Alinka Rutkowska is an award-winning and best-selling author and coach who’s been featured on Fox Business Network, the Examiner, She Knows, She Writes, Blog Talk Radio, The Writer’s Life and many more. She’s here today to talk about her latest children’s picture book, Cinderella’s Secret Slipper.
Welcome to Blogcritics, Alinka! Congratulations on the release of your latest picture book,Cinderella’s Secret Slipper. When did you start writing and what got you into children’s books?
Thank you. I’ve been writing since I remember. One of my most notable achievements as a school girl was founding the second school newspaper. There already was one, but I thought it needed some healthy competition. That got me into the writing and publishing world very early on, and I have loved it ever since.
I’ve always loved children’s books, but I only wrote my first one when I took a break from the corporate world to travel around the world. I then had more time to get in touch with myself and to understand what I really wanted to do in life – and that’s to have the privilege to shape young readers’ minds through my stories.
Tell us a bit about Cinderella’s Secret Slipper.
Cinderella’s Secret Slipper tells the story of our favorite princess while she’s living her “happily ever after.” She’s a mom and has some real-life problems like her son smashing one of her favorite glass slippers against the wall. Since it’s the only glass pair she has and she’s very nostalgic about it (after all she was wearing it when she first met her husband!), she’s on a quest of putting the slipper back together again, which turns out to be quite challenging.
The early reviewers really appreciated the “real-life” aspect of the story and very much enjoyed the humor.
Writing the story was challenging, as it’s completely different from my “Maya & Filippo” series, which focuses on world-travel and profound messages. Cinderella’s Secret Slipper is shorter, lighter and funnier. It’s main aim is to entertain, but the insightful reader will find a profound message in it as well, it’s just very subtle.
What was your inspiration for it?
I love classic fairy tales, and I know that when they end with “and they lived happily ever after,” they don’t really end. There’s so much more to tell and I’m fascinated by it!
I also got much more tuned into what my audience wants and this seemed to be a perfect fit. Now that the pre-release reviews are out, it makes me very happy to see that my readers are delighted with this story.
What is your writing process like?
I usually come up with an idea and write it down in my “drafts” folder. Then I let it marinate in my head for a while. At a certain point I feel like I have to let it out and pour it all onto paper. Then I read it, change a few things and move on to something else.
After a while I read it again and again and again… change a lot of things and send it off to my critique group. If it comes back with positive feedback andsome minor improvement suggestions (as opposed to “flush it down the toilet”), I edit the story again and if I’m satisfied, I send it to my editor. We toss it to each other back and forth, and then the illustrator gets the manuscript.
How was your experience working with an illustrator?
I’ve been working with the same illustrator since book one, and he’s created the artwork for 15 of my titles. It was love at first sight. He liked the idea of my books when we first talked about it, created a few drafts, which I loved and we’ve been working happily ever after.
I usually just send him the story, and when he sends it back the illustrations are perfect 95% of the time. If I want a change, there’s never a problem.
My readers have paid me many compliments for the artwork, which makes me very happy. I have had offers from other illustrators, but when they came back with their drafts I just couldn’t imagine having those illustrations in my book. I wouldn’t feel like the book is “mine” anymore.
What was your publishing process like?
I publish all my books independently. I really enjoy the speed of the process and the control I have over all aspects. I’ve also learnt a lot about publishing and feel like I don’t need a traditional publisher. However, I have a lot of respect for traditional publishers and have sold rights to 16 of my titles to traditional publishers abroad.
What has writing for children taught you?
Writing picture books is very different from writing any other fiction. Since the expected word count is around 600, writing for children taught me brevity. I learnt to hook the reader from the very first sentence, create a compelling story that draws the reader in, have him on the edge of his seat wondering if the main character will ever solve his problem and then create a climax and often a surprising ending.
This has to be done in around 600 words, which is less than half of this interview, so it’s quite challenging. I learnt to weigh every word for its life and cut off anything that doesn’t move the story forward.
Writing for children is both an art and a science!
What do you know now that you didn’t know when you published your first book?
So much! I’ve always been a nerd with my nose in books, and that hasn’t changed much, only now my nose is also in online articles and courses, so I learn new things every single day.
I’ve learnt plenty about book marketing, optimizing my books’ metadata for online sales, getting reviews, selling in bulk, foreign publishing deals and much more. This has allowed me to create a business helping other authors.
I’ve also attended several events for authors and made connections that led to opportunities I haven’t even dreamt of.
What do you find most challenging about book marketing?
I graduated in management and marketing but that’s very different from book marketing online! My degree did give me the confidence that I should be able to do this though But it’s the confidence that allows me to move on, not the degree.
Book marketing is such a broad subject, and the landscape keeps changing so quickly that the most challenging thing is to keep up and to be able to identify the things that work for you. That’s why it’s important to test and understand where most of your results are coming from.
There are many avenues to success and also success means different things for different people but the important thing is to focus on those marketing strategies that bring you what you want to achieve.
How do you celebrate the completion of a book?
Ha! I don’t think I do because it’s never really complete. When I’m done with the first draft, there are many edits to come. When I have the final manuscript, it needs to be illustrated. When I have the illustrations, the book needs to be put together. When it’s ready, I wait for the proof to come.
When I see the physical proof I get really excited, and I always carry it around with me because I love to look at it. While I keep admiring my proof, I prepare the launch of my book. While the book is being launched, I’m already thinking about other promotional campaigns and about other books.
So I guess the only time I really celebrate is when I go to one of those award ceremonies and get a medal. While it’s hanging on my neck and gently swaying as I move around the room and make new connections, I feel really blissful but I’m not sure if that beats what I feel when that first proof comes in the envelope.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
The freedom. I worked in big multinational companies before, and while I had great positions and a lot of visibility I was just one little part of a huge machine. And in the end, I had to do what was expected of me.
With book writing and publishing I have much more control, flexibility, I make my own decisions and I do it when I want to. The difference is huge.
What is your advice for aspiring children’s authors?
Just do it. I know that at the beginning you will be very focused on the writing and you will have no author platform and no marketing experience, but that’s just how it works. We all had to start, and you will eventually learn to do many of the things you need to know to succeed.
Experience comes with practice, and if you are passionate about what you’re doing, that passion will take you places.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
I’d like to give them some presents! If you enjoy children’s picture books, I’d like to give you a free copy from my award-winning collection – go grab it here: http://alinkarutkowska.com.