This week on the Writer’s Way podcast, we talk about publishing and marketing seasonal children’s books! Guest Scott Casperson shares how his teaching opportunity abroad inspired a Christmas book, and how he has more books coming out soon!
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Laurie: Hello writers. Thank you for coming back to the Writer’s Way podcast. I’m here with the wonderful Scott Casperson. Welcome.
Scott: All right. Thank you very much.
Laurie: Thanks for coming on with me. Why don’t we start with – I see a beautiful book in the background, but tell us about you. Tell us about Scott and how you got started.
Scott: Focus on me right now. Hello. My name is Scott. I am a first-time author. Now three years past being able to say that I’m new to the scene, but I got into writing because I had too many stories inside my head that finally needed to get out. I am based in Los Angeles, which is a relatively very creative city.
I made my way here after many years in advertising, not on the creative side, on the account management side of things. Selling, making a lot of pitches, that kind of stuff. Did come out here to be a writer and an entertainer. Had mildly amounts of success depending upon who you ask in my family.
Laurie: Your mom says you did great.
Teaching Abroad Inspired a Christmas Story
Scott: Yes, absolutely 100 percent! My father …Rightfully. So along the way I took a job teaching. Which I’m sure many children’s picture books authors have gone this path as well. I was lucky enough to be able to take a gig going overseas and try my hand as a teacher over in Japan and I was very lucky to work for a corporation that actually gave teachers a lot of autonomy in the class.
So you had your basic curriculum and then you just kind of went from there and you added or took away as you saw fit. Well, I tended to add quite a lot because I felt the curriculum a little lacking. So one particular year I decided to create a game based upon the vocabulary words that we were trying to teach the children at that time.
And so we had lots of fantastic words for Christmas. the Japanese kids were picking up on rather quickly. They didn’t have candy canes over in Japan. Now, it’s not that the concept of candy is that alien to anybody around the world but this particular piece of traditional holiday fare was not to be found.
So in the story that I created the central character was all about a candy cane. And eight years later after creating that story, I kept thinking about it over and over again. I had dabbled in some other stories sent out to publishers. I had never done anything with that one. And basically that’s kind of how it got started was just basically coming up with coming up with something for the classroom for the kids.
Laurie: And then you decided to pursue it.
The Publishing Process
Laurie: How long has it been published?
Scott: Came out in 2016.
Laurie: A couple years. You have paperback and hardcover. Have you enjoyed the process?
Scott: Sometimes yes, it’s when you think you have figured it out. This is exactly the route I need to go in order to be able to get this story out in front of the masses. It doesn’t work out as you imagine. That’s been a disappointing thing about doing this on my own. I do have professional distribution to Baker and Taylor.
But in terms of anybody out there on the road pushing this thing, publishers or agents, it’s not, it’s all on me. Which can be invigorating because it’s up to you to make it happen. So you always are trying to think creatively about where else can I get the story in front of eyeballs? I’m sure I could have saved a lot of time if I had joined some organizations or gone to seminars. I just never went that route. I stubbornly would put an hour or two every night into my own research efforts. I thought I discovered some really wonderful routes. They didn’t always pan out. Some did! Some others, mostly it didn’t.
Laurie: You have to try right? You have to try all the things.
Scott: Yeah. So I was just working independently. It is very freeing. You don’t have anybody to account for your successes or your failures except yourself. So it’s interesting to be able to wake up and just wonder where you’re going to go today with your story.
Laurie: Love it. Ups and downs for sure. Right?
Scott: All the time. Yes.
Laurie: We are our own worst critics. Our own worst boss.
Scott: Aren’t we? Yes, I know it’s true.
How Did Scott Find His Illustrator?
Laurie: I was going to ask how you found your illustrator because that’s always an issue for people.
Scott: Yes. Well this particular one I stumbled upon because she happened to be a student of mine.
So when I came back to the states I started doing adult education at night ESL English as a second language.
Scott: And was walking around the classroom one night and a woman was not doing what she was supposed to be doing. She was flipping through her pad and showing off her artwork to another classmate and it just hit me about how her style of drawing really kind of fit with this particular story. Now I had been sending out other manuscripts to other publishers and you waited three to four months and get kindly passed on. But I never done anything with this one. And so after a couple of years of just I don’t know nothing was happening with the other stories that I had I just kind of felt like I got to do something.
So I asked her if she might be interested in collaborating with me on this particular project that I had in mind. I let her read the story. She seemed to like the story and we just kind of went from there. So it was very kind of serendipitously how it just kind of happened. I wasn’t really looking to do anything at that time.
8 Years Later It was a New Book with a Different Illustrator
I had actually dabbled with exploring production of the story while I was overseas and I had met a woman who was an artist. She does fantastic sketches of the book. However, she couldn’t she couldn’t take those sketches to the next level. So unfortunately there was no when it came to the ink and the art and the coloring it didn’t really match the quality that was looking for. So I had to drop it and it’s actually a blessing because the story did change eight years later.
I did kind of look at it and kind of fiddle with this and that. As probably any author would tell you just shelve it, come back later and look at and go “oh my gosh”. So so I met this gal and she and I kind of did it together.
Laurie: Did she finish your course or did she spend the time drawing? Do you remember?
Scott: Well, I only taught one of her classes.
I think she did go on to complete the whole program. I don’t know.
Laurie: Okay. Good for her.
Scott: I’m sure it was a big distraction for her tasks.
Laurie: Has a job now!
Room For One More
Laurie: I was talking with an author on message today about how books need to percolate. So exactly like you say and sometimes it’s 8 years, 10 years, 20 years and sometimes it’s just a month, but some books really do need and then they are so much better for it.
I’m glad that worked out well for you. You shared a whole list of titles. How are these coming out? I’m particularly interested in the picture book.
Scott: Okay that one, unfortunately, that one’s been shelved as we were just talking about a moment ago. It’s a really creative endeavor. But the people that I got it in front of couldn’t quite follow where I was going with this were “like it’s really good, but I’m not sure what age category you’re going for on this.”
That was one of those things where I’m like, I’m going to have to revisit. I had to do a comparison. It’s almost like a Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. It’s all these individual poetic adventures. But again, I’m not sure if that one’s gonna happen. But there are other ones that have come to the forefront now.
Scott: I’ve got two right now that were in the final stages of illustration and they’re with our director. One is called Room For One More. That’s being illustrated by a very talented gentleman up in Canada by the name of Noel Tuazon. I found him through the Society of children’s book writers and illustrators here in Los Angeles. Really great guy and we just been communicating online sending me his sketches and I’ve been making minor tweaks.
I’m really excited about that one.
Laurie: Canadians are fabulous. We’re all fantastic. Yeah, sorry.
In the Dark
Scott: The other one the working title is In the Dark and I had to cheat on this one. I wish I could say I was one of multi talented author/illustrators who could do everything and I can’t. I know what I want.
I know the style that I’m craving with the picture with the story, but I started to think ‘could I create a story where I could actually do the drawings’? So I created this idea of telling stories through a pair of eyes in the dark. How expressive they could communicate the idea that was happening as a young boy makes his way through his house at night to grab a glass of water.
Crafting table all set up. I got the tracing paper and I printed out copies of eyes and stuff and I just sat there for two nights straight…
Laurie: Eyes are hard.
Scott: Anything is hard when it comes to illustrating if you don’t have the guts to try and unfortunately, I have to admit I failed. I wanted to be an illustrator when I was a child.
In fact, I thought that was the route I was going to go. I was like no I’m going to leave this to the professionals. So I found this young lady. She’s in London. Her name is Nikolett Timar. I said “look, I’ve seen your portfolio. I liked what you’re doing. Would you be willing to take a story on?”
I’m much more happier letting someone else take that responsibility. And once again, she’s creating some some great stuff. Like I said, right now it’s called In the Dark. We’ll see what the final published title is.
Laurie: That’s exciting. That one sounds really neat. You can tell a lot just from eyes.
Writing Different Types of Books
Scott: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it’s silly that one. I mean, obviously my candy cane one how the candy cane got its stripes does have an uplifting tale about self-discovery and growth. Okay. Room For One More is really that one. Also, I wrote now eight years ago.
That one’s all about just helping finding the power to be able to help others from right within your own house. And that’s a very telling story here in Los Angeles. But that one I mean that’s got to be that’s got a little message behind it. This other one In the Dark is it’s just kind of a silly adventure.
I think it’s funny can be interesting.
Laurie: There’s there’s space for all of it. Right? Yeah, right and kids love that. So if you’re giving it to you know, three to five year olds four to eight year olds, like they love that and they’ll get it.
Scott: Yeah. Yeah. Don’t always have to hit him over the head with a moral story.
Laurie: No, you don’t.
Scott’s Advice for New Authors
Laurie: I know you might have lots of advice to share with new authors, but I liked what you wrote to me because it’s so true. I don’t know if you remember it. Do you want me to read it to you?
Scott: Yeah was don’t put it off? Don’t wait too long?
Scott: Yeah, and I’ll tag that with something else that came to me today when I was getting ready for this. Obviously the hairline might give away but I’m not a youngin’ any more.
Laurie: It’s called realism.
Scott: Right? Obviously you need experience to be able to tell good stories and I have to say that I’m a bit of Peter Pan individual because I do not think that I’m grown up very well or at the pace that I probably should have. So I tend to think of things in a much more creative light-hearted way. As much as I was dabbling in other forms of entertainment whether it was comedy or sketch writing or whatever, there were stories inside me that I wanted to get out.
Get Other Professionals Involved so you Don’t Wait Too Long!
Scott: The process of putting out a book, an illustrated book, can be a daunting task when you look at not only the timeline involved, but also the expenses involved in the production and all that stuff.
But the lucky thing about the world we live in is there so many people you can get involved. If you don’t know how to do something, there are people out there who can, and do it at a very professional level. This illustrator that I mentioned before, JiHyun Kim, very talented young lady. Not only did she help me with the drawings, but she also was the one that did the art direction and oversaw production of the book and everything and right down to even the spine. She took into account how this would look on the shelf. Even when I go into the stores and it just stands out so I would never have thought about that.
Scott: So there are people out there who really can can help you and I think that my delay was all because I got caught up in the minutiae but the technicality of becoming an author on your own, independent author.
But the same time…
Did You Have Trouble Making Decisions?
Laurie: Did you have trouble making the decisions? Because you have to make all the decisions. So which way is right because there really isn’t always a right or wrong.
Scott: Yeah, I guess also I won’t say that I over I overthink things, but I do know that I kind of going back to what you were to mention before the beginning about self-doubt.
I guess. I guess I always worry that I can make a strong decision on one thing. But then I would wait and find out later there was it wasn’t the best so when it comes to just the production side of things like said the drawing of course, which is so important right down to overseeing just the the print in the check and you know, the proof sheets and like kind of stuff having someone over see that for you.
Just handing that off because yeah the time it takes to educate yourself and educate yourself properly. I felt like I was just like just get it done just do it because otherwise I’m going to use it as an excuse of like, oh, no, I’m still I’m still studying. I’ve got a couple more books that I’m reading that I checked out from the library about pre-production.
I’m going to no no, I’m not so just let someone else do it and that’s that’s where. As much as I would say do it do make sure though you have a good team behind you and that you’re not jumping into something way before you really have a full bearing of what to expect.
How Scott’s Background in Marketing Affected the Process
Scott: The other thing I was thinking about today was my background in marketing and advertising. Was a good and a bad thing.
Laurie: Oh, really?
Scott: Yeah, because I tended to put a lot of money into my materials going right out of the gate. I thought you need to have a Barnes & Noble corner display worthy set up.
When you haven’t made your first dollar back you dig yourself into a hole. The good thing I will say about all those materials I created, they’re going to last me. For example, I’m going to have a children’s book festival happening in Orange County, first weekend of October. All those things that I’ve been using for the last couple book festivals I’m going to take them with me. Everything gets laid out and it looks really well done.
But I probably could have broken it down into like this year I’ll do this, this year I’ll do this. Instead I was just like wow right on the start. That’s the only thing I would say is just maybe you can manage your marketing materials. Spread it out a little bit.
Laurie: There’s no direct ROI, but you can say I put this much out for the sign. This is how much I got back for the sign, but it does help.
Scott: I know. As long as it lasts.
Laurie: It’s a fine line when you’re in this business. How much money to put out, how much thinking to do, how much time to take, before you just say screw it and get it out there. There’s a lot to be said for just getting it out there and learning the hard way. Thank you for that advice.
The Most Surprising Thing Scott Has Learned
Laurie: What was the most surprising thing that you’ve learned?
Scott: I’ve been lucky my particular tale. The one that’s out currently. I knew when I was creating the story that I would have the seasonality behind me.
I could go back to stores every October, November and December and I would be somewhat guaranteed some shelf space. If you put a book out that has a relevant year round tale, you’re lucky if you get that shelf space for those 12 months, but at least I get to revisit these people every year.
The one thing I discovered last year, one of my failures was that I thought I had a set market when I stumbled upon the fact that there were Christmas stores open maybe not 365 days. Maybe they’re closed Christmas, but they’re open all the time and all they do is sell Christmas stuff. 18 around the United States.
I might not have shelf space at Skylight books here in Los Angeles, but for maybe two to three months a year. These other stores can carry my stuff 12 months a year. I found out the hard way that when you think you have found your niche, it doesn’t always work out because half the stores I contacted were religious based only.
It is not a religious story and the other ones were like, “we don’t carry books. They don’t do very well. So we’re basically Christmas ornaments and ugly sweaters.” I think I got one in Missouri.
Laurie: How did they sell?
Scott: They sold okay. It’s coming back around so I get to contact them again.
See if they want to order some more. I’m hoping so, but that was one of those things where I thought I discovered the Holy Grail.
Marketing Advice from a Professional Marketer
Scott: But what did end up coming in my favor – and I would say this to anybody who has a book is consider alternative options for product placement based upon what your story is about.
Yes. We all want to get into bookstores. However, in bookstores, you have to share a lot of shelf space.
So you have to fight a lot of competition, right? Because my story is a candy story. There are stores that carried last year and will continue to carry this year that basically they have warm handmade candy canes for the year.
And so therefore my book with their product ended up selling quite a lot. So that was kind of a neat little way to kind of consider breaking through the clutter. Now let’s consider other alternative places. If you write a book about dogs. Consider where you take yours to have it groomed that store might very well offer you a little shelf space, you know, these kind of ideas.
It doesn’t always have to be a book store that carries your product.
Laurie: Oh, that’s great advice.
Scott: Could be a gift shop at a hospital. If you think it’s a relevant less than about overcoming some kind of serious injury or abnormality or whatever it may be this other other places for you to be able to rack up sales not just book stores themselves.
Would You Publish Another Seasonal Book?
Laurie: Oh, that’s great advice. So have to ask would you would you try your hand at another seasonal book based on the experience of the past few days with this one?
Scott: No, well, I’ll tell you because this one it came to me as it kind of had a personal side to the story itself. I don’t get a chance to make it back east for the holidays and so when I wrote this book originally I was already far far away from friends and family. Yeah. Yeah, and so the story is really about finding your worth to others. And so the when you after you’re done reading the story, there’s no there’s no real mention of family. It’s really about the relationship between people whether they’re friends or neighbors, loved ones.
And so I kind of wanted to take a little bit of that. You have to have that family opening presents around the Christmas tree in front of a crackling fire idea away from it. Because not everybody has that. I mean you have a lot of single parent families. You have a lot of latchkey- I don’t know what the terminology is. Kids that are shared between parents you know.
Scott: You know, yeah that idea that those those those poor people and yeah, that’s that’s so common now and so the idea of oh being you know, a loving husband loving wife together to be that Mom and Dad. It’s not always necessarily reality anymore. So this story kind of came from a personal place for myself as well.
I don’t I don’t I just don’t have that connection with any other ideas holiday based ideas I guess.
The Story Behind Room for One More
My other stories that I’ve come up with like for example, Room For One more, was because because I was I was crashed on my buddy’s couch for four months. I told him I’d only be a week. I was looking for a new apartment.
I couldn’t find a new apartment and without any hesitation whatsoever from day one to day hundred twenty never he never gave me skunk eye when he saw me in the morning. Was always like “hey, how’d you sleep? Everything going ok?” And he just couldn’t be any nicer to me. And I knew I was imposing on him.
But you know, it was it was that kindness that I felt was like this is this is an interesting idea that. Just you know, so many people might need just had a helping hand a little boost.
Laurie: Absolutely and one way or another an actual room or just in their in their space in their life. I love that. So your books really have a deep meaning for you.
Scott: Kind of yeah, they they come from somewhere personal.
A Little More about In The Dark
I’m trying to think where the personal one is what the personal story is for In the Dark.
Laurie: I was just thinking that did you have some some trauma when you were a child baby? No, you know, it’s like all kids do that. My kids go through periods when there are three. They’re not scared to go anywhere in the dark and when they’re four all of a sudden they know about monsters and they know that something might be there.
I mean or they think? So it is very universal that fear of the dark and I don’t know in your story where it will take the child where we’ll take the boy but sounds interesting.
Scott: Yeah, he has a he has an overactive imagination as he keeps coming upon new members of the family in the house is first his first instinct is that they are some kind of wild animal until at the end there’s a little bit of twist. I won’t tell what it is. You have you have to read it. But I but it’s funny because actually but I’ve gone after after the holidays are over. I’ll go back to the store and they always ask like well, what else do you have? Do you have another yet another holiday book? How the Easter egg got its stripes? I mean no, it’s gotta come from somewhere somewhere true.
Laurie: It will percolate. It’ll percolate for eight years. And then…
More about Marketing Seasonal Books: Have a Pitch Ready!
Laurie: I’m curious about seasonal books because your marketability time is short. Curious about how people handle that. I love your idea of candy stores.
Scott: Candy stores, toy stores are always good to try, especially independent ones.
They’re looking for opportunities. They may not give it to you for the year. If you put thought and creativity into your presentation. Come up with a reason why that store should carry it.
It’s not just because you’re a first-time author and you’ve got an amazing product to sell them. You’ve got to make that pitch. Tell them that the month of July is national dog month or something, if it has relevance to your story. Give them a reason for a limited time to not only carry it,but promote it. You may have to come up with signage. You may have to create a mini bio that you put into a frame that will go next to your story. Ultimately, any store will support you if you’re supporting your product. When the customer walks in, whether they walk up to that register with Paddington Bear under their arm, or your book, it’s a sale, and the store is going to be happy to sell either product.
Laurie: This is where your marketing background comes in so well. I betcha most first time authors are not going in with the pitch. This idea of the month and tie it into something else. That’s terrific.
Scott: Don’t spent a lot of money on your pitch. It’s all about the idea. Come up with a good idea.
As long as you have a solid product to give them that represents not only yourself, but the store, then they should consider it.
Laurie: Fewer reasons to say no. Thank you.
Where Can We Find Scott’s Book?
Laurie: Where can people find you find your book?
Scott: Well this particular book that’s out now how you can go to thecandycanestory.com.
You can also write me directly at thecandycane@gmail or think I’m sorry firstname.lastname@example.org. Okay, that made things so simple that I’ve forgotten them. So yeah. So the website is the same as the email accept a Gmail and .com.
Scott: And then of course Amazon. So is there and the other two books hopefully when they’re out they’ll unfortunately I’m not gonna make holidays but will make first part of the year.
I’ll probably end up transferring some already adding some links to the one website to start to grow. Yeah, and start to promote the other two products.
Laurie: Well, best of luck with those two. Maybe you should come back on in six months and we can talk about how they ended up and…
Scott: Tell you how everything…
Laurie: How the non-seasonal books are going.
Scott: Oh God six months. It had been longer than that, honestly because realistically think about it. Right now. We have what three four months left until the end of the year. Yeah. That’s my book gets out of beginning of the year. I mean probably not looking until almost a year from now in July I should be able to say whether or not things are going as progressed or not.
So if you’ll remember me in 12 months, I’ll be more than happy to come and talk to you.
Laurie: I’ll do my best. Thank you everybody. Hope you go check out Scott’s book in time for the holidays and thank you again.
Thank you very much, Laurie. Appreciate all that you’re doing.