How I wrote my children’s book

“Children’s book author” is not something I aspired to put on my resume. It never crossed my mind. Not once.

But then, one night, I wrote a poem.

It was November 29, 2021. A Monday. We had just wrapped up a long holiday week. My wife’s family visited us for several days, culminating in a large family Thanksgiving dinner with my parents joining the party. We hosted everyone, putting to use every inch of our new house and big new kitchen.

They all left on Friday, we took a breather on Saturday, and on Sunday we did it again with my dad’s side of the family. I called it the “Buckley Holiday Dinner” on my calendar. I roasted a four-bone prime rib complete with hand-grated horseradish sauce and big pot of mashed potatoes. It was fun to show off the place and eat too much one more time.

I must have been feeling a little nostalgic the following day. Maybe even a little old. It’s a big, grown-up thing to do to host family in this way, and I also felt proud and grown up for owning a house that can handle it. Maybe on that Monday night I was thinking about how my own kids might see me. Maybe I recognized that their perception of me might be completely different than my own.

That little spark lit a fire that hasn’t burned in a long time. I used to love writing poems. I don’t write them anymore. I wrote one that night, probably on accident. I just needed to feed the flame.

I opened up a blank page on my computer and wrote, “I Remember.” Then I wrote this early draft of the poem:

I remember you walked me to the bus stop every morning and waved to me from the street
I was always happy to do that

I remember you could sing the words to every song that came on the radio
I was usually making up the words

I remember you could use your tools to take apart and fix every toy that I broke
I was only able to fix some; the rest, I bought again

I remember you used to embarrass me a lot in front of my friends and I really didn't like that
I'm sorry if that made you sad

I remember how much I liked to smell your flannel shirts, even when I was all grown up
Those were my favorite shirts

I remember you were so good at playing piano when I was growing up
I was only learning for the first time

I remember you were a really big deal and had your picture in the newspaper a lot
I was recognized only once for my volunteer work

I remember you could run so fast all the way around the neighborhood without stopping
I was usually jogging only around the corner and back

I remember you could climb to the top of the apple tree to get our balls and frisbees out of it
I was only using a ladder so I would not fall

What do you remember about me?
You were my little pumpkin, and I loved you so much

Below it, I made these notes for myself:

  • Left side of page is first line, from perspective of the child (genderless, a girlish looking boy, maybe) remembering their larger-than-life dad
  • Right side of page is the dad, answering honestly
  • Illustrations should be simple and sketch-like, a la Shel Silverstein. Left side should be exaggerated and large with bold colors. Right side should be plain and simple with pastel colors.
  • Is it a grown daughter talking to her dad on his deathbed? Is it a conversation over Thanksgiving? Is it just the thoughts of a dad missing his kid? Who knows? That’s why I like it.

That was Monday. I remember wiping away tears the first time I read it through. I went to bed happy with myself for stirring up so much emotion in so few words. As I lay in bed that night, it hit me. I was going to turn this into an actual children’s book.

The following morning, during a lull in my work schedule, I decided to find an illustrator. I looked in the only place I knew to look: Reddit. I browsed /r/HungryArtists and scrolled and searched around for people doing line drawings and portraits. One in particular caught my eye. It was only an hour old.

My comment is still there:

I thought it was funny that OP (that’s the gender-neutral Internet slang for “original poster” — the person who started the thread) said they don’t draw people but would do it if I didn’t mind them being strange. For a kid’s book, I figured strange was good. Strange was special, unique, and memorable. I didn’t want anything too polished, and I really liked the art in OP’s portfolio, so I left that comment.

I must have caught Jolene because she wrote back a few minutes later on Reddit’s direct message service. She offered to get started right away and do a drawing just to make sure I liked her style. I agreed to pay her whether or not I liked it. That was it for Tuesday.

On Thursday, this is what she sent.

I loved it! Plus I was amazed: How did the Internet let me do this? Some random person I just met on Reddit was helping me turn this poem into a children’s book. Having spent my entire career online, this shouldn’t be a shock to me, but I’m glad it doesn’t get old. I’m just grateful that I found Jolene and she turned out to be the perfect illustrator for my book.

This partnership continued for the next three months. I revised the poem. A word here, a phrase there. I went on a run with my neighbors and their kids. At the elementary school where we stopped to let the kids play there was a short basketball hoop, about six feet high. He dunked in front of his one-year-old son and joked that he hoped his son would remember him being able to do that.

Bingo, I thought. There’s another page! It’s in the final version.

I remember you were so good at playing piano when I was growing up
I was only learning how to play

I remember you caught all the fish whenever we went out on the lake
Most of the time my net was empty

I remember you could jump into the air and slam dunk a basketball like Michael Jordan
That was only on the kid hoops

I remember you were famous and had your picture in the newspaper
I was just in the background

I remember you won first place at the running race you did with our neighbors
We all got the same medal

I remember you could climb to the top of the apple tree to get my frisbee out of it
I used a ladder so I would not fall

I remember you could take apart and fix every toy that I broke
I could fix some of them; the rest, I bought again

I remember you could sing along with every song that came on the radio
Well, yes, that's true

I remember you used to embarrass me in front of my friends and I really didn't like that
I'm sorry that made you sad

I remember you walked me to the bus stop every morning and smiled as you waved to me from the street
I always missed you after that

I remember how much I liked to wear your flannel shirts 
Those were my favorite shirts, too

What do you remember, Dad?
I remember that you were my little pumpkin, and I loved you so much

In December, I reconnected with the book designer I used for The Parallel Entrepreneur. She told me she would be busy after January, so I started a new email thread with her and Jolene. Together, they made sure that the art would be in the right format and resolution for the 8.5 inch square book layout. By the end of January, Jolene was done with the poem spreads and we spent a few days with the cover. I made sure Jolene was paid in full and worked the final steps with the book designer.

All of a sudden, I was done. I received the final set of files on February 10, 2022. I published my book on Kindle Direct Publishing (ebook, paperback) and IngramSpark (hardcover) the same day.

Now I’m working on marketing my book. I hired my long-time virtual assistant to find parenting blogs and reach out to them. We’re getting decent response, so I’ll continue with that effort and maybe pay for some sponsored content on the larger blogs.

My out-of-pocket costs here so far are about $1,700. I didn’t plan to spend this much when I started this project in late November, but I can’t think of a better way to spend that amount of money. My kids are proud. My neighbors appreciated it. And now I’m the author of an independently-published children’s book. That’s money well-spent. Regardless, I’m confident that over time I’ll make it back, just as I did with The Parallel Entrepreneur.

I’m not in this game for the money, though. It’s a labor of love, and if my oldest daughter has a say in it, I’ll be doing this again soon.

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