Debut Author Interview, Mardi Gras Style!

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!

What’s next?

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! 


It’s Almost Time for Daylight Savings Time, Skype Visit Giveaway

Tick, tick tock. It’s Almost Time.
For Daylight Savings! This year, let’s celebrate with a free Skype Visit to a classroom!

Purchase a copy of my book, It’s Almost Time, from an Usborne Books and More consultant,  or purchase the Demibooks ebook version from an Usborne Books & More website. Contact your Usborne Books & More Consultant with the subject “Daylight Savings” with your information. If you don’t have a consultant, you can contact me with a copy of your receipt. On March 8, Daylight Savings, I will do a drawing for a free 30 minute Skype visit. I will customize it for the age group. I look forward to Skyping!

The Story Catcher, a Debut Tale

Don’t forget to enter for your chance to win a free ITUNES card courtesy of Anaiah Press, plus more!

Donna Martin could catch a lot of things! Butterflies. Snowflakes. She could even catch a cold. But one day she caught a story. She wrote it. And she sold it.

“Will I ever be an author?” asked Donna.

“Yes Donna! You are!”

The Story Catcher BT Banner-1

I’ve watched Donna on Facebook the past few years. She is a member of over 15 Facebook writing communities. She is always very involved, very helpful, and very positive. So when she asked for reviewers for her book, I leaped at the chance. I knew it would be something magical! And I have to admit, the title caught me.

The Story Catcher is about a little girl who wants to catch a story. She, like my own children, loves to be read to. But she wants to do more. She wants to read (catch) the story on her own. It is a very sweet story that all children learning to read will relate to.

Donna herself comes from a long line of readers. Her older sister Janet helped her learn to read. And Donna’s own son, Randy, was reading by age four.

Donna Martin-1

A couple years ago, Donna was a READ TO ME volunteer at one of the local elementary schools. She worked with one little girl who: “really struggled to understand the wiggly words on the pages of her favorite book, despite the fact everyone in her family read to her all the time.”

But the little girl didn’t give up, and by the end of the year she was reading on her own.

Donna, what was the hardest part of the writing THE STORY CATCHER?

Realizing it was based on a true experience I witnessed. I can’t imagine a world without books and whenever a child tells me they DON’T like to read, I have to wonder if it’s because they or someone in their family has struggled with being able to read in the past and maybe that is why they turn their backs on the magical world of stories.

Though this is Donna’s first published picture book, she is also a contributing author in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: ANGELS AMONG US, and has also published poetry.

How long did it take you to write this book?

I actually wrote the first draft in a couple of days. But it went through a few revisions before the final product you see in the book. Not much was changed from the submitted manuscript.

Was there anyone who helped you with critiquing/ advice in how to get it published?
When I was finished with THE STORY CATCHER, I sent it to a couple of my friends as well as submitting it to Miranda Paul’s Rate Your Story group. The comments from the judge were invaluable and helped me literally change the angle of the plot to one Anaiah felt strongly enough about to offer their contract. I read various blog posts about how to sharpen my query letter and Twitter pitches so I would have to say many, many people were responsible for helping me get my story in the hands of a publisher.

What was your subbing process like? Many rejections?

I’ve been seeking agent representation for three years now so when I finished THE STORY CATCHER, I began subbing it to various agencies. I participated in Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12 and sent it to the monthly agents with no bites. Then I decided to participate in a Twitter pitch party and within a few minutes of putting my pitch out there, I received a request from my editor, Jessica Schmeidler, to read my manuscript. From there it was a total of SIX DAYS between her reading, the book offer, my receiving the actual contract, and my signing it! it still feels surreal…;~)

Donna is currently working on her next book. What’s it about?

My next book I’m hoping to publish is a creative nonfiction story about fifty tons of chocolate, an airborne diesel train, and a sweet mystery still unsolved more than fifty years later. I’m calling it THE CHOCOLATE TRAIN WRECK and I’m just starting to submit it to select agents.

Donna is excited to introduce her free STORY CATCHER FAN CLUB where people can sign up to receive their membership certificate, STORY CATCHER reading log, bi-monthly newsletter, and a short story starring THEM! Anyone interested can send an email request with their name and age to to receive their welcome kit.

Her website also includes a teacher’s CURRICULUM SUPPLEMENT to go along with THE STORY CATCHER.

Congrats Donna on catching your dream! Here’s to many more books to follow.


Click to win a Anaiah Press is giving away a $20 iTunes Gift Card  from Anaiah Press or a beautiful journal from Donna L. Martin.

Follow the Link for a Rafflecopter giveaway


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It’s true! The date is set!

Iowa-SCBWI is April 24, 25 and 26th! If you’ve never attended SCBWI-IA, you are missing out. The conference is a little smaller then many other region/states so you have an opportunity to get some attention.  That’s smaller in number of attendees, but not in value. Costs are also less (except possibly airfare). But food, hotels, and cost of living are very affordable in Iowa.

Every year we have amazing agents, editors and authors come as guest speakers.  Attendees also come from all over to get to meet their favorite agent or editor.

The people are also great. They are very welcoming and love new writers!

I will be sharing more details as Connie Heckert finalizes them. If you have any questions, please let me know.  And if you are in the Sioux City, or Northwest corner of Iowa, also let me know so I can get you more involved on a local level.

Everyone is welcome.

Just 3 more months!

april calendar

PiBoIdMo. I’m ready! Are you?

All signed up!


30 Ideas in 30 days. I got this. 🙂


Ideas are everywhere! I watch my kids, look at the world through kids eyes, and ask the question… “what if…”

I keep a notebook in my bathroom, since I get lots of ideas in the shower. I then can write it down before it’s gone.

If I have an idea later in the day, I use my cell phone notepad to keep track of them.

Before I turn the idea into a story, I do try to search my idea to see if it’s been done (and how often.) If I still love the idea, I will go to the library, read the books and work on making my story different.

So now head on over to Tara Lazar’s website and get signed up!

Who else is participating? What are your tips to help prepare?

Playing with graphics

So you may see the graphics change a few times. I am playing with some graphic design software… I’m not very good and need to look back at spacing, but it’s fun. 🙂 

I just did the banner above. I’m hoping to be able to use it to help with some marketing I do for Usborne, myself as an author, and the Children’s Museum.

This is my old banner. 🙂


OK, off to do some revising. I am taking Picture Book Pacing and am looking forward to applying it to a few of my manuscripts.

Have a great weekend!