Shut down negativity whether it comes from social media, friends, family or even yourself! When I first decided to publish my book, some friends and family who heard the idea but not the story itself, questioned how I would sell a book on such a niche topic. After a while, my own inner voice had me asking those questions, as well. The truth is, if you have a good product, everything else will fall into place.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Sorkin.
Stephanie Sorkin is the award-winning author of“Nutley, the Nut-free Squirrel”,“Chocolate Shoes with Licorice Laces”and“Frenemy Jane, the Sometimes Friend”. Her fourth and latest book,“Am I A Unicorn?”will be released on December 8, 2020, to educate children on the value of acceptance and the beauty in differences. A member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Ms. Sorkin donates a portion of her books proceeds to various charities supporting children. Ms. Sorkin has appeared in the New York Times Style Section and written numerous articles for national publications. As a food allergy advocate, she spends her time visiting schools in the tri-state area, discussing the inspiration behind her books and the importance of creativity. Stephanie lives in New York with her husband and 3 kids.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I started writing at a very young age in about kindergarten. I would write poems and line my family up to begrudgingly listen to them.
Luckily, my mom saved everything! It’s really fun to look at things that I wrote as a child because I remember thinking at the time that my writing was so profound! It’s similar to a musician listening to themselves play an instrument at 5. If nothing else, it’s a good laugh.
A little later on, while I was still in elementary school, I began to write stories that my mom would illustrate… I tied the books together with shipping twine, gift wrapping ribbon, whatever I found around the house! My favorite one was called, “Jumpy the Frog in ‘It’s OK to be Different!’” about a pink frog living in a green frog world.
Before COVID, I would bring this book with me to school visits. Looking at the frayed pages and old ribbon, I use it as a reminder of how far I’ve come. It also serves as an inspiration to the students that you have to start somewhere!
What’s interesting is that my story’s theme of being different, acceptance, inclusion and diversity resonates in my current work.
Fast forward 20 years…when I met Hilary Knight, the illustrator behind the infamous “Eloise” books and author of many other books. It was a life changing moment for me, as there was an actual person behind the genius of the pictures. Although I don’t illustrate my books myself, it motivated me in a way that is hard to express…I guess you’d call it my “AH-HA” moment. For some reason, at that point, producing a children’s book had more of a tangible feeling to it, more of a reality, meeting this person behind the magic of children’s literature. Oddly, it made it seem within my reach, even though I was standing before a successful ICON, it still felt like something that I could do!
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Something very interesting happened when I visited a school for children with Special Needs. The kids were mixed ages with the oldest being about 10 years old. **A disclaimer, it was towards the beginning of the school year and it’s possible that the teachers did not thoroughly know each student** The teachers had called me to discuss the proposed presentation and how I should adjust it to the children’s needs and their attention spans. I gave them a rough draft of how the new presentation would go and they were satisfied. It was not exactly what I wanted, but I figured that they knew better than I did. A few weeks later during my visit, I started the presentation and I could tell that the kids were bored and not engaged, as I had simplified things. I decided to go with my gut instinct and went back to my original presentation even though that was not the plan. The kids listened and focused just as well, if not better, than other regular needs students that I had visited. They asked meaningful, insightful questions and had incredible senses of humor! I think that we all learned a lesson that day and thankfully I’ve carried it with me as I continue to visit a variety of schools.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
The biggest challenge that I faced in the beginning was myself! I stood in the children’s section of a popular bookstore, side by side with what may have been thousands and thousands of books. I thought to myself, where do I fit in? How will my book stand out and get noticed? Should I even bother trying? I soon realized that while we are our own harshest critics, we can AND SHOULD be our own cheering squad. Root for yourself, believe in yourself and put in the work so that you get the results that you want!
The next challenge was not knowing where to start. I knew nothing about the publishing industry. All I knew for sure was that I had (what I thought) was a great idea. I took to the internet and started to do research. I knew that I would probably have to do things in an unconventional way, but that was O.K…because I was setting my wheels in motion. I was starting and without starting, well…nothings going to happen.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest moments happen during school visits! They say, “kids say the darndest things”….well, you cannot imagine what comments I’ve gotten during and after my presentations. Kids have volunteered information about their dad sleeping on the couch with reasons why….to how their mom said that their tooth fairy is cheap and likes to spend their money on cigarettes. I have learned that I need to keep the kids on topic, so after having a few “too much information” (TMI) moments, I now have kids write their questions on a post-it in advance and the teachers check them over to make sure the questions are relevant to the presentation.
Also, when I was first starting out, literally the first week that the books were in my hands…I also made a few mistakes when signing books, as I didn’t ask for the spelling of what seemed like obvious names. I learned quickly that I shouldn’t assume that BOB is spelled BOB, for example. My advice to authors would be to always have the customer write their name down for you so that there are no mistakes. This isn’t exactly a funny mistake, but sometimes you have to laugh these things off.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now, I’m working on some exciting projects! Since my latest book, “Am I a Unicorn?” is now released, I have time to get back to creating and perfecting my new material. I’m working on a book about friendship with a unique perspective. I’m also looking to get a poem about writing published. Doing school visits with Zoom and Google Classroom have also kept me very busy!
Last but not least, I’m in the process of selecting charities to receive a portion of the proceeds from “Am I a Unicorn?’. I’m researching different organizations that I’d like to get more involved in. There are so many great ones, it’s hard to decide.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
In my story, I discuss a term in the book’s foreword. It’s a term that I coined called a YOUniform. I go through examples of what it is (qualities that make you who you are like courage and kindness) as opposed to a Uniform, that you wear. The kids are initially surprised when they hear the term as they assume that I’m referring to clothing. Once they grasp the concept that a YOUniform is what you are made of, it opens up the floor for a very eye opening conversation. By sharing this term before the story actually starts helps the kids navigate the books theme.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
I hope that readers take away many things after reading my book.
First, I’d like them to realize that we are all different and that we should celebrate each other’s unique qualities. Next, I want to remove the negative connotation attached to being different. Instead, we should empower those with differences as being one of a kind, unique and special! Most importantly, I’d like readers to walk away with the knowledge that there’s nothing more important than self-acceptance and self-love. In my book, after the unicorn loses its horn, it goes through a series of emotions. First, they want to fix the horn…next they try to prove that indeed they are a unicorn, even without their most distinguishing feature. Ultimately, the unicorn accepts themself, which is so important! It’s nice for others to like you, but we have to love ourselves first!
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.
1-Write what comes from the heart. Never write to satisfy trends in the marketplace or what you think the public wants to see. Write from the inside out and you cannot lose. When I wrote Nutley, it was just a story that I knew that my daughter needed to hear. Beverly Cleary once said, “if you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it” and that’s just what I did.
2-Shut down negativity whether it comes from social media, friends, family or even yourself! When I first decided to publish my book, some friends and family who heard the idea but not the story itself, questioned how I would sell a book on such a niche topic. After a while, my own inner voice had me asking those questions, as well. The truth is, if you have a good product, everything else will fall into place.
3-Don’t set a time limit or time line. Some books will take weeks to complete, while others may take years. Just as we shouldn’t compare our children and the milestones that they reach, we cannot compare our work. Although it’s hard, we also need to be mindful in comparing the success of our different projects. Some books may not have the commercial popularity but can still have an incredible impact which can still be very rewarding.
4-Leave your ego at the door. You created something that you love. You worked hard and gave it everything that you had. Many people will leave positive reviews, but you’re bound to get negative reviews too. Don’t take them personally. Some authors even try to defend themselves if they feel that the negative review was unwarranted. Just remind yourself that writing is subjective. No two readers will see the same thing. Let that sink in and move on.
5-Don’t let one successful project go to your head. Enjoy it but even accomplished writers have to continue to work on their craft. I love the Maya Angelou quote “You can’t use up creativity, the more you use, the more you have.” Keep growing, evolving and developing as both a writer and a person. Practice, even if you feel that you are an expert!
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
One habit that helped me become a great writer is that I finish what I start. I’m extremely disciplined and patient and will edit something until it’s perfect. Talent is just as important as dedication and work ethic. When I wrote one of my first articles for a children’s publication, the editor asked me to change the story from past to present tense. I went through word by word, which was tedious. I had agreed to do the article and I never go back on my word. Also…I love what I do, so no amount of hard work is too much.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I’ve always been a big fan of Shel Silverstein. His books have transcended time and generations of readers. Some of my favorite moments include reading his books to my children, just as my mom read them to me. I love how whimsical his poetry is and draw inspiration from that. I love to give my readers something unexpected, just as he gave me , as a wide eyed, curious child.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’ve already started a really positive movement of my own, as I donate a portion of the proceeds from my books to charities that benefit children like F.A.R.E. , Soles4Souls, The Pacer Center for Bully Prevention and The Garden of Dreams Foundation! I’m very proud of the impact that this has had to date with the help of my readers.
If I were able to use my influence a step further, I’d love to follow in the footsteps of someone like Dollly Parton, who has created a gifting library that has donated almost 150 MILLION books to children! Books have the power to change the future generations and knowledge is something that cannot be taken away from you, so the thought that there are children without access to such books is heartbreaking. Even with Ms. Partons celebrity status, I am sure that this accomplishment was no easy task. I hope that my influence can someday mirror something similar, even if it’s on a smaller scale.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Readers can find me on Twitter and Instagram
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!