Today’s author spotlight caught up with the quintessential author, a jill-of-all-trades, the amazing Barbara Renner. I am afraid the joke is on us, though…unless you have already read her amazing children’s stories! Without further ado, here’s…Barbara!
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I consider myself a factotum, “jack of all trades but master of none.” I’m a teacher by trade, and I’ve taught a variety of subjects from language arts in middle school to financial services in high school to business management in career schools. I’ve owned my own businesses and worked in a bank. And now, I’m a writer. All my careers have happened by chance, and I’ve loved and learned from every one of them. On the personal side, I’ve been married for 47 years to the same man (I guess that tells you about how old I am). We have two wonderful children and three grand-dogs, but no grandchildren.
How did you get started on your writing journey?
I wrote goofy little stories and mysteries when I was in elementary school, and my friends and I acted them out. For some odd reason English grammar rules came easy to me so I was always the go-to person when my colleagues needed something proofed and edited. I wrote and edited a variety of newsletters, wrote articles for business education publications, and started blogging in 2009 to document my snarky view on life. We’ve called Arizona our home for 41 years, and when I retired from teaching we bought a summer home in Minnesota. Retirement was a life-changing event – I was bored to tears. That’s when I heard the Loons calling me and set my goals towards writing and publishing children’s picture books about Lonnie the Loon.
Are there any poets or writers who influence you? How so?
Apparently I like Mark Twain because I’m always quoting him. I’ve read a lot of books by Janet Evanovich because I love her humor. I like mysteries and thrillers, so I enjoy Michael Connelly and Tess Gerritsen. In the picture book category, I enjoyed reading Mercer Mayer and Stan & Jan Berenstain to my children because the stories were about events that really happen to little kids, and because they are family oriented.
Let’s talk about your novel! What is it about?
Well, I haven’t written my novel . . . yet, but I have written four picture books about a juvenile loon named Lonnie. Three stories are about Lonnie’s life on his lake in the northern part of the United States, like, ummm, Minnesota, and they contain facts about loons. The fourth book is about Lonnie flying south for the winter. I wanted to make a connection between Minnesota and Arizona, so Lonnie is blown off course and finds himself on a desert lake. There have been sightings of loons in Arizona and New Mexico, so the facts are correct.
How is the title significant?
I like alliteration in children’s stories, so that’s why the little loon’s name is Lonnie. The titles pretty much tell the reader what the stories are about, “Lonnie the Loon Finds His Home,” “Lonnie the Loon Learns to Fly,” “Lonnie the Loon Learns to Call,” and “Lonnie the Loon Flies South for the Winter.”
Where did inspiration for this come from?
I am a southwestern gal who had never been to the Midwest. When I first saw and heard the loons in Minnesota, I was enthralled. I love their black and white plumage, their calls, their diving habits, the way the moms carry their babies on their backs, well . . . everything. I did some research and felt compelled to write stories about them so children can learn more about these beautiful creatures.
Tell us a little bit about the characters? What are they like and how did you come up with them?
“Lonnie the Loon Learns to Fly” was actually the first book in the series that I wrote. I wanted Lonnie to be curious about his surroundings. The idea came to me while sitting in the truck traveling to Minnesota, gazing out the window. As a child, I used to love looking up at the clouds and imagining different shapes. I thought Lonnie could want to change shape like the clouds. I wanted to come up with two more things Lonnie could be curious about (I find myself writing in three’s), so I decided on the wind and a river. I didn’t want to lose my thoughts, so I tapped out the story notes in Evernote on my phone.
Who do you think would like your story and what kind of readership are you aiming for?
Children ages 3 – 7 enjoy reading my books. I’ve read them to preschool classes, kindergarten, first grade, third grade, and was even invited to a fourth grade class. Last summer I had a booth at a street fair, and two adults bought “Lonnie the Loon Learns to Call” because they wanted to know the meaning of the four loon calls they hear at their lake home. In this book readers can actually listen to the loon calls by using a QR Code Reader App on their phones. My technical support, AKA my son, created the QR Codes for the sounds, and they are printed in my book.
What is the message you are trying to get across in your book?
I like to write stories that are educational as well as entertaining or contain some kind of moral or a relationship to feelings. My books are about the family unit and friendship. In book one, Lonnie discovers it’s safe to be at his home with mom and dad; in book two, Lonnie’s mom teaches him to fly, and throws in a few life lessons while she’s at it; in book three, Lonnie’s dad teaches him to call; and in book four, Lonnie makes a new friend who is different from him in every aspect. Life lessons as well as geography can be gleaned from my books to spark classroom discussions.
What is your writing process like?
I usually get my a-ha moments for stories while walking my dog in the mornings. When we get home, I write down the main points of the story on a piece of paper and mull it over for a while. I might ask a friend or family member what they think about the idea. Then I start writing. After I write the story, I let it “cure” for a week or more. After the curing process, I’ll revise what I’ve written. Then let it cure some more. It takes me awhile to get a tightly written story. I always have other people read it and give editing suggestions.
How do you go about editing your story?
I have a tendency to edit as I write – that’s the grammar girl in me. My neighbor is an author also, so I send her my stories for line editing. Then I read them again and edit some more. I guess the trick is to not look at the story for a while because I always find something that should be changed when I go back to it.
Where did you find your cover artist and what was the process like?
I found my illustrator on LinkedIn. She posted a message asking if anyone needed an illustrator, so I looked at her portfolio online. I liked her animals and thought she could draw a loon the way I wanted it. She lived in Florida at the time, so we both researched images of loons on the Internet. She was very easy to work with and didn’t get upset at my constant revisions. I get lots of positive comments about the illustrations in my books.
How did you go about getting published?
A friend of mine told me about a quarterly 24-hour short story contest sponsored by Writers Weekly. I signed up to have their newsletters delivered to my email and entered a few of their contests. I then discovered that they also publish books, and I could self-publish through them for less than it would cost me through other POD publishers. I jumped in with both feet and submitted my manuscript for my first book, which they accepted.
What was your self-publishing experience like?
While studying and highlighting the publisher’s 30-page contract, I really doubted my decision to publish at all. I was overwhelmed with all the new terminology and acronyms, such as POD. I guess I was a little surprised that I would have to buy my own books – more cha ching! Everything was done through the Internet, email, and Dropbox. The publisher is located in Florida, so I sent my manuscripts to them through an author’s portal on their website. My illustrator and I corresponded via email. The publisher’s designer who formatted the book and cover with the illustrations lives in Canada, so we used Dropbox because of the size of the files. After my final approval, my books went to print and . . . ta da . . . UPS delivered my first 100 books.
What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
My publisher got the ISBN’s for my books, and put them on Ingram, Amazon.com, and Barnes and Noble.com, so those are definite pros. They also sell my books through their website. Self-publishing is an expensive hobby! I don’t think I’ll ever make back my investment. In addition, marketing my books is very time-consuming, so that is a definite con.
What were the surprises? Good or bad? If so, what were they?
I guess the funniest surprise was I thought I was going to have a hardcover book the size of “Make Way for Ducklings,” but ended up with an 8.5” by 8.5” paperback, the size of the Berenstain Bears books. I later discovered that books should have a spine with the title and publisher’s name so they can be displayed in libraries and bookstores. According to the printer my publisher uses, my books don’t have enough pages to have a spine.
How do you go about promoting your book as a self-published author?
My website is devoted to my books, and I have a community Facebook page. My friends must get tired of all the Lonnie the Loon promotions I post, but I get a lot of “likes,” so they are supportive. I also have Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, but I don’t think I sell any books through them. While in Arizona, I email and call schools to schedule author readings. The last school I visited, I provided a flyer to the teacher before I came so the students could bring money to buy my books if they wanted them. It was very lucrative. While in Minnesota, I buy a booth at the city street fairs. This summer I’m scheduling book signings at bookstores.
Is there something about the whole process you wish someone had told you before? Good or bad?
I wish I had known how expensive it would be to self publish, or else been told a less expensive way to do it. I had heard about CreateSpace, but also heard negatives about using it. I’m really pleased that I wrote the Lonnie the Loon series. It has projected me into a new career where I can visit schools and share my books with children – and keep me busy in my retirement.
Do you have any advice for writers who want to self-publish?
Decide how much money you can invest. Do your research! Compare the prices of all the publishers out there and find out what they offer for your money. Make sure you choose a design for your cover that matches the story of your book and entices the reader to want to read your book. Make sure you edit thoroughly or have a professional edit your manuscript. Also, have someone help you write the cover summary for the cover of your book that will hook your reader into wanting to read your book. That was one of the hardest things for me to do.
What plans do you have for the future of your writing?
In “Lonnie the Loon Flies South for the Winter,” Lonnie gets blown off course on his way to coastal waters and ends up at a desert lake. He makes friends with a quail. The quail is so darn cute that I decided to write a spinoff series about Quincy the Quail. It’s a great way to connect Minnesota with Arizona.
What are you social accounts if people want to connect with you?