--by Henry Herz
When my sons were five and seven years old, and I wanted to share my love of fantasy with them. Struck by inspiration one day, I came up with a way to share the joy of entering the magical realms of fantasy. I would write a fantasy book for them.
What I did not anticipate was that my boys would give me feedback on the story. They devised some of the character (“Nimpentoad”) and creature (“Neebel”) names, and made plot line suggestions. And who better to help make the story appealing to kids than other kids? My sons also helped with the art direction. Our artist would give us a rough sketch, and we would provide feedback on details and color palette. My goal of interesting my sons in fantasy transformed into also encouraging them to participate in the creative process.
Of course, collaborating with kids is a very different affair than collaborating with an adult. Their work ethic is, shall we say, less disciplined. This can be mitigated by making the working sessions more like play sessions - we're telling a story, not crafting a manuscript. And once we began creating the artwork, the boys' interest grew as they saw images of Nimpentoad and the other fantastic creatures come to life.
Eventually, we had a good book, but no readers - the challenge facing all self-published authors. So, we then embarked upon the most arduous part of our journey – promoting Nimpentoad. While I handled the web-based promotional activities, I wanted my sons to be involved in the live events. Once again, I had to train and encourage them - this time to become good public speakers. By starting with small groups, like elementary school classes, they learned to be comfortable in front of a crowd, and to make eye contact and use voice inflection to enhance the reading experience for their audiences. They have also participated in several phone interviews for web radio shows.
Once they mastered public speaking, the next learning opportunity for my sons was mastering the sale. We've found selling our book at farmer's markets to be surprisingly successful. Imagine trying to coldly walk past two charismatic young booth operators who ask "would you like to see the book WE wrote?". But as before, they needed guidance. They had to be coached about engaging effectively with passersby - smile, sit up, and speak to them. My sons learned how to answer commonly asked questions about the book and their participation in its creation. And how to change a twenty dollar bill, or deal with someone who tries to haggle on price.
At the risk of infringing on child labor laws, I booked my sons as much as their school schedules would allow. We’ve done readings, giveaways and signings at San Diego libraries, elementary schools, farmer's markets, La Jolla YMCA, the New Children’s Museum, the San Diego Comic-Con, Mysterious Galaxy Books, Readers Books, Warwick’s Books, and Barnes & Noble. We will be signing our book at the upcoming Orange County Children's Book Festival - one of the largest of its kind in the US.
At the San Diego Public Library 46th Annual Local Author’s Exhibit, my sons asked for autographs from Chris Ryall (of IDW Publishing) and famed graphic novelist Eric Shanower. Both of these gentlemen then graciously asked for my boys’ autographs. First class!
At the La Mesa Centennial Readers & Writers Festival, we shared a booth with Ron Noble, animator of Rugrats, Rocket Power, and Wild Thornberry’s. He was very kind, and my boys left that day with personalized Wild Thornberry sketches. First class!
All these experiences have further enriched the journey for my sons. They understand some of the aspects of running a business and publishing. They are now comfortable meeting new people, doing public speaking, and rubbing elbows with famous authors. It has been a great ride.