10 Takeaways on our 10-year-anniversary as children book authors

Ten years (& three hairstyles) ago, we released our first children’s book:

A Bucket of Blessings – published April 29, 2014

In sum, we’ve published 8 books (3 to come) with Beach Lane (Simon & Schuster).

We’ve learned a few things along the way…

​These are 10 takeaways from our journey as children’s book authors.

-Kabir and Sue

1. Put kids first 

When you write for kids, really write for them. When we wrote our first manuscript (which wasn’t published in its first incarnation), we thought about writing for kids and parents. We wanted to entertain everyone and have a message for all.

After chatting with our publisher, we decided to ditch (or rather adapt) the manuscript and write a story that would interest kids and spark their imagination. We didn’t try to do too much. We focused on our primary audience.  

2. All Things India

We set out to write books about India and its culture, and we’ve done just that. Writing a book about India in 2014 might seem prescient, but it’s the topic and theme with which we’re most familiar.

In recent years, there has been a push to spotlight diverse voices, and we have welcomed the interest in our books because it ultimately helps more folks learn about a wonderful part of the world.

It’s important to “know your niche.” We’ve created one as the “Mom-and-son-author-team-writing-picture-books-about-India.” There didn’t seem to be many children’s books about India when we started. We’re delighted to be a part of the effort to highlight Indian culture in family media.

3. Write to entertain 

We want our books to be FUN. We want kids to enjoy and keep reading the book. And if they do, then we’ve done our job. We’ve used song lyrics, verses, hooks, and rhetorical devices to make our tales even more fun.

But this actually took some work. The first manuscript we published was full of rhymes and meters. But it was too much. Over time, we’ve learned to be judicious in the rhetorical devices we use. Everything we write should push the reader in the direction of interest, curiosity, wonder, and fun.

For example, we were under contract to write a book, but then we thought of writing one about bhangra dancing. Because a dancing book has the potential of being so much fun, we wrote Bhangra Baby relatively quickly. Our publisher moved this book to the front of our publication queue.

When a book is easy to sing or read, that usually makes it more fun.

4. Write sparsely

We like to use as few words as possible when writing our books. Festival of Colors only has a couple sentences per page or even just a few words. This allows us to “get out of the way” of the reader’s imagination so they can wonder for themselves.

Our first drafts usually have the fewest amount of words possible. If our “skeleton” story can tell the full narrative clearly, then we’re onto something. We can always dress up our text with adjectives and adverbs or with telling facts.

Many teachers, librarians, parents have told us that they like how our books “don’t have too many words” so that the books keep the child’s attention.

5. Keep a list of unused & unloved ideas

The best way to come up with a good idea is to have a lot of ideas. And then you can discuss, filter, and pick the best one to pursue.

We keep a list of dozens of ideas that we could turn into children’s books.

Some are basic concepts like “A book about Indian food” (coming soon, by the way!) and others are fully written manuscripts that we haven’t fleshed out, acted upon, or that were declined by our publisher.

We revisit these ideas periodically to see if they move us.

6. Partner with publisher

We’re blessed to have a close relationship with our publisher Beach Lane (Simon & Schuster). We brainstorm and present ideas with them to see which might work as books. This saves everyone time because we don’t necessarily have to write a full manuscript (although we often do) before pitching.

It’s important for all of us to be on the same page regarding which concept to address before we go about writing it. The continual feedback loop was essential to writing some of our hits like The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk and Festival of Colors.

7. Speak up on the artwork

We don’t decide who illustrates the art for our books. Sure, we have input. And over time, we’ve become more vocal about the art. The publisher finds the artist. The author and illustrator don’t have direct communications partly because each artist should be able express themselves unencumbered.

But sometimes the artwork doesn’t best reflect an aspect about India. That’s when we speak up. We want our books to accurately portray modern India and steer clear of some dated concepts.

These books last forever, so we want to make sure all perspectives are considered. We’ve been very happy working with our publisher and artists.

All of our books have different illustrators, which reflects the diversity of India. But it also means that sometimes we have to recommunicate perspectives to the illustration team. But this is what partnership and teamwork is all about.

8. Communicate directly with readers

It took us 9+ years, but we finally started The Monthly Bucket, a regular email that provides value to our readers and fans.

We had settled on a process: write a book, wait for its publication, earn some reviews, make a few posts on social media, read the book at a few events/schools/libraries. And do it all over again.

But what happens between books?

Those many months when we are waiting for publication.

It’s important to communicate directly with readers and fans. So, our monthly email spotlights and suggests children’s books that celebrate diversity (and not just ours).

The Monthly Bucket is our humble attempt to build a community around diverse children’s media.

We share recipes and interviews with artists and educators. And even Sue’s meditations.

9. Say yes to story time & embrace serendipity

We love reading to children.

We’ve read to dozens of schools and libraries (usually with no fee). We believe in sharing these stories with anyone who would like to hear them.

Over time, we’ve built a community of like-minded parents, teachers, librarians who invite us to their schools and organizations. It’s a blessing to see children have fun and learning about Indian culture.  

Story time infuses energy into our book releases. When you put your work out there, you never know who will discover it. The ripples can go far and wide…

For example, a few theaters have turned A Bucket of Blessings into a play.

Some of our books have even been turned into board books and Spanish editions.

Bollywood actors have even posted.

10. Collaborate with family 

We are a mother-son picture book writing team. We love collaborating and writing together.

We like to have tea together almost every day, and that’s where we brainstorm ideas or discuss what’s happening in the world.

Sure, we don’t always agree on things.

But we’ve been working together long enough to know how we both like to work.

Writing picture books together is a blessing.

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