When self-published author Sonia Panigrahy went looking for children’s books that featured a young girl superhero protagonist, she was in for a surprise. Nowhere could she find a book for young children that realistically identified females—especially ones of color—as intelligent, physically tough, brave and adventurous. Disappointed that girls continue to be excluded from the heart of the superhero story, Sonia set out to create her own.
The result is Nina the Neighborhood Ninja, an illustrated book for children ages 3-6, about an everyday girl superhero who uses her brain and her muscles to complete rescue missions. Through the book’s narrative and interactive questions, young readers are encouraged to recognize that the traits of being smart, strong and speedy exist within themselves. Sonia’s hope is that young girls will find this book to be a positive affirmation that they too can be superheroes.
Why Be a Self-Published Author?
Given the inspiration for her book, Sonia wanted to ensure that she had artistic control, especially for the gender and race of Nina, the book’s main character. For this reason, she decided to self-publish. Explains Sonia, “Given the lack of diversity in traditionally published books, I felt more confident that self-publishing would result in a book published in the way I intended, that appealed to a new demographic majority that the children’s publishing world has been stubborn to reflect in their books.”
A Spanish edition of the book, Nina la Ninja del Vecindario, was also published, and both the English and Spanish editions are available on Amazon in paperback and hard cover. The English edition is available on Kindle as well, as many children are proficient with tablets and other devices. “However, my book is often given as a gift and for that reason my customers prefer the physical book,” Sonia acknowledged. The book is also available via IngramSpark, meaning it is sold on other online retailer websites and can be ordered by brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries.
Figuring Out the Legal Aspect of Self-Publishing
Along with building a publishing business come the legalities. Sonia says that figuring out the legal aspects of publishing was the most challenging step of her self-publishing journey. She had to set up her company in New York State, create contracts with the illustrator, and figure out how to do copyrights and trademarks. “1106 Design recommended a book called The Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook, by Helen Sedwick,” divulged Sonia. “This resource helped me understand the legal considerations of self-publishing, as well as some basic business concepts. I created a checklist to help me manage this project in a way that made me feel more confident.”
Working on the legal aspects of her business might have been the most challenging stage of self-publishing for Sonia, but the easiest was when she could “sit back while 1106 Design figured out the layout and the technical specifications of the images with the illustrator. I would not have known how many images I needed, what size, and how to do the text layout with the images on each page, including the front and back book covers.” 1106 Design worked with Sonia from start to finish, from editing to uploading the final book files to IngramSpark and CreateSpace, along with hand-holding throughout the process. “It was immensely useful to have guidance along with way with the technical aspects of book publishing, such as communicating with my illustrator,” says Sonia. “I also appreciated that 1106 Design was clear about what they were not able to advise me on, so that I knew what other expertise to seek.”
Based on her experience with Nina the Neighborhood Ninja, Sonia recommends that authors make a checklist of the creative, legal, business, marketing and financial steps involved in self-publishing. “There are so many steps to self-publishing that it could be easy to find it overwhelming,” Sonia cautions. She advises authors to arrange the steps chronologically on the checklist. In doing so, the impact of a delay in one step on all the subsequent steps is clearer. Sonia cites a couple of examples: the ISBN must be purchased before the book gets printed, and a website, social media and other promotional activities must be well underway before the book is released.
More Advice for the Self-Published Author
When asked what other advice she might have for authors who are thinking of self-publishing a book, Sonia says, “It became important to me to be honest about the things I did not know and to commission others to do the work. Be open to asking for help.” Sonia published Nina the Neighborhood Ninja while working full-time. Not only did she lack the time, but she lacked the expertise to do most of the work to self-publish a book and produce the high quality of work that professionals are able to provide. “Every self-published author should take the right steps to have their book look just as professional as a traditionally published book,” Sonia emphasizes.
She also has some advice specifically for authors of children’s books. “Hire a professional illustrator and have a good contract,” Sonia advises. “The images are what grab the attention of both the kids and the adults. Make sure your book doesn’t get passed by because the illustrations look like they were done by an amateur.”
Marketing Nina the Neighborhood Ninja
Sonia is actively marketing the book. Indeed her website shows a long list of readings around the New York City area, and features some of the beautiful illustrations from Nina the Neighborhood Ninja. She hired a person with a background in children’s publishing to help get reviews, as reviews are helpful in gaining credibility. In addition, she reached out to bookstores and organizations to get more exposure and distribution. Sonia does her own social media, but thinks it would be helpful to have someone who specializes in social media and public relations to get the book more exposure to the right people.
Sonia’s long-term plans include building a business around Nina, along with recognition of being a prominent author with widespread distribution. “I would love to see the book grow into a series, with merchandise and an animated film,” she smiles. Sonia feels honored to have been asked by her readers if she will publish more books, and says that when the time is right, she hopes to do it again.
Nina the Neighborhood Ninja / Nina la Ninja del Vecindario
Author: Sonia Panigrahy
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Author website: www.soniapanigrahy.com (Activities for children available for download on the website.)