Hello readers! I have another inspiring story to share with you in today's edition of Birth Stories for Books. My guest is Amanda Rowe, author of IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU (illustrated by Olga Skomorokhova, Familius, 2019.)
Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Amanda. Today we get to celebrate the recent Book Birthday for IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU.
You shared some of what inspired you to write this story in an earlier interview with Read and Shine, but I wonder if you could recap some of that again for us here?
Amanda Rowe: I initially wrote If There Never Was a You as a poem for my children. Since I was a child, I have made greeting cards, and sometimes I write a poem for my children’s birthdays or other special occasions. I wrote down these thoughts and feelings about my kids for them – it wasn’t until later that I considered the possibility of it becoming a children’s book.
DP: What a beautiful backstory. It makes your book even more special.
Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for this particular story to find its way to publication?
AR: Yes, when I reread If There Never Was a You and realized that the feelings are universal. I wrote it because I wanted to convey to my kids what their presence in my life meant to me. After giving it some thought, I realized that other parents might want to express these feelings to their children, but they might lack the words. Not everyone is a writer. So, I thought, what if there was a way that I could make this piece available for other caregivers to share with their children? I could imagine parents, or even aunts, uncles, or grandparents reading this to their favorite tiny people, and I thought a children’s book might be an appropriate medium for this message. So, I submitted it.
When you compare the path to publication for this book to the paths to publication for some of your poems and/or non-fiction articles, what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each?
AR: In my experience, non-fiction articles are easy to sell. They are factual information, so it’s just a matter of finding someone interested in that subject matter to pitch it to. Poems and fiction have a harder time finding homes because they have to resonate emotionally with their audience. You have to find someone who understands the sentiment and wants to take that journey. And getting a book deal is more difficult than other forms of publication because it is about much more than likability or even the execution. You can have the most well-written, touching story, but if the publisher can’t market it or it isn’t a good fit for their list (which could happen for many reasons), they could love it and still pass on it. Writing can be a soul-crushing business that way. Every time I get offered a publishing contract, I consider it a miracle.
DP: A hard-earned miracle, I'd say!
Your bio mentions that you edited The Genome Factor. Based on your experience on both sides of the table, author and editor, what professional advice or suggestions do you have to offer to aspiring authors?
AR: No matter what you’re writing, it is vital to have a fresh set of eyes on your work – someone else to point out flaws, whether big picture issues, typos, or grammatical errors. Tackle the big picture issues first – plot, story arc, characters (or flow or fact-checking for non-fiction) – and once you’ve got your narrative finalized, you do the line-by-line edits for typos and grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, etc. Every step of the way, it helps to have someone else read your work and provide feedback – someone who will feel comfortable offering constructive criticism and pointing out your mistakes. It can be awkward, but it’s much less embarrassing to have your editor (or a friend) point out errors and fix them pre-publication than to see your mistakes in print for the rest of your life.
DP. Excellent advice!
Speaking of advice, one of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. Your website showcases an active outreach to young readers at a wide variety of venues. Based on this experience, what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful (in-person and/or remote) events?
AR: For me, the key to successful events is connection. I connect with readers by being my authentic self and allowing them a glimpse of the person behind the job title – by simply being Amanda instead of ‘the author.’ Like so many of my readers, I’m a mom. I’m an employee; I am a person who makes mistakes and tries to do better. And I used to be a little kid with big dreams.
To connect with my audience, I tap into those similarities; I try to let down my guard and have a real conversation.
That’s what I miss most about my book tour – meeting new people and having conversations with them about our lives – our hopes, our fears, our disappointments. When I talk to children, I focus on hopes and dreams – what are their talents? How do they want to use them? What do they hope to do or to be one day? I ask those questions with adults, too, but I frame the conversation with more of an “it’s not too late” perspective. I explain to them that I put my dreams on hold for many years to raise my kids, get a job, and survive, but they were always there in the background. Eventually, I was able to carve out time to start pursuing them again. I like to encourage adults and children to keep dreaming, setting goals, and considering what is possible. Because anything is possible if you want it enough, and you’re willing to work for it. I think the key to success isn’t talent – it’s tenacity. You can learn skills and study and hone your craft, but if you don’t want it enough, you’ll never get anywhere, no matter how talented you are.
Having those kinds of heart-to-heart conversations is what makes the most memorable events. And also, stickers! If you’re a children’s book author, get some stickers with your book cover on them. Kids love stickers, and they stick them to their clothes or their backpack, and then when they get home, they are reminded of your book again – and so are their parents.
DP: I love your heartfelt and authentic approach, Amanda. (And, I couldn't agree more on the stickers! Stickermule is my favorite source.)
In addition to authoring and promoting your book and other freelance projects, working your day job, and raising children (which has included navigating some serious health challenges), you also maintain a lifelong commitment to giving and volunteerism. How do you balance the time between your different writing projects and the different aspects of the publishing business alongside an active work and home life?
AR: It’s all about priorities. My kids come first. Now that they are older and more independent, they take up less time, which frees up some time for my writing career.
Because I have a full-time day job, I can only work on my writing career on nights, weekends, holidays, or vacation days. So, I do. I can’t tell you how many sunny days I’ve spent indoors hunched over my keyboard; how many invitations I’ve turned down; how many early mornings or lunch breaks I’ve spent writing. Progress requires sacrifice. If you want something, you have to give something else up.
I am an introvert by nature, so giving up social engagements hasn’t been a problem for me, but I don’t spend as much time with my friends and extended family as I would like to. Also, there are many weekends when I’d love to read a book or take a day trip, but I write, edit, submit, or work on my social media instead. I am planting seeds, and hopefully one day, the harvest will come, and I won’t have to work quite as much. But I’m not there yet, so discipline is the key.
DP: Thanks for this unvarnished perspective, Amanda.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?
AR: I wish I had understood sooner that being an author is like being a small business owner. As with any business, there are expenses and practical matters that need to be dealt with. I imagined the author’s life as all about art and creativity, and there is some of that. But the part that I love – the writing – is the smallest piece of the puzzle. I spend much more time on the business end of things – doing things that I never wanted to do that I don't enjoy, but that are necessary if I want to make progress. It is hard to get a book deal; it is even harder to get an agent. There is so much time spent on submitting, negotiating, social media and promotion. If you’re successful, maybe later on you can afford to hire someone to handle your social media, and you have an agent to submit things and negotiate contracts on your behalf. But in the beginning, you have to manage all of those things yourself – in addition to your everyday responsibilities like housework, raising children and working a full-time job. It’s exhausting and often you are spending more money than you are making.
However, not all is lost. Although being a children's book author has not been financially profitable for me so far, I have gained something worth more to me than money – purpose. If I can offer hope to a struggling parent, make a child believe in themselves, help caregivers express their love for their little ones or help families make memories together, then everything I’ve sacrificed will be worth it.
DP: I'll bet your book has brought many special moments for your readers.
Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet?
AR: I have mentioned in a few interviews that this book got picked up quickly by a publisher, and I didn’t write it intending it to be a book, so my becoming a children’s book author was unexpected. That might give people the impression that this has been easy; that is incorrect. I have been writing since I was seven years old in one form or another. I have tried and failed to have hundreds of pieces published, and I experimented with various genres of writing before becoming a children’s book author. I have also tried numerous writing methods and found that when I try to write like other people do, I get frustrated and feel like a failure. But when I write my way, I feel like I’m where I belong, doing what I am supposed to be doing. I think that’s when great art happens – when the artist allows the work to flow through them instead of trying to force it to be how they envisioned it. So often, the things I try to force do not work, and the things that I don’t plan take on a life of their own and end up being more well-received than I imagined. That doesn’t mean that I don’t need to study the craft of writing and improve my skills; I do. But I need to apply those lessons to using my voice, my way.
So, what I’ve learned is this: if you love doing something, keep doing it. If you’re not successful with it, try an alternate route. Sometimes you have to flail about a bit before you find your niche. But make sure you are using your gifts and not trying to mimic someone else’s, because that never ends well.
Life rarely works out the way we plan, but sometimes it works out better. When you let go of the way you imagined things should be, you open the door to infinite possibilities of what they could be.
DP: This is such a powerful perspective, Amanda. Thank you so much for sharing.
Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on?
AR: I am working on multiple projects right now which is not unusual for me. I am always in the middle of reading – and writing – at least three books. The project currently closest to my heart is a book that I’ve written for chronically ill children. As the parent of a child with a debilitating disease I’ve spent countless hours at hospitals and doctors’ offices. I’ve met so many other families like ours, and I want to offer them encouragement. I want to make them feel seen and understood so I wrote a book that I hope will be in hospitals and doctors’ offices someday to brighten the lives of chronically ill children and their families. Also, to express gratitude for healthcare workers, who have my utmost respect and appreciation.
DP: I look forward to news of that project coming to fruition some day. It sounds like a much needed and meaningful book.
Thank you so much for sharing your Birth Story for IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU with us, Amanda! It's been great to have you on the blog.
AR: Thank you for having me, Dawn, and for working so hard to promote your fellow authors. I appreciate the opportunity to connect with you and your readers.
Friends, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the best way to thank an author whose insights and information have been helpful and/or intriguing to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. IF THERE NEVER WAS A YOU is available everywhere books are sold.
Amanda Rowe is a children’s book author, an academic administrator, an amateur chef, a travel enthusiast, a blogger, and a book hoarder. If There Never Was a You is her first children’s book. Her next children's book, There Goes My Heart, is forthcoming with Familius in 2024. Visit her at https://amandarowewrites.squarespace.com/.
Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.