This is the first post in a series spotlighting authors who participated in the Portsmouth Literary Festival last fall. We’d like to introduce you to Donna Seim who writes picture books and middle grade novels. She has also written an armchair travel book for ages over 16.
Kid Lit Universe: Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents?
Donna Seim: I guess I can say I am the kind of person that likes to try a lot of things. I took some drawing lessons and learned to use color pencils as a media, then moved on to watercolor and oil painting. I soon learned that it made my heart sing to draw and paint children and animals. I love faces especially! I have not illustrated my own books, I believe that is a special skill. Recently I have enjoyed the art of needle felting. It is so much fun to create something out of some fluffy wool with just the use of a needle. I have created many of the animal characters in my books. It is an extension of my writing and helps me develop their inner selves!
KLU: If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?
DS: I have always wished I could fly! Not as a pilot or a passenger in an airplane, but as a bird. I’d catch a thermal high above the earth and just float.
KLU: What type of writing do you do?
DS: I write both picture books and middle grade fiction. I love picture books because I love art and story intertwined. There is nothing like curling up on the sofa with a child and reading his/her favorite stories. I love younger children; their enthusiasm is contagious. My other genre is juvenile fiction. I personally have always loved historical fiction and fast-paced adventure stories. I like writing for middle grade children because they respond with heartfelt interest to the stories in my books. When I visit schools, their interest and energy radiates from their faces. I guess I love kids who love to read!
KLU: How did you get started writing children’s books?
DS: I have always loved telling stories. My writing career began when my daughter was in graduate school taking a publishing course. She asked me to help her with a project. She had to acquire a manuscript and publish a book. So, I wrote some humorous stories from my childhood. When I finished one, she would ask me to write another. It was so much fun! Together we put the whole book together and published 100 copies. She received an A in her course and we sold all the books. After this experience, I decided to take writing seriously and take some classes. I wrote my first picture book and started on my first middle grade novel. After that, I was on my way!
KLU: What role has the kid lit community played in your writing career?
DS: I’m in a critique group, Pen Friends. We write together and share our work, it is a support group as well as a constructive critique group. I belong to the Newburyport Writers Group and I am a member of SCBWI. Writing is a lonely profession so getting together with others for support and critiques is extremely important.
KLU: What is your writing weakness? How do you overcome it?
DS: Comas and grammar, Ugh! I keep a grammar book next to my computer. I also make sure my work is edited many times before it goes to a publisher.
KLU: How do you select the names of your characters?
DS: This may sound silly, but they just come to me. As soon as I have decided on a character, he or she is named. My characters’ names have to have a rhythm to them, and like words in a song, they have to sound good together.
KLU: Do you set a daily writing goal?
DS: I know a lot of writers that do that, but I write furiously some days and nothing other days. When I am in the heat of a story, I work every moment I can. Good thing I have a dog; he makes sure I don’t sit at my desk too long!
KLU: What is your favorite children’s book?
DS: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Her words are like poetry. I could read it 100 times. I can really get inside Francie Nolan’s (the young protagonist) head and heart. I wish I could write like Betty, she has been a tremendous inspiration to me.
KLU: Are you traditionally or indie published (or both)?
DS: All my books are indie published. The pro is that you have control. I choose my own illustrator and have a large say in the book design. All my books are boutique published by a small independent publisher. This is different than being self published. The book is author subsidized, but the publisher must accept the manuscript as a good product and agree that it will sell well. Once accepted, it goes through all the same stages as a traditionally published book. A boutique publisher will help launch and promote the book as well. The con is that if you are traditionally published, you have the validation that someone else was willing to take the chance on your work. All that being said, I wouldn’t walk away from a traditional offer if I felt the publisher was a good one.
KLU: How do you market your books?
DS: I do everything I can think of. I have hired a publicist, created a beautiful website, and post on Facebook and Twitter. I send out emails to my mailing lists when I have an event or big news such as winning an award. I have been interviewed on community TV and radio. I send out press releases and newspaper articles. Schools are an excellent place to go. All of my larger sales have been to or through schools. School visits are fun and a great way to stay in touch with children and trends—their likes and dislikes, word usage, etc. I travel with a keynote presentation of slides for all of my books, and that is always popular. For my safari travel book, my husband and I made a full length movie with sound. We took a class at the Apple store. I donate my books to libraries and offer to do readings. I have worked on my relationships with shop owners. I have found that my books sell better in small gift shops that are willing to feature them as opposed to book stores that shelf them spine out. I visit local bookstores and offer to do book signings. I have had the best results with the small indie books stores, but that doesn’t mean I don’t go to Barnes and Noble.
KLU: What are you working on now?
DS: My latest work is entitled The Misadventures of Cheeky and Charlemagne. Cheeky, a River Otter, and Charlemagne, a Pine Martin, are entrusted with a dangerous mission to transport an herbal antidote desperately needed to save the animals in the North Country. The rough draft is complete and I am working on edits and rewrites now! It is a middle grade work of fiction for children 8 to 12 years.
Check out Donna’s published books: