On Episode 39 of the Writer’s Way, our guest, Daniel, has some TERRIFIC tips for authors on how to start incorporating school visits into your business, how to maintain them and how to make them FUN! (bring a monster in a box, of course ?)
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Laurie: Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about being a children’s author and incorporating school visits into your business plan! Stick around while I talk to the KING of school visits, and a super nice guy, Daniel Jude Miller.
Welcome to the Writer’s Way podcast where we celebrate writers who have completed their books and inspire writers who haven’t. Join Laurie and her guests as they talk about writing books and life in between chapters.
A Little Bit About D. Jude Miller
Laurie: Hey everybody, it’s Laurie at The Writer’s Way podcast here with Daniel Miller. Thank you so much for joining us today. Actually, your Facebook and your Amazon is Daniel Jude Miller. Is that how you?
Daniel: D. Jude Miller, actually.
Laurie: Okay, so can I call you Daniel, Dan?
Daniel: Yeah, absolutely, yeah.
Laurie: Anything? So thank you for doing this with me. You are unique in that I don’t know another author who does as many school visits as you do, which is really cool and we’ll get to. But first, can you tell us all who you are and what you do and where you came from and all that kind of good stuff?
Daniel: Okay, so my name is Daniel Jude Miller. I actually grew up, I spent most of my life in New York City. I grew up in Queens. I used to, where I went to art school in Manhattan, and I actually worked in the Empire State Building for five years. I met my wife there. And then when I wanted to start a family, I didn’t want to live in New York City anymore so I moved to upstate New York where there’s more trees and lawns and things like that. I did not start out, nor did I want to be an author. I started out purely as an illustrator. I was the kid in school that was drawing. I went through a special art high school. I went to art college. And I never, believe it or not, and I tell kids this at visits, I never wrote a story until I was almost 28 years old.
I had never even thought of writing!
Daniel: So I had already done editorial magazine illustration for probably eight or nine years before I ever even thought of writing. And even then, I just started fooling around with it. I didn’t even think about really publishing until I was about 35. So it took about, this is a secondary career for me, yeah.
Laurie: And the first one was the editorial illustration?
Daniel: Well yeah, I spent, I tell kids that I probably did probably almost 20,000 magazine illustrations before I ever published a book.
Laurie: Holy moly.
Daniel: Yeah, it’s a lot.
Laurie: And then what was the catalyst for switching, for starting, to write that first story and to move away from the magazines?
Monsters in Manhattan
Daniel: Well I never liked the magazines. That, I never did. I thought when I went into illustration I was gonna have this really cool job and get really rich. But that didn’t happen. In the end, you do a lot of really boring illustrations, again, 20,000 of them, that have to do with medicine or doctors. And I always tell them the story, and this is the true story. I was coming home from the Empire State Building job. And sometimes in the winter in Manhattan, there’s those manholes in the street and smoke will come out of them in the winter and it looks like, it’s basically just steam, but to me, it looked like smoke. And that made me think that a dragon lived under the street there. And I went home with that idea and wrote that down. And the next thing you know, I had written a whole, I had written one book called “Monsters in Manhattan,” but then that led to two and three and four books. So, and I decided I didn’t want to do that boring job anymore.
Laurie: The writing was so much better. That sounds like a really cool story, a dragon under the city . So how many books do you have published?
Daniel: I have five currently published. And I published, I have two more coming this, still before the end of this year, and then three more next year. So yes.
Laurie: And you’re self-published?
I Do Everything!
Daniel: I’m self-published, but I’m also like, I’m the author, I’m the illustrator, I’m the graphic designer, I run the website. Like and so I, yeah, I do literally everything except my own proofreading is the only thing I don’t do.
Laurie: So what takes the most time? The writing? I’m guessing the illustrations.
Daniel: The illustrations, by far. The, naturally, or normally on any story that I do, the writing can take anywhere depending on the complexity of it from about I would say maybe only two months to maybe six. But the illustrations always take nine months. It doesn’t matter. If the story has one word on a page, I have one book that has no words that I’m working on. The illustrations will still take nine months. That’s just how long it takes.
Laurie: You’re so detailed and you’re so gifted. They’re fantastic.
Daniel: Thank you.
Self-Publishing is the Future!
Laurie: That book with no words, is that gonna be for little ones?
Daniel: Well that’s funny, ’cause see, I bounce around, too. Like that’s something that when you self publish or like I like to call it modern publishing because it’s the future. That’s what we’re all going to be doing. And so the freedom that that gives me is I bounce around a lot. So I’ve done two books for younger kids. I’ve done three, now, for what I would say is the third through sixth grade set. And now over the summer, I’m writing a young adult novel. So for middle grade students. So the one with no words will be actually for younger kids. But I go all over the place as far as age goes.
What age groups do you write for?
Laurie: And have you seen a certain level of success with one age group versus another?
Daniel: No, that, you know what the funny part is is the books that I write for basically third through sixth are usually about monsters or something that I wouldn’t think a kindergarten kid would want.
Laurie: Oh my gosh, one sec.
Daniel: No problem. The thing is is you would think that the books like, ’cause the monsters books have a certain amount of reading in them. There’s a big, and they have a bigger vocabulary. They were not intended for kindergartners. But I sell a lot to kindergartners because they like the art. Conversely, I have books that are for kindergarten through first grade or so. I sell a lot to fourth graders because they like the art. Like so it’s very strange, and I’m sure now I’m gonna do this chapter book and they’re going to, it’s gonna sell to kids that it’s beyond their reading level. But I think that has to do a lot with my presentations, that when I go to the school, they get really excited. And so it doesn’t really matter what I’ve done. They just want to have a piece of it.
Laurie: Oh, that is great, so cool. Your upcoming middle grade, is there the same amount of illustrations or is there just one, you know, for every 10 pages or?
Daniel: Nope, there’s zero.
Laurie: Oh, there’s zero?
The Chapter Book
Daniel: It’s gonna, yeah, it’s gonna be, at least for now. There could be like a chapter drawing maybe at the beginning of each chapter. But that would be the most. And it’s really because you know, the drawing takes so long, and to have to do all these illustrations. You know what it is? The problem for me is I’m not a very fast illustrator. I take my time and I tend to be kind of slow. So I kind of needed a break ’cause I’ve been doing for three years so many. I’m still doing another picture book at the same time. That one will come out in January. But this writing, I wanted it to be just purely story.
Laurie: Oh, so it’ll be interesting how well that one does and how much you enjoy that to see if you sort of transition into more just chapter books like that with fewer illustrations.
Daniel: I probably, I could say this. It’s been a blast, like ’cause I’ve never done this before. And it has come very natural to me. So I’ve written 60,000 words in the last six weeks, which is a lot. But it just has been working for me. The plan is I don’t want to transition ’cause my first love is drawing and I have a few picture book series so they need to continue. But the plan is is that I’ve noticed that I can write a chapter book or more like a young adult novel in about two months, so every summer, I would take the summer off, write a novel, and then during the school year work on picture books. So I balance them both.
Laurie: Do you do the picture books under another name?
Daniel: Nope, nope, everything’s under D. Jude Miller.
Laurie: Okay, I’m gonna have to look again ’cause I didn’t see the, I didn’t see the picture books when I was looking. That, we had that conversation on Facebook a week or two ago where you were sharing about the headaches. And so I looked at that book with the guy with the claws in the head. I’ve looked at your other ones, but anyway, that illustration has stayed with me ’cause like I just keep thinking of it. Your art is just gorgeous, like it just sticks with you.
Daniel: Thank you.
Laurie: Even that one.
Earclaw and Eddie
Daniel: Well here’s the story behind that one. That was actually the first book. That one’s called “Earclaw and Eddie”. That one’s not, I never actually printed that one. That is a pure ebook. And it’s a completely totally personal story. When I used to work in the Empire State Building, I started getting really really bad earaches, or what I thought were earaches, in both ears, 24 hours a day, for two and a half years. So I had so many medical tests done on me, so many medicines, and eventually I left ’cause if you have an ear problem, the elevator in the Empire State Building is not a place you want to be. So I dealt with it for a long time. But then I moved upstate. They eventually diagnosed it as allergies. And when I got allergy shots, I was totally fine. So that story about the guy who wakes up one morning and he finds that there’s a monster living on his head and he has to learn to live with that came from that experience of dealing with, you know, debilitating allergies for a very long time.
Laurie: And was that sort of therapeutic for you? Because that’s a long time to go with debilitating headaches, so drawing–
Overcoming the allergy roadblock
Daniel: Yeah, it was, it was, I actually did the book after I had found the cure, and so it was almost like to put it to bed, like that chapter of my life. And that’s why I never printed it because I never thought it would sell. It was more of a personal project just for me. So you can get an ebook version. But it was just for me to get that through my system and then move on to the ideas I really wanted to do. But then it’s funny, ’cause that book, too, like little kids like love that book. And I never intended them to see it. Like it wasn’t the plan.
Laurie: They love that little bit of scary but not too scary, maybe.
Daniel: Yeah unfortunately, like I don’t want to ruin the story, but halfway through, and this is part of the true life story, is after I found the cure for that and I was fine for like two years, then I started getting horrible stomach cramps. And then that lasted for like a year and a half and they couldn’t diagnose that either. So then that turned out to be like basically a slight version of diverticulitis. So if you avoid certain foods, then you’re fine. So in the book, he eventually gets a second monster that wraps around his stomach like a snake. So yeah, there’s more to it than the one on the head.
Laurie: Are you okay now?
Daniel: Yes, yes. Well I’m okay as long as I get my 10,000 allergy shots that I have to get, which I don’t enjoy, but it does keep that at bay, yeah.
Laurie: Were you allergic to something in particular, totally on a personal note, for your ears, or?
Dust, of all things!
Daniel: If you consider the word everything as specific enough. It turned out that the main thing, like I have like the normal ones like grass and pollen, but it turns out it was dust. And the problem, and that’s why I couldn’t get away from it because it doesn’t matter if it’s the winter, summer, or spring. You’re always gonna have dust in your house. And if anybody out there watches this, here’s a little fun fact. If you have dust allergies, the only place you can live in America that you won’t have them is Denver, Colorado because the altitude is high enough that dust mites can’t live in that altitude. That’s what I was told. Look it up if you have those problems. But I didn’t want to live in Denver. So you know, the allergy shots fixed it. But dust was the main problem.
Laurie: Interesting. Just a little thing that’s everywhere in the world.
Daniel: Everywhere, yes.
Laurie: I always say I’m allergic to everything, but not that bad. Not that I’m sniffly always, right?
Daniel: Okay, yeah.
Laurie: Drugs make me fall asleep, so.
Daniel: They never helped me, that was the problem. Like nothing fixed it, nothing, except the allergy shots. No medication, no nothing, so.
Laurie: And it took so long.
Daniel: Yep, very long, very very long.
Laurie: Okay, we’ll move on. Closure with the book, you’re good, you’re healthy. Tell us about the hats. And then what’s on the other side, ships?
Daniel: They’re actually baseball stadiums. They’re little tiny miniature baseball stadiums. So that’s a story that comes up a lot in the school visits, too, is that when I was about 12 or 13 I didn’t want to be even a magazine illustrator. I wanted to be a sports logo designer. And that was my dream. And so I started collecting baseball hats. Only baseball teams, no football or hockey or you know, anything like that, baseball only. And I’ve been collecting, I have over 300 now. And I gave up on the sports logo idea ’cause that’s a hard job to get and there’s not a lot of good work in that. And I went into other things. But I got a chance when I moved up to Binghamton, New York, it’s upstate. And our local hockey team had a horrible logo. And I tell the kids all the time, like I saw that and I saw my opportunity. So they didn’t ask me to, but I went ahead and I spent a month redesigning their logo. Sent it to them, forgot about it, assumed it went right in the trash. And about two months later, they actually called. They hadn’t thrown it out, they loved it. They bought it and they wore it for five years. So I have one on the other side of my office hanging up ’cause they gave me jerseys and all that stuff. But they always ask me would I do it again? And I say no because that was like my small dream. I just wanted once to accomplish that goal. And my hat collection is enough to keep me happy.
Laurie: Oh, that’s cool because your 12 year old dream you achieved, but you realized by that time there is a lot more out there for you, bigger. Okay, so a lot of your career is school visits.
Laurie: Okay, so can you share how that started, what was the motivation to do that, and how that goes for you?
Daniel: Okay, that’s a funny story, too. So, all right, so after I did that Earclaw book, I went to do my first actual printed book, the first “Monsters in Manhattan.” That book I had written a long time ago. I finally got over the illnesses, and I was ready to print the book. I assumed that you print a book, you put it up online, and then all the books sell and you collect all the money and it works great. But it didn’t work like that, okay? So I found out like pretty quick, like, and I had invested. Like I had all my books printed and shipped to my house. I had thousands of books in the basement and a big credit card bill. And I said, “What am I gonna do with all these?” And I went to a real small book fair and I ran into another author.
A Fortuitous Meeting
Daniel: His name is Gary Van Riper and he does books called the Adirondack Kids. And he had done 15, he does chapter books. He had sold over 100 and, I think he’s up to now almost 200,000 books. And I was super impressed with him and we talked and he said to me, how are you gonna sell these? And I said I don’t know. Like that’s what I was hoping you could tell me. He said are you gonna do school visits? And I said school whats-its? And he said come with me and I’m gonna show you like what you do. So luckily, he had a visit like the next week and I met him there and I watched him. I had no clue that this was part of the career. I had no clue how to do it.
He Called Me On Stage!
Daniel: And the whole time, I kept thinking please, there’s no way I can do this, like to be in front of a room full of kids. I’ve never done that before. As soon as I had that thought, I hear him say I have a friend with me today. And I’m thinking oh God, please don’t do this. And he calls me up to the stage. And he hands me the microphone. He asked me one question and my hand was just like shaking. And I sat down and I said I can never do this. And on the drive home, I told my wife, I said there’s no way I can do this. And she said you better do it, because we have a lot of books in the basement so you’re gonna have to learn, and so I did. Luckily for me, it was June when I did that practice one, so I had the whole summer to develop a program and be ready to hit the ground running in September. And the funny part of the story is I tell students this all the time. I would’ve assumed that I would have been just as nervous when I got up there. My first visit, the first presentation I did was over 400 kids, and I was never, I wasn’t nervous for a second. And I never have been.
I was never nervous
Laurie: Because you practiced so much that summer? Is that why, you think?
Daniel: No, no, it was just sometimes I just tell people you never know, like people who think they’re gonna be nervous in that situation, they might be, but other people, for me, it just felt totally natural. You know what I always tell anyone who gets nervous speaking is when you do a school visit, you’re talking about your own life, so you can’t mess it up. Like you don’t, you can’t forget it. Like it’s your life, so you just tell them what you know about yourself. And so there’s no way to get tripped up. So just I was never nervous, and I never have been.
Laurie: That’s fantastic, yeah you don’t have to memorize anything when you’re just telling your own story.
What do you share at school visits?
Laurie: What do you share in the school visits? You share your background and how you started, and then do you have some kind of presentation about the books?
Daniel: I lean very heavy on a projector, okay? Like I know some authors, for me, I need visuals because kids don’t want to just look at my face for 45 minutes. So my, I have a slide show and it’s different for every grade level ’cause it varies on what they need and what books I’m presenting to them. So I have a presentation. Each one of them has probably almost 150 separate slides that I’m sort of going through. And I go through my early childhood drawings to show them where I began. I go through that what we just spoke about, my career in editorial illustration. We go over where ideas came from. I show them my writing process. I show them the illustration process from sketches to layouts to storyboards, all the way to the finished product. One of the things that’s always fascinating is we go over the printing process and they’re always obsessed. Like they think I have a printing machine in my basement. They’re always obsessed, I have a new video I’m adding to this year’s presentation that shows how books are actually printed ’cause they think that I’m actually in the basement like cranking them out like one at a time. But that’s the only thing I don’t do. But yeah, it follows through that. That story I just told about the minor league hockey team logo. I show them that, that sometimes we try ideas that like you think are gonna fail, but that’s okay, because sometimes they don’t fail. So I cover a lot of ground when I do the visit.
How many school visits do you in a school year?
Laurie: You do. How many visits would you say you do a school year?
Daniel: I shoot for at least 40, and I’m hoping this year to get closer to 50. I’ve seen some authors that can, I’ve heard, that do almost a hundred. But the problem with that for me is because I have to do the writing and the drawing and the website, that’s taking too much time away from creating product. So I kind of cut it off at about 50.
Laurie: And is it the main source of your income, these school visits?
Daniel: It’s probably 90% for me, like I, yeah. Because there’s different paths that everyone has taken and I like selling books to the people, I like selling them to people I see. So like I’ve just chosen, I sell very few like online. I have to obviously for business reasons, I have to ramp that up. But I would rather prolifically do book shows and fairs. And I like to meet the kids because there’s another benefit. Like the more kids I meet, there’s books I’m working on that I get to test material out on them. And if I tell them about a story and they don’t laugh, then that story doesn’t work. So they don’t realize it, but they’re a focus, every week or multiple times a week, I have a free focus group. So I like that interaction.
The kids become great test subjects
Laurie: That is a great way to look at it, little test subjects.
Daniel: Yeah, yeah, it’s true. I mean look, I’ve had, in the last book I did, I brought it to a school, it was just the book wasn’t printed. And a kid raised his hand and said why does the cake have this color on this side and that side, and they were right. And I went home and I had to redo the illustration. I’m glad that they pointed that out ’cause I would have printed it. It wasn’t a mistake. It was more that it didn’t make sense. And they corrected it for me. So they’re an invaluable resource for future projects.
Laurie: Wow, that’s cool. I always tell everybody if you can get your hands on the kids, you know, that don’t depend on you for food, they’ll be honest. They’ll get up and walk away or they’ll laugh or they’ll try to get behind you and see the pictures, whether or not there are any. But yeah, they don’t lie unless they depend on you for food, I think.
These experiences are invaluable
Daniel: Well for example, like this new novel, like you know, the novel idea came to me and I happened to have a visit a couple days later and I had fleshed out a story. And I was eating lunch with a bunch of high level readers that they brought to me. And I figured this is a good chance to kind of pitch this idea. ‘Cause I had never written a novel before, so I kind of threw it out there. And the next thing you know, they were bombarding me with questions and they were all interested. And if it wasn’t for them, I might have ditched the idea. When I go back to school in September, now I’m gonna use them as my working focus group that they’re gonna get to read the first manuscript and paw through it and find mistakes. So these kids are incredibly valuable to me.
How to overcome students’ intimidation
Laurie: Are you the like a celebrity to them? Like ’cause sitting and eating lunch and hearing about this book that hasn’t been done. Like their little minds just, they just must love that.
Daniel: That group was a funny group ’cause they had won a contest for reading 10 books and then memorize, they were like fifth graders. And they sat, and I eat lunch with a lot of kids and there are all different types, but that group specifically was all nervous. And they wouldn’t come near me and I couldn’t, I said what’s the problem? And they were like I can’t believe you’re here. And I was like I’m just a person. I am just, I have a slide, like I kick off most of my presentations, like the third slide is a picture of me in my office. And I’m dressed now, but generally I have pajamas on ’cause I work from home, so I never get dressed. And so I show them that.
Laurie: Thank you for getting dressed for me today.
A picture of me in pajamas works every time!
Daniel: ‘Cause it makes me real to them. ‘Cause I send them posters, the school, and it has me and it says I’m coming to your school and it has a picture of me. It sort of looks like a propaganda photo. But the point is is that gets them excited but then they get a little nervous ’cause they’re excited like a celebrity’s here. So that photo of me in my pajamas, that brings it back down and it takes me down to a normal level, no ego.
Laurie: That is so cool. I love that, kids are the best. I was a teacher for 10 years, so like just because you’re the teacher, you do get that little bit of adoration from most of them. Not all of them, but most of them. I did a couple presentations for kids, and I could not do it. Like I was a teacher, I have no problem in a classroom. I parent and teach kids like all over the place, like always not minding my own business on the playground, breaking up fights and stuff. But I couldn’t do the presentation in the gym. That was too overwhelming for me, and especially when you have the grade ranges.
Daniel: Right, right.
What age range of students do you speak to?
Laurie: Do you tailor it, so do you just speak to a small range, or do you speak to the whole school?
Daniel: I’ve spoken to everyone from pre-K all the way up to eighth grade. Now obviously, they want to be grouped in a certain way. So like pre-K and K are fine together. I usually do pre-K and K, first and second, third and fourth, and then fifth and sixth ’cause most public elementary schools in the states don’t have seventh and eighth in the same building. So the only time I get seventh and eighth is if I do religious schools. Then they happen to be all in the same building. But everyone gets a separate presentation. There has been in a few occasions where those grades, they try to do K through four. You do what you have to do, but those don’t work as well. You want to group them. There’s a big difference between a kindergartner and a second grader. There’s a giant difference even though they’re only two years apart.
Laurie: Yeah, totally, you could entertain the little ones with puppets, no problem.
Daniel: Right, right. I ran into an author once, we were doing, he had the younger grades and I was supposed to do the older grades and he said oh, I said how did it go? And he was doing kindergarten. And he said ah, I don’t love doing kindergarten ’cause it’s sort of like wrangling cats. And I’ve never had that. Like for me, they usually, they come in two forms, kindergartners. They’re either real excited, and that’s fine, or they’re real nervous by having a new adult in front of the room. So either way, it’s worked for me. I’ve never had a problem with it.
A Natural Performer
Laurie: Sounds like you’re just a natural at it. Natural performer, entertainer, and educator ’cause your story has such great lessons but it’s your story, so it’s not.
Daniel: I don’t think, you know, when I was in college, they pushed me to become an art teacher, like they were pushing for that. And I said I don’t think I can do that. And when I do schools, teachers go, oh God, you were so great, ’cause they never would pay attention that long for us. And I’m like because I’m only here for the day. Like if I was here every day, they would treat me the same as they treat everybody else. But I’m like a celebrity and then I get to leave, so I don’t know, I don’t think I could ever be a teacher. I couldn’t, I couldn’t handle it. But a one day teacher, I’m fine with.
Laurie: It’s hard.
Daniel: Yeah, I’m sure it is.
How far do you travel?
Laurie: June is well earned, right, like so well earned. Do you travel far? Like do you go all over the state?
Daniel: No, as of now, not really. I’m in New York state, so I do all of New York. I mean I’m lucky, because New York state is a very populous state. So I do New York state, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. And just within those three states for now, that’s over 3,000 possible elementary schools. And so luckily I live in a pretty populated part of the country. If I start venturing out to the states past that, the problem becomes, like I said, is about time ’cause then the traveling time means less time that I’ll be able to write. I mean I can write in a hotel, but I can’t draw in a hotel. So it just starts to eat in the production of new product. So for now, I mean I wouldn’t turn it down a trip to California, but it hasn’t, I haven’t marketed to there in the hopes that it kinda doesn’t happen just yet.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start doing school visits?
Laurie: That makes sense. What advice would you have for a new author or maybe an established author, but somebody who wants to break into this world of school visits? Like how do you start?
Daniel: The only thing I can say is you have to like, obviously everyone always starts with whatever local school they have. Like literally the first presentation I really ever did was my son’s third grade class. But so you’re obviously gonna start real local. I think you’re always gonna start for free because you can’t guarantee anything. Like you’ll think you can do it, but you’ll be surprised that you may have to tinker with it and stuff. So don’t expect to get paid for those first couple ’cause they’re doing you a favor by even allowing you to do it. And then once you get past those, you get, you know, you kind of get the kinks out of what your presentation is, the next key is to think as big as possible because if you start to just go to the next school out and the next school out, you’re never gonna be able to get, you’ll never be able to do, if you want to be able to do the amount of visits I do, you’ll never be able to get that many. If you approach 50 schools, you might get two. So that’s why I built a big list of 3,000 because believe it or not, I contact those 3,000 all the time and that’s only gonna generate maybe 50 jobs.
Laurie: Oh wow.
Daniel: So you need, depending on how many you want to do. Like so just you got to think big, and you got to think a little bit further out and you got to have, I’m a big fan of lists. Like you want to keep a list and you want a database and you don’t want to send an email every once in a while. You want to have an organized system of how you market to those schools. I send emails three times a year and I send postcards twice a year. The postcards are more expensive but they have proven to be effective.
Laurie: Oh, more effective than an email?
Daniel: They’re about the same, it’s it’s odd because emails are tricky because with schools, I would say only half the emails actually get there because the systems kind of filter it out as spam for half of them and the postcards, only half of them get there because they’re, you know, they’re physical mail sometimes they just don’t get there. So I haven’t seen anyone as being more effective but I’ve noticed that when they work in conjunction, then that’s how you can get a solid, a solid amount of jobs out of the school year.
Laurie: Okay, so three emails a year.
When do you start emailing schools?
Laurie: When do you start? Do you start August, September?
Daniel: It’s sort of like, a progressive schedule because New York state doesn’t start school until the first week of September but Pennsylvania starts like the last two weeks, the last two weeks of August. So what’ll happen is probably by the middle of August I’ll send the first emails to Pennsylvania and then the other, basically the first week of school. Whoever has, whatever week they have.
Daniel: They’ll get an email the first week. They’ll get, and they’ll get a postcard within the first two weeks of school. Then they’ll get an email in December and then they’ll get an email in May and a postcard in May so that they remember me for the summer so hopefully I, you know, I’m still in their minds. Also it’s not just the schools because I contact both the librarians but also both the PTA or the parent organization because most of the time, they’re the ones paying for it. So like, you want to go straight to them and explain what you have and why you can benefit them.
Laurie: Oh smart.
How do school visits impact your income?
Laurie: Smart. Okay so income-wise, if this isn’t too personal, do you make more on the book stuff at the school or like your fee for speaking? Or is it about half and half, or?
Daniel: It’s probably slightly more on the speaking fees just slightly, it’s probably close. Probably by the end of this year it’ll be half and half ’cause I’ll have more titles. So as you gain titles, then obviously you’d sell more at the school. So it should be about split. I will also point out like one thing for anyone starting out. I’ve driven to a lot of schools that, I mean, you gotta understand, most schools have budgets that equal zero for stuff like this. So they don’t have it in the budget. So it’s PTA is gonna pay for it or a lot of times, certain schools can get grants and stuff like that but even then they don’t have a lot of money for it. There was a lot of authors out there. Like you know, legit, you know traditional published authors that are charging a lot of money to do these visits. I don’t charge enormous amount. I’m sort of middle of the road so that I can do more schools. So depending on how you price it will also depend on how many you’re gonna ultimately end up doing.
Laurie: Oh interesting.
Laurie: So those ones that charge more, maybe don’t do as many.
Make sure the PTA can afford to have you
Daniel: Well you know what it is, is from what I understand, traditionally published authors, they don’t make very much money on the book sales because the book company makes the most, so they charge a lot of money on the actual visit. I charge less money on the visit because I make more on the book sales. So it sort of evens out for both of us. They have to charge more but the problem is see, the speaking fee the school is paying. The books, parents are paying individually. So I can get into more schools because I’m charging less. ‘Cause the truth is, I mean most schools have almost nothing like for this type of event. They really don’t and so if you want to do it and you want to sell books because that is part of the deal that I want to move a bunch of books, is you got to price it in a way that makes it at least possible for the PTA to be able to afford you.
How many books are in your basement?
Laurie: That is, that is a great pointer for everybody. I’m curious how many books are in your basement at any given time or have you moved to a warehouse?
Daniel: I happen to be lucky that I have, my basement is huge and it was designed to be, my wife is a wedding photographer, it was designed to be her studio and she thought it was too cold down there so she never moved in. So it’s completely fixed and finished but we never used it. So I have right now, I probably have a little over 10,000 I would say and that’s, I have room for about 15,000 and so once we pass that, which will be soon like, ’cause I can only hold so many. Then yeah, then it’s going to have to get warehoused, yeah.
Laurie: I can’t believe all that you do. Like even just keeping on the emails and the postcards, you need to just sit.
Manning the website
Daniel: I do, before I logged on here I was working on the website ’cause there’s some new stuff that I’m going to start unveiling for schools in September so I do all my own web design too. See you know what it is for me, it’s, little piece of advice also, it’s way cheaper if you can do it, it saves a bunch of money if you can. Obviously if you can’t, you can’t but also I like the control aspect because if I have an idea, I can do it in the middle of the night and add it to the website. If you have to hire someone else, there’s always going to be a delay and that just doesn’t work for me.
Laurie: Especially when it comes to websites, yes.
Daniel: Right, right.
Laurie: It’s such a frustrating–
Daniel: Right, but once you get the, once you get the hang of it, I picked it up, I’m not a natural web designer but, you know, I’m a designer so I picked it up and I like having control of as many things as I can. But again, you know, every one takes a different path. Like I said, I sell very few books online. That has not been something I focused on or something I’m skilled at and so you pick your path and you go with your strengths. Yeah.
Laurie: And you are. It’s working for you.
How has your life improved since self-publishing?
Laurie: Okay, last question. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you and learning all the stuff but last question is, so since you went from the editorial illustration to, you know, modern publishing your own books, and the school visits, has your life improved and how has it improved? Like what’s different, what’s spectacular now?
Daniel: You know, it’s funny ’cause like I’ll, put it like this, like I answer a lot of questions from a lot of kids and they’re almost always the same, there’s like a top ten list and they ask the same questions. But one question I get asked a lot is, what does it feel like to do your job and that one always catches me off guard because the thing is that I don’t really know how to put that into words. Like before I did this there was no, there was no sense of fulfillment. Like when you do editorial illustration, it’s cool the first magazine you get with your illustration in it. By the 20th and the 500th, you just don’t care. Like it just doesn’t mean anything ’cause they’re stories that are boring and you have to draw a guy at a computer, it doesn’t mean anything.
Bring a monster in a box!
But it seems small but the fantastic thing for me is, I have this giant crate too, that I wheel in. Like it’s humongous and there’s a monster in it. It’s a whole part of the presentation. Well when we I get to a school and you wheel, it’s got chains on it and a lock and everything. When you wheel that in like, the oos and ahs, right? I don’t have, I didn’t, this hasn’t been like, that alone is like, it’s worth it for me.
Laurie: I need a picture of that.
Daniel: Yeah it’s on the website. You can find it like, it’s like, it’s got a monster inside and there’s a project that’s attached to it. But it’s really an attention getter when you wheel it in and so the most fascinating part is, or I should say, I always thought I wanted to sell a lot of books and that’s why I got into this but it turned out I just, the idea of just being in front of kids that are just amazed at what you do and then and legitimately inspiring them to potentially do it too far exceeded however, whatever I thought I would sell or however much money I would make. It turns out that was all secondary to just having an impact.
Laurie: Oh I love that. I love that.
Daniel: Thank you.
Where to find Daniel and his books
Laurie: Okay, where can people find you for your books, for your visits, for everything?
Daniel: Everything is all the same, it’s djudemiller.com. My email is djudemiller@gmail and if, and then also I also own the Monsters in Manhattan series. If you go to monstersinmanhattan.com. It all goes to the same place though. The djudemiller.com, monstersinmanhattan.com, it’s all the same.
Laurie: Awesome, well thank you so much.
Daniel: Thank you.
Laurie: I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing all this. I’ve been really scared about all of this and I felt so very stingy with my time and–
Laurie: I’m not in a heavily populated area.
Laurie: Well I guess kind of, within an hour or two but, yeah, but thank you, thank you so much.
Daniel: Thank you.
Laurie: For giving up the time today, it was so nice to meet you and I appreciate it very much.
Daniel: No problem, thank you.
Laurie: You’re welcome, bye everyone.
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Laurie: I’ll admit it, he’s got me thinking about incorporating school visits – something I’ve been leery to try up until now – what he talks about is a great feeling of fulfillment after talking to all those kids! I’m curious, leave me a comment and let me know if you too are an author interested in doing school visits now, after listening to Daniel. Go ahead and subscribe to make sure you get the episode notices as I release them! Bye for now!