I love this author so much. As an uncle of 12 nieces and nephews all over the world, and a kids and YA author, I’m always on the look out for great kids book. I’ve found them in AJ Cosmo and what I love about AJ’s books is not only are they funny books but AJ is also an indie author who has quietly done VERY well with kids books. I had to know more and I have what I believe is one of the few interviews with AJ online.
I’ve been admiring your work for the last few months. You’ve managed to sell thousands of copies of your kid’s books on Kindle. For those not familiar with your work, what are your bestselling books about?
Thank you, Jeff! I’ve been very blessed so far with the Kindle. I’m best known for the Monster series that started with my best seller The Monster That Ate My Socks.” Other favorites include the controversial The Hope Flower and one of my all time favorites The Truth Fairy.
How many copies have you sold so far?
It’s just shy of seventy thousand.
I’m assuming you write under a pseudonym. There’s an air of mystery about you. What is something people don’t know about the real AJ Cosmo? And why do you write under a pseudonym?
Correct. I do write under a pseudonym but it’s not to hide some deep dark secret, okay, you got me, I’m allergic to gluten, rather the name was created in order to split my work into recognizable divisions. I don’t just write children’s books and I want to make sure that people know what they are getting from me. I am also a shy person by nature, so I wanted the work to speak for itself.
What made you want to write kids books? Why not thrillers?
Children’s books were a natural fit for me because I both write and illustrate. When I only wrote, I felt like I was missing something. Same thing when I only illustrated. Combining the two as well as my natural goofy worldview somehow equaled children’s books. Monsters, aliens, dinosaurs, and imagined worlds have all been a part of my life since the beginning. Children’s literature is also one of the most difficult forms to write for.
The audience is demanding and way smarter than you’d think. They want original, compelling, well-crafted stories. You must also follow an unspoken rule book on words and actions that you cannot use. I think I’ve learned more from writing simple 450 word stories than I did from any of the writing classes I have taken.
As far as thrillers are concerned, I have written them as well as several other genres, but those have been released under different names and more are still to come. I love children’s books too much to ever stop writing them. However, I do want to push the boundaries of them and bring readers something that they haven’t seen before.
Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline? Do you rewrite? Do you use an editor?
Each book starts out as an idea, usually just a sentence like “a princess who is cursed and can only say words that start with the letter P.” From there I extrapolate the plot and write a beat-by-beat outline. (I wrote a blog post about this here.) I then write a draft, usually in a day or two, and let the text cool for at least a few hours. I’ll then go back over it and tweak here and there. I rarely, if ever, re-write the entire thing because most of the issues that cause total re-writes should be addressed in the outline. Then it’s off to my readers.
I have three trusted readers and one confidant who approves all of my work. Sometimes if an idea is too out there I get reigned in. Then it goes off to one of the three editors that I work with. Everything has to be edited, even if it is remarkably short. I send the different types of projects to different editors depending on if I’m looking for structural and clarity improvements or if I’m just looking for spelling and grammar corrections. Having an editor is what separates good self-pub from the bad.
What is your writing schedule like?
I typically put a book out every two weeks so my schedule looks like this:
Monday Write outline and first draft.
Tuesday Revise first draft, send off to readers, sketch illustrations.
Wednesday Do three illustrations. Get back notes. Revise. Send to editor.
Thursday Do three more illustrations and take a long nap.
Friday Finish the rest of the illustrations. Create a cover. Wait nervously for the editor to get the manuscript back.
Saturday Get the edit back. Compile the ebook into HTML. Upload the book to Amazon and go through the previewer with a fine-toothed comb.
Sunday Put the book on promotion and then pass out for a week.
What did you do so successfully, marketing-wise, that has made your books fly off the digital shelves?
Truth be told, I only recently started marketing. My books all have advertisements for other titles at the back of the book. I also put all of the title and publishing errata at the back as well. I do this not only so the reader jumps right in but also so that the Kindle “look inside” feature shows the book rather than a title page and acknowledgements.
Up until recently, all I needed was to put a new book on promotion and readers would find my previous work. However, the free book promotion has lost most of its power and I have started to look towards other forms of promotion. This has turned out to be a great thing because I have started to connect with my readers and learn about what they enjoy. (This has also helped me overcome my shyness.)
I have a Twitter account that I update daily, a blog where I write about my process and also post craft activities, and a Facebook page where I interact with my readers. Facebook has been by far the most successful and rewarding and I recommend it to every writer.
I also recently launched ajcosmo.com as the hub of my work. You can contact me directly there and find some neat exclusive stuff . . .
What can we expect next from AJ Cosmo?
I’m starting to work on more long form projects with the goal of creating something similar to “Wayside School” or “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” I’m also highly interested in interactive media. I would like to make video games that are more like digital, interactive, storybooks; ones that still encourage reading while also offering an interactive experience.
I also think personalized content is the next logical step in the eBook market and as a proof of concept I’m offering a free personalized eBook on my website. You enter your child’s name and they become the main character in the book! It’s a simple trick but I’m hoping to expand on this and move towards more sophisticated creations.
Before I go, I just wanted to say thank you to Jeff for this interview and for creating a wonderful site in support of his fellow writers!