David Villanueva Jr. did not start out trying to become a writer, however he has seen much success and plans to continue growing and expanding as and author. David debuted as an children’s author with his book “Caleb’s Birthday Wish.” During his career he has had children’s books traditionally published as well as self-published some of his books.
David graciously agreed to an email interview where he provided insight into his experiences. Read below to find out more.
Why did you decide to write a book?
Writing books happened by accident. When I was in college I studied Marketing, and it was during an internship where I had to learn to do copywriting that basically started my writing career. Long story short, when I was trying to develop my writing portfolio and doing freelance articles for websites and magazines, a newspaper had a children’s section that told a story from Monday-Friday. Each day a new part of the story was revealed. I gave it a try to write a children’s story, and I pitched it to this newspaper. A year later the story was rejected, and that’s when the lightbulb went off to turn the story into a book. The story ended up developing into my first picture book “Caleb’s Birthday Wish,” which became my second published book in 2006.
What inspired you to write about children with special needs?
I live in Los Angeles which is a culturally and ethnically diverse area. And as a writer I’m an observer. When I’m out walking, I tend to notice different people and get inspired by things I see. When my children’s book “Caleb’s Birthday Wish” was originally written, the character didn’t have a disability. And when I pitched it to several publishers it kept getting rejected. I did some revisions and one day when I had taken my nieces and nephews to the park, I saw a little boy in a wheelchair wheeling around a park. He couldn’t climb up the jungle gym or climb up the slide, and I didn’t think it was fair for him missing out on the fun. And that inspired me to make my character a boy with special needs.
When I re-pitched the book to more publishers, I got good feedback, but it was still getting rejected because it was now deemed a “niche” book and not commercial enough because publishers felt it only catered to children with disabilities. I was determined to get my book published, and felt that though my character had a disability the book didn’t focus on his disability being an obstacle. The theme of the book is to always dream big no matter what your obstacle or disability in life is. And that is a universal theme. Finally, the last publisher I pitched it to offered me a book deal.
I also think it’s important to have diverse characters whether it is children with disabilities or ethnicities, because children’s books do lack diversity, when in fact readers are as diverse as can be. I believe ALL children should have characters they can relate to in books. When my book “Caleb’s Birthday Wish” was published, I got letters from kids (with and without a disability) saying how they loved the book and wished they could fly like Caleb, and I also got letters from parents and teachers who thanked me for creating a character that kids with disabilities could relate to.
Did you choose self-publishing or traditional publishing? Why?
I’ve been published by small independent publishers, and I’ve self-published the last two children’s books I released.
I think every writer wants to land a book deal with a traditional publisher, and most times it doesn’t work out for various reasons. 1) There is limited opportunity to get published as publishers only have X amount of slots devoted to new releases, 2) Competition is fierce and publishers receive thousands of submissions each week, and 3) The major publishing companies don’t accept unsolicited submissions (writers without an agent).
If you don’t have an agent, pitching directly to small/indie publishers is the logical step to getting your first book deal. When I first started out in my career, I pitched my books to several agents, but they were all rejected for representation. But I had bought a copy of The Writer’s Market (published each year and is the writer’s bible), and I saw there were several indie publishers, and a handful of the bigger publishers who accepted unsolicited submissions. And that is how I got my foot in the door, and four of my books were published by independent traditional publishers.
All of the book deals I’ve ever gotten I got on my own. It wasn’t until after my books were published that I landed a literary agent for my new unpublished manuscripts I had written. I went the self-publishing route after my agent was unable to land me book deals for those particular manuscripts. I’m self-publishing/releasing this month a picture book called “Sebastian’s Moon,” and I plan on releasing in Spring 2017 a children’s activity book “The Little Writer,” that teaches kids how to write their first picture book. I chose the self-publishing route for these books because I’m determined to see them in print and feel that children will enjoy them.
What do you wish you had known about publishing a book before you started?
When I first started I wish I had known I didn’t need an agent to get published, and how hard getting published can be. You think after you write a book someone is going to love it and offer you a big deal, and that isn’t realistic. It takes time and patience to get published with or without an agent.
I’ve been agented and un-agented in my career. I think people get discouraged when they can’t land representation by a literary agent, and that shouldn’t be the case because competition is abundant with other writers, and the industry is subjective. Several famous books were rejected by agents and publishers, but if you’re determined not to take NO for an answer, your dreams of getting published will come true. As mentioned before, there are several indie publishers who accept submissions from un-agented writers; it just takes some time/research to find out where to submit.
Landing an agent is huge because an agent can get your foot in the door with one of the major publishers, but I learned even with an agent, you’re not guaranteed to get published as I experienced that when I had representation and none of the books my agent represented landed a book deal.
What is the best part of publishing a book? What was the hardest part?
The best part of publishing a book is holding the finished book in your hands. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication writing a book and getting published. And when you see the first copy, it’s like holding your dreams in your hands. It’s an awesome feeling.
The hardest part is the dedication. All writers experience writer’s block and disappointment, but you have to be dedicated to your craft, keep writing, keep plotting, and keep trying. Writing a book doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it easy, and it can be frustrating getting your work rejected by agents and publishers. But you have to keep trying!
Do you market your books before you publish them or wait until after?
I think it’s important to market your books before and after you publish. When I have a new release coming out, a month before the official release date I like to post “teasers” of the front cover design and back cover blurb on my social media sites to let my followers know that a new book is coming. It helps bring awareness to the project when people can “see” what it is. I also include the link to my website so a follower can get more information about the project.
As the days get closer to the release, if it’s a picture book I’m releasing, I like to include a couple sample pages in my posts so they can get introduced to my characters. If it’s a chapter book for older kids, I will include screen shots of the first couple pages along with the front cover/back cover blurb. It’s all about creating interest, because you want your followers to be excited to read your new material.
Once the official release date happens, that week I like to send an email blast to my contacts I’ve accumulated over the years with a press release that has pertinent information such as a synopsis, my author bio, and also places where the book can be purchased. The first week is crucial in getting buzz for your book. And once it is released, I then post on my social media the different links where the book can be bought.
Once a book gets published the author’s job is not done. An author has to be comfortable marketing and promoting a project, because how else will people know about your work. You have to constantly promote your book via all avenues – author website, email contacts, and post on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). It’s also good to interact with your followers when you build your reader platform. Ask followers if they bought the book could they post a review (reviews are helpful in getting buzz), ask for feedback, but most of all, if a follower loves your book, they will most likely share that on their social media pages.
Do you mind telling us what future plans you have as an author in addition to releasing more books?
I expect 2017 to be a big and productive year for me. I am self-publishing and releasing a picture book called “Sebastian’s Moon,” and a children’s activity book “The Little Writer,” that teaches kids how to write their first picture book. I’m excited to finally have these books released this year because I wrote them several years ago.
I’ve also been learning how to write screenplays. One of my goals is to have a book get adapted into a movie. Learning to be a screenwriter has been fun and a challenge, because it’s so different than writing a book and a whole different format process. I’ve adapted my children’s novel “The Misadventures of Mel B” into a screenplay (it was published in 2012), and it’s about a girl and her BFF who discover a land of dinosaurs. It was an awesome experience turning it into screenplay format and imagining the book come to life in movie format! I’ve been pitching it to agents and producers, and hopefully I can get the screenplay optioned and developed into a live-action/animated movie.
Book writing wise, I’ve been plotting/developing a children’s novel series about little superheroes that hopefully I can start writing this year. In 2016 I wrote my first fiction novel for adults, and it was nice branching out into a different genre. I’ve been pitching that book to agents/publishers, so now it’s a waiting game to see what happens with it.
Is there anything you would like to say to aspiring authors?
My advice to all aspiring writers is don’t get discouraged, have patience, and read other writers who write in your genre.
Don’t get discouraged when you experience writer’s block, all writers experience that. Take a break and don’t try to force your writing because forced writing doesn’t allow you to capture the essence of a story properly. Also, always keep a journal handy to jot down notes, because ideas usually pop up at the most random times!
Don’t get discouraged if your books get rejected, it’s part of the learning process. Don’t get discouraged if your work is criticized, and use that criticism to make your work better. All first drafts are not perfect; it’s the revising and tweaking aspects that make a book become great and publishable. And never take NO for an answer. If you’re determined to get published, make it happen, work hard, research your options, and most of all keeping trying!
Patience is the biggest thing you need if you pursue a writing career. Writing takes long hours, days, and years. I’m still learning as I go, so don’t ever think you know everything, there is always something new to learn.
Reading other authors/books gives inspiration, helps develop your craft, and gives you an insight on what it takes to get published. Subscribe to writing magazines. I learned a lot of tips and suggestions from writing magazines, and some even have alerts of agents and publishers accepting submissions. Buy a copy of “The Writer’s Market.” It is the most comprehensive book of facts that will help learn about the pitching process, and what publishers and agents are looking for, and what publishers and agents are accepting.
Lastly, you need a big imagination to create new worlds and characters. I always say, “I write children’s books because I never let my imagination fade away as an adult.” Never think your ideas are too far-fetched, because an imagination is a writer’s biggest asset.
For more information visit: www.booksbydavidv.weebly.com