Children’s book author Cynthia Mackey said there’s something in a picture book for everyone: There’s a fun story for children to enjoy as well as subtle references catered to adults that kids often miss.
Mackey is an author and preschool teacher from Central Saanich who believes reading is a great way for kids and adults to connect.
Eight years ago, she decided to step into the craft and start writing her own books.
So far, she has written and self-published two books: Katie Schaeffer Pancake Maker, released in 2017, and The Lullaby Monsters, released in 2020. She does all of her writing in the evenings and weekends on top of her full-time teaching day job.
Katie Schaeffer Pancake Maker is about a young girl who likes to build and collect things, and is an optimist who makes “lemonade out of lemons.” Mackey said she hopes it encourages young girls to pursue interests such as science, technology and engineering.
The Lullaby Monsters, a picture and chapter book hybrid, follows siblings Kelsey and Thomas as they help each other face their fears of monsters.
For her upcoming book, If a Bumblebee Lands on Your Toe, Mackey will be represented by a publisher for the first time. Published by Yeehoo Press, the book is set to be available for pre-order in spring 2024.
While the self-publishing route has given her more freedom and independence in her work, she said it requires motivation and self-discipline to see the process all the way through.
“It’s a very competitive world. If you’re going to go the traditional publishing route, probably less than one per cent of picture books get published,” she said. “If you’re self-publishing, that’s within your control. You can self-publish anything, but if you want it to be quality, you have to put in the work to get there.”
While the process differs for each author, Mackey typically starts her self-publishing journey by sending a draft to “beta readers,” or members of the book’s target audience, and incorporating any feedback before sending the draft through several rounds of edits.
Self-publishers also get to choose the illustrator for their book and collaborate with them to bring the visual component of the book to life, whereas in traditional publishing, the publisher chooses the illustrator themselves. Mackey worked with Victoria illustrator Paula Nasmith for both of her self-published books.
After illustrations are complete and uploaded to high-resolution if done manually, the author then designs the layout or works with a book designer to put everything on the page. The author must also get an International Standard Book Number (ISBN).
Mackey then sends her file to a self-publishing company that will print and distribute the book. She traditionally uses IngramSpark, which will print and distribute her book on-demand to an international audience, but also pointed to Island Blueprint for those looking to support local businesses.
After a book is released, an author then turns to marketing to generate sales. Mackey said it’s where “art and business meet” and is usually the biggest learning curve.
Even though Katie Schaeffer Pancake Maker was released in 2017, she continues to promote it during community events such as the upcoming book signing.
For those looking to get into the children’s literature industry, Mackey underscored the importance of community. Locally, she noted the Island Children’s Writers and Illustrators group holds monthly in-person and online meetings.
“It’s really competitive and difficult to be that top one per cent, so you need a community of people,” she said. “It takes a village to make a book, and it takes a village to build a writer to that point.”