During the New Release Tour last week, I shared a segment of The Making of Tina Lost in a Crowd on each day. Even though I had produced children’s literature as a full-time job in the past, making this book was the first time I orchestrated the entire production by myself with online services along the process. It was an adventure and a valuable experience. I recorded when and how things were done and documented it each step of the way. When I planned for the book release tour, I wanted to share something about the book with you. By the time I finished preparing, it covered the writing, editing, illustrating, formatting, and publishing.
My wonderful hosts not only hosting the tour but also reviewing the book. I’m so grateful for your tremendous support. Many of you had followed along the tour to cheer on. Some of you related your experiences about being lost as a child or losing your child briefly when he/she was a kid. I shared with you I got lost in a cathedral on a Spain tour a few years ago. Every tour group looked the same to me. I was afraid that they left without me. Fortunately, I spotted my 6’4″ husband and hurried to rejoin the group, pretending nothing had happened.
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I would like to share with you this recap of the seven parts of Tina Lost in a Crowd with an introduction.
Why I Write Children’s Book?
My experience of writing the children’s books was when, at age 26, I worked in Hong Kong as the Director of Children’s Department at Asian Outreach, which was a Christian literature publication company. They hired me to design and write children’s magazine for the fourth to sixth grades students. I modeled after a well-established local children’s magazine and wrote stories with Christian values.
This was the process we went through to publish the children’s magazines:
It was exciting to see my first magazine in print coming back to our office. I published four children’s magazines before leaving the office to come to the US.
The experience of working at the Asian Outreach was a great asset to my current publication of the children’s books.
The Making of Tina Lost in a Crowd
Part 1 – When Did I Write the Tina Lost in a Crowd?
In 2006, I took an online writing course at the Institute of Children’s Literature for a year. An instructor corresponded with me to provide feedback and suggestions on my assignments and revisions. The Institute also provided the marketing tools and an annual catalogue of 800 magazines accepting submissions. The goal of the course was to have my essays published.
The Institute suggested the children’s literature writers to observe the children. If the writers were not teachers or adults with young children at home, they could volunteer at the organizations such as library or Boy/Girl Scouts to get a first-hand experience to understand their behaviors and language.
At the time of taking the writing course, my interaction with the elementary school students was still fresh in my mind.
There were many fun memories of activities with my daughter, Mercy. I combined one story about Mercy, my understanding of the children’s behaviors, and the writing skills to write my first assignment entitled “Tina Goes to Hollywood Bowl.”
I kept the stories written during this course in a folder for many years. Early in year 2020, during the lockdown, I revised the Tina story to prepare for publication.
Part 2 – The Story Behind the Story Tina Lost in a Crowd
The story of Tina Lost in a Crowd is partly based on fact. When my daughter Mercy was eight years old, my sister Yolanda, her husband Patrick, and their son Enoch, who was Mercy’s age, came from Hong Kong to visit us. We took them on tours in northern and southern California. One activity was going to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. I drove the five of us to Rowland Heights Regional Park, then we took the Park & Ride bus to the Hollywood Bowl.
The sky was dark with bright stars when the concert started. Mercy and Enoch swayed side to side when they listened to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and smiled at each other. During the intermission, Patrick left his seat to buy some popcorn. Mercy and Enoch wanted to use the restroom. Yolanda and I urged them to catch up with Patrick.
Later, when Patrick came back without them, I panicked. Imagine losing 8-year-old kids in a crowd of 18,000 people. How would I find them? Yolanda and Patrick stayed in their seats while
I followed the descending steps between the sections of seats to where I thought they could had gone.
I found them standing against a wall! It was such a relief, but I was curious about what made them stand there. “Were you scared?” I asked them.
“Not too scared,” Mercy said, “I learned from the Girl Scouts that if I get lost, I should stay at one spot to wait for the adults to find me.”
This was one of my fondest memories. I asked Mercy, “Should I write a story about this experience?” She answered me with no hesitance, “Of course!”
Part 3 – The Ideas and Messages of the Story
Did you like Aesop’s Fables? I did when I was a child. When I read them to my students, they would shout with me at the end of the fable “the moral of the lesson is…”
Other than Aesop’s Fable, most of the children’s books don’t spell out the lessons. In fact, even when the story has a message for children, it doesn’t need to make it loud and clear. The children are reading the story to have fun.
There are ideas and messages in Tina Lost in a Crowd: Tina took part in decision making for the summer activities such as swimming and a sleepover. She asked permission to invite her friend to go to the concert. She made a right decision when she and Erica got lost in a crowd, which was a safety issue.
Children are smart, they read for fun, and they learn the messages on their own term. It would be interesting to have a discussion with the children after they read a book.
Part 4 – Fine Tuning the Text for a Read-Aloud Book
When I revisited the Tina story, I wanted to do a picture book for easy readers of age five to nine. My research shows the word count for this grade-level range is 50-2,500 words. The final word count for this book is 2,000 words.
Tina Lost in a Crowd is a dialogue-based story. I used dialogue to show the plot, the relationship between all the characters, the actions, and emotions of the speakers.
Writers write picture books in a series of scenes, and each of which can be illustrated. Initially, I divided the content into sixteen scenes for the illustration, and the final story has twenty scenes. In this book, the text coordinates with the illustration. In fact, I wrote detailed descriptions to my illustrator so that even the gestures of the characters reflect the content. For instance, the character points at the sky in the illustration, and the text says: “Look at the stars…”. When reading the story, the readers can also refer to the details of the illustration.
The main character, Tina, finished third grade going to fourth grade. I remember my third-grade students with different reading levels. Among the third-grade students, there are easy to advance readers. Many of my students at this grade level still read picture books. According to grade level standards, they should have mastered the skills of “learning to read” and ready for “reading to learn” in the upper grades. Many third-grade students would find fun reading this book with perhaps a couple unfamiliar words such as Tchaikovsky and silhouette.
When I sent the manuscript to my editor, I let her know this book is for “reading to” and “reading with” children by the adults, as well as “reading by” the children independently. The flow of the text is good for a read-aloud book.
Part 5 – Finding an Illustrator
I’m a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). On one blog post, it featured an illustrator and her work. I liked the style of her artworks, so I contacted her and got an idea of how much she would charge for the number of pages in my book and how long it would take to complete the job.
Some blogging friends recommended some websites with illustration services, and I checked them out. The illustrators charged by hours. They didn’t have a portfolio with sample artworks, so I couldn’t tell if I liked their style.
After much search and consideration, my decision was to search for an illustrator on fiverr.com. I could see the services they provide and their sample work. Some would provide limited, and some unlimited revisions.
I do watercolor painting and wish to illustrate my book, but I don’t do portrait painting. There are thousands of gigs out there, and it would take forever to scroll through all the pages to find one. I narrowed it down to watercolor, and children’s illustration, and got 660 services. It took me six months to find one I liked. I paid for one sample page and when I ordered the rest, it became part of my entire book.
After I accepted the sample page, I sent the story summary and the description of each page to her. Usually, she sent me a few sketches at a time. I gave her my feedback and suggestions. She revised them and sent them to me. Sometimes I respected her creativity and approved them. But if they didn’t correspond with the story, I asked for revisions until they were done to my satisfaction. It was a pleasant experience working with Victoria Skakandi.
Part 6 – Formatting a Picture Book, Illustrated Children’s Book
There are boxes of children’s books in the storage from my teaching days. I picked about ten books to study how they positioned the images and text. Some have bleed (the images flow over to the margin) and some without bleed. Some pages have text without images, and some have text layered over the images. My conclusion was to have the book fully illustrated with bleed, and have the text inserted over the images.
Formatting a picture book with bleed is a different story than without bleed. So, I hired a designer to do the job. He could insert the text for me, but I had a preference of the appearance.
After I received the pages of illustration from Victoria, I inserted one layer of white rectangular shape with round corner, then inserted another layer of text over the shape.
When I finished inserting the text, I created a file with the pages in a correct sequence for the designer to use as a reference. Then I sent this reference file and all the pages of the illustration to him to format for eBook and print book according to the requirements of Amazon and Barns & Nobel.
Note: I skipped many technical details. I can answer your questions if you’re interested.
Part 7 – Publish the Book on Amazon and Barns & Nobles
Amazon and Nobles have different formatting guidelines to publish the books. I would have been happy to have the book on Amazon alone. But I wanted to have a hardcover version. It’s good to have a hardcover version for young children, for the school libraries and public libraries. Personally, I wanted to have a hardcover version of this book.
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) only has eBook and paperback, doesn’t have the option to publish hardcover books. Barns & Nobles has eBook, paperback, and hardcover. For this reason, I published the eBook and paperback on Amazon, and eBook and hardcover on Barns & Nobles. I may inquire if the local B&N would carry my book.
Will I Write More Children’s Book?
As I mentioned on the first day of this Book Tour that I took a writing course at the Institute of Children’s Literature and wrote many stories. Tina Lost in a Crowd was the first story I revised and published. There are several stories based on my daughter Mercy’s activities as a child. I’ll revise them as the “Tina” stories.
There were other children’s stories in my folder, as well as new ideas for the children’s books. I’ll keep these options open.
Thank you for reading this recap.