Today we’d like to introduce you to April Jones Prince.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Like most authors, I grew up loving books and reading. Unlike most authors, I grew up with a dad who was Creative Director of a publishing company, and I loved visiting his office and soaking up the behind-the-scenes view of bookmaking. By the time I was eight, I had decided that I wanted to be a children’s book author, and my dad would illustrate my books.
I flirted with other career choices as I grew older, including being an archaeologist. But in college at UNC-Chapel Hill, I majored in Journalism, knowing that I wanted to work in books rather than newspapers or magazines. My second-grade dream of being an author had fallen by the wayside in favor of a full-time job: being an editor! After UNC, I attended the Radcliffe (now Columbia) Publishing Course and worked in New York as an editorial assistant/assistant editor at William Morrow and HarperCollins Children’s Books. When I met my husband and moved to Massachusetts, none of the publishers in/around Boston had openings.
Luckily, I had submitted a writing sample for a nonfiction ghostwriting project before I left New York. I got that job and dove in to writing 13 books over the next five years. All the research involved led me to my own book ideas, and my hope of being an author was reborn. In 2002, I also started working for Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges at an artists’ agency called Studio Goodwin Sturges in Boston. Happily, the Studio became my agent as well.
My first book came out in 2004, and I’ve been writing and juggling part-time, book-related work ever since. I still work at Studio, and for the past three years I have been co-teaching a dynamic, rigorous picture book course with Judy Sue at Rhode Island School of Design called Picture & Word. On the other days, I write and visit elementary schools and libraries. I love all my jobs and feel so lucky!
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
So far, it’s been a pretty smooth road, which is not something I take for granted. I’ve had books cancelled because a publisher’s program changed, which is not too pleasant. And of course, there are oodles of rejections for every “Yes, we want to publish this manuscript!”
It used to be that you would submit a manuscript by snail mail and wait weeks or month for a response. Sometimes you got a form letter in return, but sometimes an editor would take the time to send feedback and/or encouragement. (A wonderful writer-friend called these “love notes,” and I have to agree.)
These days, you submit via email. Most publishers have now adopted a policy, out of necessity, that they will get back to you only if they’re interested in your manuscript. So rather than having a mountain of rejection letters, you have a sort of void. As an editor myself, I see how this policy is completely necessary. As an author, it makes it a little harder to improve your work. So it’s all the more important to belong to a critique group (or several), or to have a few trusted people with whom you can share your work and receive honest, constructive feedback.
My advice for creative people is to think about what YOU can create that no one else can. What story can you tell in a way no one else will tell it? What niche can you fill in a way no one else can fill it? Use your unique voice and talents to put something into the world that wasn’t there before, whether it’s stories or cupcakes or jewelry.
And for young women, or those just starting out in a consulting or freelance endeavor, I would say that the ebb and flow of workload and finances can be challenging. It’s helpful, and sanity-saving, to have a part-time job and/or a partner’s income to provide some stability. Publishing isn’t the most lucrative business, and it can take quite a while to negotiate contracts and receive payments. Being an author is also a little tricky because you’re doing most of your work on spec. You sometimes spend a great deal of time, effort, and research expense on a piece that doesn’t sell. Of course, you learn from everything you do, and having that growth mindset is essential!
Perseverance, staying abreast of and engaged in your market, and continuing your professional development are other keys to success.
Please tell us about April Jones Prince.
In terms of building a market and a following, it’s smart to specialize and become known for a specific thing. I had hoped to do this, but when opportunities and ideas come your way, it’s hard (and often silly) to deny them. So instead of specializing in history or biography, or even nonfiction, like I had planned, I am more of a jack-of-all trades, writing both fiction and nonfiction, for ages 0-12. In hindsight, I see that this is the way I’ve always been. I was never a really good flute player or soccer player or dancer; I was an all-around good student who was decent at a bunch of things. Embrace who you are!
Being versatile has worked in my favor when generating new projects and when visiting schools, because I have books for, and can speak to, a wide range of ages. I am also a collaborator who is happy to tailor my school programs to individual teachers’ needs, the same way I collaborate with other writers when editing their manuscripts and with editors, artists, and my agent when working on my own books.
That said, picture books are my true love. Although I’ve written several original board books, an early reader, and two chapter books, picture books are my sweet spot. The interdependence of text and art makes for a singular art form that is pure magic. A fabulous picture book will make your toes curl!
Do you have any advice for finding a mentor or networking in general? What has worked well for you?
In publishing, as in most industries, networking is vitally important. Seek out leaders you can learn from and follow them online, support their work, go to their events. If you reach out to them, be genuine, be kind, and be respectful of their time. Think about how you can help them, not just how they can help you.
As a teacher, I mentor many students and young professionals. From that perspective, I recommend that everyone invest in nurturing a few important relationships—people and mentors you can call upon when you need a recommendation, a reference, or a bit of advice. But don’t just get in touch with these people when you need something! Connect with them from time to time, see how they are and keep them abreast of what’s happening with you. When you do call upon these people to write a recommendation, let the person know the outcome of whatever you’ve applied for. They have (hopefully!) put a good deal of time and thought into your recommendation, and they are vested in outcome, too.
Finally, and this sounds ridiculous and unnecessary, but it bears repeating: be nice to everyone. It’s good karma and the way we all ought to behave. As extra incentive, you never know whom you may need in your corner. Be kind to and respectful of everyone, no matter how “big” or “small” they may seem. What goes around comes around!
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