by Stewart Mckenzie
Soccer Sami and the Big Meanie Coach is the story of an enthusiastic little hippo named Sami, who loves to play soccer. She joins her friends on a young girls’ soccer team only to be bullied by a big meanie coach. The coach only cares about winning so he never plays Sami… until he has to, in the championship game. It’s a fun book about sportsmanship, teamwork and compassion for everyone from toddlers to young readers.
I first got the idea for this book while walking my dog. The basic concept just sort of struck me as I was wandering the trails of Mt. Seymour. It took a bit of work after that to form it into a viable story, but I was pretty excited about the process.
I had done some writing in the past—songs, ads, promotional materials—but never a children’s book. As an illustrator I realized that I had to stay focused on story first, visuals second. Editing was huge. I wrote all sorts of passages for Sami’s world only to visit them later and realize that they did not move the story along. I went through a whole box of red pens on this book. I had originally written the book in prose but it seemed to be falling flat. I was initially reluctant to go with a rhyming scheme because of the obvious comparisons I knew it would draw to Dr. Seuss, but I figured there are plenty of other rhyming books, so why not.
The first major version of the completed story had a completely different ending than what it is now. I had the protagonist fail and feel like a loser but her team still loved her anyway. My wife Sharon never did like that version and always said that everybody likes a happy ending. I showed this draft to a writer friend of ours, Nancy Warren and she agreed with my wife that the ending just wasn’t working. I went away, knowing in my heart they were probably right, and ran various scenarios through my head. Like most things with this project, an answer presented itself within about two weeks. I think I was probably driving when the inspiration hit me. Both Sharon and Nancy really liked the revised second half, and they were right, it has a much better feel.
Now that I had most of the story written I started doing what animators do: I used storyboards. They really help to see how the plot unfolds, as well as getting a good feel for how the book will look. I was lucky enough to take a week off of work and hide away in a friend’s cabin in Whistler British Columbia, allowing me the time to outline the illustrations and block in the basic colors. The rest of the work came over the next few months. I had always seen the images in my head so the illustration portion was kind of fun. Visually I was aiming at something between the vibrancy of “Yellow Submarine” and the looseness of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. It doesn’t look like either of those but I was happy with the results.
In late summer 2015 I finally had my first book. Now what do I do? I did my homework on publishers and the general consensus from blogs, reps and other authors is that unless you have an incredibly well connected agent, your manuscript will most likely go straight into the trash. I do know a few authors and book reps and they agreed that the “gatekeepers” were pretty closed to unknown newcomers. Most publishers posted that they were not even accepting illustrated children’s books.
We watch the television show Shark Tank quite regularly and the common thread throughout those shows is that you should have some sales figures behind you before you knock on those big doors. I felt that if I could generate some interest through friends, the web and some local merchants, the book might get some traction. That’s when I made the decision to self-publish.
I happened upon a YouTube video by Joanna Penn who was interviewing Laura Backes about self publishing children’s picture books (check out the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdioOgKU5Ks). Laura was talking about the then new Kindle Kids’ Book Creator software and how she was very optimistic about this new opportunity. Laura actually said. “This is a game changer.” This being the first bit of good news I had heard, I thought I’d see who Laura Backes actually is. I found that Laura and her husband Jon Bard operate not only the WriteforKids.org site but also Children’s Book Insider, helping new and budding authors get a good start. The course they offered that caught my attention was Picture eBook Mastery, which takes you step-by-step on how to upload and market your eBook to Amazon. I’m not one that usually buys into online courses but it did seem to offer an awful lot of answers as well as streamlining the KKBC process. Both Laura and Jon were very quick to respond to any questions I had, and I did have some. It was a very worthwhile experience.
The book got uploaded, I built my street team, built my email list, and I joined Beau Blackwell’s authors group to share stories and experiences. I also got to know John Dorey who writes and reviews books. These were both great connections I made through joining the Picture eBook Mastery course.
Soccer Sami and the Big Meanie Coach is available at http://www.stooart.com/ in both ebook and print versions. When all is said and done, I had a wonderful time writing and drawing this book. Whether it’s a printed book or an eBook, there is nothing that parents enjoy more than to cozy up with their young ones and reading them a good story.
What’s your story? If your path to publication (either self-publishing or submitting to publishers) has information that would be helpful to other aspiring writers, let us know. Email Laura@writeforkids.org.
Tags: ebooks, self-publishing