Today it is my honor to have Janice Spina, a prolific and award-winning children’s book writer, for an interview. We are both New Englanders (even though I now live in the South), so imagine I have invited her over for morning coffee and a gab fest. The freshly brewed coffee is in mugs on the table, along with my favorite apple scones. Lovely to have you here, Janice.
Tell me something about yourself.
I’ve always loved to write more than speak, as long as I can remember. As a child I wrote poetry – loved anything that rhymed, listened and sang along to the radio (rhyming again) and dreamed of being a famous singer or author.
I never did realize my dream to become a famous singer but did sing in a Sweet Adeline’s Chorus for a short time – it is an acapella group – singing without music and using your voices as musical instruments. I loved it. When I had to have surgery (cataracts) I dropped out due to problems driving at night. Even after surgery, I still have difficulty and therefore do not venture far at night.
I never did realize my other dream to become a famous author but I keep plugging along. After I retired from an administrative secretarial position in a school system in Massachusetts, I got serious about my writing. At the ripe young age of 65 I knew it was now or never to do something. I had all these ideas and poems going around in my head and numerous titles for books written down in notebooks that I had to do something with them.
It was inevitable that my poems would soon become stories as I got into my twenties and had two children. I wrote a fairy tale which I read to my son and daughter at bedtime. This same fairy tale is now being illustrated by my husband. It is the only young children’s book that is not in rhyme.
I tried to enlist the help of agents and publishers but got many ‘no thank yous’ before I gave up and self-published my first book in 2013, Louey the Lazy Elephant. Louey is still my favorite and close to my heart. He was, after all, my first book! I published one more book that year, Ricky the Rambunctious Raccoon. In the following years I published 4-5 books a year and now have a total of 21 books (11 children’s, 6 MG/PT and 3 novels and one short story collection with two more books coming this year and three next year.
All my young children’s books are written in rhyme with life lessons. Even the MG stories have life lessons that encourage older children to be kind to one another and not to accept or tolerate bullying of any kind. The first book in Davey & Derek Series touches on bullying as does my newest MG book, Abby & Holly School Dance.
Why do you like being a children’s author?
One of the reasons I write children’s stories is I love children of all ages and want to encourage them to read. This is my main goal as a writer of children’s books. Reading is important to a child’s health and welfare. I have written a couple of posts on the studies of reading on one’s health on my blog. Children are the future of our world. We must take care of them in any way we can.
Another reason I write for children is I am a child at heart and can relate to young children everywhere. Children bond with me wherever I am. I reach out to them with a smile and a wave and they smile and wave back. We are on the same wavelength. Ha!
I keep doing it because I love to see children enjoying the discovery of their first book or learning how to read it all by themselves. It’s well worth all the effort that goes into writing, illustrating, and creating and publishing a children’s book.
I can complete the text part of the story quickly enough in one afternoon or maybe even an hour. As long as I have a title, I work from there. It takes longer to complete a children’s book than my MG or novels because of all the illustrations that have to be created. I give all the kudos to John for his hard work and creativity it takes to complete. We work together as he completes each page and I type in the words or if I am into another project, he will type the text. I always review and edit it all afterward. He knows I’m the boss. LOL! I do give him final say on the illustrations but I always have an opinion.
When my husband agreed to be my illustrator, my children’s stories came to life. Without him these stories would still be sitting dormant on my computer. If he ever decides not to illustrate any more I will stop writing for young children but continue to write for middle-grade and 18+. For those books I will not need an illustrator just a cover creator. John could continue to do that with some coaxing.
I’ve never written a book for children. What are the differences between creating a children’s book and writing a fiction or non-fiction novel?
In order to write for young children you must first feel like a child. Put yourself in their little world and think like they would think, simply and without any complications of worldly things. Did you ever notice how children laugh all the time at everything? They feel joy and are happy and innocent of everything around them. That’s what you must do – smile, laugh and giggle too. That will put you in the mood to be a child again. Think back to the times that you would laugh at an animal or insect just because they looked silly or did something funny. As we grow up and mature into adults we lose that joie de vivre, joy of life.
When I spend time with my young grandchildren I feel that joy of life once again. We laugh at everything and sometimes have laughing contests to see who can keep laughing the longest. It is sheer joy to do. We adults should do it at least once a day – stop and laugh at anything that strikes you as funny or inane. It will make you feel better and lift your spirits and the stress from your back and shoulders. Laugh at yourself. Now do you feel ready to write for children?
My favorite age to write for is middle-grade. I have had great fun writing my Davey & Derek Junior Detectives Series and now Abby & Holly Series. I find myself getting into the mindset of 10-13 year olds. Things are getting more intense and serious at this age. They are going through the beginnings of puberty. In my books I try to touch on tough subjects but add some humor to lighten up the moments.
This age is still so young when I look at myself at 70. They are still babies who can be guided in the right direction.
The differences between writing for young children/MG/PT and writing a fiction or non-fiction novel are many. My children’s books are in rhyme with life lessons, are short in length – no more than
36 pages. They tell more than show. Children need things to be spelled out and explained and no flowery language.
With novels we show more than tell, language is more diverse, subject matter deeper, longer beginning, middle and ending. Of course, writing a novel with more than 50K requires more thought and maybe some outlining. As a pantser I do a little outlining with plenty of lists of characters, traits and places and times.
When I write one of my MG/PT novels they are usually around 20K. I am a pantser and don’t do an outline. I do keep track of characters and their traits. As long as I have a title I place my fingers on the keyboard and the story comes alive. The characters take it away from me at times and I have to rein them in.
We all know the value of beta readers. Who are yours?
I have three fabulous Jemsbooks Beta Readers, Patricia Bradley, Michelle Clements James, and Michele Rolfe. My husband, John, also reads for me along with doing the illustrations and book covers for all my books. I am looking for a fourth reader. If anyone is interested please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk. I could not do all my middle-grade and novels for 18+ without their extra eyes and invaluable help. I am blessed to have them and can’t tell them enough how much I appreciate their time. I do not have beta readers for my young children’s books. John and I read and edit these ourselves.
Marketing, the one thing most authors hate. Tell me, how do you market?
As for marketing, phew, that is a good question. I use my blog to spread word of my books along with the help of lovely online friends like you, Noelle, Sally Cronin, Debby Gies, Colleen Chesebro, Victoria Zigler, my beta readers, Don Massenzio, Deanie Dunne, Annika Perry, Viv Drewa, Robbie Cheadle and so many, many other wonderful fellow authors and friends. Please forgive me if I did not mention someone. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Thank you to all the readers who review books too! We authors love reviews!
I also use FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, sometimes Tumblr, Flipboard, and Instagram. I have help also from Riley Geddings of Good Ebooks who showcases my books on his many sites, and from Theodocia of Cold Coffee Café. She is a tireless and hardworking promoter on all her sites for two of my novels. I highly recommend both of them for promoting your books. Of course there are many others to look into like BookBub and all the free e-book sites. I haven’t tried them yet.
Attending author expos and book signings are two more ways to get yourself out there and not only meet other authors and network but meet potential buyers. They are fun too. I attended three this year and plan to attend more next year. Noelle and I may meet up at one of them. I hope!
Awards help get your books recognize and remembered. My books have won awards – one Mom’s Choice Award, 6 Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards, 2 Reader’s Favorite Awards and a Silver Medal in Authors Cover Contest and Finalist in Authors First Lines Contest. For all these awards I am truly thankful.
What are your goals for this next year?
Each year I write about my goals on my blog. My goals for 2018 are publish 5 books, read and review 90 fellow authors’ books and continue to support other authors on my blog.
At this time I have almost met my goal – published 4 books – with two more in the wings partially done. I’ve read 67 out of the 90 books so far.
I plan to continue to encourage children of all ages to read, read and read some more by creating more fun, adventures, animal stories, MG/PT and novels for 18+ into the next few years and beyond. I plan to publish another children’s book, and book 2 of Abby & Holly Series this year. Next year my goal is to write Book 6 of Davey & Derek Junior Detectives, Books 3 & 4 of Abby & Holly, and begin a YA fantasy series for 14+ that will include several books. This YA series will go into 2020 and beyond.
As long as God gives me the ability and good health, I plan to keep writing, publishing, blogging, copy editing others’ work, and supporting my fellow authors in any way I can. My motto is Reading Gives You Wings to Fly! Soar with Jemsbooks.com! Happy Reading!
Thank you so much, Noelle, for giving me this opportunity to share a little about myself and my books on your lovely blog.
Barnes & Noble Novels: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/j.E.+spina?_requestid=11645468
FB Children’s books: http://facebook.com/janicespina7
FB Main Page: http://facebook.com/janice.spina.9
FB Novelist Page: http://facebook.com/jespina77
I hope you will agree that Janice is a tenacious, talented and highly energetic writer! If you haven’t checked out her books, be sure to do so. I know you all have child, or maybe you are still one at heart!