Many people talk about writing a children’s book, but few actually follow through. And of those who do complete one, fewer still find an audience for their work. Even the majority of children’s books backed by large publishers never catch on.
And then there is Alonda Williams.
With motivation, diligence, and the creative use of technology, this mother of two with a full-time senior-level position at Microsoft not only beat the odds but found the time to play the odds in the first place.
Here’s how Williams took Penny and the Magic Puffballs from a bedtime story she told her kids to a self-published children’s book now blazing its way up the sales charts—even breaking the top 25 in its category on Amazon.
Phase 1: the writer
The story itself was the result of William’s daughter feeling out of place as one of the only African-American girls in her class. “She felt different, especially because of her hair,” says Williams, “So, I came up with Penny and gave her the ‘Magic Puffball’ hairstyle to help my daughter see that something you think is a weakness or insecurity can actually be a superpower.”
The tale grew over the years and Williams often revisited the character, giving her new challenges to overcome. Williams’ own mother encouraged her to publish the stories, but Williams was intimidated by the writing process and couldn’t imagine how she’d find the time around work and parenting. She went as far as writing some notes and outlines, but the ideas sat in a drawer for years.
When Williams’ mother passed away, Williams realized that writing Penny and the Magic Puffballs would be a great tribute to her mother and their relationship as parent and child. She opted to take on the monumental task of self-publishing, knowing full well she would have to serve as the writer, editor, publisher, and marketer for her book.
Phase 2: the publisher
One of the first things to do was find an illustrator to draw Penny. Williams searched online and found a potential match based out of Chicago. She interviewed him via Skype and they collaborated on initial drawings over video calls. She then took the relatively low-tech approach of running the illustrations by a number of the kids in her neighborhood (“my focus group,” she laughs) to get their feedback.
She hired the illustrator in Chicago and, over the next months, she shared all files, including illustrations, cover designs, and layout designs, with the illustrator and also a graphic designer on OneDrive. And she organized all the documents for her book together on Microsoft OneNote.
Williams worked whenever she could, often “into the wee hours of the night.” She says technology saved her: “it was great to have everything in one place and be able to access the project from anywhere—whenever I found a free moment—and even work on it on my phone.”
Phase 3: the marketer
After staying up all Thanksgiving night to single-handedly build out her website, Williams published Penny and the Magic Puffballs on Black Friday of 2013.
“In many ways, publishing the book was easier than marketing it,” she says. But Williams created a social media network to engage not only kids but the moms who actually buy the books. And she shared the compelling message of “it is OK to be different” throughout that whole community.
Williams continues to use technology in innovative ways to reach more children in need of superhero confidence, including a recent book reading via Skype with a second-grade class in Newark, New Jersey.
Expect Alonda Williams to continue making the most of the things that make people unique.