something you didn’t do, losing a friend, no one listening to you, etc. I was an outcast as a child, so I create work for those children.

I also want to give something to the parents too. I try to add little Easter eggs in my work just for them. They should be entertained too! It’s also a personal goal of mine to create stories that are a little more cerebral, a little more thought provoking, than what the age group normally gets. I want children to read and fall in love with literature, so I hope a small way to push them towards that.

6. Where do you get your ideas?

I don’t know . . . Ok, that’s not a good answer. I can’t site the source, though I am a man of faith, but I can say that often times the idea comes spontaneously when I’m doing something completely un-related. The next book I’m going to put out came to me while walking past the daycare at my gym. I saw a little boy that had a blanket draped around his back like a cape. That started a chain of thoughts that led to a workable idea and I extrapolated a story from there (I wrote a blog post about this technique.)

The Truth Fairy” came from time I spent in the corporate world (and is also a play on words) while “An Alien in the City” came from being overwhelmed when I got lost in downtown Los Angeles. You can’t force ideas either; you can only create the space to allow them to bubble up. If you are stuck on a project or experiencing writers block I highly recommend taking yourself on an artists’ date (from the book The Artist’s Way by Cameron.) You expose yourself to other art and take your mind off of your work. It’s important to do this alone. The last time I got stuck, an exhibit of Marie Antoinette’s life recreated in doll form got me out of my funk.

I have a whole list of unused ideas stored on my phone and computer. I sometimes go back, dust one off, and make it work. Then again, most of them are unused for a reason. 😉

7. What writers inspire you?

I adore Dr. Seuss, Mo Willems, and Shel Silverstein the most. Dr. Seuss did an incredible job of encouraging readers and creating a fanciful world and I don’t think anyone will ever recapture what he accomplished. Willems is adorable and his books read like a great joke that you would tell at a party. I love his simple writing style. I admire Mr. Silverstein for dealing with heavy life issues in whimsical ways. I don’t think anyone else got so many children to think so deeply about typically adult topics.

Whenever I’m out and about, be it in a bookstore or a Laundromat, if there happen to be children’s books I will grab a few and read them. I’m always surprised at the variety of them and I think the form still has a lot of room for growth and experimentation.

8. What do you tell someone who is interested in self-publishing?

Make the best work you possibly can. Create something that would appeal to you. Make it professional in every aspect. Don’t skimp on effort or time but don’t obsess over it either (nothing is perfect.) You are a one-person publishing house and you need to perform every aspect from cover creation to editing to promotion. You can of course hire any of these aspects out and I would recommend doing so if you lack any of the appropriate skills. The gatekeepers may have changed, but the public is as demanding as ever.

Lastly, don’t give up. Nothing is instant in life, nothing worthwhile at least. I tend to look at it like farming. You plant the seeds, tend the soil, water the ground, and then, when it seems like nothing has happened for a long, long time, suddenly something starts to grow. And as long as you keep working, waiting, and trying, you will some day get your harvest.

Check out A. J. Cosmo’s latest book “ The Monster That Ate My Socks 2” on Kindle!

Thanks to AJ for answering my questions!  Now go check out his work.