Writing and Publishing a Father/Daughter Book

by Eric Anderson
(River Forest, IL)

Alena & The Favorite Thing

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.

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Apr 26, 2013
You found a publisher!
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

When your old Amazon page disappeared and I went to find another one, I saw that Alena is now published by Edgecliff Press. You must be a proud daddy! (I mean, author.)

Feb 25, 2008
The "Radiohead" model
by: Anonymous

I was asked a question about how sales are going with the availability of the PDF for download. Unfortunately, from time to time I'm slow to adopt what would seem to be obvious to many. In this instance, I've only today added a page to the PDF that tells potential buyers where to go to get the book. This is important because several articles that have been written have only led people back to the PDF. Additionally, once the PDF has been downloaded, there's the potential for the file to be shared, and anyone receiving it from a friend wouldn't know that they have to go to my website or Amazon.com to buy the book. Hopefully, I'll see more sales now that I've added that page. To date, the book has only sold about 200 copies, but I'm hopeful that I can get a contract worked out with the small press publisher I've been speaking with within the next week and we'll get it in bookstores.

Additionally, I've gotten a lot of recent local press mentions, including Chicago Parent today (the most recent offender that made me finally realize that I needed to include that new page in the book). Next week, a blurb about the book will appear on MasterCard's priceless.com website, so we'll see then how having exposure to 180,000+ users/month actually translates into click-throughs and sales. I've got low expectations but high hopes...

Feb 25, 2008
Father - Daughter
by: Lp

Congratulations, Eric.

Sounds like you have found a nice little niche. Don't give up on it too quickly or get sucked into a woman's/feminist's view of this being a parent/child book. It is a father/daughter book. Stick to your positioning guns and I'm sure it will pay off in the long run. Or the 2nd book.

I've found that many women (our buyers) don't like to have male writers try to position their work - unless it includes all women in the general sense. What I'm also finding out after six years of positioning my music towards boys is that the new generation of mothers are now finally saying "it's about time someone did something for boys."

There are two reasons that I can see.

1) the professional noise level about boys falling behind is reaching critical mass
2) their own boys are likely in trouble.

The father/daughter relationship is equally unique and deserving of your distinct positioning. You never know, you could become an expert on the subject if you work at it.

After all, you are the father. No woman can claim that - no matter how hard they might try.

Feb 25, 2008
The great way you went about things
by: Steve B.

Eric, what a great account.

I love that the book you wrote filled not only what you perceived as a void in the market, but a need of your own. I love that it spoke to a Daddy/Daughter relationship unlike those you tended to find in other children's books.

I'm fascinated that you essentially auditioned illustrators, and that you saw print-on-demand as simply a step on the road toward traditional publication.

But most importantly, I'm glad you realized and explain to everyone the fantasy element of the notion that just by posting the availability of your self published children's book on the internet people will buy it.

They won't. And your notion of providing a free electronic version (on the way to a paid hard-copy one) is intriguing. Could you let us know more about how that is working out? In other words, is the experiment resulting in real life website sales to people you don't know? Please tell!

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