Writing And Marketing Diverse Books For Children With Ada-Ari

How can you create an ecosystem of children’s books around a central idea? How can you market books for children? Ada-Ari talks about how she writes, publishes and markets her children’s books based on African folk tales and African languages in the USA.

In the intro, Court blocks the PRH S&S merger [PublishersWeekly]; Spoken Word Audio report; Amazon Prime includes 100m songs [TechCrunch]; Spotify pulls audiobook purchases on Apple [The Verge]; Changes to Twitter Blue [The Verge]; Facebook and Instagram are introducing digital collectibles – yes, NFTs. [FB] Join me for Your Author Business Plan Live.

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This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors. 

Ada-Ari is the author of books for children, including The Spider’s Thin Legs, and The Turtle’s Cracked Shell, as well as language learning books for African languages.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • Creating books for children as a connection to African cultural heritage
  • Finding an illustrator outside the usual freelance platforms
  • Working with a printer and distributor vs. print-on-demand
  • On book sales expectations vs. reality
  • Marketing books for children in schools and stores
  • What keeps us going when the going gets tough
  • Turning a book idea into a much bigger vision for a creative business with a mission

You can find Ada-Ari at Ada-Ari.com.

Header image generated by Joanna Penn with DALL-E2.

Transcript of Interview with Ada Ari

Joanna: Ada-Ari is the author of books for children, including The Spider’s Thin Legs, and The Turtle’s Cracked Shell, as well as language learning books for African languages. Welcome, Ada.

Ada Ari: Thank you, Joanna.

Joanna: This is such an interesting topic.

Tell us a bit more about you, and how you got into writing in the first place.

Ada-Ari: I am a Nigerian immigrant to the United States. I moved here back in 1996, as a teenager with my family, and fast forward to now I have a parent with two young children.

When I started reading to them, I wanted them to also have some of the stories that I grew up on. Some of our African folktales. I realized quickly that there was no way that I could share these stories with my young children if I didn’t tell them myself.

They were so young that I felt they needed a picture book version of the story, just for retention, like that age of infancy and toddlerhood. They really need the pictures to go along with the stories for it to make sense. And so that’s in brief my story. My children are my inspiration.

Joanna: I know a lot of people listening want to write books for children because of their own children. I think that absolutely comes through with people.

I guess growing up in Nigeria, you heard those stories. But why did you decide to focus that on doing in a book? You could have retold them in a different way or come up with different stories?

What is it about these stories that you care about so much?

Ada-Ari: Before putting pen to paper, I was also thinking that it would be great to actually animate some of these stories, or in general just have more representation of black characters, and the different animated series that my children watched. But animation is a completely different beast altogether.

I happened to be reading a book when I just thought to myself, you know, why not create these stories for my children. The first book that I wrote was actually The Turtle’s Cracked Shell. That’s a story that I remember from my heart growing up. It’s amazing, but I still remember it, remembering it and all the details.

When I wrote it down, I shared it with some friends to get their feedback. And another friend from Ghana, she said, ‘Well, there’s this story that I remember from childhood as well.’ That just birthed the idea of why not look at all the different stories that came out of Africa, and put them in a book format.

I will say I also wanted something that could be shared easily. So with a book, my children can easily take them to daycare and share them with their teachers, it can be part of reading time. And so I suppose that’s why I thought books.

I want to say that pre-pandemic, I was super anti-TV. So my children weren’t doing much screen time. So maybe books were just the obvious medium.

Joanna: My sister-in-law is Nigerian and I went to school in Malawi, in Africa. So I’ve got a few ties into the continent, but a lot of people listening won’t know much about Nigeria.

When you were growing up and hearing these stories, were you learning in English or is English your second language?

Ada-Ari: English is my first language. And for pretty much every Nigerian who goes through the education system English is the first language. It’s the national language of Nigeria.

Interestingly, we are surrounded, literally every country that borders Nigeria is French-speaking. So like here in the US, Spanish is taught very popularly as a second language, or foreign language back home, French was that for us, but we all speak English fluently.

And then we have our native languages that we learn if we aren’t living in those parts of the country, or that we grew up with, if we do live in the parts of the country that speak that language, specifically.

Joanna: Yes. That was why I was interested, because you’ve also got these language learning books.

Tell us about the language learning books.

Ada-Ari: It’s interesting how it all came about. Things don’t quite follow a chronological order or the chronological order you had in your head.

From day one, I wanted to retell these different African folktales. And I thought to myself, well, if my children who are growing up as Americans can enjoy these stories, then all children who identify as Americans to an extent, will enjoy them as well. But I think also any child who can read a story in English will enjoy the stories.

I already had that fire burning, but then my sister-in-law came to me and she created something that I consider amazing for teaching our native Nigerian language to young children. So our language is Igbo, and she created this brand called That Igbo Child. And she would just curate different charts, books and tools to help teach children in the diaspora or language people.

So I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we come up with a completely new product?’

You have your wall charts or your flyers, you have storybooks. But what about a very simple board book that just has word image association. And that was how that was birthed.

It was in that brainstorming session, we decided to create a set of books. So each box has three books in it, one that translates body parts, one that translates animals, and one that translates things at home. And then on the back of our book, we have a link to our website where you can actually go for pronunciations.

That was a start, just our language. But then quickly we realized that we could expand this.

So fast forward to today, we have 10 different African languages, from Amharic, which is in Ethiopia, to Swahili, which has been most popularly recognized African language in the world, all the way to smaller languages, like Ewe, which is spoken in parts of Ghana and Togo, it’s been a very exciting journey.

Joanna: I think that’s brilliant, because you’re tapping into a culture you left for your children. Obviously, your parents left and took you as a child and trying to bring that to your children, but also much bigger. I love that you’re looking at other African languages. That’s fantastic.

A question about licensing: this model is reasonably new for you.

Have you considered licensing those language books back into various countries in Africa, or licensing books out of those African countries to distribute in the US?

Ada-Ari:  I have not, I’ll be honest, it’s kind of a one-man show. So I have to really limit myself based on capacity. I do know that I have the copyrights to all these different products that I’ve put together. And I am toying with different ways to distribute them throughout the world.

I actually do have distribution set up in the UK, Nigeria, Australia, of all places, just starting in Canada, so in a few markets, but beyond that, everything is kind of in a backlog I’m working through.

Joanna: Oh, yeah, it’s always like that, isn’t it? You mentioned the UK, obviously, we have a lot of diaspora Nigerians and a lot of other diaspora from other African countries here in the UK, which is a very different culture to the US African American culture.

But there’s still a lot of people here who would share the desire to have their children speak Igbo, I guess?

Ada-Ari: Absolutely. Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, we have all different kinds of languages.

What I find is that people are absolutely drawn to the packaging.

So the first thing that I did, and again, remember, I was thinking of my children as I created this. So it was really great when I got our sample. I showed my children, and they just wanted to open up the box and immediately find out and learn the contents of these books. That was the validation for me like, okay, yes, this is hitting the target market, we’re enjoying this.

It’s really a great way to actually get them excited and interested in learning our language. So, again, mine is Igbo, but we have like Twi, which is a Ghanian language – really great sellers. And I keep hearing the same feedback from different customers like, oh, my gosh, these are making it exciting for my children to learn.

I will also say I have adults who want to learn African languages. And so they buy those books as well, because it’s very simple.

Then the other thing, I completely assumed that the only people who would be interested in these books were diasporans, African diaspora. I remember going to my children’s daycare when I took my sample, and trying to pinpoint which parents I thought might be from this particular part of Africa, that had the book where these languages came from.

My daycare director pulled me aside almost instantaneously. And she’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we would love this in the daycare.’ Daycares in the United States have a mandate for diversity, and also languages for children. And that was the first time that I realized that non-Africans actually would be interested in teaching their children a variety of different languages.

So it’s been interesting to see the customer base is just unpredictable. You have those who really want to pass their languages on. And then you have those who want to broaden their horizons or the horizons of their children, and go beyond Spanish or French or European languages and teach them African languages as well.

Joanna: I’m so glad you said that because there are plenty of countries in the world. I’m thinking of Finland. I worked in Finland for a bit and all the Finns speak English but they also speak Finnish. There are a lot more people in Nigeria than there are in Finland, for example, I know Nigeria is a huge country.

And the African diaspora obviously is massive, but I think the languages that people learn are not necessarily related to their heritage. We all learn different things. We learn all kinds of different languages, even if there’s a smaller group. Obviously, something like Spanish is spoken a lot of places in the world. And I guess a lot of people learn the languages that are most common. I learned French at school, but then I’m in England, and I’m right next to France, and we go on school trips.

I’m glad you found that. That’s great.

Ada-Ari: I will say that, like I said, nothing really followed any sort of preset chronological order.

I don’t know that I ever imagined that these two book products would marry each other and create this entire suite of offerings.

But it’s interesting, because my African folktale storybooks, those are in English, and when I was designing them, I was literally thinking, Oh, this would absolutely be applicable to every single person in the United States because they’re in English. But these are literally retellings of what I would call historical artifacts. These are stories that every child of African descent would have heard growing up all the time.

If we think of stories from Disney, or we think of stories from the Brothers Grimm, things along those lines. These are stories that to this day, as adults, we remember, and I have children now I’m telling them those stories as well. I thought, wouldn’t it be so awesome for us to also share our stories, not just with our children and keep them insulated, but to share with the world, and just have the world explore our African legacy through our stories.

So I thought of those as two very different things: African languages, and then African stories. But I’m definitely seeing like a marriage of the two now. And I will say this on the back of each of my books.

Each book represents a story from a specific country in Africa. The goal is to tour the entire continent and have one story from each country.

On the back, I also have a geography lesson. So you get to learn about the country, and where the particular story came from.

And then on the inside, I have these are like the winning piece, I think every time I’m out in public, and I introduced the books and I opened this, people’s eyes just light up. I have these culture cards, and they talk about the culture and tradition of the people who brought the stories to us.

For example, my first story is an Ashanti story from Ghana, the Ashanti kingdom in Ghana. And on the inside, you have culture cards that teach you about the Kente cloth, the Ashanti golden store. I’m now just kind of seeing the link between that and then my Twi language books, which is language that they speak in the Ashanti kingdom.

I see a lot of people buying the two products for their kids or for their friends. So it’s a full cultural experience. Our stories and languages. It’s been a very exciting journey.

Joanna: You mentioned about adults wanting that too. I can see you and also many children’s authors, as their children grow, they start doing books for the different ages. As the children grow, they start changing the types of products they do. So I think you’ve got a hell of a business on your hands there.

You’ve mentioned there that you were designing the book and that the packaging is really cool.

Are you the artist as well as the writer? Or how did you find your illustrator? And how did you do the design?

Ada-Ari: Oh, no, my talents only go so far. So I am the writer. And I use social media extensively to find illustrators.

For the language books, I happened to connect with a Nigerian illustrator who is amazing. He literally designed the entire package. I pretty much just gave him the concept and he took it and ran. He drew all the images, designed the packaging, which is extremely popular with customers.

For the storybooks, that was a completely different look and feel that I was going for. So I looked all over social media sites. I discovered Behance. I was on Instagram, Up Work, Fiverr, all those sites. At the end of the day, the illustrators that I really thought captured what I was looking for I found them on Instagram. And it was an interesting journey.

On platforms like Upwork, and Fiverr, there’s a money back guarantee, if you will. So if you put money into this particular illustrator, or service provider, and they don’t deliver the work, you have some sort of an assurance that you’ll get your money back. Because at the end of the day, we don’t know any of these people, right? They’re complete strangers all across the world.

With Instagram, I was very nervous because I wasn’t doing the work of transacting on that platform. So it was definitely a leap of faith, if you will, trying to determine the best way to guarantee deliverables and things along those lines, but it ended up working out.

Joanna: That’s fantastic because it does take time for people to find an illustrator. But if you find someone who matches with you, then that’s great. You want to hold on to them.

Another issue for children’s books is printing costs the materials and say print-on-demand.

How are you doing your publishing and distribution?

Are you using like print-on-demand services like Ingram Spark?

Ada-Ari: I have to be honest. If I had thought this entire initiative out properly, I probably would never have started. I discovered as I was going, and I’m grateful for that, because here we are today.

For printing, I actually worked through Alibaba and that was an entire process on its own. I was vetting all kinds of printers getting all different kinds of product samples. And fortunately, I was able to narrow down to one printer for my two different book products. And they are pretty different.

One is a box set of board books. The other one is a picture book. So hard paper, hardback. And that ended up working out, of course. I really had a look that I wanted, right for the storybooks, I wanted them to have pockets in the back where I would have those culture trading cards.

Ingram Spark in your regular print-on-demand would not offer those customizations. So I felt like I had to go with my own private printing process, if you will. And that definitely requires a lot of upfront capital.

But I really believe like that differentiator is worth the investment. So that’s how I’m doing it. I’m not print on demand. But the products, the quality is really, really good. I definitely wouldn’t trade that at this point.

Joanna: So you found a printer through Alibaba, and you’re doing print runs. So let’s say 5000 of a book, and then you mentioned that you are distributing obviously, in the US, but also UK, Australia, Canada.

How are you getting those printed books into places in those countries?

Ada-Ari: It’s not very easy. And I’m just starting out as I speak to you, I think, I don’t know if I mentioned this, when I first reached out to you, I was brand new, so I’m just about a year in the entire game. So I’m still figuring things out.

In the US, it’s really easy because I live here. My home is my warehouse. And I have my books available on platforms like Etsy on Amazon, on my website, of course, things along those lines, but I distribute all of them.

I’m now getting into the bigger stores, so your Whole Foods and your Targets and things along those lines. But for those ones, I literally had to get a couple of middlemen to get into the stores. But at the same time, at the end of the day, I’m still delivering all these books, to these warehouses, and then they’re being shipped to the different end locations.

For the UK, Nigeria, Canada and things along those lines, I’m really relying on a network of personal relationships that I have with people for the most part, and I’m getting my books directly from China, shipped to their locations, and then they are distributing on my behalf for now.

Joanna: That’s interesting. Sometimes we have people listening from different countries who have other connections so hopefully, you might get some people reaching out. Because I feel like that person the way you’re doing it, and I love that you’re like a year into it, and you’re doing all this stuff. It’s amazing.

What I would challenge you on and would like to suggest is that perhaps you do — in addition to your special print ones — you also upload a version to say Ingram Spark as a print-on-demand book, and/or Amazon KDP print, so that you can reach every other country in the world without having to do all of that.

Because even if they don’t have that little pocket in the back, it’s like it’s a 95% product, or it’s a 90% product, which still communicates what you want to do.

Do you have ebook versions?

Ada-Ari: I don’t.

Joanna: That would be another suggestion.

Ada-Ari: I’m just trying to manage my capacity, honestly, because I’m still a mom and I still work full time, all those different things.

So I did look into I think I’ve been trying to upload a version into Ingram Spark for that very same reason. I can’t remember why I kind of abandoned ship, to be honest, if it had anything to do with reformatting and things along those lines. I was like, okay, too much.

Eventually I want to transition them to making sure that I can do that or reach all the different markets.

I’m also discovering that marketing is the largest piece of this.

Because I created my books and I just thought, oh, everyone’s going to just know about them. I have a few thousand people on my Instagram platform and Facebook. I’m going to just post this and everyone’s going to see it and buy it.

I’m discovering that Instagram doesn’t show every one of your followers the posts that you do so I’m having to pull back from all these different additional, I guess, processes or backlog items I call them. And I’m trying to learn the marketing aspect, like how do I actually get the word out there to create the demand for the books.

That’s been a very exciting process in some ways. And I’m focusing on market by market. I’m very heavily focused in the US right now, because that’s where I am, so I can control that a little bit. And then I’m trying to figure out how to expand that model to different markets.

Joanna: I love that you said that. I know it’s hard. I did exactly this, back in 2008 or 2007, something like that, I printed a load of books, I had them in my living room, and I thought, Oh, I’m going to just sell them all in five minutes and make loads of money. Awesome.

Joanna Penn with the first edition of what became Career Change. Most of those boxes went to the landfill! (2008)

And then I was like this, I’ve got this brilliant picture and I hope you’ve got one of these: I’m standing in front of these boxes looking so proud and the picture captures my face when I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

Ada-Ari: I’m telling you, it is something else. But I’ve discovered something in marketing right now and it’s really very literally direct to customer, I would say. So in addition to going to street fairs and things along those lines, I now do school readings.

I was talking a little bit about like the culture cards in the back the geography lessons.

My school readings are beyond an author talk and the book reading. I actually have an entire what I call an African storytelling reimagined program.

So it’s really cool because I bring with me clothing, instruments, our brooms, our Calabashs. For the entire session that I’m reading to children, sometimes I do a one hour session in school, or I do a full day, some schools booking for multiple days, children get to just experience a day in the life back home in Africa.

With the focus on diversity these days and culture this is driving this really big demand. What’s amazing about the school readings is that they tell parents that I’m coming and so parents now get to learn about what I’m doing about my books. And so that’s really taken off.

But like I said, I’m just literally trying to discover different ways to market these books. These ones are still very like in person, heavy, trying to think of the best way to market a picture book digitally. So I haven’t cracked that nut. Yes, but I’m enjoying the school reads live in the meantime.

Joanna: I absolutely recommend Karen Inglis’s book. I’ll send you some links afterwards. Karen Inglis has been on the show and her book is in the second edition now: it’s How to Self-publish and Market a Children’s Book. Karen is doing incredibly well with digital marketing as well as with schools. So there’s definitely ways to crack at it.

But it’s definitely a challenge for children’s authors because of course, your market is not actually the children, it’s the parents, the librarians, the grandparents. So when you said you’re doing Instagram, and I know you have Facebook as well.

How are you finding online marketing? Or is it literally just the in-person stuff that’s working?

 Ada: I’ll tell you, right before we got on this call, I was just trying to battle the Facebook Help Center. And Instagram is owned by Facebook, or Meta now. So they’re all one and the same.

So one thing that I do, in addition to the school readings, I do a lot of library readings. And I have a partnership with Nordstrom. So I’m traveling around the US doing readings at Nordstrom. What I’ve discovered that is working for me indirectly is boosting the ads to my Nordstrom reads.

So for example, I have one coming up in Dallas in a week and a half. So I just posted that and I’m I put a boost. So that gets the attention of people digitally, they come to the reading, they enjoy the session, they buy the books.

That’s all I’ve really been able to do on social media for now, Facebook or Instagram, I find that when I do put an ad on Instagram or Facebook, it plays throughout Instagram and Facebook, because like I mentioned earlier, they’re all part of the same company now. But when I do direct ads for my books, I’m not quite getting that traction.

Again, I think it’s just difficult to differentiate yourself. Well, and I could be completely wrong. But to really differentiate myself as a picture book, like why buy this compared to the 1000 other picture books that are on the market today. What’s different about this one? Why do I need to grab this? I’m still trying to figure out the best way to capture that with the storybooks.

When they see it in person, they get it because I show them the back. I show them the cards they automatically love it. But digitally it’s a challenge.

I will say for the language books, though, that’s not as difficult when I market on social media, especially when I try to target those niche markets. Because they say oh this is my language. Oh my gosh, this exists. I want it. So that translates a little bit differently.

But again, I’m not quite there yet. It’s still very in-person heavy, I seem to be getting the message across in person. I’m open to tips.

Joanna: I love that you’ve come on anyway, only a year in and in five years time, if you’re going pitch me again, because I feel like I’ve had people on here, obviously, it’d be like Karen, who I mentioned, she’s been doing children’s book self-publishing for probably a decade. And I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years.

I feel like there’s so much we learn. And there are so many things I could tell you what to do, or that Karen could tell you what to do.

Like you said, if someone had told you what it would involve, you would never have started. But equally, you’re doing great, you’re doing amazing.

Ada-Ari: Thank you. I hit my first 1000 books sold as a first time self-published author. I think three months or so, since publishing.

So I know that the demand is there, I know that especially in this part of the world, the United States, diversity is a huge topic. Again, it’s just figuring out how to market it digitally.

Because what people see in person that gets them wanting copies of the books and telling people about it, I’m not able to translate in one second of the Instagram attention span you have before they determine if they’re going to swipe or if they’re going to stay on your page.

And actually, it’s interesting, because the first video I have on my Instagram page, it’s pinned is a video of me talking about the books. But against that point, in one second or two seconds, people are making a decision whether to swipe or to sit down, turn the volume up and watch. So I’m constantly playing around with that.

I really want to check out Karen’s book, her tips. For those of you who’ve been doing this for a decade plus, there’s a lot that I can learn from that.

Joanna: I love your attitude.

You mentioned you’re doing readings in Nordstrom, which is a department store if people don’t know. How did you get that?

Ada-Ari: So it’s interesting when people ask me that question, because the answer is I just asked. The same way I’m here on your podcast, the same way I’ve been able to get into schools, hundreds of schools around the country, I just asked.

I literally have a team that I work with. They’re a bunch of other ladies based in Nigeria. But I set up a process to reach out and ask these questions. And apparently Nordstrom is all about promoting small businesses that align, obviously, with what it is they’re doing. And they love the idea of the reading, the cultural aspect.

Again, I’m really writing that because it’s needed and there is a huge appetite for that in this part of the world today. So I reached out, I told someone Nordstrom about my books, and I was actually asking if they would sell the books there. And they were willing to buy wholesale from me directly.

I think as I mentioned at the very beginning of our session today, these department stores and the chains, they don’t buy directly from the author, they have their distributors, so I have to literally have two different middlemen to get into the stores. So that was not an option. But they said, You know what, you can come and do a pop up.

I said, well, in addition to a pop up, why don’t I share my culture in this way and do the readings, and they just love it. They love the idea. And before you knew it, here we are today. I’ve been in a ton of different Nordstroms and am going to have a ton more to go this year. No end in sight.

Joanna: Great. That’s great. I love that you asked you mentioned this team in Nigeria.

Are these freelancers that you’re paying to email pitch? You said you ‘just asked,’ but how are you asking?

Ada-Ari: My background, I should explain, is in process and operations and strategy professionally before becoming an author. So I’m always thinking about processes and how to create things that can be repeatable and repeated by different people.

So my first foray was to actually reach out, look into different schools or different retail centers or different places, and ask if they’d be interested in me doing the reading.

Actually, rewind a little bit: I published my first book in February. And I thought to myself, that’s Black History Month in the United States, I wonder if places that would have children there would be interested in me coming to do a reading. So I was pitching to indoor playgrounds, because in February it’s cold, parents want their children to be indoors, but still playing. And so I created a little pitch message.

And now I’ve expanded that a little bit more because I’ve gotten some media traction. So I’ve added those links on there. I’ve had successful storytimes at Nordstrom and schools so I can add some of those imagery to the emails. And I’m always tweaking it just a little bit to really help drive what it is that I’m doing because again, people have lots of different things coming their way.

How do I grab their attention in the first line of my email? And now that I have that in place, and I have a process of how to target the right customers?

I just have a team who does that for me repeats that task and does it for me.

Joanna: And their email and their signature line refers to you or that they’re your team basically.

Ada-Ari: Absolutely, yes. So all the responses come back to me. And I can follow up from there.

Joanna: I think that’s great. And what’s so interesting with this in-person marketing, and I don’t do it much myself, but I’ve heard this from people who do what you’re doing, which is department stores and schools is you don’t know who those parents are, or who they are, or who those store customers are.

There could be someone from a local radio station, or someone from a TV thing, or someone who does have a bigger Instagram channel, or someone who’s puts your video on Tiktok.

Or there are lots of opportunities for in-person marketing that then turns into other forms of marketing. So I think what you’re doing is great. And like you said, I mean, we’re recording this in October 2022 and you only published this year. So look, hats off to you, I don’t think you realize how well you’ve done.

I really can tell that it’s really hard. But you’re doing really well. And I guess that would be the question:

Did you start this with a commitment to a decade, because that’s the other thing, it takes time to compound into people actually knowing about you?

Ada-Ari: Initially, and like you said, I’m picturing the picture, the image of you standing around these boxes of books, I thought I would print 1000 copies of each of my books and sell them in a week.

I also thought that the entire initiative from end to end will probably take like $1,000 maximum. So worst case scenario, I could just get these books out, no harm, no loss.

Before you knew it, before I actually had books printed, I had sunk in significantly more than that amount of money.

So the driving force for me was I need to make this money back, I need to put this back into the savings account that came from things along those lines. And so that spurred a lot of the creativity.

For example, I started off just sending messages to my family and friends, putting it on Instagram, I found that that wasn’t working. So I started reaching out to indoor playgrounds. Then I discovered bookstores, some independent bookstores, who would link me up to street fairs. And again, like you mentioned, at some of these in person events, I’ve met one of the libraries that I’m working with now.

I’ve been trying to get their attention, and then I never could. But someone I met at one of those readings happens to be the decision maker at the library. So now here’s the conversation we’re having. So I’m really looking at those opportunities as ways to kind of get my name out there.

But like I mentioned earlier with my storybooks, my goal has a map of Africa on the back of each book with a specific country that the story comes from shaded out. And my vision is to see like a collector’s item, if you will, where by the end of the day, there’s one book from each country. So we’ve shaded out every single country in Africa.

With that in mind, and if I can write one book per year, I actually am currently illustrating my third book, which is coming out in February 2023. That’s a story from South Africa. If every year I could put out a new story from a new country in Africa. But I have a pretty decent pipeline, I’d say, of, of books of stories,

Joanna: I love that. I’ve actually got in front of me, I have a map of the world, obviously, which includes Africa, right in the middle. I look at it every day. When I was a kid growing up, we did a lot of traveling. And obviously, like I told you, I went to school in Malawi.

We weren’t allowed a TV, well, when in Malawi, we didn’t have TV. And when we moved back to England, my mum was like, we’re not having a TV. So I have this map of the world on the wall, as a child, and I would learn all the countries and all the capital cities, that was fun for me at the weekend. Although, of course, countries obviously change over time.

I love your vision. I think it’s brilliant. And actually, by the time you get to say number 10 or number 12, then you’re going to be a lot further along in the process.

What you’ll find is all those relationships will compound, and things will get difficult in a different way.

Ada-Ari: I can only hope. But also to go back to what you were just saying that was kind of the vision that I had as well, because I actually initially just wrote these stories. And I thought, Oh, these are cute stories to share with the world.

I thought what an amazing way to introduce children to Africa, what Africa is, the different countries that exist in Africa.

When I moved to America, as a teenager, there were a lot of people who didn’t realize that Nigeria was a country that was very different or far away from, say, Kenya and things along those lines. So if I could help this new generation, my children’s generation realize that Africa is this big continent, with many different countries.

In all my school readings, we have those discussions. We talk about continents and talk about the countries in Africa. What a great gift to give to this next generation. That’s my that’s one of my hopes and dreams.

Today we’re living in a world where it’s important to raise global citizens. And so this is my hope that this initiative that I’m doing can help to foster that raising children who are global citizens that they’re just a little bit more aware of the world around them. They don’t have passports quite yet.

Joanna: I never understand that about Americans. It’s one of the first things we get here, especially after Brexit, we can’t even go across the pond to France.

But I love what you say. And also, I have lots of ideas. For your business as well, you could branch out much further than books, you could be importing things that you can turn into other products that link back to Nigeria and other African countries and that people will buy because they’re related to your book. So there, you have a great idea here, I think it’s fantastic. I’m excited to see where this goes for you.

We’re almost out of time. I did just want to come back on your Facebook page, which I was having a look at. And you say, “I can’t tell you how many times I questioned myself and wonder if I should quit.” And you have told us about some of the difficulties. And that vision is a long-term vision.

What stops you quitting? Because I know that first year particularly is very hard.

Asa-Ari: Very hard indeed. I try to be as open and transparent because as I’m discovering today, and of course, having been in the game for well over a decade, it’s not as easy as it looks. People see me at Nordstrom, and they just think, oh, my gosh, it was probably easy, or she must have been doing this for ages.

I have other entrepreneurs who I’ve been brainstorming with as we start out our journey. I’m very passionate about being transparent. So I like to let people know that these are difficult things, every single deal. This deal with Whole Foods, for example, has been in the work for significantly longer than I would have thought it would things along those lines.

I love to share not just the highs, but also the lows. I don’t think we see enough of that. And we come in thinking as you and I did at the beginning that oh, this would just be a walk in the park, we’ll sell all these books instantly. But I truly believe that this is what I meant to do.

I’m deeply spiritual. I don’t believe that this is something that I just picked up out of nowhere. I feel like this is the calling that God put into my heart. I wake up every day refreshed, renewed.

I’m learning to take a break instead of quitting. So when things get really challenging when the juggling act just gets a bit overwhelming, I’m learning to just pause, take a step back, and then come back tomorrow, come back next week, in essence, take a vacation from the business.

I think there’s just this inner driving force that’s keeping me going. And I also say every time that I get a yes, it’s another like piece of validation that this is going the right way.

So every time a school gets back to me, or a store gets back to me, or I see a sale on my website, or I get a comment or review from someone who’s bought my books or something along those lines, that just helps to fuel the flames. And I think that it doesn’t take much when the fire is already burning so deeply inside of you to push you a little bit further.

There are all these different hoops to jump through. Like you were mentioning earlier, I need to go ahead and get my stuff on print-on-demand things along those lines. But I’m learning to just compartmentalize some of the more difficult ones, and focus on what’s going to bring me energy. As that energy comes, I can build out teams to automate some of these processes, I can go back to some of those really difficult pieces and re look at them with fresh eyes.

Joanna: I love that. I think you’ve re-energized me there. It’s really great. I know it’s hard for you. But I remember all of this. And I can only hope that you can also look forward and see that I’m a decade ahead of you. And you can do this and obviously I have a very different business. But yeah, it sounds amazing.

Tell people where they can find you and your books and everything you do online.

Ada-Ari: My name is Ada-Ari, my website is Ada-Ari.com. My Instagram account is Ada_Ari. You can also find links to my Amazon page, my Facebook page, my YouTube channel, all of those things are on my website. I’m in many places online. I need to get on Twitter and TikTok but you know what, those are some of the things that I’m going to just put to the backburner

Joanna: And you don’t need to. I’m not doing Tiktok ever. I said it’s not happening. We all find our places but thank you so much Ada, that was great.

Ada-Ari: Thank you so much. I really do appreciate the platform. Thank you for having me.

The post Writing And Marketing Diverse Books For Children With Ada-Ari first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • November 10, 2022