This week Ali and JoDee chat with Vicky Weber, a former elementary teacher and successful author. Together they’ll discuss how being a teacher shaped Vicky’s path to becoming an author, the transition from teacher to full-time author, and the journey from self publishing to being published by Disney and Penguin Random House.
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All teachers are natural innovators, entertainers and problem solvers. They dream of growing old into the profession, teaching their kids kids. But sometimes career goals shift or change, and that makes opportunities outside of the classroom seem intangible questioning who am I? If I'm not a teacher, I'm your host, Alexandra Simon.
And I'm your co host, JoDee Scissors.
This is The Great Teacher Resignation.
So as an elementary school teacher and best selling author, Vicki Weber has coached clients all around the world at various stages in their author journey. She's a successful self published author, but has also been published by Disney and Penguin Random House. If you are feeling overwhelmed, and don't know where to start, her services aim to prepare you to make the best decisions for yourself and set you up for success.
So Vicki, your services are speaking right to me. Because I too am an aspiring author. It is one of the reasons that I actually left teaching was to continue to pursue my writing. So before we kind of dive into the actual phases of how you become an author, I want to know how your being a teacher helped shape you as an author in your journey into authorship?
That is a great question. I've always been a creative person. My background is in music education. I have a master's in teaching and learning with an ESL concentration. And so when I was in the classroom, I found that my students didn't love reading, as much as I did growing up. I was complete bookworm. I got grounded from books. That's how much I loved reading. But I entered the classroom and I saw that, you know, these kids did not view reading the way that I did as a child. A nd it absolutely broke my heart. And I found that the biggest reason was, either because they couldn't find all the books about things that interested them. Or they didn't see books with characters like them. And so if those two things were a barrier or a struggle, then that's what laid the foundation. And every year that they went on, not liking, reading, reading became more and more difficult, because the books get more advanced. So I wanted to try and help fill that gap. And as a teacher in music ed, I saw that they love things like Don't Push The Button. And I said, there's absolutely no reason why we can't have musical stories that are interactive like that. So that's what fueled my first ideas for stories. And I started testing them out on the kids. And that helped me revise and refine, you know, these raw concepts that I had. But it also is what inspired me to get them into print, eventually. It took a little bit longer, but that's where that spark came from.
So you found a gap that you wanted to fill in literature. That's a purpose that a lot of authors have is they're trying to fill a gap. And so that's kind of where my purpose led me to writing was, I wanted to fill a gap in the way that young girls are represented in literature and how they can see themselves in literature. And so all of my main characters are young girls who have a purpose that is not defined in literature right now. And so as you are writing, how did you go from, you know, writing out your ideas to becoming self published, to then becoming published by Disney, Penguin Random House. How did that evolve?
Yeah, that is not a short answer. But we have time. To anyone who's aspiring to be an author, a lot of new authors think that they have to have an idea that's never been done before. And so they try and come up with like a concept that, you know, has never been done, never been published. Like, in my case, interactive musical books weren't a thing. And so in my case, that worked out. So sometimes it's a good thing. But other times, some concepts haven't been published because there's not a demand for it. The thing to really keep in mind is that the story itself doesn't have to be never been done before. Your perspective, your characters, your purpose is what is going to make a story special. How many bedtime books are out there? How many books about unicorns? They sell, but what makes it special is the character or the angle, or, you know, the representation or whatever it is. What you bring to the table with the story is what makes it unique. And I think that that's important to preface with.
So when you did start writing, you know, here are some things that I have done, I have a writing group that I've been working with for over two years. They've been my rocks for editing, for supporting me, making me rethink things, challenging my thinking, and they've been like the biggest help for me. And I've also, you know, I'm a member of SCBWI, and I attend workshops and do small groups where we exchanged manuscripts and whatnot, trainings, reading literature, seeing what's out there looking at mentor text, those are kind of the things that I do. Now, are there other things that you do to ensure that you're writing a manuscript that is ready to be reviewed by an agent or a publishing house?
I think all of those things that you're doing are the right thing. A lot of aspiring authors don't think to do those things, they just think I have a great idea. I'm gonna write it out and then roll with it. The issue with that is, a lot of times what we have in our head or vision for the story doesn't end up matching what's on the page very well. Or there are things that you don't think about that are very subtle, but can make a big difference when it's all stacked up. Like with Rhythm Rescue, it's my best selling book, you have to clap the right rhythm to activate the superheroes powers. It's a little superhero girl named Tala, and people love it. But I thought I was being clever in a song in the book, Downbeat Street was where the story starts. So I'm like, I'm being so clever. And I had several editors look at it. I had BETA readers, I had friends, they were like, this is awesome. And then I had another editor look at it, and she goes, but why is it a sad street? And I was like, what are you talking about? She said, well downbeat is the opposite of upbeat. And I like facepalmed . Because not everybody who reads my stories are going to be musicians. So there are going to be people out there who wonder the same thing. So even though it was a little thing, I then changed it to Beat Street. So that's just a small example. But when you only have a limited word count in a children's book, specifically, the minute layers are what makes a story shine, or makes a reader ask questions that never get answered. And so it's not enough to just write a first draft, and then roll with the punches. I tried to write things and then walk away from them for a few days. Because if I look at it too much in succession, I start thinking words are there that I didn't type, or I portray a character in a way I didn't mean. Like, if I want them to be outgoing, and confident, maybe I accidentally wrote them to be like, arrogant, or cocky. The other important thing is to think about which publishing route you want to pursue. When you get traditionally published, it's best to first secure an agent. There are traditional publishers that excess on agented submissions, but they're very few and they frequently can't pay very much, which also means that they're not marketed very well. And a lot of that falls on you. So when you're looking at the pros and cons between self and traditional, you're not really going to get all the benefits of traditional, if you go unagented. There are exceptions to every rule. But that's just the generality there. So with traditional publishing you query agents. But it's important to remember that an agent saying no, it often means that they either already accepted a story that's too similar to yours, or they don't feel like the best salesperson for your story. They need to feel just as passionate about your work as you do. So sometimes no doesn't mean this is inadequate, it just means we're not a good fit, keep looking for your good fit. With self publishing, you have to be that expert. So you have to know what you don't know. And you can't cut corners. A lot of people, they like self publishing because they're in full control. But then they'll publish a book too soon, before a manuscript is truly ready. So when you're self publishing, yeah, you're in more control, but you're in more control. And it's not cheap. It's very time consuming. I personally love it. But I love learning. I like knowing what I don't know and researching things and data and numbers and not everybody is that way at all. So when you are choosing a route, one is not better than the other. It's about what's best for you. And that's something I always stress to new authors because It's such a controversial topic. They'll say no, no, no no traditional is blah, self publishing is blah. It's about what's best for you. So weigh the pros and cons and really take that decision to heart.
I'm so glad that you gave such advice like that, because a lot of advice early on when I was doing it was, you have to do this, you have to do this. And as I did it, it was not the right choice. And I learned the hard way. And so then I had to scale back and say, okay, what do I need to be doing, you know? And it came down to like, one I need to be writing, and I need to be editing, and I need to get feedback. I don't need to be tweeting all the time. And all my ideas like the writing community does on Twitter. And I don't need to be querying yet. And for those listeners who don't know what querying is, when you're have a manuscript ready, and you are ready to share your work with an agent. It's called querying, and you find an agent that might match your personality, you have a connection, what kind of literature they're looking for, and you send them your work, and then you get a response. Sometimes, sometimes you don't. And so I learned quickly, I was trying to rush into it. And then I was like, no, I need to step back. Like, what is it exactly that I need? Not what everybody else is doing? What do I need to do with my writing? And what do I feel comfortable with? Ali, did you want to add something?
Yeah, I wanted to go back to what Vicky said about doing what's good for you. And I'm thinking that there's a little bit more to this journey about how maybe you decided that what was best for you was to go in this direction of becoming an author, and maybe going more into that. What did that look like for you, when you transitioned out of the full time classroom, and into this new career, especially for those who are interested in our listeners, who, you they're nervous about taking that leap? So I'd love to hear your story.
So I became published when I was still in the classroom. And I did treat it a little bit like a side gig. I didn't go into it because I wanted it to be my career. I just always dreamed of publishing a book. And my husband was like, well, why not? Like, if you have a dream, like, let's figure this out. So I started researching. And for my musical books, specifically, I felt that self publishing was the way to go because there wasn't any other books out there like that. So a lot of agents that was the feedback I was getting is they weren't sure it would sell. It was a risk. And so I could have maybe found somebody to take that chance on me, but it would have been difficult. So I decided I was going to try self publishing and see how it went. And it was time consuming, but we were child free at the time. And so I did treat it as a side gig. It brought in a decent, you know, amount of income, but I was working after working. And then my first book was published February 2020. And the pandemic hit a month later. And my first musical book was called Laszlo Learns Recorder. For those of you that don't know what a recorder is, it's a wind instrument. So surprise, people couldn't use it during the pandemic. So sales went really, really great. And then they tanked. But people love that they could reinforce music education through a picture book when they couldn't do it the way that they normally would. So I started creating more, I had all these ideas, let's see what happens. And it really took off. But at that point, I was very supportive admin, good pay, great community. And still, I ended up working multiple jobs in one. They also were like, Oh, can you also be a full time fourth grade co teacher simultaneously since you're working remotely. And then at some point, they needed me to also be on demand on call tech support for the students who couldn't get into their Zoom meetings, or an app wasn't working or something like that. So I was very literally sitting at my computer all day, in this massive chaos and too many things to do and not enough time to do it. And I was pregnant with my daughter at the time. And I just, I took a hard look at my husband and I just said I can't be the mom that she deserves if I keep doing this. I can't be what my family needs me to be if this is my reality. I was so burnt out. And so when August rolled around, even though at that point, I was only making about $1,000 a month in profit with my books. August rolled around and I just more passionate about writing. I'm doing all of these good things. I'm excited about it. I have a newborn at home. I can't go back into this burnout situation, and then come home and work some more. And it broke my heart, I almost called my principal back to take it back. But I resigned, didn't really have a backup plan. It was just I'm gonna make these books work. I brought home three times what I would have otherwise, including my teaching paychecks, plus my books, because I suddenly had the time to do things like write more and time to market more. And I still was able to eat breakfast, and go to the bathroom and take an hour for lunch and take a day off. I only work maybe 20 to 30 hours a week now. This past March, my husband's home to. He works for me. And by works for me. I mean, he occasionally helps me with my Amazon. Otherwise, he's in charge of the household. He's trying to start his own business on the side. And I'm able to support that. That's something that never, ever in a million years would have happened. If I'd stayed teaching, I could not bring him home, I could not support his dream the way that he did mine. So I think it's hard because everybody's situation is different. But I also think that teachers are the type of people who find a way. We are never going to sit aside and let our families suffer. That's not who I am. And as teachers, we go above and beyond in everything that we do. And I think we need to give ourselves more credit in that regard. Because if you do it for your students, you can do it for yourself, you can do it for your family, you can do it for your career aspirations. You know, you don't have to be in a classroom to put that personality trait to good use.
I couldn't agree more. And JoDee and I had a conversation recently. And I don't think I can do it justice. But you know, we're talking about how we both still have pretty full calendars. But it looks different at the end of the day. And JoDee, I don't... do you remember how you describe that to me? How like you're busy, but you're...
I am busy all day. Because I'm a busy body. I'm always creating, that's who I am. I'm busy all day. But you know what, at the end of the day, I am rested. I'm still full of life for my daughter. I still have the the brain space to do all of my creative projects. And that's the difference. When I was a teacher, I was busy all day. But I was exhausted. And I was tormented by the fact that I couldn't carve out time to write and do all of these other projects that I was passionate about. And now I still have that same busyness but I have full brain capacity for everything. But everything you said, one, like you are phenomenal. Like you are trailblazing. You are awesome. You are going to be a great mentor for all of these teachers who are looking for a change. And it might not be authorship, it might be something else. But the way that you address the issue, the way that you took a risk, and you did it and you made it work. And it showed that you, you can do it.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. And I agree with you that teachers, they have that ambition and that drive. And they need that chance. You know, society wouldn't judge someone for you know, investing in a startup or going to work for a company like that. That's what we're doing. We're our own startup, as educators, if we go out on our own like that. And we need to trust in ourselves. And you hit the nail on the head for me, you just really made such a great point. We will do whatever it takes for our students and for our own families. And so I love your message about being willing to take a chance on yourself and the fact that you did that. And you're able to have this life that is more balanced. And just talking to you, you seem so, so happy, like so excited to share your story. I hope that it comes through to our listeners that we've loved having you on the show today. And we're really grateful for your time.
Thank you so much again for having me. I hope that you know this podcast and you know these messages, I hope that they sink in and that they help some people move forward with their own dreams and stop that hesitation.
So if you're interested in connecting with Vicky, you can reach her on Instagram at at home author or by visiting her at at home author.com.
If you liked the great teacher designation, give us a five star rating and follow us on Instagram, Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, Amazon music, and Audible. This episode was written and recorded by me Alexandra Simon and my co host JoDee Scissors. Produced by JoDee Scissors. Original music, Emoji by Tubebackr. Special thanks to our sponsor, Paper Planes Ed