Sheri Fink is amazing and whimsical! After our talk, I couldn’t get her stories out of my head…not only the stories she wrote but also the story of her author journey. There is no other word for it but inspiring…In this lovely conversation, she generously shared so many stories of how she did, what she did…
Read it to be inspired!
I was looking at your website and it was amazing to see what all you have achieved! You had a corporate career and then you decided to just leave it and get into writing children’s books. How did that happen?
You know, it’s funny… I didn’t just decide, the Universe kind of decided for me in a way. I will tell you my story.
Growing up I wanted to be a writer, a teacher, a mother, a princess and a mermaid! Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any careers at that time in the corporate world that filled all of those requirements.
I grew up in a small town and had humble beginnings. My family worked really hard and we had the money for food, but we didn’t always have money for new toys, books, trips and fancy clothes (all those things you think are important when you are a kid).
I was writing stories and books and creating little businesses. I used to annoy my sister so much because even my Barbies had businesses. I don’t know why I was like that, maybe because I recognized that my family could use some money and so I was trying to come up with little ideas. I had a wreath making company, a bracelet braiding company and a greeting card company.
Wow! You had a lot of confidence as a child…
I was introverted by nature, but I was passionate about these things. That’s why when I was doing these things, I was brave.
Then my mom told me that you are going to be the first person in our family to go to college. I didn’t know what it was but based on the way she talked about it, I thought it was important. She said I had to do really well in school in order to get a scholarship, so I put my creative interests aside and focused on school. I did well and got a partial scholarship to college. I liked that so much that I went to grad school and then I landed in the corporate world.
At that time, I was like, “ok, I want the job, the perks, the salary and all the things… the Success, the way I had limitedly defined it as a little girl.”
So I climbed the corporate ladder and I kept thinking that the next job, the next company, the next boss, the next whatever, is going to be IT. Then I was going to feel fulfilled. And I was good at it, so it was great…I was getting rewarded and moving up, but when I got to the top of the ladder, I was like, “wow, this isn’t what I thought.”
I went through some soul searching where I was having this conversation in my head, “Well I am this marketing, corporate robot person but who am I really? What do I really want to do?” Just because you are good at something, it doesn’t mean that you should stick with that forever, especially if you feel like you are not growing and learning.
I had a desire to contribute more… I wanted to make a bigger difference and I tried doing that within the corporate world but it was limiting, and I didn’t know what to do next. It was a kind of a scary time because I had worked so hard to get where I was and I had invested over 12 years of education and everything to get to that point. I was grateful for it but I was hungry for more.
During that time, I received the gift of adversity. It’s something that I like to ask kids (during school author sessions), “Did you go through a time, when everything is going wrong and then it gets totally worse?!”
I was being bullied in the workplace and I didn’t know how to handle it. I had a lot of shame about it and I am a kind of a natural cheerleader… I feel like cheering for people and saying, “wow, if you can do something, maybe I can do it, too.” But not everybody is raised like that and I just wasn’t equipped to handle that, so I tried everything…I read books, talked to HR, talked to the person…I tried everything that I could do and nothing made it better. So, one day I was driving to work and I was crying. I was bawling in the car…I just didn’t want to go. My mom, most of the time that I was growing up was a single mom and she raised me not to run away so I didn’t think I could leave.
I cried, “Help me! I will do anything to make this situation better,” and at that moment an idea came to me about a little rose in a weed bed who is bullied by the weeds because she is different. The story just wrote through me in the car on my way to work (luckily there were a lot of stoplights) and nothing like that had ever happened to me before, when I was writing as a kid I was always thinking really hard about it, but in the car, it was as if I wasn’t thinking at all, all I was doing was just trying to capture it.
When I reached my office that day, I put the story away but I decided that ‘one year from today I will either be working somewhere else, doing something else or working for myself.’ I didn’t really connect this decision to the story at all…I just thought that of it like a big emotional release of some sort. I also didn’t know any authors or entrepreneurs or creative people at that time, as I had been in academia and then the corporate world.
A year went by and I asked myself, “I do everything for everyone else, so am I going to keep my word to myself.” I wrote my resignation; I gave them my two weeks and everybody thought I was nuts because I was leaving without another position secured. But I just felt like there’s got to be something more. Leading up to that time and knowing that I was most likely going to leave, I had saved up as much of my income as I could. I didn’t take as many vacations and did a lot of things in preparation for the next year.
I was scheduled to go for a conference a few weeks after I left the job. I went ahead and went to the conference because I had already paid for it and the first person I happened to meet at that conference started talking to me about writing!
I don’t know why… she was talking about things she had written and she asked me if I wrote. I said, “I’ve written business and marketing stuff for the company that’s really boring. I am not a writer.” But she responded, “No, no, no, you’ve got more. Tell me,” and then I remembered that little story I had put in a drawer. I started telling her about it. I was so embarrassed; I was blushing and my whole chest was flushed. I had just come out of that bullying experience and the message I had taken from that was ‘it is not okay to shine… don’t be a superstar, just exist.”
Of course, I know that is not the way to be, that is such a squelching, horrible limiting way to be.
She was so encouraging that I haltingly told her the story of The Little Rose, she said, “I just got goosebumps! You have to do something with that story because my grandchildren need that message.” That’s when I thought…” Maybe it’s a children’s book?!”
As a kid, I loved to write and I wanted to be a writer. The way I dealt with my emotions was through writing and I thought maybe, just maybe I could publish a children’s book which could help kids to plant seeds of self-esteem or nurture them so that if they go through something like what happened to me, then it wouldn’t affect them as much,
By the time I got back from the conference I was obsessed with this idea and was researching what it took to publish a children’s book. Now, this happened 10+ years ago, before so many self-publishing resources became available. I didn’t know anything, so I had to learn everything by doing it. I made tons of missteps but within six months, I had a book and two weeks after the book came out, it became a number one bestseller in its category on Amazon due to word of mouth! It stayed at number one for sixty weeks and it changed everything in my life.
Then I had another idea and another idea and now my 14th idea is going out in September. I met my husband through my author career. I get to do all the things I dreamt of as a little girl, but I get to do them for real now. That’s how I left the corporate world and accidentally became an author.
Wonderful, when you were telling me about your story of a rose in a weed garden…it sounded so relatable and so visual
We’ve all been in situations where we feel like a weed amongst the roses, right? We just don’t think that we are a rose, we think we are a weed. And the other good thing about this story, which I didn’t intend when I wrote it was that, it is a safe way for kids who have inadvertently fallen into bullying patterns to recognize themselves and then to correct that behaviour because they realize the impact that they could be having on someone else. It happens without anyone criticizing them or confronting them directly… sometimes it might be necessary to confront, but that was a nice side benefit…People have written to me saying, “Oh my God, my daughter said that she is a weed in the story.”
Yes, we never know, the power of a story…in fact the more I meet authors, the more I am understanding the power of just letting the creativity flow through you. At that time did you have an idea of the author platform? How did you reach out to people to buy your book?
No, I had no clue… I did have one advantage though, in the corporate world I was in marketing, and one of the things I was responsible for was getting into social media. This was way back, I didn’t even have MySpace, and I skipped right onto Facebook. The only reason I made a profile was because my company needed a corporate account, like a business page and you had to have a personal profile if you wanted to make a business page. So I had to make one and that led to friend requests. I was very uncomfortable with that and I was so cautious because I was writing for a company. I spoke from the perspective of the business.
When I became an author, I followed that same protocol. I was always speaking about myself in the third person like I was some wizard behind the scenes. One day I took this silly picture of me drinking a pink milkshake. I had new glasses and was somewhere where there was a pink background. This was just before Instagram but as I took the selfie with this silly milkshake I accidentally posted it on my author page instead of my personal page. That post garnered more views and responses than any other thing I had ever posted!
That’s when I realized that maybe I could just be myself…my silly, dog-loving, sparkly unicorn, pink-loving person and that would be okay. I don’t have to have this veneer.
After that, I started becoming more comfortable with social media and it actually helped me reach a lot more people. I had people writing to me from Bali…I have never even been there but they found me through social media.
How did you work your way through writing and then publishing your book?
When I first wanted to publish the book, I was so nervous because I didn’t know what I was doing, but what I learnt from my experience in the corporate world is…
you’ve got to find people who are happy and successful doing what you want to do and you got to learn from them.
I had done so many favours when I was in the corporate world like, if I could connect two people who are into something I would connect them and if I found that you love something and I knew the person who was doing that thing, I would connect you just because I wanted to help people.
So when I decided to write and publish my book, I reached out to people I knew and asked, “Who do you know who is an author? Who do you know who has written a children’s book? Who do you know who might know anything about this process?”
If they knew someone, I would send them a little blurb about myself telling them who I was, what I was aiming to do and why I wanted to do it, and I would ask them to send that blurb to that person to see if they might be willing to have a 15-minute conversation with me. A lot of people connected me with someone and those people were so nice and some of them were so generous with their time… they gave more than 15 minutes.
When I talked with those people, I asked them a set of questions-
- What did you do that worked?
- What did you do that didn’t work?
- Based on what you know I want to do what do you recommend?
- Is there anyone else you think I should talk with, and would you introduce me?
I wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to help me. After the meeting, I would send them a thank you note.
And then when my book was available on Amazon for the first time, I sent a personal email to each of those folks who were kind enough to spend time with me saying, “I am so excited! My book’s on Amazon I didn’t think this day would come, but thanks to your help and guidance I have done it! Thank You”
Unbeknownst to me some of those people shared that link with their followers on social media. That got the ball rolling. It was just a very organic relationship based on word-of-mouth growth. You couldn’t have predicted it, but it happened and here I am!
Sure, some people discouraged me from writing and said you are nobody, how can you possibly just decide to make a book one day. Hearing that I would get discouraged because I was so unsure about myself…
but what I have learnt you can’t let other people’s limitations limit you.
They may be trying to protect you from disappointment, but they have no idea what you are capable of… even you have no idea what you are capable of. So doing something in a way no one’s ever seen before, doesn’t mean it’s not going to work. You can refine the process along the way.
I think when you are passionate about something, you attract the right people with that passion.
I can listen to people talk about cars and I am not interested in cars at all but if you have an appreciation that goes beyond the mundane and can talk about it in an engaging way, I can listen to you for hours. I think that’s what happened to me… I was brave and would go and speak in Girl Scout groups and at schools. I was so scared to do it because I really wanted to make a difference. I didn’t want to waste their time or simply entertain them. I really wanted to create value, to make it magical, meaningful and memorable!
I love this because it just shows that if you have a passion and if you want to do something, meet people and ask for help. That’s another thing to learn—ask for help. Yes, people might say no, but that’s ok. You keep asking.
That’s right, and the way you ask is important.
- Respect people’s boundaries
- Ask in a way that is appreciative of them and their time and
- Don’t ask for too much…just 15 minutes
Most people can spare 15 minutes and people were genuinely surprised when I was ready to go off the phone after 15 minutes because they expected it to be a foot-in-the-door technique. I have no technique; I am just so appreciative for the 15 minutes!
That’s wonderful because I connected to USA Today Best-selling Author, Russell Nohelty, on another Facebook group and then I asked him if he could recommend somebody to me. He gave me your name. You know a year ago, I would have never ever asked. That’s the problem, we are afraid to ask in case someone says No….but the answer is No even when you don’t ask…so Ask.
Yes, good people travel in packs. When I have media interviews, I promote it—I send it out to my Fans and I want other authors to have the opportunity to be interviewed—so it’s a win-win-win.
I think a lot of times we are in our heads and are worried about so many things that we don’t take the time to think from another person’s perspective. I always want to add value and people remember that. I know, I do. It’s like the difference between someone who buys one book and someone who buys a book and comes back the next day with a portrait of you, you remember that one!
Yes, you do remember that reader! It’s been 10 years since your first book came out. What is your author platform now and what all have you experimented with?
I have tried so many things.
What I focus on right now is relationship building. I know it sounds super boring but that’s the over-arching philosophy in everything that I do. It’s less of a marketing strategy and more of a be-a-good-human strategy…just a good way to be in the world.
One of the things that we (my husband, Derek Taylor Kent, and I) do that’s very successful during non-pandemic times is event marketing. We do a lot of events that can range anywhere from speaking at schools and writer conferences, attending festivals, signing books at Comic-Cons, holiday boutiques— all kinds of events. We have attended hot air balloon festivals, art and wine festivals…there are many opportunities.
I think what worked for us is thinking about what’s the natural place where our Fans would be.
For us, we have primary categories of Fans. First is the little ones who want the books, and the second is the parents and grandparents who will purchase the books. Thinking about those two audiences and where you can reach them is vital. A children’s book festival is an obvious choice. However, there are a lot of children’s book authors there so you have to stand out even more vs if you go to a wine and art festival; maybe there you will find only one or two children’s authors. Figuring out the right balance that works for you takes time.
It’s so much fun and it’s also a lot of work. When I started doing it years ago, I never thought that I would be doing it five days a week. The work has evolved over time and now we do a lot of social media marketing. We also do a lot of email marketing to people in our Whimsical World Fan Club…we call them VWPs—Very Whimsical People.
The past year we’ve been on focusing on creating more value. During the pandemic, we obviously had to cancel our events. We already had created books that were scheduled to release, so we decided to move forward with the debuts. Then we looked at our wish list of things we wanted to accomplish over time and said, “Okay, now that we have more time, what should we do?”
- Lesson plans that we give away for free to teachers on our website. They don’t even have to put their email address on the website. They can straightaway download it.
- Colouring pages for all the books
- Audiobook editions of all of the books featuring sound effects and music
- Ebook editions of all our books
- Whimsical World Bedtime Stories (as we call our video books). Teachers and parents can either purchase them for a lifetime or can rent a book for a few days. They are very well priced. You get to hear us reading the story and you can see the illustrations of the book. They have music and sound effects… It’s amazing! We want to innovate and do new things that reach audiences and touch them in new ways.
The WhimsicalWorldBooks.com website got a complete overhaul last year which was exciting because it was something we were wanting to do for a while. We just kept going down the list checking everything that we wanted to do!
And what things didn’t work for you?
Paid Facebook ads…I don’t know if I was doing it right. It works if you want to have Fans (if you are trying to grow your following), but it did not translate into additional sales for me. I haven’t tested it in a few years because I didn’t feel it was worth it.
Everything works differently for different people…everyone’s journey and author platform is unique.
Yes, so that did not work for me, maybe it worked for someone else in a different genre, different target market…whatever. I have a background in marketing so I used that knowledge, but it still didn’t work. It was humbling.
Another thing that I don’t feel worked for us was paying to be a part of virtual events. Whatever the reason, virtual events do not result in sales for us. The more in-person events we do, the more lift we see across all platforms and channels. We have books in aquariums, children museums and when we are out and about in those towns, they see a spike in sales! Even if Fans don’t buy from us during the event, they would go and buy from one of those places. But with virtual events, it’s like crickets! I don’t know why, so we decided not to pay to be a part of any virtual event. People have us on as special guests, we donate our time and that’s fine, but paying for it doesn’t make sense.
One thing that worked for me during the pandemic, was doing special appearances in Facebook groups. I did several for ‘InstaGrateful: Finding Your Bliss in a Social Media World’ (my newest book that came out last November). It is all about social media and self-help. It is about taking care of your real-world life so that your social media life doesn’t distract you as much.
Those did extremely well because I could see the people I interacted with. It was a dialogue and it was really fun. After the event, a lot of people would order the book and I could give them personalized signed books.
Another thing that works well is thinking of a premium item that you can offer as a freebie during your pre-order period. The key here is that:
- it has to feel irresistible to your Fans,
- it has to be very well priced so that you still make a profit
- it has to not affect the cost of shipping the book
In the United States, we have media mail for books which is cheaper. Books are inherently heavy and postage is expensive, so if you are only shipping a book, then you can do media mail. But if you print a t-shirt, a magnet, or a metal item, anything like that, such as a pen in the package, then it no longer qualifies as media mail and the shipping costs go way up.
So, for the ‘InstaGrateful’ release, I came up with a flash tattoo. It is in the shape of a lotus which is a symbol from the book and it is golden which matches the book. They didn’t cost me a lot, but they added value to the people who were interested in this book. They loved the idea of a golden lotus temporary tattoo.
You need to know your audience, you need to know what they like, even for your kid’s books, where will the people be…
Yes, when you are designing your author presence on your website and at your events it is important. The cool thing is if you wrote a book in a genre, you are probably a fan of that genre, so you can find things that appeal to you. They will most likely appeal to your readers and if you are not sure you can ask…you can always do a poll on any of the groups on Facebook. People will tell you how they feel.
One of the other things that we do differently than a lot of people, is that we really customize our space. When we do an event, we don’t have just a table or a booth, we create a whole pop-up shop. We have banners, a huge photo backdrop with our brand, our characters, castles, and a rainbow. It’s a photo-op for people. We have big character standees of the Little Unicorn and the Little Dragon that kids want to take their photos with. I am often in costume (which to be fair, I was doing cosplay before I was a writer, so it was a natural extension of what I was already doing, now I just happen to sit in the booth while I am doing it).
We think about how can we make this a really great experience, how can we stand out, how can we be the beacon for our special form of weirdness so that people can find us.
That’s a very important thing you said there…you are already a fan of the genre you write in…the things you would like, your readers would like too!
Yes because I am a fan, I am a purchaser of these items. For example, I always wanted to have a custom lunchbox, and now we have a Whimsical World one. That was on my wish list as a kid to make my own lunchbox and now we have it!
What will your advice be to somebody who is just starting on their author journey?
I would definitely say write the book that you really want to write. I think a lot of times we are influenced by what’s trending, what’s been successful already or what someone else thinks we should write. You definitely should write the story that your heart wants to tell NOW, the big juicy One, the scariest one.
I think I personally came into this learning because I had a time when I was trying to write The Little Unicorn, but it just wasn’t flowing. It was heartbreakingly painful. I had these other dialogues playing in my head and I didn’t know what to do with them. I was frustrated about The Little Unicorn not coming through I spoke to my mom, and she said, “Why don’t you write the other book…the one that you have these ideas for?”
I said, “I can’t do that, I have to produce a children’s book every year” and she responded, “Who says? Aren’t you the person who is in charge of this? You just put it on hold and write the other idea”
I was still unconvinced and said, “I going to disappoint people…”
After that, I put The Little Unicorn on hold and found that she was right! I ended up writing a romance novel called ‘Cake in Bed.’ It was hard and very different writing, but at the heart of it has the same message as in my children’s books—of self-love, valuing yourself and honouring what you deserve in life.
Once I wrote that I had no problem getting back to the other book. The Little Unicorn became a much better book than it ever would have been if I had forced it. That’s why I think letting yourself write the book that you want to write, is the first thing.
The second thing is, find people who are happy and successful doing the thing that you want to do. If they are happy but not successful, then they probably don’t have very many strategies that you could learn from or if they are successful but they are really unhappy, I don’t want to learn from them because I don’t want to replicate a negative experience. But if you find people who are happy and successful, they are probably doing something right and maybe you could learn something from them.
The third thing would be regardless of your genre, hire professional people. You can’t do the book completely on your own. Self-publishing is a very misleading term because there’s almost no book that is truly self-published. I like to call it independent publishing or entrepreneurial publishing because you have to hire skilled people. You need an artist at the very least and if you are not doing an illustrated book, you need a cover designer. You need an editor, a printer and all kinds of things that go into making a professional product if you want to sell it commercially. If you are just creating a book for your family or your kindergarten class and you are not going to sell it, you don’t need to do as much elaborate research into who you are hiring but if you are going to produce a product you intend to sell, you owe it to yourself to create the best quality product that you can create. It’s a learning curve.
If I like some books, I ask the authors for information on who did their printing or illustrations and then reach out to those people. I always ask for testimonials because you want to talk to people who have actually used them in addition to that author to make sure that it wasn’t a fluke. You want to make sure they will get it done on time, that they listen to your feedback, that they actually do what they are supposed to do, they uphold the agreement and they actually have an agreement…. things like that. Doing all this protects you in case something goes wrong. It helps mitigate the risk because there is always a risk…things happen, people miss timelines, sometimes you are not able to finish a project, you want to make sure you have not already fully paid for something. You have got to be smart about hiring people.
Once you do create it, you want to tell people about it. That’s hard too… I feel like many people lie on either end of the spectrum. You get authors who non-stop keep saying, “buy my book, buy my book!” (completely tone-deaf…no emotional intelligence about how they talk about it). It’s just, “my book, my book, my book, buy my book.”
Then you have other authors who are too afraid to tell anyone that they have books.
The middle is a good place to be. For example, I like writing social media posts that have a feeling to them. I rarely post something that doesn’t mean anything to me.
Talk about your book in such a way that people can relate. Tell them…this is what inspired me to write it, this is the mission I am on with this book, this is the inspiring story from the book, give them a sample of it…all of those juicy things.
When you talk about it in that kind of a way, you end up inspiring people to take action to read it, check it out from the library, or whatever the action may be versus turning them off like it’s another advertisement.
There is a finesse to marketing your book in such a way that you don’t feel like you are being that ‘buy my book’ person and at the same time you are letting people know that you have a book.
My husband and I together have 27 titles, it’s out of control! We have our own library. One of the things that challenges us is, “How do you keep talking about the back catalogue, how do you keep that fresh and new because new people will start to follow you at any given time and they don’t know about the old books. So while you are promoting the new, how do you not lose sight of what people know about the great older books?”
One of the things that I have been doing is that I look for national holidays—National Monster Day, National Mermaid Day, National Fairy Day, Social Media Day… you can do searches online and find a holiday related to any topic. Then on that particular day, I post something relevant, like if it is National Mermaid Day, maybe I will post a mermaid picture, if it is National Social Media Day, I will post about InstaGrateful and why I was inspired to write it based on my experiences on social media. So that is a fun way for me to continue to keep the other books present without constantly berating people to buy the book.
I think as writers we tend to not think of social media as part of our art. But why isn’t it? It’s a form of writing. It’s a form of expression. I think of my social media like my own personal magazine. I think of the things I would put in my magazine. I want to highlight people who are doing cool things, I want to share books that I love, I want to talk about this silly ice-cream sculpture, whatever, I want to showcase my dog!
If we give ourselves permission to be more playful and have fun with it, we all benefit from it and readers feel it, too. And it makes it more fun to be on that journey.
I love that! You have really worked at your art and your passion and you have actually got a good balance in your work you know. It’s not just selling its storytelling, it’s about inspiring, motivating and this is so important especially now the with the amount of fear that is out there, for children it is very difficult to verbalize also and if they have books that help them find ways out of it that helps…
Yes, early in the pandemic I was getting notes from parents saying that their kids all of a sudden were afraid of the dark. They wanted to know if I had a book for that. There’s a lot of fear in the world and kids are smart, they can pick up on fear. How do you express to a child when they are afraid of monsters, they are afraid of the dark, in a way that’s relatable to them. I started thinking maybe I could write a book for this and I did.
It’s called The Little Monster and he is afraid of the dark. It’s funny because he is a monster and so he has to learn to have fun and relax in the dark in time for his big birthday party sleepover. He is getting his own room for the first time and he is nervous about being away from his big brother.
The other cool thing about the book which is very innovative is that glows in the dark! The whole idea is that kids will be reading with a flashlight and they turn the flashlight off at the end of each page so that the kids can see which elements are glowing and its also a ninja trick…they are learning to want the light off and they are getting comfortable in the dark and having fun with it!
That’s a brilliant idea! I am sure young kids would love that and the parents would love it because they can switch off the light and show them
Yeah, I hope so, I love this character. I feel like every book that I write is better than the ones before. I have learnt so much and the thing about this series is they are social-emotional learning books, so while the child is reading and experiencing it through the eyes of the character, they are really learning and discovering things about themselves. The books are giving them tools, words to express, strategies to overcome a fear or an embarrassment or whatever challenge they are facing.
I feel really blessed to get to do what I love every day and to do that with the person I love. Being an entrepreneur is not an easy thing especially when you are creating something new from scratch. I am really proud of the things that we have done and those that we are going to do. We have got a lot more cooking behind the scenes. It’s going to be exciting when it’s safe to be around people again!
I am Nishka…the author of this post.
Did you like it? I love sharing stories about writing and writers…because I feel that’s the easiest way to learn about writing…
I call myself an Ideology Empath because I use my empath skills to understand my author’s ideas from their perspective and then weave those complex life-long learnings into an easily understood ideology in their book.
Converting their ideas/learnings into an ideology makes it super easy for my authors to connect to their readers through their book and talks!
I have written 7 non-fiction books in different niches and plan to write many more…
Want some help?
Email me now: Nishka@Nishkawrites.com
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