Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Super Star Interviews: Becky Gehrisch

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I'm super excited to be chatting up with the talented children's book author-illustrator, Becky Gehrisch! I'm so inspired by Becky's plunge into independent publishing and her passion for publishing children's books in a way that puts creatives in the driver's seat. Becky is the founder and Executive Director of Bookling Media, an independent press redefining the kidlit publishing industry, book by book! Bookling Media focuses on picture books created by author-illustrators. Becky has an art degree from The Ohio State University. She has served as the Illustrator Coordinator for the Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI chapter. Since Bookling Media’s start in 2020, Becky has built and led the team through the publication of their premiere title, her own Escape to Play picture book, and is now focusing on maturing the company’s supply chain and distribution capabilities. You can enjoy more of Becky's fabulous artwork here!

How fun! Don't you want to escape to play, too?!

Q: Your fun, wild romp of a picture book, Escape to Play, is a delight! Give us the full scoop on this story—inspiration to creative process to finished product!

A: Thank you, Jane! Escape to Play has been a 15-year journey, off and on! When I moved to Delaware, Ohio from the suburbs in 2005, I enjoyed watching my dogs play in the open yard and get into mischief.

I had not touched a paintbrush in a year after graduating from the Ohio State University with a degree in Art. I decided to take a break from fine art and just have fun with a silly painting of my dogs in the bathtub!

The concept slowly evolved into 13 acrylic paintings for the book and the poem to take us through their day on the farm. Each painting took roughly 40 hours to complete and the pages with the text took around 20. You could say it was a passion project!

Silly pups! Naughty pups! Super fun pups!

Q: You live in a rural community in Ohio and spent a lot of time on your grandparent’s farm growing up. How have these experiences living and enjoying the open landscape of the Midwest influenced you as an artist and storyteller? (PS fun fact: I was born & raised in Ohio!!)

A: Visiting both sets of grandparents’ country homes growing up inspired me to choose to move to the country and place the setting of Escape to Play there as well. I found it peaceful and beautiful. My grandfather was a farmer and I enjoyed hearing about farm life from my mom.

Tractors, grazing farm animals, and open fields at sunset slow everything down somehow. Escape to Play shows peaceful scenes but with the juxtaposition of the dogs’ rowdy day. They are outwardly jumping into their environment, as I did internally. The countryside is very alive and vibrant—full of adventure!

There were many times the dogs kept my family on our toes. We would take them to creeks and on walks. We often found they had met a skunk or destroyed something. When my children were little, they got to ride in the combine machine with a local farmer during harvest season. Perhaps not being in the farm industry, I was able to romanticize the profession some in the book. Many of the items in Escape to Play are from past eras—a tribute to my grandfather’s time working the fields.

How totally cute is this logo?! Love it!

Q: Escape to Play is your first self-published children’s book! (Congratulations! Big high five!) Self-publishing requires one to wear a lot of hats—author, illustrator, designer, production manager, sales & marketing rep, etc. How did you balance these varied skills while moving through the self-publishing process?

A: I’m glad you asked this! Because I started Bookling Media, an independent publishing company, I hired industry professionals to assist in producing Escape to Play. I hired a designer and editors and had legal counsel with legacy publishing background to ensure the highest quality.

I did wear a few hats. I wrote and illustrated Escape to Play and worked as the Art Director and Project Manager of the project. Producing my book first in the list was planned to learn the ins and outs of the industry with my own book on the line. My intention with Bookling Media has always been to publish others’ books as well. It is more than just publishing a book; it is also running a business.

I have been involved with the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators since 2015, attending numerous conferences and workshops over the years. I have studied the industry in quite some depth so that Bookling Media children’s books were at the same standard as the highest quality books that one finds in any bookstore.

I also enlisted the help from a business development professional who has helped direct marketing focus and goals. In my experience, making sure that there is a team to produce a book will achieve a well-rounded, high-quality book!

Love the clean book design layout and detailed bordered!

Q: What advice would you give fellow creatives about how to become a book promotion powerhouse? What are your best hot tips for author visits, securing endorsements & reviews and creating complimentary products & merchandise?

A: I feel that networking is key! Being extremely involved in my local SCBWI chapter, and participating in social media writing and publishing groups, has broadened my reach in the market.

Using a crowdfunded preorder campaign helped make the launch of Escape to Play successful. I was able to leverage connections on Facebook to spread the word. My local community was extremely helpful in promoting the preorder campaign. My local library, bookstores were invaluable.

Through networking and simply being brave, you can ask for endorsements and reviews. To receive the best feedback, you really need the best book possible. Cutting corners on editing and design could really hurt your chances of having folks get excited about your book. There are organizations who you can pay for a review and depending on their clout, it might be worth the investment.

Research is also important when it comes to creating complementary products and merchandise. Asking for feedback through newsletters and social media helped me decide what products people would be interested in purchasing. I chose coloring books as the number one accompanying merchandise to Escape to Play because my book has an art history component. Kids can color the pictures from the book as well as the famous artwork throughout the book. For example, they can color a Monet painting or a van Gogh sunflower still life. Find out what theme your book would complement your book and try it out!

Overall, the best tips I could give would be to get involved in your local community, social media community, and especially writing communities such as SCBWI, to gain valuable knowledge on the industry and marketing your book.

Gorgeous! Take me to the farm...

Q: You independently published Escape to Play under the umbrella of your company Bookling Media. Tell us a bit about what’s next for you & your company, and how you see book publishing evolving as more and more creatives dive into self-publishing.

A: Beginning my independent publishing company, Bookling Media, I intend to publish other author-illustrators work who, like me, want full control over the rights to the book. With my team, I plan open submissions this fall for entrepreneurial author-illustrators who want to pursue success on their own terms.

I see self-publishing and independent publishing as two separate things. I can’t speak for self-publishing exactly, but if creatives want to start their own independent publishing companies, I feel that there could be an explosion in the industry. It has slowly begun, and more and more creatives are choosing to hold onto control in all aspects of the book publication process!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: I can’t imagine a better Sunday, than a warm, fall afternoon in nature with my family! A walk through the woods would be ideal. Ending up at a restaurant patio for a meal and grabbing some sweet ice cream afterwards would be perfect.

Thank you so much, Becky, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We can't wait to see what Bookling Media publishes next!