indieBRAG Blog Hop!Turning a Cherished Family Tradition into a Children’s Christmas Picture Book

indieBRAG Blog Hop!Turning a Cherished Family Tradition into a Children’s Christmas Picture Book

We’re glad you joined us on the indieBRAG Blog Hop! We’re honored to participate.

Family traditions that are handed down through the years are special to any family — and ours is no exception. As a matter of fact, we are sisters, and we based our children’s picture book, “The Great PJ Elf Chase: A Christmas Eve Tradition,” on an endeared custom our parents started many years ago. The annual ritual of elusive elves dropping brand new pajamas outside the bathroom door on Christmas Eve without being seen or caught was exciting for us when we were kids. The anticipation of the elves’ visit still enchants children not only in our immediate family but in the families of our friends and relatives.

One of our nephews took the challenge of catching a PJ elf to extremes. This particular year, he was determined those elves would not get away! To his parents’ horror, when he heard the “elf squeaks” outside the bathroom door, he jumped from the tub and charged out of the house into the cold weather — stark naked! (Don’t worry…the character in our book wears a towelJ. There have been many giggles in our family through the years as we reminisce about Al’s escapade that Christmas Eve.

So we thought, “Why not write the story? We embarked on a mission of our own — to write a children’s picture book. Another important part of our motivation was honoring our loving and creative parents, who made sure Christmas in our home was always special and based on the amount of fun we had rather than the number of gifts.

Since this was our first picture book, we had no idea how challenging it would get. We knew the story, but we had to find a publisher and an illustrator. In our many, many drafts, we went from writing in prose to rhyme. We’d be rich if we had a dollar for each of the changes we made! We’ve learned a lot along the way, and we enjoyed every minute. You can read about the journey in our blog.

We’re working on another story now — no pictures this time — it’s a middle-grade book. Our advice to those who have stories of their own to tell would be to just go for it! You never know who you might delight and entertain.

The next stop on the indieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop is on December 6th with David Penny.


Join in on the indieBRAG December Blog Hop!

Join in on the indieBRAG December Blog Hop!

ALL-ABOARD-with-medallionWant to meet new authors and discover new books? Join in all during the month of December. Visit indieBRAG for a calendar of events.

Look for our post on December 5th!

A Great Christmas Cause: The Pajama Program’s “One Million Good Nights”

A Great Christmas Cause: The Pajama Program’s “One Million Good Nights”

It’s hard to conceive of the fact that every night over one million children are homeless. According to the Pajama Program’s website, the average age of a homeless person is 9 years. Additionally, over 12 million children live in poverty. These facts are disturbing, to say the least.

We love the idea that “The Pajama Program” wants to help as many children as possible feel special and cozy this Christmas. That’s why we chose to donate a portion of the proceeds of our book sales for  “The Great PJ Elf Chase” to their worthy cause.

Since their origin in 2001, they have provided over three million pairs of pajamas and books to children who are “cold and scared.” With over a million children on their waiting list, the organization’s goal since 2013 has been to collect one million pairs of pajamas and one million books for needy children from 0 to 18 years of age by December 31, 2015. I’m happy to say they are on track to do so!

If you’d like to help “The Pajama Program,” you can click here for details. ‘Tis the season….to help a child feel safe and secure, if just for one night.

Start a Family Tradition: 25 Days of Christmas Books in December

lucy with bookReading and family traditions — what a great mix! We all know that children begin to get excited about the Christmas holiday long before Santa makes his entrance or the birth of Jesus is celebrated. So…this Christmas, start the tradition of reading a holiday book with your children each night before bedtime. But first, decide how you’ll amp up the fun.

The Set-Up

Wrap 25 Christmas books before December 1st. Display the books in a special way. You could stack them next to a holiday blanket or decoration, arrange them from largest to smallest in the shape of a Christmas tree or place them in a wicker basket lined with red or green cloth — your imagination is the only limit.

The Books

Buying 25 books is always an option, but it might break the bank if you try to do it all in one season. Mix in a few books from your childhood for a nostalgic touch. Check out books from the library. Scour garage sales and thrift outlets for books in good condition. Don’t think they won’t love opening books that are from previous years. Remember….these books have been under wraps for several months and will include some of their all-time favorites. Of course, you’ll want to make sure “The Great PJ Elf Chase: A Christmas Eve Tradition” is on the book list!

The Process

Once they have pajamas on and are ready to head to bed each evening, your children will choose one book from the display to unwrap and read. If you have more than one child, and you’d rather avoid disagreements (even though I know your children don’t argue), let them take turns making the choice. This tradition becomes even more special when you pair it with a treat, such as inviting Grandma or Grandpa for a reading, drinking hot cocoa, eating a bowl of popcorn or cuddling under a warm blanket. After a book is unwrapped, the children can enjoy reading it over and over till December 25th and beyond.

Your children will cherish this tradition and probably hand it down to future generations. What’s not to love about that?






Ben and Jack’s Top Ten List for Santa!

Ben and Jack’s Top Ten List for Santa!

Need some ideas for the boys on your gift list this Christmas? Ben and Jack are here to help with their favorites.

  1. Perplexus, Original (Amazon, $16.99)
    1. This is a great thinking activity that kids (and adults) play on their own. Perplexus now has several versions out and they are all great fun.61xU7l07dkL._AA160_41geom+tc-L._AA160_510D2MnfRvL._AA160_
  2. Clue51Guo0lKJiL._AA160_
    1. This one never gets old! I still like playing this as an adult. Remember? Miss Scarlet with the Knife in the Conservatory….da da da!
  3. Mindstorm by Lego (Amazon, $349.95)
    1. Okay, this is a big ticket item, but for those kids who love robotics, this is definitely the way to go. For the kids just getting into Legos, anything Lego will work just fine.
  4. ThinkFun Rush Hour (Amazon, $17.99)
    1. If you don’t have this one yet, and you like those games children can play by 31ZhltIQklL._AA160_themselves, this is awesome. Really makes kids and adults THINK!
  5. Snap Circuits Junior (Amazon, $19.99)
    1. They have larger versions of this, but this is a great starter kit. Such a fantastic introduction to electronics.
  6. Lifetime 1269 Pro Court Portable Basketball System (Amazon, $116.52)
    1. This is a great b-ball hoop for the 6-8 year-old crowd. We still have it as the opposite hoop to play some full court in the driveway. Well worth the money.
  7. Flight High Performance Diabolo Chinese yoyo with Handsticks (Amazon, $23.94)
    1. This is an awesome toy. We just saw Cirque du Soleil in Orlando. They51hVOEvexQL._AA160_  have a group of girls who fantastically use these yo-yos to do extraordinary feats. Very cool!
  8. Ride-On Scooter – Original Flying Turtle (Amazon, $89.95)
    1. This is one of those toys that the entire neighborhood seems to drag out of the garage on a nice day.
  9. Mondo Bloxx Cardboard Brick Block Set (Amazon, $35.00)
    1. Jack and Ben got this when they were little guys. This is still being used for making elf traps and any other barriers for important battles.
  10. Fisher-Price GeoTrax Remote Control Railway (Amazon, $150)This is the best toy we ever purchased for the boys. When Ben and Jack were little, Santa left them the basic set. Every year, Santa sets up the train set but adds on with new track, the Clock Tower, engines, and anything else Santa thinks is cool for the train. It was a great tradition for us. And, as the boys are getting older, the train designs get more complex. Awesome learning going on with this toy
  11. Oh yeah…..Ben and Jack would love it if you61R66rrtlAL._AA160_ 51UOSf39phL._AA160_61vCVWfAhQL._AA160_ get your boys a great book to get ready for Christmas: “The Great PJ Elf Chase-A Christmas Eve Tradition.” Start this new tradition where Santa’s elves bring PJs on Christmas Eve with your family this year. Your boys can use their cardboard bricks to set a cool trap!31khGyZ8erL._AA160_
Promoting Your Kindle Book with a Giveaway on Amazon

Promoting Your Kindle Book with a Giveaway on Amazon

When we published “The Great PJ Elf Chase” through CreateSpace, they encouraged us to put our book into digital form as well as paperback form, so we could sell it  electronically on Amazon. We thought that was a good idea, so we joined the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) program. We have taken Amazon up on the opportunity to offer our kindle book to readers for free for a limited time. Our promotion starts today and ends on Thursday, November 20th….so grab a free kindle-version of “The Great PJ Elf Chase” for the little ones in your lives by visiting our kindle book page on Amazon!

We’re hoping this promotion will boost sales of our paperback and hardcover books, as well. Maybe it’s something you’d like to try with your own book.

Why You Should Do a Giveaway Promotion

A giveaway is a means of letting readers become familiar with the works of authors, especially unfamiliar writers. If customers like what they read, hopefully, they will go on to buy other products, such as the paperback or hardcover versions of your book…or even past and future books. If you give readers a sample of what you’ve written, they just might want more.

How It Works

If your book is enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select program, you can offer it free to readers for 5 days during a 90-day enrollment period. You choose the days to run your free promotion — either one at a time or for multiple, consecutive days. If you want your promotion to begin on a given day, the latest you can set it up is the day before the promotion starts. Unused days will not roll over to the next enrollment period.

What Amazon Gets Out of It

Amazon hopes to lure people to their e-reader devices, thus increasing their own sales. They don’t make any money from the free kindle sale of your book.

How it Affects Your Amazon Sales Rank

You will not earn royalties from your promotion, but you will likely increase your sales ranking on Amazon. Their Best Seller lists are divided into the top 100 paid and the top 100 free. During your promotion, you’ll be ranked on the free bestsellers’ list. When the promotion ends, within a matter of hours, your book enters the paid best-seller ranking, and this helps to get your title out to the public.

Changes at CreateSpace Publishing Company That Might Affect You

Changes at CreateSpace Publishing Company That Might Affect You

As Adele says, “Rumour has it….”. We heard the rumor that CreateSpace was no longer offering their illustration service. Since that would be disappointing news to many children’s picture book authors, we went to the source. Unfortunately, a senior publishing consultant with CreateSpace verified that rumor.

She said, “We discontinued some services this summer in order to streamline what we offer and make it a bit more efficient for our authors and our team. For example, we discontinued the illustration service as well as the children’s book design services.”

She did say CreateSpace can still design interior books that “aren’t necessarily children’s books” and that include up to 30 interior images along with editing services and cover design service.

The book we are writing now is a middle-grade book, so CreateSpace can still design the interior and we can provide the illustrations after working with our chosen illustrator. ­­­­We are lucky enough to have connected already with a great illustrator.

We wanted to pass this on to our readers, as it looks like authors who were depending on choosing an illustrator through CreateSpace will be looking elsewhere.






Website Design Tips for Authors: An Interview with Jessica Zeigler

Website Design Tips for Authors: An Interview with Jessica Zeigler

When we decided to sell our hardcover and activity books online on our own website, we jumped in feet first — the blind leading the blind, you might say.  It was an interesting learning process, to say the least. We enjoyed the learning curve and were able to accomplish a lot with research and patience, but we also became very frustrated at certain points. Time to enlist the help of a friend!

Jessica Ziegler, author and illustrator of Story Tots ( and director of social media design at Vestor Logic (, has been an integral part of making our website run smoothly. What would no doubt have taken us weeks to accomplish, she had up and running in a matter of hours. What a relief that was!

We asked Jessica to share her professional insight on website design with our readers….

1. Is there a specific program you’d recommend to authors who want to create a website for selling their books?

 Any online content management system, like WordPress or Blogger is the way to go. If you are self-hosted (with WordPress), you have complete control over what is on your site. If you use another CMS like Blogger or, while it’s relatively “free,” technically they own your content. Authors take issue with that. If you use one of the free-ish (there’s always a fee for the good stuff!) “drag-and-drop” builders, you will be tied to their system and will pay your monthly fee forever. It’s not easy, often impossible, to take your site out of their system. My preference in self-hosted is WordPress.

2. What types of themes do you prefer?

 I prefer StudioPress themes; the Genesis framework is top notch, well-designed and well-coded. If you have experience with html and php (or are willing to learn), it is extremely flexible.

3. What are some common mistakes “newbies” make when setting up websites?

 If you don’t have experience with building a website, it can be a steep learning curve, even with the newer drag-and-drop site builders like squarespace, weebly or wix. It’s definitely do-able, but it would be a good idea to assume it will take about three times longer than you’d think (or want). Just go straight to the tutorials. They all have them, and they will save you a ton of time. Also, if you can figure out the right question to ask, google will ALWAYS have the answer!

4. We were hacked when we first started our website design. We were told that hackers often get in through plug-ins. Is that true? What precautions can be taken?

 That can be true, although this is not an issue unless you are self-hosted. Not every plugin is solidly coded or frequently updated. It’s not uncommon for someone to build a plugin for a specific need and then wander off, never to maintain it again. When you are adding plugins to your site, look for lots of downloads and the last updated date. If it’s been several months or years, keep looking. It also is extremely important to make sure that you run all plugin and WordPress core updates as they become available. WordPress releases a list of all of the things it’s fixing with each update, which is basically a hacker roadmap.

5. What are the greatest obstacles an inexperienced website designer faces?

 Not knowing the technology and not having the right graphics programs to create the beautiful site you want. If you are interested and want to learn, it can be fun. If it’s just a task on your to-do list when you’d really rather be writing, it can be endlessly frustrating.

6. If an author wants to enlist the help of a web designer, how much should he expect to pay for a basic design?

 It really depends on the depth and breadth of the site needed, as well as the experience level of the developer. A designer may charge anywhere from $50-150 an hour, or they may charge you a flat rate for a site. It can really run anywhere from $400 or $500 to $2500, even for something basic.

7.  When you design a website for someone, how long does it typically take from start to finish?

 If I can get all of the login information, graphics or logos and content the client already has, it can just take a few days.  (Of course, WHEN those few days fall depends on what other projects I have ahead of the new client’s). Usually the hold-ups occur when I can’t gather all of the bits and pieces that I need to get going. It’s also very helpful if the client can show the designer a few sites he really likes; that gives the designer a quick insight into what the client finds appealing.

8. Authors want to sell books on their sites; what would you advise them to include so that the ordering process is smooth for buyers?

 Button links to Amazon, if that is where you are selling your books, is the easiest.  Let Amazon manage your shipping, etc. If you are selling directly from your site or have multiple products, I really like the WooCommerce plugin. They also build themes, but I still usually stick with Genesis as my theme core.

9. What advice would you give to an author who wants a website for book sales?

 Think about your future plans. Will this be the first of many books? If so, you might not want the site design to be too tied to the first book design or cover. Get all of your content in order — a good start is an “about” page, “contact” page, pages for each book and a blog so fans can follow your progress and your story. Your site is more than just a sales channel; it’s an inside look at your process. That’s what fans really want to see. Artists and authors can easily forget that not everyone is creative, and fans find it fascinating and inspiring to see the process in action. Look for sites that you like and think about whether or not those ideas could work well for your site.

10. If someone wants to enlist your services, how can they contact you for information and pricing?

 They can email me at…and with any luck it won’t get buried under all the Groupon deals and Viagra ads.

Books for Boys: Where Are They?

Books for Boys: Where Are They?

Is it just me or do we have a serious lack of quality literature for boys in the middle grades? When I “google” or ask a librarian to steer me toward the best books for boys,  and I have the same titles come up that I saw 30 years ago…Houston, we have a problem. I love “Where the Red Fern Grows” as much as the next guy, but really? We haven’t moved on from that?

It seems that publishers believe all boys love the supernatural. Not so for so many boys that I know. When a battleship with creatures on it explodes or a maze the size of ten football fields with monsters running around is a popular series, it makes me realize why “The Diary of the Wimpy Kid” was so popular. Real boys. Real problems. Real solutions.

And yes, I love a good comic strip, but when parents and teachers are desperate to get a book in a boy’s hand and the only one they are interested in has about twenty words on a page, it’s an uphill battle. The stories that have real plots with characters of depth will turn our boys into lifelong readers.

As we ponder our next book, we realize that one of the best-loved aspects of “The Great PJ Elf Chase” was the endearing young male characters.  It’s clear to us that realistic fiction for the middle grades with boys as the main characters just might be a welcome title to many bookshelves.

In the meantime, I’m glad that “Harry Potter” came on the scene even though he, too, has fantastic ways of doing things.  James Patterson and John Grisham decided to write books for boys. And they are good ones at that. But, that list is a short one when you consider all of the beloved female characters in middle grade books for girls.

What’s your favorite middle grade book that has a boy for a main character?

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 23: Update Regarding Hardcover Books and CreateSpace Publishers

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 23: Update Regarding Hardcover Books and CreateSpace Publishers

We posted a blog regarding our experience with hardcover books and CreateSpace Publishing Company. You can read it here. We said the best kept secret of CreateSpace was that they produced hardcover books as well as paperbacks. Now we’re thinking that the production of hardcover books was probably kept under the radar because it was just an experiment at CreateSpace. They are no longer offering this option.

One of our readers, a fellow author, gave us a heads up, so we contacted a senior publishing consultant at CreateSpace to ask whether or not we’d still be able to order the hardcover version of our book. She replied, “We are no longer offering the hard cover upgrade but we are honoring all current titles that have a hard cover available.” She assured us that we are safe and nothing will change for our ordering purposes – at least with “The Great PJ Elf Chase.”

Most self-published authors of children’s pictures books look for a publishing company that offers a hardcover upgrade. We are disappointed that CreateSpace has dropped this upgrade. It will have a definite impact on our choice of publishing companies for our next children’s picture book.