Indie Author Blazes Trail

I’m thrilled to have Rhonda Fischer join us today. An award-winning author, CEO, and founder of Whim Publications, Rhonda is an inspiration and role model for success. She is blazing trails for independent authors and publishers with her passion, persistence, belief, and creativity. Of course, she started with a great book. Randy Kazandy, Where Are Your Glasses? is a grand-slam-homerun of a story. Randy appeals to a niche, but also resonates with a powerful and universal theme of self-acceptance. The result? The story is irresistible to children, parents, and teachers. As Rhonda shares below, Randy Kazandy may now be too big for traditional publishers. So if you’ve ever wondered about self-publishing, if you’re looking for new ideas about book marketing, or just want some inspiration to keep at it, join us in a lively discussion as Rhonda discusses the keys to her success.
 Silverberry: What is Randy Kazandy about, and what inspired you to write it?
 Rhonda: Randy Kazandy is about a little boy getting eyeglasses for the first time. My brother-in-law, Randy Jacque, and my sister were spending the night. We actually got snowed in, and around the fireplace we all told funny stories to my four children. Uncle Randy told us about how his glasses kept breaking, and he would keep getting another pair. The kids rolled in laughter, and Randy Kazandy was born. I wrote for my kids the whole time they were little, and still continue to write poetry about their experiences.
 Silverberry: An important part of the story is how Randy’s parents support him. They’re patient, not punitive, and they’re creative in their child rearing. Ultimately, his father’s role modeling is the catalyst for Randy’s transformation. How did you come to write it that way?
 Rhonda: I know the real Randy Kazandy had trouble reading in his young years. The support and love of parents is the most important part they can play. I wanted the book to be unpredictable, not predictable. When Dad tells Randy, “I want to look more like you,” it blew Randy Kazandy away, and a weight had been lifted. Those words were all it took to take Randy from not wanting his glasses to loving his glasses. That is where the motto, ” I love being me,” was created. Kids are learning to love themselves just the way they are.
 Silverberry: Your rhymes are fun and funny, and the illustrations complement them perfectly. How did you connect with your illustrator, Kim Sponaugle?
 Rhonda: My wonderful editor, Jill Ronsley, had a list of illustrators. Kim was the last one listed, as she was new to Jill Ronsley’s list. I gave a photo of my nephew to many illustrators. Kim won hands down. She depicted Randy exactly the way I pictured him, and she was hired to do the watercolor illustrations. We had a lot of fun working together on the project. Kim is the illustrator of about 30 children’s books, and lives in New Jersey. Always get your book edited by a professional. If you do it yourself, consider it a family heirloom. That is about as far as it will go. Go top notch, and I say beg, borrow, but don’t steal to do it right
 Silverberry: The book is now in it’s second printing
 Rhonda: Soon to be third.
 Silverberry: I’ve heard that in 2009 anywhere from 750,000 to a million books was published. Few books sell a thousand copies. Against these odds, you’ve had tremendous results. What are the keys to your success
 Rhonda: My key to success is to figure a way to sell your books outside the box. I did find my niche, and partnered with a company who sells the book on their website. It is a website for Eye Professionals.
 Silverberry: You’ve also tried book-marketing ideas from books. What worked, what didn’t?
 Rhonda: Almost nothing worked from those books. Every book is unique, and you have to learn to look outside the box and be creative. I will be writing a book on my successes in the future. What did not work: Book signings in stores, mostly, because if the store doesn’t promote you, nobody will even know you are there. Selling one or two books is a waste of time and energy.
 Silverberry: Have most of your sales been from your website, and how have you driven traffic there?
 Rhonda: I have had niche marketing, or I should say I found my niche by marketing and partnering with the largest publishing company in the world on the subject. They sell the book on their website. My website has sold some books, but the big guy helped tremendously. Follett Library Resources sells books to school libraries. They send purchase orders monthly, are a joy to work with, and also pay on time. I have many distributors, and have Randy Kazandy in most of the big places that the big publishers use. Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Amazon, and about 6 more distributers. I also publish many articles to keep Randy Kazandy circulating on the web. Blogs, interviews with many groups, press releases, etc. I put Randy Kazandy on Twitter, Facebook, and talk about the book at every opportunity. I get my book reviewed in as many places as I can. I also review books for the Sacramento/ San Francisco and HarperCollins book reviews, and was asked to write for the LA Times, Democrat & Chronicle, and regularly appear on Radio Disney. All this came from having my publicity person send out a professional press release. I also have my own Blogtalk Radio show starting soon.
Silverberry: Hundreds of parent blogs have reviewed your book. How did you find and pitch to these folks?
Rhonda: I did use Paul Krupin as a publicist. He tapped into blogs of moms and vision blogs. Not so many sales, just tons of interviews. Paul does supply a wealth of information from his website. I learned how to do wonderful press releases in a couple different formats and styles.
When you pay professionals, its like paying for a college course in my eyes. But do your homework and make sure the people you hire are qualified.
Silverberry: You do school visits. Who do you approach at the school, and how do you capture their interest?
Rhonda: I have a new and unique way of getting into schools. I was getting sick of going to schools, working hard, and selling one or two books to teachers. Well now, when they ask my price, I tell them it is $2,000 for one assembly or two half-hour readings. When they say they have no money, I say, well, if you send home flyers to parents and sell 100 books to students, I will waive my fee for you. OHHH, they jump at that like a hot potato. They get excited, and rave that they can do that. So I sell about 88 to 150 books at each school visit. There is nothing better than selling books, and lots of them, at that. It is a win-win situation, because the child gets a book and it really is like getting paid for your efforts. The book signing becomes so much fun knowing that it is a success. I have samples of the flyers I use for school visits on the Randy Kazandy website. You can go to Book store signings, and even paying for tables at book events, are usually a washout and a waste of time, energy, and money. Most people never even get paid back the money they spent for the booth. You have to be someone famous for that to pan out.
Silverberry: The book packs a potent message for children to love and accept themselves. Have issues around self-esteem, feeling different, and bullying come up in your classroom discussion with children?
Rhonda: I teach the kids what to say and do when they are approached by a bully. Then I teach them the Randy Kazandy Time Song. It is a gentle message I leave, but Randy Kazandy’s message of, “I love being me,” is what these students need to be hearing. I arm them with ideas in a fun, new, informative way.
Silverberry: You’re expanding now into a line of designer glasses. Tells us about it!
Rhonda: Ooh la- la de Paris Eyewear loved the character of Randy Kazandy, and knew it had a potential that children could relate to. It’s now featured as a new, fun line for kids that embraces children’s literature at the same time. The glasses will feature different colors and designs. Boys and girls lines have been developed, and given some fun names from characters in the book. The brilliance behind the Randy Kazandy line is Dr. Raul Arencibia and Jeff Northcutt, the owners of Ooh la-la de Paris in California. They have worked endless hours in production, making sure this line would truly be fun, funky, and hip for children. Lead- free and beautiful kids can now own the Randy Kazandy, Where Are Your Glasses? book, and have a designer Randy Kazandy pair of specs. An adult line and sunglasses will soon follow. If your Optometrist doesn’t carry them, tell them they can order the line through Ooh la la-de Paris.
Silverberry: Is there a sequel in the works?
Rhonda: The next two books are written, and yet to be edited. I do have a literary agent looking for a big publisher, with no luck yet. They can’t believe everything I have done with my book, and are very impressed. Some say, they aren’t so sure they could do better. One mentioned that I have done so much, it would cost them a fortune to get Randy Kazandy. I do believe they are right. I think I will stay the publisher for a while and keep control.
 Silverberry: Is there one thing no one has asked about that you’d like to share?!
 Rhonda: I have won three awards on the book so far, and moved to Kansas. With an agent working on a Hollywood movie idea, I think in a year or so Randy Kazandy may just make it to the screen. I gave a huge presentation at a nearby college in Kansas, because I need interns. Low and behold, they want every student in the school to work on Randy Kazandy in some area of press releases, editing, graphic design, etc. They even want to name their new wing of the college The Randy Kazandy Wing, and have a Randy Kazandy scholarship for the students. They were so impressed, they wanted me to move Whim Publishing onto the campus so they could have the students all working in some area of Randy Kazandy, and have easy access to me! They want me teaching marketing classes, how to write children’s book classes; and will even pay me for that. I am overwhelmed with all of this. They want to put their town on the map. They just might do it. I also have a café that now serves a Randy Kazandy meal. A taste test for kids took place, at an October Fest, to design the menu. I have so much going on with this book, including a NY tour all of November, and the development of a Randy Kazandy Time Magazine.
 I work hard, don’t sleep much, and know I have a noteworthy purpose to help kids. Never give up the ship, never ever. Listen to critics, change things when asked, unless you truly believe it to be right. Be open-minded, and know people genuinely are good people, and want you to succeed. For all of you who gave advice to me, helped me get where I am, I would like to thank you. Special thanks to David Broughton, who works on projects, brainstorms with me, proof reads, edits, and believes in Randy Kazandy as much as I do. My hat goes off to him. Also, thank you to Karen Jacque for your continued bookings and developments in New York. My cup runneth over.

Now, it’s back to work!
 Silverberry: Thank you so much, Rhonda, for sharing your time, experience, and knowledge. You are truly an inspiration.

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