Learning to Trust My Inner Artist Voice
ABOVE: Darcy holds the Portuguese version of Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma, which was “signed” by the puma. That’s his paw print!
In 2014, I was at a crossroad in my creative life. As a creator, I’d sold about eight books over a decade or so to traditional publishers including Harpercollins, Harcourt, Philomel/Penguin, and Arbordale. After a couple years with no sales, though, I didn’t know what to do next. Nothing was hitting. Was I still a creator?
I know what you’re thinking. You’d tell me that I wasn’t writing good books. That I wasn’t writing stories that would sell in “today’s crowded market.”
I almost fell for that emotionally crushing line.
For me, deciding to start my publishing company was a way to avoid creative death. Either I took my own work seriously and brought it to market, or I retired. For this writer, the traditional publishing world smothered my joy and creativity. My opinions didn’t count; my projects were beneath notice; my stories were worthless. As every writer knows, if your stories are worthless, then YOU are worthless. Or as Scheherazade learned, if you don’t have a story to tell, you die.
Instead, I decided to embrace my role as creator. I would try to create my own destiny.
My Publishing Company: Mims House
Instead, I started Mims House to fight that death sentence for my creative life. Writing that sounds melodramatic. And yet, I assure you that it felt that drastic. I worked hard the first couple years because I knew I was fighting for my creative life. I still fight vigorously for my creative life. I am a creator; if I have to bring my projects to market myself, so be it.
I’ve learned to respect my own opinion again. A wise editor once told me that in this uncertain business, you live or die by your opinion. Certainly, I’ve published books that sell poorly. But I’ve also published books that I love which have found readers, who tell others about the stories, and the readership grows. Every day is challenging and fun as I problem-solve the question of how to write, edit, publish, and market a great book.
In the last 15 years, I’ve been a creator of children’s books. I’ve built a collection, a list of books, that delights and informs children around the world. I knew the challenges of this journey, that I would be out of my comfort zone. I’ve confronted questions, uncertainties, failures, and successes. It’s felt like I’m in an endless maze with no map of how to emerge. I’ve been tired, discouraged, out-of-my-depth, but shining in the dark was the promise of stories. I’ve clung to the idea of stories that will lead people in from the dark places, bring them home.
Mims House has published over 60 books, all written by me, which have received an amazing list of awards that recognize excellence:
4 – Starred PW or Kirkus reviews
4 – NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books
4 – Eureka! Nonfiction Honor books (CA Reading Assn.)
2 – Junior Library Guild selections
1 – NSTA Best STEM book
1 – NSSTA Notable Social Studies book
A Little Bit of Dinosaur has been read over 3 million times on the EPIC! reading app; the series has over 3.7+ million reads.
Publishing through Mims House Books has meant that I am an art director. I’m convinced that one reason Mims House succeeds is that I have a vision for the immersive experience of a story, and seek out the best illustrators I can.
Below are my starred review books, illustrated by Kitty Harvill, Peter Willis, John Joven, and Amanda Zimmerman. These fantastic artists create amazing books.
- Wisdom, the Midway Albatross, illustrated by Kitty Harvill, PW starred review
- Pollen: Darwin’s 130-Year Prediction, illustrated by Peter Willis, starred Kirkus review
- A Little Bit of Dinosaur, illustrated by John Joven, starred Kirkus review
- Diego, the Galapágos Giant Tortoise, illustrated by Amanda Zimmerman, starred Kirkus review