My guest this week is Christine Reynebeau, a children's author who used the experience she gained working in youth development to write books that teach lessons often missed by traditional books aimed at kids. Along the way, she went through some horrific experiences with vanity presses before she finally found the right formula for self-publishing success with Dreambuilt Books.
Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
A few highlights from our interview:
On Reaching Young People Through Books
I've worked with a lot of young people as they're growing up with issues that are not necessarily being talked about. It's lessons that some of us learn, but not all of us. And if you can get that into a book and share that with a young reader through school or through the library or something, it just is an early touching point for that young person,
On Her ‘aha' Moment
I learned that I was working with a vanity press, and a vanity press tends to take your money for very little in return. So, I started having this aha moment of, okay, so if I'm doing the marketing, if I'm writing the book, if I'm finding the illustrator, I'm doing the sales, I'm booking the events, What is my publisher doing other than taking my money?
Listen to My Interview with Christine Reynebeau
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript
Howard Lovy: I'm Howard Lovy, and you're listening to Inspirational Indie Authors. Every week I feature a member of The Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them, and how they, are an inspiration to other authors. My guest this week is Christine Reynebeau, a children's author who used the experience she gained working in youth development, to write books to teach lessons often missed by traditional books aimed at kids. Along the way, she went through some horrific experiences with Vanity Presses, before she finally found the right formula for self-publishing success.
Christine Reynebeau: Hi, my name is Christine Reynebeau. I am the owner and primary author of Dreambuilt Books. I write children's books that are based on real life lessons that our young people need to learn. And so, we like to put them in a fun way that helps them to engage in the lesson.
Howard Lovy: What began her writing career was what Christine called her “quarter-life crisis.”
Christine Reynebeau: What really kind of jump started my publishing career was back in 2013. And I was not long out of college, and I had a teacher in my senior year of high school who had us write a letter to ourselves for five years down the road. And I had received that letter from myself at 23 years old, and it had all of these big dreams for myself written into it. And it was like, you're going to do this by the time you're 20 years old, because at 17, 20 years old, seems so far off and so old, and then you're 23 and you're like, Oh my gosh, 20 is not old enough to do all of this. I was busy, learning.
So, I am, one of the things that was on there. And you know, just by the fact that life gets busy and you start doing other things, I had actually forgotten that I had wanted and I had the dream of being a published author, but I had it written into this letter. I was at a point in my life where it felt like the world was trying to kick me, kick me behind the knees and kick me sideways every which way. It's the typical quarter-life crisis. What I thought was kicking me was not really as bad. I mean, the older you get, you look back and you think back on those times when you thought the world was ending. And it wasn't, and it wasn't even coming close. But I just I was going through a phase of my life where my career wasn't what I wanted it to be. I was financially struggling, because I was the poor college student, whose student loans had recently kicked in.
You know, I was struggling in, you know, having a dating life, I was struggling with my roommates, I was feeling really disconnected from a lot of people who had been really important to me as friends. And I just I felt lost.
Howard Lovy: So, Christine did something about it. She sent her book to a couple of publishers, but not knowing any better about which way the money was supposed to flow, paid $600 to get it out into the world. We'll come back to that later, but she made her literary debut.
Christine Reynebeau: The book is called PB&J and so it is about a young girl who wants to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and can't get the jelly jar open. And so, she tries to get it open, gets frustrated brings it to her parents and her parents just keep telling her, you don't need her help, you can do it. We believe in you. And so, she tries all these really silly things to try and get the jar open, things that like in the real world would totally break the jar. And, you know, keeps bringing it back and they keep telling her nope, we believe in you. And eventually, you know, by the might of her own little hand, she gets the jar open and feels with all this success. And her parents just end it with, you know, we believe in you. You can do anything you want, anytime, any day. Most of my books gear really towards the 3 to 10-year olds. But you know, the coolest part was I had a mom who bought it for her college student because she was like, naw she needs this right now.
I feel like that's a metaphor for life in general, I think. I mean, you know, as I've really kind of developed my message about what my books stand for. It's about life. And that book will always hold a very, very special spot in my heart because we need those people who will tell us, no, I believe in you, you can do this. And so, it really comes down to perseverance. And yeah, life is always going to have challenges and you're always going to run into things that make it hard. But if you can keep an open mind, try new things and keep pushing ahead. Eventually, it all works out.
Howard Lovy: Despite being a published author, Christine struggled with what is commonly called Impostor Syndrome, this feeling that her accomplishments didn't count. So, she set out to write a second book, where the struggle was not in writing the book, but in finding an illustrator.
Christine Reynebeau: I didn't know what I was doing and I was really struggling with admitting that I was an author, like it just didn't feel like it counted. So, I was determined to publish a second one and if I could do a second one then maybe I could be an author. So, I got to work on the second one. And the second one was, is called “Guts” and Guts is about understanding what intuition is and what it feels like and how to trust it. It went to my publisher, and they accepted it. And then it took me actually nine months from then to get a, illustrator who would stick with the project longer than five weeks. I went through six different illustrators where they would agree to do the project and then keep me like hanging for weeks, and then be like, actually, I just don't think I'm going to do this. And so, I'd have to start all over from scratch. I just found every challenging artist you could find. And so eventually, I just threw out this really like desperate post on Facebook saying like, “I don't even care if you can only draw stick figures. If you want to illustrate my book you can.” And I had somebody from my full-time job who I'd met at an overnight lock in for teens because I worked in teen programming. She's like, you know, I can't draw well, but I would love to do it. And so, I asked her to send me a sketch and she was phenomenal. I don't know what she was talking about, about, like, I can't draw. She's a very skilled artist, working in the youth development field.
But with Guts, Guts, the only thing that was really important to me was, I had had a friend years back, who told me that, there she worked in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and she worked with a lot of kids from very diverse backgrounds. And she said, “you know, there aren't very many children's books, but feature a multicultural main character.” That was my only requirement was I wanted a non white male, from a nuclear family, present in the book, and that's going to be my main character, and the book has nothing to do with his race or with the fact that he's from a nuclear family. I just wanted it represented.
Howard Lovy: Christine tries to focus on in her books are lessons that are not necessarily taught in most children's books.
Christine Reynebeau: So I've worked with young people, hands on for ten years and indirectly for another two, roughly, you know, I've worked with a lot of young people as they're growing up with issues that are not necessarily being talked about. It's
lessons that some of us learn, but not all of us. And if you can get that into a book and share that with a young reader through school or through the library or something, it just is an early touching point for that young person, to learn what I think are valuable lessons. And so those are things like perseverance, intuition, resiliency, teamwork on a diverse team. My fifth book I really just kind of stretched and it's about love and what love actually, means. The newest book is really addressing change and anxiety, that comes along with change.
Howard Lovy: Christine learned firsthand some of the lessons that are missed for some kids by working in youth development at the YMCA.
Christine Reynebeau: I ran our youth and teen programs. So, I worked with grades fifth through twelfth in their after-school hours, giving them structured and supervised things to do. So, like, I ran team centers and skate parks. I officially can say that when I was 25 years old, I learned how to drop in on a halfpipe on rollerblades, you know, and I ran a youth and government program, I ran leadership programs for kids. We did Friday night parties, and so I worked with a lot of kids who didn't have something else to do other than to come to my programs. A lot of times it was a safe place for kids who didn't necessarily always come from the greatest of homes.
In working with a lot of those kids, I was able to see and also provide lessons that were missed. So, I, you know, I spent a lot of time talking to kids about what, what is that intuition feeling? and why does your gut feel off? Or I would talk with kids about change is hard, but don't look at it from the aspect of how hard it is, what are the good things that are coming out of this?
So, all of my books really come from years of watching kids struggle and wanting to give them some tools earlier in their life to maybe help spread the lessons a little bit.
Howard Lovy: All this work with kids that writing books that speak to them led to her launching her own publishing company called Dreambuilt Books. She did it after learning some hard lessons about self-publishing and Vanity Press.
Christine Reynebeau: As I told you, I published Guts in 2016 and I ran into a book of festival that was willing to bring my book out, to the book festival in New York. And, you know, all I had to do was pay this entrance fee and send 20 copies of my book out and long story, much simplified. I ended up losing hundreds of dollars and never seeing a dime, returned with that book festival. And, and in all of this, I started running into things where, you know, I think I'm those first three years, I think I sold a total between the two books of maybe 100 copies. So, I was getting really discouraged. And I, you know, my sister was a strong supporter of my books, still is, and she really pushed me to try one more thing. Just got to do one more thing and then maybe that'll be the thing that works, and it didn't. The next thing was also a flop, but it gave me enough energy to start trying again and so, you know, I really learned how to market my books and I started studying, you know, what sales techniques do I need to be doing? And just started researching the industry and trying to understand what was I missing? You know, as I kept going, I started having this moment where I, you know, in all my research, I learned that I was working with a vanity press, and a vanity press tends to take your money for very little in return. So, I started having this aha moment of, okay, so if I'm doing the marketing, if I'm writing the book, if I'm finding the illustrator, I'm doing the sales, I'm booking the events, What is my publisher doing other than taking my money?
Howard Lovy: So, she put it all together and decided to do it herself and hasn't looked back since.
She decided that Dreambuilt Books is about the important people working in the publishing equation. The readers and the writers.
Christine Reynebeau: My publishing company, will only publish books of strong lessons, there will be no fluff, in the books that come out of Dreambuilt Books and we're going to invest in authors again. And we're going to start talking about what authors need to be successful, not, what does a publisher need to be successful. So really focusing on investing, in the people who read the books, the people who write the books, and just taking a people first approach to publishing.
I think the most important thing for independent authors to remember, in the marketing, is that it is not about sales and it's not about just your book, your marketing more than a book when you're doing your marketing and if it comes back to you and your why, why this book? If you can pick from, what is it millions of books on Amazon, why are they picking you and telling people your journey as an author, and bringing them along so that it's not just about another 34 page book that hits the market. People are invested in you and what you stand for and what you're providing, to the young people in their lives. You know, I think parents pick my books because my books are investing in their kids, not in the sale. I care more about the fact that the lesson hits the kid and the lesson is present on the bookshelf, than I do about how many books come through and get sold. You know, I have stories to go back to why the books are important. I have reasons why these books exist.