Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Kevin Christofora, author of The Hometown All Stars series which was illustrated by Dale Tangeman. Kevin and Chris have already published in the series, Nick's Very First Day of Baseball, Magic Bat Day and soon to be published, Thank Goodness It's T-Ball Day.
Norm: Good day Kevin and thanks for participating in our interview.
Could you tell our readers a little about your personal and professional life?
Kevin: Hello Norm, thanks for having me on BookPleasures! A little about me…I grew up in a small town called Woodstock, NY. I graduated college and worked in Manhattan for 10 years at places like Revlon, Estee Lauder and Calvin Klein. I was a packaging engineer by degree and working on new product/packaging development. I loved it.
I was fortunate to have been raised in a family business and had an opportunity to leave the rat race and move back to my hometown and carry on the business. Three kids later, I am coaching little league , running a business and being a dad. A little hectic, but priceless. I worked hard, at all my jobs, I like to think I earned some of it, but I know God has a master plan, and the things that keep coming my way are just unexplained and I am thankful and grateful every day for my family and our health and the ability to help more kids than just my own.
Norm: Why did you choose to write children's books concerning learning baseball techniques?
Kevin: I am still adjusting to my new career. I laugh when people call me an author. I didn’t grow up ever thinking I would be. And sometimes I still feel awkward, but I can’t deny it with two books done and the third coming soon.
So now I am owning up to it! I am just a dad. I am your average guy, I do normal stuff. I grew up in a family business which taught me many life skills at an earlier age, like cooking and cleaning. I use to work in a meat department and at 16 years old I was telling grandmothers how long to cook their chicken. It is a crazy memory.
After having children of my own and becoming a coach, I found a huge need. While doing my own homework on how to make practices more fun, I found major organizations willing to teach groups of parents how to be better coaches. I loved the fact that someone knew that all these volunteer parents don’t necessarily know how to coach. It doesn’t make it a good experience just because someone is there. We have all seen it.
Yes, we are thankful for the coach’s time, but it wasn’t the best experience. And to no fault of anyone person, the fault lies with the organization/school offering the program. I took classes and brought those classes back to my organization after I became president. It doesn’t matter what sport you coach, all these classes were geared to teaching kids. NAYS is one of the best! (National Alliance for Youth Sports).
The classes were more about learning kid psychology, and learning parent-coach communication skills all from experienced veterans who have had all the same experiences. Not only did I coach the coaches, I coached the parents to show them how to be better sports parents (we all need to learn these things).
Together- I built an incredible little league that grew from 87 to 357 in two years. And you might ask why. The how and the why was the effort to make it a better experience for “everyone” involved. A feather in the communities cap! People bragged that they lived in a town where they care about the kids and offer a great youth baseball program.
If the parents were not happy, they would not sign their kids up. It’s pretty simple. If mom ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy. Funny, but true in sports too. We shortened up commutes, changed practice locations, worked with school activity/concert schedules to avoid conflicts of sibling kids and parents having to be in too many places at once. We had an intelligent and common sense approach to running an organization that no one could argue with. They just kept coming back for more and they brought their friends too.
With all this going on… I was dumbfounded at how many little kids showed up knowing nothing about baseball. Neither did the parents. And it wasn’t just baseball, it was basketball, flag football, everywhere I went.
My wife told me not to be frustrated, that’s why they brought them to me… for me to teach them. During this same time frame…I was reading books to my kids at bed time. I used to fall asleep reading them. My speech would slow and slur, the book would fall on my nose…and my 5 year old son would poke me and say…dad…wake up. LOL.
When you get up at 430 in the morning, 8 pm was considered late!
I said….if I could write a book about baseball the same way maisey mouse writes for little kids, I could teach the game and keep them interested in reading at the same time. Short bedtime reading, educational and fun.
When they showed up to the field, they would know which way first base was and what home plate was. I wanted to write a book about what I did every day on the field. It was fun and we all went home and fell asleep due to good physical exercise. The kids never wanted it to end. The parents would say we have to go.
It’s funny, some parents at sign up say…my kid goes to bed at 6 or 7 and we cant be here too late to break the routine. I just say…it’s okay, just come. Leave when you have to. Once they come….watch out…they never want to leave. Parents are flabbergasted how much they just keep going and find their second wind, and how they all can eat a whisker later than normal time and go to bed so much quicker because they were burning up all that energy. It’s an awesome ‘awakening’ for ‘new’ sports parents.
Norm: What is your writing process in creating your Hometown All Stars series?
Kevin: My process is really to clear a space. Move everything else out of the way, and feel the raw virgin space. I use large sheets of white paper to prepare a vision. I make lots of boxes and plot a story line. I make notes along the way not to forget things later.
close my eyes and walk through my books images and feel the speech,
feel the language. I pride myself in being real and true to what I
would actually say at any moment in the book. Sometimes it is a
battle with editors in preparing the proper speech patterns with
actual terminology when you are in the middle of a sports field. I
slowly refine and cut pages and conform to industry standards of 32
pages, and making room for legal pages and title pages, and making
sure the entire layout looks and feels right.
It has been a unique process because we are not a traditional story. We are a series of continued experiences, teaching along the way. Through the eyes of the main character, Nick, the story unfolds as he lays out all the happenings in his experiences. We have struggled with keeping all the fun pages and educational pages and keeping it under 32 pages. But, its part of life, we do the best we can.
Norm: What was the most
difficult challenges writing these books?
Kevin: I touched upon the difficulties in the creation, but our main obstacle has been and is still a little today, is breaking down traditional publishing and distribution chains with a sports themed book. Nothing derogatory, but a lot of writers didn’t grow up loving sports. There is a carry over of high school and college so to speak, with intelligent language and English specialists that have not taken an interest in playing a pick up game outside.
These people now dominate the “writing” business and it is hard to get attention. Thanks to Clarens Publishing for taking me on and giving me an opportunity to prove to the world how important sports are in kid’s lives. Besides the obvious benefits of physical activity, The Hometown All Stars series includes important concepts like sportsmanship, leadership, playing by the rules, motivation, winning and losing, teamwork, strategy and more, helping to re-enforce many important life lessons. Now it is my time to tell the world how we can do all this and it all starts with a bedtime story!
Norm: How did you make your connection with illustrator Dale Tangeman work and what do you believe he has brought to your stories?
Kevin: I kind of have a new slogan to share with the world. If you want to do anything, go work in a local deli! I was fortunate to have grown up in family butcher shop, a mom and pop general store. Years later after giving up the corporate life to move home and continue the family business, I got to know Dale as a customer.
We became friends outside of work and enjoyed having dinners with our families and one day I asked him if he would like to help me with an idea. I knew he was an incredible artist, and I was very excited when he liked my ideas. I could see the little kid come out in him when he had tons of ideas to add.
I still have my original idea book, all the words and my stick figures. One day he said, “Kevin, come over I want to show you some things.” I was in tears of excitement and admiration staring at 9 characters and all the development of my ideas brought to life. It still overwhelms me when I recall that day. It was the moment of truth that I knew we really could do this!
Norm: What are your goals and intentions in these books, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
Kevin: Our goals are to develop approximately 20 books. I say that number because I can see that many titles, in my head to share the experience of a little league season. Our intentions are that Nick and his friends are 4-sport kids and play other sports all throughout the year. It’s a healthy lifestyle.
We have a lot of ideas behind a master brand of the Hometown All Stars. That is the foundation and we hope to bring this to an animated cartoons series for kids. There is such a huge void in sports, I feel like we have so much to offer the youth of America. Even more, sports like soccer and baseball spread the gamut of the world, and we already have Spanish and Japanese translations prepared for publishing. More Green, Less Screen.
Norm: What process did you go through to get your books published?
Kevin: The traditional angle is, draft your ideas and submit to an agent. The agent will champion your ideas to a publisher. It is a really tough road. I think I could do a lecture circuit on the different angles of traditional versus self-publishing, breaking through slush piles, and waiting and waiting for the unknown. I was unique and it was 7 years of developing a better idea that was ultimately worthy of publishing. The answer to this is to get published, Write and write well! You will get noticed!
Norm: What has been the feedback pertaining to your book and particularly the reaction of parents?
Kevin: Overwhelmingly awesome! Everywhere we go we have found praise. All the industries and institutions…from Libraries and librarians, school teachers, sports and healthy lifestyle instructors, Ceo’s who have bought a case of books and donated them to children’s hospitals, other writers and peer groups, and the general press.
I feel the gatekeepers are the ones I have to impress. If mom and dad don’t like it, the kids will never see it. And in our books we offer free baseball cards to any kids who send me a picture or drawing with their favorite part. Those are my favorites and true fans. No words can describe that approval!
Norm: What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer of these children's books?
Kevin: Everyone says the journey, now I appreciate that. In all the industries I have ever worked with in, there is no other field that I have ever felt so supported from. Every writer is trying to help every writer around them. Everyone wants to help another person get their book, their story published. My experiences are multifaceted, and I certainly would not be here if I didn’t get a ton of help along the way. That is my best memory of the entire process.
Norm: From your own experience, what advice do you have for aspiring writers of children's books?
Kevin: Do your homework! There is so much information available at your fingertips in this day and age. Done be stupid. You can’t be a writer or author if you don’t read, research and be dedicated to your craft. It is an art, and there are no shortcuts, if you want to gain the respect of the people who make a living in this field. Be honest with yourself, and don’t give up if you believe! There are many opinion’s out there, go find the one you like!
Norm: What are you working on next?
Kevin: Next, in book 4 we are on hold, we are waiting eminently for a major MLB person to sign on and participate with the books. We don’t know where it will land, we may script a new character into the book, or even possibly a development with a cartoon series in an animated studio with all the characters. This April of 2016 has lots in store. I don’t even know what is next, but I am prepared for any direction. It’s a good game of chess and having alternate moves.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
Kevin: I always promote your local book store. We are in the major distributors, local book stores can order it if they don’t have it. I am a big proponent of buying local and keeping the store that supports your community in business. Our WEBSITE, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine retailers.
Norm: What are some ways in which you will be promoting your books?
Kevin: I have a great fund raising program, where we sell books at cost to organizations, and they add to registrations or just flat out sell. Any unused books, we buy back. No loss. I think it is awesome to help spread the efforts of more green, less screen.
The blog on my website is incredible. I have incredible new help from Mugsy PR. They have helped create a great image and the content is so useful and what I would declare as normal and useful. Many new parents are feeling their way. Here they have a chance to see how other parents handle similar situations or conquer the time management with kids and activities and bedtime. We have found many repeat visits, which helps reassure that the content is good. Who doesn’t want 6-6minute snack ideas? And healthy ones at that!
I am building a platform of followers and believers. I have many reviews, but never enough. I need more reviews on amazon to help boost my ratings to be seen more. I am constantly trying to get to the next step.
My publisher, Clarens, has given me the world, they have got me places I could never get to. I am so grateful for that. However, I am on my own when it comes to building sales. I really want to be at a little brown or scholastic and have the ability for them to get my books in front of millions of kids. I try every day, but I don’t have the networks they have.
Also-lastly… Libraries. Everyone thinks I am crazy. I am trying to get my book into as many libraries as possible.
I want to have a chance to get to more kids. Help more kids. I have run a Library special. Buy book 2 get book 1 free. I offer all books half price if they already have one in the series. If there is a demand, the library will order it (from wherever they order from) and put it in the library catalog system.
That is the best scenario. It doesn’t cost the person anything to read a book and the library buys it and I get a sale to show the major publishers that it is working and people believe in it.
I work on this every day, every night, trying to hit a new library all the time. In my heart, I just feel that selling a book to one family, one kid is great. But selling a book to an institution where it could reach 2 or 200 kids, it is just that much better. Why wouldn’t I want to be in libraries?
I am willing to take help in any direction, and grateful for all the opportunities that pass my way.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors