In the hustle and bustle of daily life, it's often easy to disconnect from the world around us. However, the moments we sometimes consider mundane, like purchasing an item at the store or hopping on a city bus, often reveal hidden depths of history (and meaning) when you dig beneath the surface.
This sentiment of finding inspiration in the everyday drives FriesenPress-published author Susan Harris. Little Copper Pennies is a perfect encapsulation of Harris' philosophy: bringing the story of the (now defunct) Canadian penny to life through interviews, research and personal recollections, Harris weaves a history that's both pragmatic and heartwarmingly nostalgic.
Following self-publishing the Little Copper Pennies general reader with FriesenPress in 2012, Harris quickly found her audience: soon there was a children's version of the book (Little Copper Pennies for Kids) and both versions were picked up by traditional publisher Borealis Press in 2014.
We spoke with Harris about adapting a general reader into a children's picture book, obtaining media coverage, Little Copper Pennies' journey through traditional publishing and much more!
FriesenPress: Tell us about the publishing journey of Little Copper Pennies.
Susan Harris: While Little Copper Pennies was being published at FriesenPress in 2012, a teacher-librarian friend remarked that younger readers will not be able to be enjoy the book, which was originally written for adults and older students. It took three weeks and much research in to language and learning styles for elementary age to write the Little Copper Pennies for Kids picture book manuscript. My teaching experience helped, although I am trained for high school.
FriesenPress released Little Copper Pennies on October 25, 2012. Both books branded under Little Copper Pennies sold thousands in less than a year. This led to both books being picked up by traditional publisher Borealis Press in 2013, who re-released the books in 2014.
FP: Little Copper Pennies for Kids was your first children's book, but you have written several other novels; were there any challenges you experienced when bringing LCP to life as a children's book?
SH: There were several challenges, but I'd say my biggest challenge was thinking that I had to summarize Little Copper Pennies for the kids' book. How does one distil 33,700+ words into 250? After two weeks of research and drafts—I left the project alone. I came back on the third week with a fresh vision and concept. Adapting your book as a children's book is not a summary of the adult version.
FP: In your opinion, what are the ingredients of a great children's book?
SH: Many factors contribute to creating a great children's book. You need an idea, defined age demographic and an understanding of the reading level. The cover must be attractive and visually appealing; font type and size are also important.
FP: Does your background as a schoolteacher influence your writing style?
SH: Without a doubt, my 12 years of teaching high school are a treasure. I hold a post-graduate diploma in Education, and the depth of knowledge and training gained (such as Reflective Thinking), along with experience in the classroom, all converge in my writing. My books depict these in the choice of language, objectives, practical takeaways, fun facts and activities. Lesson planning skills are particularly helpful—set inductions, introductions, main points in the body, conclusion, summaries, and transition lines. Research is non-negotiable and fact-checking is imperative.
I write for the same reason I teach. To create new knowledge and paradigm shifts. For me, the end of writing is to change a life for the better.
FP: Your writings are often called inspirational by readers. Coupled with your background as a teacher and speaker, what advice do you have for aspiring authors? How do you inspire yourself?
SH: Many have told me that I am an "encourager" and that I listen well. My advice to aspiring authors is to write in your field of specialized knowledge. If you can't identify where you are strong, ask a friend who knows you well or take a test on the Internet. If you still feel uncertain, claim an area of interest and research that area until you feel confident that you can talk about it credibly. The most trivial subject can be made fascinating—the secret lies in crafting sentences and using words that evoke pictures and emotions.
I write what I'd like to read and sometimes can't. One such manuscript sits in my hard drive: a book for teenage girls I wrote to capture what I had wanted for my daughter, but did not find in one book.
What I’d like to underscore is to look around you—and within you—with new curiosity and fresh eyes. Don't dismiss anything as mundane. Press in through the thorns, claws and barriers, and find your story.
FP: You've had great success in promoting your book on local television. Are there any techniques you can recommend for authors looking to obtain some local coverage?
SH: Initiate contact. Pick up the phone or write an email. It's that simple.
Honestly, all I did was to send an email to [local news station] CTV. I received a phone call within hours and a follow-up email that my request had been forwarded to other CTV stations in the area. Television interviewers look for unique subject matter, enthusiasm, the ability to speak for 4 or 8 minutes, and strong verbal communication. I found it helpful to memorize my kids book and the facts for the adult book. If the first interview goes well, you'll be invited again, so take it seriously and put your best self forward.
FP: What are some new projects you currently have in the works?
SH: I've written a book for teen and pre-teen girls but I'm not sure when I'll release it. I have thoughts of writing for corporate women, inclusive of women in any workplace, but it's still in the idea stage. I created the 1-Minute Prayer on Facebook in 2014, where I write a prayer daily, so that's an ongoing project. I'm currently employed full time and 1-Minute Prayer is the focus, but I may contribute to the odd anthology if the theme is appealing - until my time frees up.
Thanks to Susan for taking the time to speak with us. You can purchase Susan Harris' books, including Little Copper Pennies, on Amazon. Stay in touch with the author online here: