Posted in Creekside Cafe, interview

Chatting with Sonja McGiboney

It was so great to meet you at the Writer’s Retreat in Murfreesboro. I had a wonderful time. Thank you for agreeing to be a part of my Creekside Café Chats. If I ever win the lottery, I want to build a café on the Pamlico River where authors, writers of all levels and readers can come and chat, or sit back and read, or write. So, thank you for joining me, can I get you a glass of wine or something to drink?

Sonja McGiboney at the writers retreat.

Sonja: Sherri, it was wonderful to meet you too. There is an old joke about a computer’s cd drive (does anyone remember those?) being a built in cup holder.  Wouldn’t it be grand if we could order drinks and have them delivered to that cup holder?  If you build your Café, I’ll come!

Sherri: I love your Jazzy books. I bought one for my youngest grandson and will probably have to buy more, they are adorable. Tell us about Jazzy and how you started doing Jazzy’s Books.

Sonja: Jazzy is the 9th in a litter of puppies whose mother was saved from death row. All the puppies found homes. When we visited to pick a puppy out of the nine, there were only two left: a black one and Jazzy. I told Dale, “We can’t take the black one because they are hard to photograph!”

Boy did I take a lot of photos. I took so many in the first year I had to do something with them so I created a book on Shutterfly. I added a few cute sentences and gave one to my nieces. They asked for more books. I have not been able to stop writing.

Sherri: Jazzy’s Books are children’s books, do you plan to write any other types of books, other genres or age groups?

Sonja: When I started creating Jazzy Books, it was an outlet for my photography. The more people wanted them, the more I was referred to as the author. It took almost 9 months for me to think of myself as an author not a photographer.

     When I wrote “Jazzy Explores The Library” I used several other books as backdrops.  I wrote to the publishers to get permission to use the photos in my book.  Several responded with affirmatives but the rest didn’t respond at all.  With those particular books, I had to reinvent the covers, so to speak.  I made up pretend books called “Monsters Don’t Need Feet,” “How To Be A Witch” and “The Stick Witch”.  After publishing “Jazzy Explores The Library,” the idea for a real book about “The Stick Witch” stuck in my brain.

Now I am on a journey to write a “non” picture book. Perhaps a third grade chapter book or middle grade book. I’m not sure how it will turn out yet.

Sherri: You spoke to our group at the writer’s retreat and one of the things you mentioned was we had to have patience. Would you like to expand on that statement?

Sonja: Sometimes, writing the book is the easy part.  Yes, you’ve spent a long time getting your manuscript done but then what?  Anyone can be an author but how do you get your voice to be heard by the rest of the world.  That’s the hard part which takes so much patience. 

I can’t find any author who was an overnight success when they first started sending books to publishers or agents. Many of them wrote several books before their first became famous. I too sent a few query letters to agents, with no responses. After the twenty sixth attempt, I gave up and moved on to self publish my books. I had no patience. Perhaps if I had persisted I would have found someone and then not have been saddles with a dining room full of Jazzy Books, ha ha ha ha.

      As a self publisher, you get instant gratification, “Yippeee, I have a book, Look!”, while the world around you is saying, “Who cares?” It’s your job to make them care.  It’s your job to get their attention, to start the conversation, to sell them your book. 

     After sitting at a table hawking my books to passersby, I’ve realized my limitations and strengths.  I can never understand a parent who buys a  forty dollar broom but won’t buy a nine dollar book for a child who is looking at it and laughing at the pictures.  Not everyone will like your work.  Being gracious, saying thank you for stopping by, and have a nice day, takes patience.

Sherri: You talked about your financial plan to get started and I have to tell you, the number you quoted was way out of my league. Since I publish through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), granted they do not have colored photos inside like your Jazzy Books, but I buy about 100 books at a time, sell them and use that money for more books and marketing. I started with an initial investment of $500 and I’ve tried to keep that rotating through. What do you suggest for other authors who are worried about that initial investment?

Sonja: If you have no money to invest, then traditional publishing is the way to go. Be patient, Google the best way to write a query, how to find an agent, and send spend your day writing and sending.  It could take a year and several rejections before someone sees your work as something they could run with.  With traditional publishing you will get an advance.  Once that advance has been paid by books sales by the publisher, you will get royalties.  It’s a small, teeny amount, but its income. 

      The way I did it is not the best but works.  I have my books printed by a company in Timonium, MD, that usually makes company manuals.  It only takes a week for my order to be printed.  The more books I order, the cheaper the price per book.   Now I  have a bunch of physical books to dispense which are stored in my dining room. 

     The same goes for printing in China, however if you print in China you have to order a large quantity (over 1,000 books or more) to get the price to about 2.49 per book. You also have to deal with insurance, tariffs, delivery from the dock where the ship lands and storage.

     So, my recommendation is to find a company that will print on demand (no more books in the dining room) and has a distribution network to book stores and libraries already in place.  For me, that is Ingram Spark.  They charge a small fee (like $50.00) to set up your book but then it is available worldwide, I think.   Amazon can also print on demand, but I’m not sure Libraries and Book Stores do wholesale from them.  I could be wrong.

Sherri: What do you love about writing? About being an author?

Sonja: With the Jazzy’s books, it’s the fun I have taking the pictures and crafting the story.  Also, all the great people I meet when I’m out trying to share my books with the world.  With the chapter books I’m writing, it’s the satisfaction I get when stories, the stories that have been running around in my head like a dog after a rabbit, get written down and I can finally sleep.

Sherri: What do you find to be the hardest or your least favorite thing?

Sonja: To be successful, you have to sell your own book.  I’m not a salesperson.  It is hard to learn to engage folks as they walk by my table without coming across as a used car salesman.  “Hello ladies, have I got a deal for you!”  It’s easier around the Holidays, people are looking for unique, fun things for kids, but in the hot, summer sun of July at a children’s festival, they would rather eat their cotton candy and get wet.

Sherri: Any advice you’d like to offer on how to be your own publicist?

Sonja: Be consistent on all Social Media.  If you post to Facebook, then post to all your other places at the same time. (I always forget about Instagram because I’m at my computer not my phone. I don’t understand Twitter much but it might also work better for me if I’d remember to do that too. )

        Spend time networking.  Being with other authors, people with the same goals, will do two things:  It will give you motivation to continue and give you avenues to move forward.  

      Enter Contests.  My Jazzy’s books haven’t fit into any contests that I’ve looked at, but I’ve seen authors get lots of publicity when they win one.

     Join professional organizations.  This will help you network via conferences and monthly meetings, they often have contests, you can find people to critique your work, and it gets you out and about talking about your work.

     Always have information at the ready.  You never know, the woman in front of you at the grocery store could be your next biggest customer and you blew it because you didn’t have a business card or pamphlet to hand over to her.

     When someone asks to interview you, say yes. 

     Put yourself in the front.  Speak at places. Ask questions.  Truly, the squeaky wheel will stand out.  My husband is a music teacher and he hardly ever talks about the normal, quiet kids. His stories are always about the loud, obnoxious ones.  Now, don’t be rude, but don’t fade into the wall paper either.

     Write blogs or newsletters.  Have raffles or giveaways for people to sign up, or to get others to sign up.  Give people a reason to come back and read.  Be on time.  If you say it will be monthly, make sure it’s monthly.  Build trust.  Perhaps you write a book about a murder in a garden, you could give tips on how to prune roses or something.  

Sherri: Do you have another project in the works?

Sonja: Yes.  “Jazzy’s Halloween” is waiting for all the costumes to come out on the shelf so I can take the photos which will go along with a cute song I wrote.  This will be my first “Song” book that will have a downloadable mp4 so kids can sing.   Likewise, I am working on “Jazzy’s Got The Whole World In Her Fangs”  

     I am also finishing up a book I wrote that is going to be a fundraiser for the Isle of Wight County Humane Society.  All profits from the book will go to that organization.

    I’m working on “The Stick Witch” and another called “Flight From Abigor” or something like that.

Sherri: Who or what has most influenced your writing?

Sonja: My first thought was Dr. Seuss since I love to write in simple four-line rhyme ABCB.  I feel that what most influences me are my experiences.  I can remember wanting and hoping to be somewhere else, or someone else, because I thought life really sucked as who I was at the time. 

Sherri: If you could influence a person young or old, who dreams of being a published author, what would you say to them?

Sonja: Give it a try. Go!  Chase your dreams……responsibly.

Sherri: We met at the Writer’s Retreat in Murfreesboro, tell me, what did you hope to gain when you agreed to do the presentation? And what did you come away with?

Sonja: It was my first experience presenting.  I am so happy it was in such a small, informal setting.  My worry was that I would be “preaching” to the choir, but I have to remember that listening to another author’s experience helps motivate and people do learn new things, even from little ol’ me.

Sherri: Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close. I’ve truly enjoyed spending time with you again and hope that soon we can see each other in person.

Sonja: I’ve enjoyed it as well.  It’s not easy to talk about oneself.  Even if you think you are nothing special, you will be surprised at how much you can positively influence another person.  Go out and be kind, spread the love of reading and write, write, write. 

Sherri: Check out my friend Sonja’s books, you can buy them on her website, but be careful, you will find yourself falling in love with Jazzy and you may have to make room in your home for a new fur-baby.

Posted in event, inspiration, road trip

An Exotic Retreat in Murfreesboro, North Carolina

Me, after our walking tour, in front of the Murfree-Williams House

Murfree-Williams House

Writers Workshops, Retreats and Residencies

Dorian threatened to keep me from my mini vacation but thankfully, he didn’t do as much damage around my home as he did to others. My heart goes out to those on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Myrtle Beach and especially the Bahamas.

With only the inconvenience of power outages at home, my husband waved me off and I hurriedly packed my bags for my very first writers retreat in the most exotic– Murfreesboro, North Carolina.

Adrienne Dunning

I met my friend and fellow Pamlico Writer’s Group member, Adrienne Dunning in Greenville and she graciously agreed to drive. I was exceedingly grateful after having traversed the perilous traffic of Greenville after a hurricane when all of Beaufort County is shut down due to the power outages, oh my God, people are crazy! I stopped at Walmart to purchase a bottle of wine and debated opening it in the parking lot. I didn’t think that would go over very well and I still wasn’t sure how to get to Adrienne’s apartment, so I left the wine corked and after looping around several times managed to find her quite easily, right where she said she’d be.

Chowan University

Adrienne, having attended Chowan college (now Chowan University) took me to see the beautiful campus. We arrived at the Murfree-Williams House after a quick view of the town. While not exactly exotic, the small town is a lovely homage to Mayberry with its retro Main Street, brick sidewalks and historic homes.

Ruth Akright

We were greeted by our hostess, Ruth Akright, the owner of the lovely rehabilitated 1801 home. The luxury of being among the first group of writers to enjoy the hospitality of Ruth and the Murfree-Williams house this weekend was a treasure I’m not sure I can put into words.

My pretty bedroom at the front of the house.

Ruth opened her property to a group of writers who wished a venue to write, learn and fellowship with other writers. Quiet by accident, all of the attendees happened to be romance writers. This weekend, our small group, two from the Pamlico Writer’s Group member, Adrienne Dunning and myself, Michelle White from Chesapeake, Virginia and her daughter, Samantha Keel, we were also joined by presenters Sonja McGiboney, a children’s author from Smithfield, Virginia, and Trudy Gibbons, a poet and song writer from Murfreesboro.

Samantha Keel and Michelle White,
daughter and mom, look more like sisters.
Sonja McGiboney

We started Friday evening with a light supper and a talk by Sonja. Sonja started her journey as an author with her camera and her dog. After taking too many pictures of her beloved pit-bull pup, Jazzy, she put together a book for niece and nephew for Christmas. They loved it and wanted more. Enjoying the process, Sonja wrote seven books about Jazzy’s adventures.

Sonja’s experience going into schools and libraries and sharing her stories allowed her to interact with parents and children and she discovered that is what she enjoys. She has plans for a middle grade book and hopes to someday write for Scholastics.

Trudy Gibson

Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful, a cool breeze, the blessing after the curse of the hurricane. Ruth treated us all to a luscious breakfast of muffins, pecan bread, mixed fruit, juice and coffee. Trudy Gibson joined us after breakfast and treated us to the story of her journey as a poet and song writer. Trudy and Sonja graced with a lovely rendition of the song she wrote, and Sonja’s father-in-law penned the notes for, they brought us all to tears with the beauty. A renowned poet, Trudy’s “Heart and Soul, a collection of short stories, poems and songs,” was a labor of love, compiled and published with the help of 1984 graduating class of Chowan College where Trudy was a secretary in the graphics department.

Needing to stretch our legs, we took off on a walking tour of Murfreesboro’s historical homes. Our residence, the 1801 Murfree-Williams House also had a neighboring law office, known as the Williams-Smith Law Office. Ruth led us down the brick sidewalk to the tiny house print shop. We followed the walk around the oldest commercial building in North Carolina, a lovely little house/tin shop, blacksmith shop, we wandered around to the gingerbread house. We circled around back to our house when the bells on the church start ringing. With a lawnmower going and the trill of the church bells, the lovely and quite innocent looking children’s author, suggested this would be a great time to murder someone, no one would hear them scream. Ya know, just because someone looks sweet and innocent, don’t let down your guard. I think she may have missed her calling.

We made our way up to Main Street to the infamous Walter’s Grill. The grill is full of character and could even be a character itself. A definite greasy spoon, the rich home cooking is a local favorite. Our next presenter, Duane Cotton author of Driven and known for his work on ABC’s Extreme Make Over: Home Edition.

After laughing our way through lunch, we made our way back to the house where we spent the next three hours talking about Duane’s journey to writing and publishing his book, as well as how we could relate his journey to success to our own journey.

Another guest for supper, and an early evening, I retired to my room to write and think about what I’d learned. When you attend a writers’ event, whether it’s a conference or workshop or retreat, it can be a bit overwhelming. Letting the information stew and digest helps to make it more useful.

Sunday morning breakfast brought guest, free-lance illustrator Ron Neale shared his knowledge of being and commercial graphic designer, illustrator and his new job as graphic designer for NASA, talk about the coolest job ever.

Ron, a dear friend of our hostess, Ruth, was the master carpenter who’d helped resurrect the Murfree-Williams House.

Ron shared his marketing and design expertise as discussion across the table escalated. My greatest problem, like many indie authors, is promoting and marketing. Adrienne and Samantha both confronted me with my own words, and what they made me realize, is I’m not a romance author. I am a suspense author with strong romantic elements!

I am a suspense author!

On the way home, Adrienne and I discussed the retreat, and both agreed this was something we would like to do again. Maybe next time, we can host our own writers’ weekend.

If you are interested in renting the Murfree-Williams House for a writers workshop, retreat or residency, or just for a vacation, you can contact Ruth Akright for rates and availability at 757-477-2795 or via email at