Conrad Storad (Don’t Call Me Pig!) is an award-winning author and editor who believes that nonfiction should be both fun and informative! Storad has been writing and editing children’s books about science and nature for over 35 years. He now lives in Barberton, Ohio, his hometown. He is splitting time between Arizona and Ohio. However, he did live in Tempe for more than 33 years, and his books reflect his avid interest in desert creatures. His most recent release is The Bat Book.
Chrysanthe Kapuranis: How long does it take you to write a book on average?
Conrad Storad: Hard question. Each book is different, depending on topic and genre and target audience. I’ve written a solid first draft of a picture book in less than a day. I’ve worked on the manuscript for a 20,000 word science book for teens for five years. (Lots of delays because of editor changes at the publisher. Those things are out of the author’s control. It can be hurry up and wait. New deadlines, etc.) However, for the most part, at least for me, from the time I have an idea for a book accepted for publication, it will take about a year from idea to final printed book in hand. Illustration takes lots of time.
CK: How do you visualize your stories, or how do your ideas come to you?
CS: Elementary school students ALWAYS ask me where my ideas come from. Simple answer. I just look around. I keep my eyes and ears open. I try to tune in to the environment around me. Our natural world is an amazing place, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. My enthusiasm for science and for understating Nature’s processes provides an endless supply of story ideas. I am a science writer. I like to teach the fact with the words I write. But I use storytelling techniques to make that teaching and, hopefully, learning lots of fun for everyone. I call my books “fun nonfiction.” Yes, I do have images in mind as I write the rhymes for my picture books. My talent ends with the words. Luckily, I have been blessed to have amazing illustrators who bring my words to life on the pages of the books with images that are way, way beyond what I could have imagined. Good picture books are collaboration between writer and artist, with the editor and designer blending the talents into a finished product. Done well, there is nothing quite like a well written and dazzlingly illustrated picture book.
CK: Do you brainstorm with other people when writing a story?
CS: Usually not. The majority of my books are the fruit of my own imagination. However, I have collaborated on larger projects in which I brainstormed with a co-author, illustrator, and publisher. That example is the “Arizona Way Out West & Wacky” series of books. The collaboration worked VERY well,[LR1] with one version of the book winning OneBookArizona for Kids in 2012, and the entire series being selected as the official book for kids for the Arizona Centennial Celebration.
CK: How do you market your books? Is there a big expense involved to sell / market a book?
CS: Marketing is a MAJOR lesson for every author and illustrator to learn. Writing or illustrating a book is the EASY part of the job. Figuring out how best to get the finished product into the hands of readers is a NEVER ENDING task. A good publisher will do some of that work. But authors have to be self promoters. You must be willing to do the leg work to meet the reading public via book signing events, library visits, school visits, and book tours. Not easy at all. LOTS of work. And the expense can be as high as you want it to be. Marketing via social media and the Internet has made the process a bit easier. But that is another new world to learn that is ever changing. I have a website. I have pages on Amazon.com and other book selling sites. I use Facebook to help drive people to my pages and to my author events. There is ALWAYS something more you can do to promote and market. If you write a book and want to sit back waiting for the cash and checks to roll in, you are going to be waiting for a long, long time. Not to mention the boxes of books that will be taking up space in your garage or basement.
CK: Is there a lot of editing from a publisher once your story is accepted? If yes, are there conflicts of opinion?
CS: Yes, indeed. I always tell students in my writing workshops that “Writer” is really not the best word for what we do. We should be called “rewriters.” You never, ever, EVER write a manuscript once and you’re done. That has been my goal in more than 40 years as a professional writer and editor. Has not happened yet… not even once. EVERY writer needs a professional editor and a good proofreader. You simply cannot edit your own material to a finished product. It is way too hard to cut the words and sentences you’ve labored so hard to create. Again, less is usually more. At the same time, a writer must stand up for what he or she has written if you believe it is essential to the story you want to tell. The best writing is the result of a positive collaboration between author and editor. I’ve been a professional editor for almost as long as I’ve been a writer. I love working with young writers – “polishing their gems” to a high sheen, so to speak. I know the process from both sides. Both are important to the creation of a top notch finished manuscript.
CK: How do you protect your story ideas or manuscript after it leaves your hands? Do you copyright beforehand?
CS: The moment a writer puts his or her name on a printed manuscript, on paper or on line, it is considered a copyrighted work. It is your intellectual property. Putting a © after your name makes it official. You can register your work for a fee with the government if you like. Saving printed copies with date of creation is all that is necessary, as far as I understand. When it comes to selling rights to an idea for movies or merchandise, then it becomes essential to engage the services of a copyright attorney. I’ve never had that worry, yet. Publishers assume some of the copyright protection responsibility, since they are usually bearing most of the financial risk for a book project. This question might be better answered from someone in the legal profession. I’ve been writing professionally since I was 19 with no problems to date.
CK: Any tips how to submit for publishing or where to begin?
CS: Network with published authors and illustrators. Ask questions. Do NOT be afraid of rejection. If you have “thin skin” or don’t react well to criticism, this is NOT the business for you. Join writing groups such as SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.) The publishing landscape is ever changing. Electronic publishing is here to stay. But is print really dead? I think not. More picture books have been published in printed format during the past few years than ever before in history. Go to conferences. But the true key to being a published writer is to WRITE. Then write, write, write some more. When you think you are done, you are NOT. It’s time to rewrite again and again. Catching on with a traditional big name publisher is tough for the new writer with no track record. Try small presses. Try partner publishing. Computer technology has made self-publishing realistic and practical for a reasonable expense. There should be no need to take out a second mortgage to publish a book.
CK: Can one make a living from writing children’s books?
CS: Never, ever quit your day job! It can be a long slog to becoming a successful children’s author. But there are riches to be earned that do not come in the form of cash. Children always ask me if I am a millionaire. I laugh. I know that I am “rich” from my work in many, many ways that are not financial. Making some cash is certainly nice. But a writer cannot depend on it. Remember, J.K. Rowling had her original Harry Potter manuscript rejected by more than 40 publishers before a small press gave her a shot. She was diligent beyond the meaning of the word. Lightning can and does strike. But her story is the anomaly, not the norm. In the end, it was her persistence and belief in her story that helped make her book… and books, a reality.
Visit his website at www.conradstorad.com and his other website www.storymonstersink.com
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