Writing and Publishing a Father/Daughter Book
by Eric Anderson
(River Forest, IL)
Alena & The Favorite Thing
A stay-at-home dad addresses the dearth of daddy-daughter books.
After my little girl was born, I began searching through a local bookstore for stories about fathers and daughters and was disappointed by the lack of books portraying a realistic father/daughter relationship.
Fathers in children's books are often portrayed as bumbling, chubby, odd, or a variety of other less than flattering stereotypes --- for instance, in Ian Falconer's Olivia series, her father never speaks and spends most of the books just looking chagrined.
Fathers are always doing chores, playing sports or teaching children how to fix things, which felt to me to be an old-fashioned view of what a father's responsibilities should be.
I should disclose that I was a stay-at-home dad for the first year of Alena's life, so "traditional" was not something I was looking for in children's books.
I'm also very interested in the development of a child's imagination and sense of wonder, so that was always something I was looking for in books, but there aren't any others I know of where the father in the story takes an active role in engaging a child's imagination.
I'm sure there's another one out there, but I haven't seen it.
I quickly realized that if I wanted to read such a story to my daughter, I was going to have to write it myself. So that's exactly what I did.
Writing a modern father-daughter book
I vividly remember the day I had the idea for the book. I was carrying Alena back from a visit to the bookstore. I was holding her close; she smiled at me, and it brought tears to my eyes. I remember thinking "that smile is the greatest thing I've ever seen."
Suddenly, the entire story popped into my head. I'd write a book about a father sending his daughter on a scavenger hunt for his favorite thing, only to have her finally realize that she was the favorite thing she was looking for.
I wrote the story in a week.
Finding an illustrator
With the story in hand, I turned to Guru.com to complete the next phase: illustrations. I posted a couple pages of text from the book and had about 30-40 illustrators all submit their ideas of what Alena and her Poppa should look like.
There were some very talented people who submitted sketches, but Jakub Kuzma just inspired something in me that the others didn't. Part of it was that the Poppa character actually bore some resemblance to me. Since Jakub had no idea what I looked like, I took it as a sort of a sign!
I wrote the book in August of 2006, had an agent by September based on the strength of Jakub's sketches, and Jakub finished illustrating the book by January of 2007.
I published the first copy through Lulu in March of 2007.
I'm represented by Literary and Creative Artists Agency in Washington, D.C. My agent's name is Muriel Nellis. She represented David Lynch's latest book, Catching the Big Fish.
So far, we haven't found a traditional publisher for the book, but we're still sending it out. In the meantime, I'm publishing and marketing myself online via outlets like Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com, etc.
There have been a lot of challenges with self-publishing. It's challenging just to get the word out to enough people to make a difference.
I've listed the book with a variety of booksellers and have posted messages on too many parenting message boards to mention, but it would definitely be a lot easier with the backing of a publisher. I'm happy to have the book available online, but I'd love to see it on the shelf at my local independent bookstores.
Giving away his daughter-daddy book in electronic form
To boost sales, I've been using what I call the "Radiohead" model, allowing potential readers to download a full PDF of the book before buying.
I invoke that name with tongue firmly in cheek - comparing myself to a platinum-selling rock group is delusional at best. But maybe someday. I have had about 1400 hits to the site, but I have no idea how many people are downloading the PDF without buying the book.
My thought with this experiment is, without the book being available in a bookstore, how would anyone know whether they wanted to buy the book if they couldn't read it first? I've never purchased a book for my daughter without flipping through it, so how can I expect anyone to buy my book without that option?
I believe strongly enough in the book to feel that anyone who reads it will want to buy a copy for their child, their nieces and nephews, their grandchildren, even the neighborhood kids!
One of the best compliments I've gotten about the book happened when I described it to a reporter as a "father/daughter" book. She looked at me like I was crazy and said, "No, it's a parent/child book. The themes are universal."
I agree with her.