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 (suicidal/depression) 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
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