This week we are so excited to welcome debut picture book author Keila Dawson! Keila’s book, The King Cake Baby, is her debut picture book. And she’s having the best author tour ever! With a book fit for New Orleans and Mardi Gras, she’s gotten to spend time signing books in the city of crawfish, purple and gold beads, and of course, King Cakes! Thank you Keila for stopping by my blog to answer some questions. I am so excited for you and your book.
What inspired this book?
The inspiration to write THE KING CAKE BABY came from two different experiences. The first inspired me to seriously consider writing. It happened while on a trip with girlfriends. We all shared things we’d always wanted to do but had not accomplished. I said I wanted to write a children’s story and have it published. But I didn’t have an idea. The second experience inspired the story idea. In January 2013, just like the old woman in the book, I decided to make a king cake during Carnival season. When I went to the kitchen drawer to get the baby that belonged inside the king cake, I couldn’t find one. I panicked. I wanted to mail the cake to my daughter who attended college out of state. But without a little plastic baby to hide inside, it wouldn’t be a king cake! And I said out loud something like, “I know you were in there baby where’d you run off to?” And thought, that’s it, there’s my story idea, a New Orleans gingerbread man tale retold.
How long did it take you to write it?
I wrote the first draft the same January night the idea came to me. I started subbing the manuscript to publishers by the end of that month.
How did you know which publishing house to send it to? What was your research process like?
At first I didn’t! I probably did what most newbies do who don’t know what they don’t know about children’s publishing. I looked up the names of some big well known houses and subbed. In the meantime, I found an online resource, Children’s Book Insiders (CBI). I thought CBI’s advice to find other writers to critique your work was pretty sound. With a little more research I read about a group named the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I contacted the group leader that I met in my area and she invited me to a meeting. I had no idea that meeting children’s authors was that easy! They gave me advice about how to get my manuscript submission ready and taught me how to look at a publisher’s list to determine if my story fit.
And I read other gingerbread man tales. At the time I could not find any children’s picture books set in New Orleans or any story using the little plastic baby we put inside king cakes during our Mardi Gras season.
How did you go about preparing your manuscript for submission?
I was fortunate to attend my first SCBWI meeting on the night the group designated as critique night and read my manuscript. I couldn’t believe professional authors were taking the time to help a complete newbie. And it felt wonderful to have them tell me they loved my story idea. I savored every word of advice given to improve it. They taught me about the power of three, and told me to reduce the word count by cutting scenes. I continued to independently research and read everything I could find about these topics. Here’s the power of three I used: research, revise, repeat!
What did you learn along your publishing journey?
- I learned how much there is to learn and how very little I actually knew. If I want to continue to publish stories with a broad appeal and not just regional appeal, I need to learn more about the craft.
- I learned there is a lot of industry related vocabulary, like solicited vs. unsolicited, query, slush pile, spreads, spot art, etc., not to mention the physical parts of a book!
- I learned about contracts and negotiations. Authors must learn about the business end of publishing.
- I learned how to establish an online author platform to include a website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. I designed my own website. It’s basic but gets the job done and I can manage it on my own. I sold my first book on LinkedIn the other day. Leave no stone unturned!
- I learned a great deal about marketing and networking.
- I learned authors must work jointly with their publicist and sales team to create a successful launch. It’s a give and take. No one person or group can give or take all, you must work together. Be kind, be courteous, your book isn’t the only one on their list that requires promotion. Follow up is necessary, taking responsibility is smart, but collaboration is key. There goes the power of three again!
While in New Orleans on my book launch tour, I submitted another story to Pelican Publishing. Fingers crossed, it too will be acquired and fulfill my contract obligation. I have many manuscripts in various stages that need attention. And I am also seriously considering looking for an agent.
Thank you so much Keila and I look forward to your next book! And congrats on being #1 New Release on Amazon in Children’s Religious Holiday Books!