FEBRUARY 2023 FEATURE INTERVIEW WITH LOCAL ARTIST AND ILLUSTRATOR, ALYCIA NEIGHBOURS

February is here! And with it… another FEATURE INTERVIEW! Today, I’m especially excited to introduce you to our guest, Alycia Neighbours.

I have the pleasure of working with Alycia in the library. She is a fantastically talented artist with a very funny (and sometimes unfiltered) sense of humor- which cracks us all up. Of course, most of us gals in the library think we’re hilarious and spend a lot of our time laughing at what some might think is nonsense. But I’m losing focus. *My ADHD apologies.* Speaking of which… something that Alycia and I share is that both of us are on the neurodiverse spectrum. Which is pretty cool.

I have a feeling putting us together for this interview is going to lead to a lot of wandering around on different topics. We’ll see if we get through it. If nothing else… I can guarantee it will be interesting.

So, let’s do this.

*Rolling up sleeves.*

Are you ready, Alycia? And 100  points to Gryffindor if you say, “I was born ready.”

*Cracks knuckles, smirks, and her eyes have a puckish glint* “I was born ready, but I’m unsure if you are.”

Ready or not, here we go!


My bio about Alycia:

Alycia is a very cool librarian with many creative talents and passions. She works with wildlife rescue (we actually have a very funny story about a tortoise she almost stole thinking it was mine. Maybe we’ll tell you about it later…) She’s an artist and now working on illustrations for an upcoming picture book (YAY!) She is neurodiverse (I’ll let her expand on that if she’d like), big-hearted, big-humored, big-mouthed- (Am I allowed to say that, Alycia? I know you would. Just kidding. Kind of.) one-of-a-kind individual with her own unique brand of personality. She is also a mom and stepmom to a pretty gigantic brood of kids. I can’t remember how many there are… What was it, like 50? I know it was a Cheaper By The Dozen Situation at best. Tell me again, how many munchkins you have in total? And all jokes aside, she’s a pretty terrific and down-to-earth human being, who I’m deeply grateful to know. 


Alycia’s bio about Alycia:

I am a 46-year-old wife and mother of 8 with 2 granddaughters. A lot of the time, it does feel like there are 50+ kids I am somehow responsible for. Most of the time, it IS extra kids that have come over to play with our menagerie of animals. If it can be a house pet, I guarantee I probably have two of them. If it’s not one of my pets, it’s probably wildlife that I am working on rehabbing; nobody blinks an eye around here about squirrels in a closet, a hawk on the screened porch, a possum in the bed, or watching me set a broken leg on a mouse on the kitchen counter. I am autistic and have a Conure as a service animal. Cricket, the conure, is a small parrot with a growing vocabulary. He has the ability (as all birds do) to sense small, subtle magnetic changes around him. This includes the beating of my heart speeding up. His job is to identify those moments before I do, and then he leans into my neck. His warm body pressing on me alerts me that I need to pay attention to what my body is telling me and use my tools to combat my instincts. When I am not filling dinner plates of food bowls, I am either working at the library, homeschooling 4 teenagers, or creating. Artwise I am a painter, crocheter, knitter, pyrographer, calligrapher, tattoo designer, logo designer, sculptor, and jewelry maker. My other interests are mounted archery, kayaking, working with mustangs or abused horses, hiking, and anything else that can get me into nature.


So, today’s interview (as you can probably already tell) is going to be formatted a little bit differently for a few reasons. 

1.It’s Alycia and me- and together, we’re trouble.

2.This will be my first sit-down interview with an artist only! We did have one interview back in December that featured a father and son-author/illustrator team, but this time, we are going to be focusing on art and illustration. And Alycia’s illustration journey is going to be a little bit different because, as I understand it, Alycia is going through a traditional route and was hired by a publishing house. Is that right?


I believe the chain of events that occurred whilst I was peacefully sleeping is that an author actually stumbled into my art via a social media site while she was perusing artwork pertaining to her character. She introduced it to the Powers That Be of Publishing and then began courting me with promises of face-to-face meetings at her hobby farm. How could I possibly refuse a chance to sit down amongst roaming goats, turkeys, floofy dogs, and kitties in need of “scritches.”


I know that in publishing, there is some red tape on things, and it’s important to stay hush-hush until a certain date. So, with that in mind, instead of me asking you direct questions, maybe instead, you could tell us what you’re able to about the publishing experience and project so far. 


I can tell you that the publishing house that is working with us is a fantastical beast of making sure everything is absolutely perfect, from making sure the prose is formatted the best for our demographic, the margins are clearer than a guppie’s mind, the artwork being chosen is to not only reflect the passion of the words but to engage all levels of readers. It’s a slower process than Chelsea’s pretend tortoise imitating an arthritic sloth. The author I am working with has a background in teaching and preparing kids not just academically for the world but emotionally. She is in the middle of two books, one I am illustrating in my style because of the subject matter and the other about a whimsical butterfly done by a brilliant watercolorist. It was important to her to choose artists that not only could tackle bringing her words to life but who were passionate about their subjects.

Her deciding factor in choosing me was her book focuses around a crow that has grown up believing his identity was defined by those around him, which was a loving, but aloof family of chickens. He has to embrace who he truly is if he is going to be able to make a difference. When the author found me on social media, not only was she interested in my artwork, but I was also working with an orphaned crow affectionately named Chikyn. I was documenting his life of learning how to be a crow by introducing him as he was maturing to wild crows that nest in the woods behind my home. She knew then that I was the perfect candidate for illustrating this book.


So, now that we’ve talked about your traditional experience let’s talk about your inspiration for art. Have you always identified as an artist? How old were you?


I have always been creative, and at 46 years old, I sometimes feel as though I am just beginning. I work in all sorts of mediums and am usually taking online courses and working with other artists to further my different crafts. As mentioned, I am on the spectrum and am Autistic. One of my superpowers is the ability to hyperfocus on small details that make up the whole. I can get lost for hours creating each blade on a feather, the wrinkle on a flower petal, or the texture of the skin on an elephant. Most of my art focuses on these details, and by working in black and white, I encourage the viewer to ignore the colors that fascinate us at first glance and look closer at the beauty of the structure.


What does being an artist mean to you? And what is your connection to your art?


Being an artist means slowing down to appreciate the complex within the simplicity at first glance. It is taking a millisecond of time and preserving it in a way that invites the viewer to stop for a while and take notice of the chaotic perfection of form and structure.

My connection to art is that is my way of being. I think, hear and process the world around me in pictures. To be able to pull those images from my mind and put them onto canvas is a way of communication for me. It is my window to my soul.


What made you want to pursue illustration?


Pursuing this particular avenue of art allows me to use my connections to my work to help the author give “flesh” to their message. Children especially learn images long before they learn language. When reading an illustrated book on their own or if an adult is reading to them, they take what they have already learned through images and assign language. I feel this gives kids a sense of security to learn language and emotion/intention with a base of knowledge that feels familiar and comfortable.


Outside of this newest publishing venture, have you previously done any sort of commissioned artwork? If so, can you tell us a little bit about that process and maybe about the projects you worked on?


I’ve been doing commissions for the better part of the past decade. I tend to gravitate toward projects that have deep emotional meaning to the recipient. Whether a portrait of their beloved family member, a wood-burned recipe on a cutting board that has been passed down from the grandparents, a sculpture of their favorite pet, a watercolor of their home, a crocheted blanket for their newborn child, or a rendering of their favorite animal; if they are passionate then so am I.


I know what a talented artist you are. I’ve seen your work up close! And I’ve had the privilege of watching you teach a painting class for beginner artists as well, inside the library. Do you have any samples of your work that you’d be willing to share with us today?

Note: so, Alycia gave me free reign to choose images from her Instagram, and of course, my favorite animals are foxes and bats, so I have included them both!

Alycia, your attention to detail blows my mind. I know you usually work with black and white, but I chose one image to share as well with a pop of color. It really is stunning! But, I could talk all day about how much I love your work, and as much fun as that would be… I might lose some readers. So, back to what we were previously talking about: the library…

Recently, you hosted your first program in the library! Back in December of 2022, you hosted a winter painting party. How did it feel to host your first program? Were you super siked to lead an art-based event? Or were you nervous? Or were you a little of both? (Although, I can’t really picture you being nervous. And you handled the class so smoothly, it seemed like second nature.)


I was very excited to bring painting to the library. The main reason I began working in the library is my intense desire to serve people. Not just to serve them but for each person, I come in contact with to feel seen, feel important, and feel connected. Painting and learning painting is not something easily or cheaply done, so many people don’t ever take a chance on themselves becoming artists. The library offering this service for free allowed people of all backgrounds to be risky. I know how hard it is to take a risk and create something that feels so personal, so by teaching the class, I was able to walk right alongside them each step of the way, instructing, encouraging, and celebrating each unique canvas.

I was a little nervous, but that was due to my being in a new situation and a transition from my normal routine at the library; spectrum by-product. However, teaching painting classes is not new for me. I’ve taught personal lessons one-on-one, small groups during parties, and large groups of 100s of children at one time. I’ve learned the reward of seeing all the risk-takers with their paintbrushes is far more powerful than my moments of discomfort.


So, if someone wanted an Alycia original, is that something they could get? Can people approach you with projects they’d like you to create for them? And if so, how?


Absolutely! I am always available for new projects and ventures. Sometimes there are busy seasons, so there may be a wait for your finished project, but I always connect through each stage of the work progress to show the recipient where I am with things an.d if we need to tweak along the way. They can always approach me in person or through email alycia.neighbours@gmail.com, social media sites, or by phone (six one five- four two zero- zero two four four.) 


Okay, now for some fun GET-TO-KNOW-YOU-BETTER questions:

Alycia, if you could be any mythical creature, what would you be?

I would want to be a fairy the size of Tinkerbell (which, by the way, is one of my favorite characters) By being so small, I could sit in a flower all day to appreciate each splendid petal or perhaps ride on the wings of bird and see the world through their eyes, or maybe I’ll curl up under a toadstool, pull up my blanket of moss, listen to the cricket orchestra play a Sonata while I nap under a sunbeam.


If you could have any superpower (other than the many you already possess), what would you choose?

Flying. Definitely flying. I am a bird fanatic (autism focus - I can talk about birds for hours and hours) and also have a degree in bird biology.

If you could travel to any point in history, what and where would it be?

I’m going to have to go with the Jurassic Era here. Yes, I am probably going to get smashed at some point, but this girl is going to ride a Triceratops if that is the last thing I do.

If you turned into an animal tomorrow, based on your personality, what do you think it would be and why?

As much as I want to say a bird, I would one hundred percent probably be a cicada. I stay under wraps and avoid all contact until I am forced to come out. Then I begin to scream.

Now for some riddles… no cheating!

Where do sick boats go?

Well, if they had taken their Vitamin Sea, they wouldn’t have to go to the dock.

Tou·ché. However, the answer we were looking for is “the dock-tor.”

Name an expensive fish.

The one that clogs up your toilet and creates hefty plumbing bills.

*Chelsea laughing* Goldfish.

How do you spell COW in thirteen letters?

*Sips coffee, tries to look wise* 

SEE O DOUBLE YOU.

Alright. Here’s our last one. 

If 2 is company and 3 is a crowd, what are 4 and 5?

*Continues sipping coffee*

9.

Thank you, Alycia, for letting me pick your brain! It’s been a treat. *Chelsea as a zombie “brains! Delicious.”* And now… does anybody know what time it is? 

I’ll give you a hint. It starts with the letter G…

As great as all those things are… it is none of the above. It’s…

Alycia is generously offering a custom artwork giveaway. Think of your favorite animal *fiction or nonfiction* and leave it in the comments below. One lucky winner will be chosen at random to receive a custom piece of art featuring the animal you chose. The commenting window for the prize will last one week from the post date of this FEATURE INTERVIEW. The deadline will be Wednesday, February 8th, 2023, so make sure to get your answers in as soon as possible! Please also make sure to include your NAME and EMAIL ADDRESS in your comment so that we can easily contact our prize winner. 

To connect with Alycia or to see some of her amazing artwork, visit her social media, shown below.

Instagram alicyia.neighbours 
Before you go… 

If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to like this post and subscribe to Chelsea’s World of Books BLOG for more fabulous #kidlit happenings. You can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Thanks for reading! 

Sneak peek… 
Join us next month for our FEATURE INTERVIEW with Kidlit Author Janet Sumner Johnson.

January 2023 Feature Interview with Local Children’s Book Author Brittany Wuthrich

Hello friends!

Welcome to my third FEATURE INTERVIEW segment. And to start off the new year of 2023, I have a special guest joining today. Let’s give a warm welcome to Brittany Wuthrich!

About Brittany: 

Brittany is a local Children’s Author living outside of Nashville, Tennessee. She released a picture book entitled BIRD AND THE TREE for ages 4-8.

A little background on my relationship with Brittany Wuthrich:

I was perusing a local bookstore in my area (Curious Capybara) and stumbled upon an adorable book! I picked it up, and lo and behold; it was a local author. So, when I set up a short story contest in the library over the summer of 2022, I knew I wanted to get ahold of Brittany and see if she’d like to co-judge to find our finalists. Fortunately for me and the children’s library, she did! Having her as one of our panelists and judges over the summer was an absolute treat.

Today, we’re going to be discussing some shop talk on the behind-the-scenes of independent publishing.  We’ll be answering questions about where to find an illustrator, how to pay an illustrator, how to format, how to edit, how to market, and so on. So, if you’re looking into self-publishing your picture book… keep reading to find out how it’s done! 

We’re also going to be delving into some serious topics on mental health and recovery. 

DISCLAIMER: IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW ARE SUFFERING FROM SEVERE MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESS AND ARE NOT COMFORTABLE DISCUSSING, PLEASE STOP READING NOW. 

So, let’s jump right in!

I always like to start with the heart of it all: inspiration. 
Let’s talk inspiration and first steps:
Brittany, what inspired you to write THE BIRD AND THE TREE?
(SEE IMAGE BELOW…)
I wrote a poem about this quote and what it meant to me.  The real and raw place I was in when I wrote this is not easy to talk about.  It isn’t easy to access because of how far I’ve come from where I was, either.  It isn’t uncommon, though.  It seems like a lot of people deal with anxiety and trauma.  That doesn’t minimize it, of course.  So the poem I wrote deals with a little of mine.  

I ended up going to what is essentially group therapy sessions to deal with it.  Ok, so I don’t know how comfortable I am with sharing this.  It seems appropriate though, because of what happened recently with the guy from the Ellen show.  Tragically, he passed away from suicide.  People were so surprised because of his happy persona and how young he was.  

I think for the same reasons, people would be surprised to know that I was at a point in which I had gotten close to making a similar decision with my life (despite how I appeared outwardly).
It is hard to admit that I let myself get so far in despair.  But it happens to people from all types of walks of life.  People deal with depression.  It is just a fact.  It is real.  That is why I would like to advocate for mental health awareness.  So… back to how this became a children’s book.

In those group sessions, it was normal to discuss a quote or a topic at the top of the hour.  On this particular day, we got a black-and-white quote printed out on a piece of paper (with this exact graphic above).  I think it spoke to me because it was a reminder that I had strength in ways I didn’t always acknowledge.  

That same day, a poetry organization in Nashville came to the group to lead an exercise in poetic expression.  I can’t remember the name of the group.  The exercise was to write a poem in five minutes.  There wasn’t enough time for me to get distracted by self-doubt or email.  When the timer stopped, so did I.

I already had a respect and love for poetry.  I was all about it.  I loved approaching it in this different way, though.  Oftentimes, I feel blocked from writing as freely as I did when I was younger.  This exercise unlocked a new way to approach writing that I still use to this day.  

In the five minutes, I imagined being a bird.  I thought about what it was like being stuck or why it would be hard to move on in a situation.  Really, I didn’t do a lot of thinking… I just wrote.  When I heard the beeping of the phone timer go off, I put my pen down.  I had written BIRD AND THE TREE.  

When the exercise was over, we were asked if we would like to share what we wrote.  I remember that there was a meaningful silence in the room after I read.  I remember that what I read seemed to resonate with my cohorts.  It felt good to know that some could relate to the Bird as I did.   It felt liberating to share.

I had no idea that just a few short years later, I would be living in some of the happiest years of my life, that I would be a mother to a little girl and later a little boy.  I would be more authentically in touch with my faith in God and my family.  It took a lot of work, and I feel very removed from the place I had found myself in then.  But all I can say is that it happens.  All I can say is I forgive myself.  

On my last group day, I got a parting gift.  All participants get a painted rock with a descriptor or an affirmation of some kind on their final day.  In my case, and it’s a little serendipitous, mine was a painting of a bird on a branch.  The group leader reflected back to me that I reminded her of the bird on the branch from the quote.  It meant a lot to me, and I still have the rock to this day. My husband encouraged me to turn the poem into a children’s book.  Eventually, I did.  
Wow, Brittany. Thank you for sharing these intimate details behind your inspiration for BIRD AND THE TREE. I know it isn’t an easy thing to talk about, and I’m sure that many who are or who have struggled against the battle of mental health appreciate your story. 

Having many family members myself who suffer from various mental health illnesses, ranging from chronic and suicidal depression as well as seasonal depression and bipolar, (myself included)… and personally experiencing the death of my own husband years ago due to depression, I understand that this can be a very sensitive thing to share. But in sharing, there is healing. And it’s truly wonderful to see how you have been able to heal and grow and find happiness with your ever-blossoming family!

So, now that we’ve discussed the inspiration… what was the message you hoped to share with this book? 

Initially, when I decided to make this a children’s book, I thought that it could be a message of hope.  I could see through the story how what Bird was experiencing was grief.  

Years before, I had learned about the five stages of grief through a Stephen’s Ministry class at my church.  The class focused on serving others who were dealing with loss and hardship.  I think I was only fifteen or sixteen at the time, but one thing that has stayed with me to this day is that there are things not to say to someone who is hurting.  The other thing was that grief has layers. Specifically, there are five stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. *source here*   

Through that lens, it is easy to see that the character of Bird is going through the grieving process.  He didn’t want to believe that everything would change, even when it was clear that it would. That’s denial.  There are other examples throughout the book that all lead to his ultimate acceptance:  when he uses his wings to move on.  We all experience grief at all ages.  

Excellent!  And were you happy with your finished product?

Yes. Given the chance to go back, though, I would change the title. It seems there is already a book called The Bird and the Tree.  Not a huge difference, but my book doesn’t have a ‘The’ in the title.  BIRD AND THE TREE is not on Amazon at the moment, so this other book usually comes up if someone searches for it, which can cause confusion of course. I like to think I did my research, but I had no idea this book existed until it was pretty much too late into the process.  I could probably look into changing the title with any reprints I do, we’ll see.  

Can you walk us through the beginning steps of the publishing process?

Lots of typing things into a search bar.  Nowadays, there is so much information out there, the game is also to know the right stuff to search for.  In my case, I was searching for self-publishing, how to launch a Kickstarter. 

You mentioned that you used a Kickstarter to help with the publishing process. Can you explain that in further detail? 

Kickstarter was the catalyst for this project to be possible.  It gave Becca and I not only the funds but the confidence to keep going.  I would recommend Kickstarter to anyone trying to self-publish.  It is a resource, leveraging social media as well to keep followers in the loop through every step of the way.  For our Kickstarter campaign, Becca and I set a goal:  $2,800.  People that donate to a project on the site are called backers. Once the campaign started, we had thirty days to meet that goal.  If we did not hit $2800 within that time, all the money would be refunded to the backers.  It kicked us into gear to be active about sharing our intention of creating a children’s book.  We laid out what the book was about, gave examples of illustrations, and set rewards for different tiers of backers.

Enough buzz was created as a result of the campaign that 54 backers funded the project to help us exceed our goal within that time.  We were pumped to see that support!  

Did you ever consider going the traditional route with your book, or did you know from the beginning that you wanted to publish independently?


I was so energized at that point and time to make the book happen that I didn’t want to risk being told no.  I wanted control of the project and trusted myself enough to do it.  I still made mistakes along the way, but I am glad that I had this experience.


I can relate to that! I’m working on patience… but when you’re excited about something, it’s hard to wait! You just want to shout it out from the rooftops. So, how long did it take you to write and revise your story before publication?

Did you hire a professional editor?

Yes, using a service called Reedsy, I hired a professional editor named Jennifer Rees.  She has a background as a Senior Editor at Scholastic Press, where she edited picture books and novels.  I was excited to read from her bio that she was an editor for The Hunger Games.
  
The way Reedsy works is that you find the service you’re needing:  editing, design, publicity, and marketing (to name a few), then search through the service providers to narrow down a shortlist.  I looked for editors who specialized in children’s picture books.
  
Once I had my shortlist, I sent requests out with a brief seeking developmental editing, copy editing, editorial assessment, and proofreading as the service needed for BIRD AND THE TREE.
 
From the five I sent out, two made offers, two declined, and one did not respond.  So I had two quotes to select from.  After I selected Jennifer’s quote, she sent a rundown of how our collaboration would work.

I appreciated working with an editor that had a seasoned background. She offered advice to help my manuscript (the poem I wrote in 2019) translate well for children’s literature.
  
Working with Jennifer’s feedback helped me unlock a new side to Bird’s story.  It was darker in tone to start with and there was not as much closure for the character.  I added the element of the acorn that we see grow into a new tree at the end of the story. Her feedback was detailed and very helpful.  That process lasted over the span of about three months.

Did you test your book on beta readers on any sites before publication? If so, can you list where you were able to find them?

Only a handful of friends and family. 

Let’s talk illustrations & cost:
Where did you find your illustrator?

Our husbands work together.

Terrific luck! And how did you handle payment with your illustrator? Was it a royalty share, or did you pay a flat one-time commission rate and purchase ownership of the illustrations?
 
It was a 50/50 split to a certain point.  Becca had lots of other projects to focus on while I was still focused on promoting the book.  Basically, there was a payout at that point.  Going forward, I have ownership of what I sell. 

Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted your images to look like, or did your illustrator have total creative control of the artwork?

I worked closely with my illustrator to find the world that Bird lived in.  I took a role as art director with collaborative control.  We had weekly meetings whenever possible to discuss the direction of the book.   

Was it easy to communicate with your illustrator?

Yes. It isn’t too challenging, but we live in different states.  We were working together over video calls during the thick of COVID lockdowns.

I think during Covid, many were doing similar styles of work and communication. What a crazy time! And what recommendation would you give to someone who is looking to hire an illustrator?

I don’t feel like an expert in this area because I was lucky to find Becca.  I’ve heard people find them on Fiverr.  I know sometimes reviews are not reliable, but I definitely look at reviews.  I research what I’m looking for.  If you know the art style, you’re going for in your book (watercolor, digital, etc.), look for someone who specializes in that area.  Have lots of references to share with your illustrator to help them get a visual of what types of illustrations you are looking for.  Becca and I had fun rereading some of our favorite children’s books.

How long did the illustration process take?

Since the illustrations are a big part of telling the story, in this case, it took about as long as the book took to make.  I had already had the poem completed in 2019.  The book took about a year and a half to make.

Were you able to see the images during the process, or was the entire book illustrated, and then they came to you with the final product?

I got to see different evolutions of both the Bird and the Tree. Here are a few different drawings of Bird that Becca pitched early in the process.
How cool! I love these little birds. What kind of illustrations did you end up using? Were they all digital or hand-drawn, or a combination?

Becca used an app on her iPad called Procreate to digitally draw the illustrations.

Your book cover is just fantastic—how did you land on that illustration for the front cover? 

Simply to introduce Bird hanging out at his favorite spot.  To compel the reader to want to know Bird’s story.

Let’s talk marketing and cost:
As far as the publishing cost and marketing, what was the ballpark pricing for getting your business up and running? 

Ballparking around $3,500 for every aspect of the project.  The publishing arm was around $2,000 of that.

That’s good information to know. Thank you! 
What kind of marketing did you do for your book?

Grassroots. Mostly Instagram. My illustrator and I collaborated on Instagram lives and stories. In the early days of the Kickstarter campaign and publication, I hosted open mic nights at Kave House of Haggai for poets and musicians. The events served to share about the book and give a platform to other local creatives.  

I know you have some coloring pages that you brought in (that coincide with the story BIRD AND THE TREE) and shared when you came to the library over the summer. They were just adorable! Are those available for purchase somewhere? If so, where can we find them?

Thank you!  They are not available for purchase right now.  I just have them for special events.  However, I would eventually like to get a few merch items on my website.  

Can you tell us what other (if you have them) promotional things you have to go along with your book?

In our Kickstarter campaign, we offered some fun promotional items for backers!  Becca made mugs, tote bags, and tees.  Elena drinks her “coffee” (chocolate milk) out of her Bird mug. 
Do you have an author website, and if so, what platform did you go with—and do you recommend it? If not, what other preferred social media or online presence do you use to connect with readers?

I have a website:  brittwut.com. It’s a central location for a lot of different things I’m working on at the moment.  It is also where the book can be purchased. 

I use Wix. It is just really easy to use. The interface is clean, and I like the storefront features. I prefer to use Instagram at the moment to send out information to my readers.  I’m just comfortable with Instagram. I’m aiming to use other social platforms this year.
  
Let’s talk reviews and getting your book into bookstores:
As every writer knows, finding readers is half the battle- especially when self-publishing. As far as commercial marketing goes, what avenues did you find most successful for finding readers to review your work? Can you name a few places or give a few suggestions in this area?

I probably have not done nearly enough in this area.  I was pleasantly surprised, though, at the reception of the book when I went to local markets. It was a lot of fun to set up with the books and meet people in the community. 
Other than Curious Capybara, do you have your book available in any other bookstores? If so, where? Are they all local?

They are all local. Currently, the book is available at Kave House of Haggai in Gallatin and on my website, brittwut.com. Southwater Manor carried them for a while. I had them at Mango + Rose before it closed. I gave two copies to The Getalong in Nashville. Curious Capybara carried a few copies as well (and I’m so glad that you found the book there).  


Because you are self-published, did you have to do a consignment set-up with local bookstores? If not, what was the process like? Was it easy or difficult? Explain.

Yes. It was mostly on consignment. The process was easy! Payouts vary from place to place. Some would send a check, and others would Venmo. This usually happens on a monthly basis. Because this was local, it was not too hard to get started. Usually, shop owners were receptive to carrying a book from a local author. I love working with and supporting these local businesses as well! After a few conversations and agreements over terms, I would replenish the books as they sold. When I got pregnant with my second child, I stopped cycling my books out at most places because I needed to be at home more at the time.  

When I did markets, it was also fairly easy. There was a flat rate for a space, and the events usually lasted 1-2 days. I accept Square and Venmo for transactions. They are also not very complicated to use.

If someone didn’t live locally but wanted to purchase your book online, where could they find it?

www.brittwut.com

Let’s talk formatting and publishing platforms:
How did you format your story for printing? Text & illustrations?

Becca made her own font using quirky handwritten letters. How cool is that?!
  
VERY COOL! Was formatting a nightmare, or did you enjoy it? 

Getting the color profile correct for printing was tricky.  
I did not enjoy this part. I also experienced some decision fatigue when it came to the size of the book, the paper coating, and binding. It was nice that PrintNinja sent a packet with physical examples to look at. That helped a lot. Still, it was a little daunting for me to lock in on something.

About how long did it take?

I believe it was close to a year and a half.  

Did you have to hire someone or enlist help from someone you knew, or did you do all the formatting on your own?

I used Adobe InDesign. Becca sent me the art files, and I formatted the document into a .pdf.
  
Did the publishing platform you used offer any formatting aid? If so, what was the pricing like on that, or was it offered as a complimentary service?

PrintNinja has a lot of resources and guides for formatting on their website. It was no extra cost to access these, and they’re readily available to anyone regardless if they’re using the service or not. Check out their Printing Academy.

What type of binding did you use on your book spine? And what material was your book cover?

Binding - Saddle Stitching
Size - 11x8.5
Page Count - 32
Cover Paper - 14pt Cover, Gloss
Cover Finish - Gloss Lamination
Inside Paper - 85 lb Text, Matte
Color Options - Full Color  

I know you have your book in paperback form— do you have a hardcover available as well? If not, is that something you may do in the future?

I would absolutely love to see BIRD AND THE TREE in board book form. I think the illustrations would really lend to it. Currently, it is only in paperback.  

Do you have any other digital or audio options available to download THE BIRD AND THE TREE? 

Not yet, but I want to. I would love to create an animated version as well. 

Did you run into any snags along the road of publication? If so, how did you overcome them?

We had some problems getting the correct color profile out of Procreate. Even though the document was set to CMYK, when it was exported, it was converted to RGB. How and why that happened are still over my head. We ended up converting the Procreate file to a .psd (Photoshop) file and exporting it from there as a CMYK file.  

Basically, the CMYK color profile is best for print, and the RGB color profile is best for viewing on screens. So because our initial submission was in RGB, the colors Becca used would have looked muddy or slightly different in print.  
There was also an issue with the bleed (the area of the page that would be trimmed):  just that extra needed to be added. 

That was a learning process for me.
 I wanted to make sure the books arrived before Christmas. There was a long process from print to ship, and we were approaching the fall season. PrintNinja is located in China. There was a Chinese National Holiday from Oct 1st - 8th in which production would be shut down. We were already delayed because we had to reject the first proof due to color profile issues. Shipping would typically take 6 weeks from overseas. We ended up paying to expedite some of the copies.

We were able to reject the proof in time and make the changes needed with the bleed and the color profile. Thankfully, the books arrived just in time for the Christmas season. Many of our friends purchased them as gifts for their family members.

Unfortunately, a number of books got damaged in transit, but PrintNinja issued a small refund to rectify the problem.  

What are some advantages and disadvantages that you’ve personally experienced along your independent publishing journey? 

I think the good has outweighed the bad. I can’t say enough how supported I felt to have funded this on Kickstarter. Becca helped a lot with that too. Having creative control was a huge advantage. It also helped that I have a background through both education and work that helped me understand a lot of the technical aspects of self-publishing. I already had the Adobe Creative Suite to use InDesign for assembling the pages. If I didn’t understand a part of the process, I knew how to find those resources.
I wouldn’t call it a disadvantage, but on the flip side, because creating this book has been a one-stop shop if I slow down (which I have with the birth of my son), the book, in a way, slows down.

I would like to have more of a web presence for the book using SEO and other social media campaigns, but it has been gradual. To solve this, I could probably focus on a little more delegation in 2023… and time management. This amuses me to imagine, but maybe writing a blog post or creating a reel while my toddler has a snack and my three-month-old naps.  

If you had it to do all over again, would you still go the self-publishing route? Why or why not?

I would… but I would also like to see what it would be like to submit to a publisher to have that experience.
Any final words of advice to share with our readers?
I realized after the fact that the spine of the book matters. It is very important to have a spine so that you can see the title of the book from the side. Some local Nashville sellers have turned down the book (even when they liked the story) to carry in their shops as a result of the saddle stitched spine.  

Whew! We made it through all the shop talk. Now, time for some fun questions…

Tell us a little about yourself. Do you have any hobbies outside of writing?

I do! I have a few hobbies:  papercraft (cardmaking, stickers, and, more recently, bookbinding), photography, and digital design. These are things I get into while being a stay-at-home mom. Also, last fall, I started a folk trio called Smoke and Ember.  

Do you have any siblings? Are you a middle, oldest, or youngest?

I am the oldest. I have a younger brother, by five years.    
What about your family? I know you have two little ones now! Do you and your hubby plan for more children down the road?
Up until baby number two, I think we were certain that two would be it. That’s probably right. However, if another baby would ever happen to happen, I think I’d be okay with it.  

Are your family all readers?
 
My husband reads occasionally. He reads autobiographies and instruction manuals. My daughter Elena still rips a lot of her paper books, but her favorites right now are Finding Nemo and a Disney Princess Little Golden book about The Little Mermaid. 

Do you have any pets? 

I have two pets! A dog and a cat. The cat was first. His name is Nash. I got him from a friend when I moved back to Georgia for a year in 2015. So in a way, he was my first child, haha. He likes drinking water from the faucet and birdwatching from our bedroom window.
The dog is Graham. He is an F1 Golden Doodle. He has a lot more Golden Retriever in him than Poodle. His hair is straight, sometimes, it waves when it is wet. He loves sticks and playing keep away. He is very gentle around my toddler. I got him a few months before I found out I was pregnant. He has been a very good sport about sharing the attention.

How cute are they! And thank you for sharing pictures. We LOVE pictures!

If you could travel anywhere in the world, and stay as long as you wanted, without the restriction of work responsibilities or financial restrictions, where would you go, and how long would you stay?

I’ve never been, but the pictures convince me that this place is amazing. I’d want to go to Lake Como in Italy. I would find a coffee shop with a waterfront view, set up my portable watercolor kit, and just study the views:  the colors of the houses, the boats, and the shiny blue water. Oh, that would be so fun.

If you could describe your perfect day, what would it look like?

Hmm, maybe the day I just described at Lake Como. Well, in reality, I think the perfect day is when I get everything on my to-do list done while also being the mom my kids need me to be. It’s a day where everything is balanced perfectly. There is work and play, rhythm and calm. The rhythm of the day is like a song. At the end of the day after the main swell of the music, I can sit and look at the stars from my back deck and be thankful. I guess it’s a day where I can successfully be everything to everybody and everything to myself all at the same time. Ha ha. Seems like a far reach.

If you could meet any fictional book character(s) who would it/they be?

The Count of Monte Cristo.
Miss Clavel from the Madeline books.  

Oh my goodness. Amazing choices!

If you were an animal, what animal would you be?

Lynx. I like cats. Lynx strikes me as both beautiful and fierce.  

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Super speed.

What’s your favorite color?

Mauve, in various shades

Thank you, Brittany, for your time in answering all these questions.
 
To find Brittany’s book, THE BIRD AND THE TREE visit: 

Her website www.brittwut.com 
Or Instagram @britwut

Book details:

Book title: BIRD AND THE TREE, ISBN:  9798985022506

Genre: Picture Book (ages 4-8)

Published by: PRINT NINJA, 10/28/2021

Written by: Brittany Wuthrich

Illustrated by: Rebecca Scott

To see Rebecca’s work visit her Instagram @PAPERBONESATL

Blurb: Bird lived on a branch in his beloved tree comfortably until one day, everything in the forest started to change. The place Bird knew as home was about to be torn down by bulldozers. The thing about Bird is that he didn’t even realize he could fly during a time that he needed to the most. This is a story about Bird discovering his wings with the help of a friend and finding a new home.

A summary of my writing year in 2022

Wow, wow, wow. What a year! I made a few posts on my social media accounts, but I wanted to share them here on my blog for anyone who may have missed the updates.
Here goes...
Whew.  So that was my "sappy and a little cheesy" post. At the beginning of 2022, I decided I wanted to make a collage to help remember the journey. I think sometimes as writers we can feel a little bogged down or lost at times. Rejections can be disheartening. Waiting can be difficult. And let's face it, we all feel discouraged sometimes. So, I wanted to make sure that this year I wrote down all my accomplishments and saved them. That way, whenever I was having a day that I was dealing with imposter syndrome, I could go and look at my list of happy moments and achievements. Every step counts!

So, if you are a writer, pre-published or currently published, I encourage you to do the same! This made me feel so good and I wanted to share it with you. 

Also, if you have done something like this or have a positive comment or achievement you reached this year, I would love to hear about it in the comments below! Feel free to link your website or social media as well so that others can take a peek. 

I think the one thing that has truly benefited me more than anything this entire year is finding my writing community and fully emersing myself in it. It makes such a difference to have friends who can encourage you and understand what you're going through on this journey. We all learn and grow from eachother, so please please share anything you'd like below! I would love to hear from you.

P.S. Another thing I did this year that I heard from another writer in a conference, and I loved the idea so much, was I got myself a jar and labeled it "positive comments" and every time someone told me something positive about my writing, I wrote it down and placed it in the jar. That helped pick me up and motivate me so much throughout the year! If you can, I suggest doing this too!


And now, without further ado, *drum rolllllllll* Chelsea's 2022 stats and inspirational photo collage of tiny victories!

My 2022 stats:
Groups joined: 6
Conferences/workshops/webinars attended: 9
Events participated in: 21
Books written: 28
Revisions made: 63
Critiques given: 64
Submissions/queries sent: 55
Wonderful connections made: too many to count!
#writingcommunity #2022 #progress #endofyear

January-Februar

March-April

may-june

july-august

september-october

november-december

Moral of the story: "It's not the destination, it's the journey."

Enjoy your journey! Celebrate every small victory! Learn from every small setback.


And KEEP. ON. WRITING!

ARE YOU NEW TO WRITING?

If you are new to writing and looking for some great places to start making connections and building your craft, here is a list of just a *few* groups & events I recommend looking into.

Events & Contests

Zidlit Zombie Week
Fall Writing Frenzy
Storystorm
KidLitPit 
Kidlit411 

Groups & Community

Julie Hedlund's 12x12 Challenge (membership fee)
SCBWI (membership fee)
IBPA (membership fee)
Storyteller Academy (membership fee)
Children's Book Academy (membership fee)

Remember, you don't have to join every group and participating doesn't always cost money. You can be a writer on a budget. Just make sure you stay active and find your community! Personally, my favorite group has been Julie Hedlund's 12x12 group. It's PACKED with resources, webinars, videoes, links to upcoming events *many contests that are free* and it's a great community! And it's where I met my amazing critique partners, who have been invaluable to my growth!

By the way... one of my amazing critique partners, Terri Clemmons, has her debut picture book coming out in Spring of 2024, Mara Hears in Style. You can find out more on her website.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you found this helpful! Don't forget to share your positive achievements below. Or, just some goals you might have for 2023!

#FallWritingFrenzy 2022 entry link: Buddy Bones Bubbleless Bath by Chelsea DiCicco

It's October... and you know what that means! Another Fall Writing Frenzy Contest is here!

You’re looking at a #FallWritingFrenzy participant!

Hey writing pals!

Fall is finally here! Time to break out all the candles and cozy blankets. And you know what else it means? Fall Writing Frenzy is here!

This is my first year participating in the Fall Writing Frenzy, and I'm thrilled to share my entry for 2022: BUDDY BONES BUBBLELESS BATH.

But before we jump into the story, I'd like to thank our very gracious hosts Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez and Lydia Lukidis, as well as this year's guest judge, Alyssa Reynoso-Morris.

So far, I've had a blast reading other peoples stories and sharing in the fun on Instagram and Twitter. If this is your first time participating, the rules are very simple.

  1. Choose a picture.
  2. Write a kidlit story (anywhere from board book to YA, 200 words or less.)
  3. Post it on your blog and make sure to fill out the entry form.
  4. Share, share, share!

For further questions, please check out the official FallWritingFrenzy2022Rules.

Remember: the goal is "to create connections and help writers grow!" So, have fun! 

Below you will find my entry.

Happy fall writing everyone!xo,Chelsea

BUDDY BONES BUBBLELESS BATH _ CHELSEA DICICCO _ FALL WRITING FRENZY 2022

Photo Credit: Halloween- Credit: Samantha Hurley / Burst

My 2022 Fall Writing Frenzy Entry
BUDDY BONES BUBBLELESS BATH (199 word count)
A picture book by Chelsea DiCicco


It was a dry, dusty day on the ranch, and Buddy Bones was getting ready to take a bath. 
“Nothing like a cool bubble bath on a hot day,” he said cheerfully.
But, just as Buddy got into the tub…
“Oh no! We’re out of bubbles!”
A bubbleless bath? Pass!
But the sun was blistering.
So, Buddy stayed in the tub. But he wasn’t happy.
A little while later, Buddy was still grumbling when a bird flew by.
“Morning, neighbor.”
“Morning,” Buddy mumbled.
“What you up to this morning?”
“I’m taking a bath,” said Buddy, hoping the bird would go away.
But he didn’t.
“I’ve just come from the store. Today is dishwashing day, and I was out of soap.”
“Oh,” Buddy said understandingly. “I ran out of bubbles.” He pointed to the clear bathwater.
“A bubbleless bath!” chirped the Bird. “Pass!”
Buddy agreed.
“I know!” said the bird suddenly. “What if we made bubbles?”
Before Buddy could respond, the bird was already pouring a glob of blue liquid into the water. 
“Now, splash around.”
Buddy splashed and thrashed… until-
“Bubbles!” he cried.
“Nothing like a cool bubble bath on a hot day,” Buddy said, sinking into the bathtub.

How to Write Picture Books – AND STAY SANE!

06.17.2022

Chelsea DiCicco

Going from this

“AAHHHH!”

to this

“Aaaah.”

I think there’s a lot that can be said for people who are on the picture book path and have been for a while. Navigating the picture book world is like travelling down a road of potholes, and signs pointing in every direction. There are a million different routes your can take. And it can be intimidating, overwhelming, scary, and tiring. Sometimes, it feels like we’re drowning in endless options and crippling self-doubt! Fortunately, we aren’t quitters!

Navigating the picture book world is like travelling down a road of potholes, and signs pointing in every direction!

How do I know this? Because the hurdles upon hurdles, the always-changing pace, the fickle as a pickle market, and the unpredictability of times haven’t deterred us from continuing down this road. Some say madness. I prefer passionate. And really, to be successful in the ways that count, you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. What do I mean by successful in ways that count? Well, that really depends on how you view success. What does success mean to you? Money? Power? Freedom? Recognition? Whatever it is, you must have passion to reach it. And I’m convinced there isn’t a single picture book writer out there, who has been at this for years, that doesn’t have that passion. And guess what. Good news! Passion is KEY!

But, passion with no outlets can be exhausting. So, I ask you, how do you write picture books and stay sane? I think it’s imperative that when doing something that you love, at your full 100%, you must also be able to balance that with time to unwind. Because going at 100% nonstop, can be draining. Eventually, you will overload. And when that time comes, you must be willing to walk away. Because, just like a car’s engine needs to be parked and rested, so does your engine. But, what if you refuse to stop? Well… you might just end up like this car. Overheated!

Just like a car’s engine needs to be parked and rested, so does your engine.

But hopefully you won’t let things get this far. So, how can you avoid the overheating point? Well, a few things I find that help are setting boundaries and knowing my personal limits. These are both CRUCIAL for maintaining sanity- and avoiding overheating! (Oh, and caffeine. Did I mention that already?) But, seriously. Boundaries and limits!

BOUNDARIES

Set boundaries for yourself.

So, my writing boundaries. Firstly, I have a writing office. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you write in a basement, during free time at work, on lunch breaks. Maybe you write when your kids are asleep, when you’re husband is working, when your roommate is out of the house. Or maybe you write from a hammock. If you do, props to you; it sounds like you’re living your best life! Whatever the situation, having a space that is yours, and yours only, is a good boundary to have. If you don’t have a designated spot- find one. It could be a closet, outside under a tree, on a speedboat with Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron- it doesn’t matter- but find one.

Have a space that is yours!

Having a space to your own is not to say that you can’t write elsewhere. What it does, however, is give you a designated area to create. Which can be increasingly helpful to your sanity. And next, making sure that you know your limits.

LIMITS

Know your limits!

What are your limits? What does that even mean? I’m not talking about speed limits. Although sometimes speed comes into play. But that’s a different topic. I’m talking about knowing yourself. If you’re pushing yourself to a point that you are no longer enjoying your work- that’s not working within your limits. Writing should never be a place of confined, mandatory restriction. It should be a happy place of creative freedom. If you are demanding too much out of yourself and pushing your limits to a point of frustration, not only are you going to be unhappy but guess what- your writing will suffer. Yeah. You heard me right. Your writing will suffer! There’s a scene in Toy Story 2 where Woody is getting fixed up by Geri, an antique cleaner. And if you haven’t already seen this and aren’t interested in watching the full movie, I highly recommend watching it HERE because it is just *chef’s kiss* GOLD.

“You can’t rush art!”

Geri is taking his time, situating himself with his tools that he’s about to use to clean and fix Woody.

Al says to Geri, “So, uh, how long is this going take?”

And Geri says, with a wag of the finger, “You can’t rush art!”

There’s a lot of truth in this statement. When you push yourself to write in an unnatural or uncomfortable state, the work is never your best. So, remember to be kind to yourself. Give yourself the time and space you need to find your creative rhythm. And once your mojo kicks in, write, write, write!

But, what if you can’t write? You feel zero inspiration. You’re tired. You’re staring at the page, and nothing is coming to you. CHANGE THE SCENERY. Taking a walk, doing some light exercise, or getting lost in a favorite binge tv-show can help give your brain a break. Again- forcing yourself to be creative isn’t how it works. Creativity is a natural thing that comes at its own pace. But how can you encourage creativity?

Read, read, read. Reading stimulates our natural curiosity and encourages creative brain flow! Read books in your genre that are new in the market. Go to the library. Bring a notebook with you! Jot down ideas you like. Ask yourself, “Why do I like this? What about it stands out?” And brainstorm how you could implement things into your own writing. Ideas are contagious. When we let others in, it inspires our own.

So, what am I rambling about anyway? Well, this morning, I read a fellow writer’s new blog post and walked away saying, “Ah, that was encouraging.” And do you know what my next thought was? “I want to encourage someone!” IDEAS ARE CONTAGIOUS- INSPIRATION FOLLOWS. And that’s really what it’s all about.

Now, encouragement. Why do writer’s need encouragement? Well, everyone needs encouragement from time to time. It’s healthy and natural to both give and receive encouragement. But, why might a writer need encouragement more than some? Well, being in the writing business, unlike other jobs in an office where you’re surrounded by co-workers and smiling faces, for a writer, it can often be a solitary affair. So, encouragement comes in handy. Having your writing community in your corner, your supporters, your critique partners, your friends, your family, your “fans” can help you get by and make it to that next milestone.

Speaking of milestones, here we go.

What are your goals?

What milestones do you hope to achieve?

And have you been able to?

If so, congratulations! If not, don’t fret. Just continue down the road until you get there, and sooner or later, I have faith you will. I believe in you- you should too! And sometimes, it can be tough. The waiting. The pushing. The hope. The letdowns. When I find myself losing courage, I like to think of Jane Eyre.

“Renewing then my courage, and gathering my feeble remains of strength, I pushed on.” -Charlotte Bronte

Remember,

“Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.” – Albert Einstein

And another one of my favorites…

“You never fail until you stop trying.”

Cliché, perhaps. But that doesn’t make the statements any less true! There is, after all, a reason that clichés exist! So, this is my brief cheerleader speech for today. If you’re writing picture books, or NOT pictures books- it could be anything- DON’T GIVE UP!

So, in conclusion to my ramble, I just want to remind you that you are loved, and awesome, and incredible, and most likely a total 10, the whole shebang, the greatest thing since sliced bread, the apple of someone’s eye, all that and a bag of chips. Remember, to stay sane in the writing world, 1. Give yourself boundaries. And 2. Know your limits!

Love you all!

XO,

CHELSEA RADOJCIC-DICICCO

Mental Health Matters, September 18th 2021, Gallatin Public Library Event for children, family, and community.

The Mental Health Matters Event inside of Gallatin Public Library was featured this afternoon on Special Needs TV, hosted by Bridgetti Lim Banda, and was streamed live from Cape Town, South Africa. Bridgetti interviewed participants of the event, Mary Elizabeth Jackson, (Chelsea Radojcic-DiCicco) Chelsea’s World of Books, and Jason Scruggs, on who they are and why they came out today.

The presenters’ common goal in joining together today was to provide mental health aid and support to the community, families, children, and educators. Despite the heavy rains, the group was able to band together and find creative ways to reach their audiences at home. Thanks to Mary’s quick thinking and resourcefulness, she was able to get ahold of her co-host of her Special Needs TV show, and Bridgetti, the show producer, was gracious enough to bring us on live to share our message with viewers.

The rainclouds were filled with silver linings today! Thank you to everyone who came out to support the effort, and if you weren’t able to make it out, you can see our our interviews on Facebook > Special Needs TV > Mental Health Awareness EXPO > posted 09/18/2021.

Thank you for visiting! 🙂