When my then 6-year-old daughter, Nancy, said she had an idea for a second-grade chapter book, I wanted to support her ambition. Thanksgiving 2019 was around the corner, and we thought it would give us a fun project for the holidays. Little did we know 20 months would pass before we achieved this dream.
With my professional background in book publishing, I knew writing a book as a team would be a challenge. We would have to agree on the approach, divide the work, and execute. Plus, one of us was a first grader.
So how did we do it?
First, we talked through some of Nancy’s ideas. We discussed character names and some of the big ideas she had for the plot. After a few conversations, we sat down to put words on a page. I opened my laptop and began to type.
Screech! It was immediately clear we had no idea what we were doing. Ideas are good, but we needed a plan. We gathered some loose-leaf and a pen and began to outline the book. Mostly that meant me asking prompting questions, and Nancy answering.
“Where does this story take place?”
“Who are the characters?”
Nancy named six of her best friends.
“So far all the characters are girls. Will this be a school for girls and boys, or just girls? A regular school or a boarding school?”
“All girls. Boarding school.”
“OK, now is there magic in this story?”
We planned 10 chapters, and Nancy and I took turns with the typing. (That was likely the most harrowing part, but we were a team!) We often wrote just a few sentences at a time, but after several months, we had completed a first draft. Working title: Carla and Lola Go to School, But Where Is Ms. Quimby? Celebrations ensued!
Nancy asked what more we would need to do before we could publish our book. I explained all the steps, and she vowed to follow them. Next up: Revisions.
Not surprising given the age and experience of the authors, several plot points were illogical. Why would there be a tree that looks like a shed? If Ms. Quimby is married, why would she run off and marry a prince? Now age 7, Nancy recognized these problems and we fixed them. Eventually we made it through the revisions. Again, celebrations ensued.
“Nancy, it is time for us to read the story straight through on our own. We will each take a copy and make our changes, then we will compare notes.”
I read my copy—all 80 pages—in a matter of days. Nancy took months. She said the first chapter was boring (better fix that!). It felt like homework. Whenever I suggested she read the manuscript, she shrugged.
So, what finally got her to complete her reading?
One day, she was left alone in the family room with her father, who had a business call. The sketch pad and books were upstairs, and the only thing around to read was Carla and Lola. She read the manuscript in one sitting and declared she loved it.
One problem: The title no longer made sense. Carla and Lola, Nancy said, were not the main characters anymore. The whole gang of friends were equally important. So we revised the title.
That brought us to February 2021.
The next several steps went much faster. I called in a few favors from friends and applied some elbow grease to move the project along:
- Children’s book author and friend Katherine Melvin and my husband, Chris, were our first readers. They identified several areas for improvement. More revisions!
- We purchased an interior design from http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com, and I did the layout. Thank goodness for how-to videos.
- We created the cover design using a free graphic design website called Canva.
- Friend and editor Kathy Clayton proofread the book. More revisions!
Meanwhile, Nancy worked on the illustrations. She had completed five or so back in 2019, when we started the project. She hadn’t intended them for the book, but I loved them. They made the cut. We identified eight or 10 other places that needed a picture. She drew four over the next three months. What gives? Again, it felt like homework.
By August 2021, the art still wasn’t finished. So, we flexed: We cut some of the illustrations we had planned, teamed up on a few others, and called it good.
To complete the project, we uploaded our files to two websites. KDP, which is part of Amazon, is producing the print book, and Draft2Digital is distributing the ebook.
Those processes were not seamless. The cover design had to be redone multiple times over four weeks; a professional designer would have completed it in one week. We also had to add some pages so that our names could appear on the spine. There are now two special features at the back of the book.
At long last, on September 20, 2021, Mystery at Creek Academy: Where Is Mrs. Quimby? was published!
Climbing into her top bunk one night after rereading the book, Nancy said, “Our book would be a lot different if we hadn’t had other people help us with it.” Very true. It is a much better book because of their input.
We are proud of the final result. Nancy has given several copies to teachers and friends, and my friends have given copies to their children. The kids have enjoyed it, the Montgomery County library agreed to carry the ebook, and it may even be included in the Forest Knolls Elementary School library. Nancy and I are so pleased to have completed such a long and rewarding project.
Now Nancy’s 5-year-old sister, Hazel, has caught the publishing bug. She is planning to write her own book with me as coauthor. Working title: How I Learned to Cross-Stitch. Check back in 2023 to find out how it went!
Katherine Pickett is a professional writer and editor living in Silver Spring, Maryland. Mystery at Creek Academy: Where Is Mrs. Quimby?, coauthored with her daughter Nancy, is her first children’s book.
This article first appeared in the Northwood News, the quarterly newsletter of the Northwood-Four Corners Civic Association.
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