Today I’m interviewing the author of the award-winning Guess What series for kids whose unique approach to publishing involves running art contests for kids! Please welcome the highly accomplished, think-outside-the-box writer and publisher, Nancy O’Neill, to the Reading Room.
Q. Hi Nancy. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your books.
A. Hi and thanks for having me! I live in sunny Southern California but grew up in freezing North Dakota. Although I’ve always been creative, becoming an author was never in my plans. However, I live by the philosophy that if you keep your eyes open, sometimes the best opportunities will be right in front of you. What you do with them is the key.
I actually stumbled into publishing when I talked my way into an editing job for TV Guide back in the mid-80s. After working on the Los Angeles Edition for five years, a relocation gave me more opportunities in other industries where I continued to use my writing/editing skills for company newsletters, website copy, short stories, and poems for greeting cards. It wasn’t until our son was born in 1995 that I started writing children’s stories. That was long before self-publishing was mainstream, so I submitted the manuscript to several dozen publishers, to which most responded “It’s not right for our list.”
In 2012, I wrote and self-published my first Guess What book, Guess What is on Grandpa’s Farm? I wasn’t planning on doing a series but after thinking about how often little kids ask, “Guess what?” I decided the question was perfect to build a series around.
Four books followed in the next three years and in 2016, I also published a coloring book to go along with the series. I’m happy to say that two of my Guess What books have won awards but I attribute much of that success to the illustrations done by Kids Around the World whose artwork is featured in my books. (See below for more about this!)
Guess What books are written in simple, four-line rhyming clues that describe people, places, and things around a specific theme for each book. After hearing or reading the clues, turning the page reveals a colorful illustration to let the reader know if they guessed correctly. Many of the clues include fun facts which make the books a great learning experience also. All of the color illustrations are done by Kids Around the World whose artwork was selected through a contest.
Q. Please tell us something about your greatest success and your latest success.
A. My greatest success in life has been raising our son, but as far as being an author, success comes in so many different forms, and most of the time it has nothing to do with money. Because Guess What books are written in thirteen separate rhyming clues that describe different objects, I wasn’t locked in to one art style throughout. For each book, I ran a worldwide kids art contest looking for specific illustrations to go with my text. Seeing such amazing artwork from kids all over the world was something I wasn’t prepared for. Picking just thirteen that I needed for each book was very difficult since so many were exceptional. It’s the kids’ illustrations that make the books so unique.
After completing each book, I was often able to connect with many of the young artists and their families on a more personal level. I learned, in some cases, that being featured in one of my books had changed their lives. Some have gone on to illustrate for other authors or are applying to art colleges. A few have won other awards. And for many of them, winning a spot in my book was the boost of confidence they needed to believe they were talented. So I guess one of my greatest successes is that I’ve been able to give young artists opportunities they may not have had, especially during a time when so many schools have cut their art programs.
Q. That is one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever heard in this business. Can you tell us about your biggest challenge as a writer?
A. I’m a very weather-driven person. I need warm weather and sunshine to feel creative, energetic, and motivated. When it’s the opposite, I don’t always feel like working on a book or any other creative project. Luckily, so far, it hasn’t affected any deadlines but I always give myself plenty of time on each book, because one of the worst things any author can do is rush the creative process. (I guess you can see why I like where I live!)
Q. What are your plans for the future?
A. I’m working on a commissioned, custom book for someone, which includes turning real photos of their child into colored illustrations to go along with the story I’ve written about the child. I never realized just how long that art process would take but the client doesn’t have a deadline so that’s helpful.
In addition to that, I’ve written my first adult suspense novella, Her Way Out, which will be available in November. I’ve really enjoyed the process of writing adult fiction and may start working on a sequel, but honestly, I don’t have any firm plans yet. I love new experiences so I might run into another HA (happy accident) which may take me in a totally different direction:)
To learn more about Nancy O’Neill, her children’s series, and her soon-to-be-released adult novella, you can follow her on Amazon and social media.
Guess What Books: www.guesswhatbooks.com
Her Way Out: http://www.onedotenterprises.com/my-books.html
Follow Nancy on Amazon: Amazon Author Page