Author Spotlight: Carol Kim
Oct. 1, 2021
We are excited to feature author Carol Kim and her debut nonfiction book, KING SEJONG INVENTS AN ALPHABET, illustrated by Cindy Kang (Albert Whitman & Co.) out today! Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I’ve always been a late bloomer--and my kidlit journey was no different! I did START early, it’s just that I took a very long hiatus before finally mustering up the courage to try writing for kids.
Like most children’s authors, I loved reading as a child. It was my absolute favorite thing to do. I especially loved the feeling of being caught up in a story and wanting to BE some of the characters in the books I read.
Books were such a source of joy and inspiration to me, and I longed to be able to create stories myself that had the same effect. I wrote several stories when I was a kid, including one that was a complete riff off of one of my all-time favorite books, Watership Down by Richard Adams. I desperately wanted to be Hazel (who, for those of you not familiar with this book, is a rabbit).
But as it happens, I felt writing for stories was impractical as a career. I also just couldn’t imagine actually becoming a published author myself. I believed it was something that happened to other people--those with special powers or extremely good luck.
When my kids were born, I was reintroduced to children’s books. And that dormant feeling of wanting to write stories myself started growing inside of me. When it reached the point where I felt like a balloon about to burst, I started exploring writing again.
Congrats on your debut nonfiction picture book, King Sejong Invents an Alphabet! Tell us about it and what inspired you.
After my mother passed away in 2012, my father told me he wanted to visit Korea. He was 86 years old, and he had never been back in almost 60 years! He ended up taking my family and my oldest brother’s family with him.
While we were in the planning stages of our trip, my father mentioned that his Korean was at a third-grade level. My father is well-educated, so this surprised me. He proceeded to tell me the story of Hangeul, and how, unlike other alphabets, it had been deliberately invented 600 years ago by King Sejong. He told me how there was a lot of resistance to Hangeul, and that it had only become the official alphabet in 1946--during his lifetime!
I was stunned. Two things came to my mind: I couldn’t believe I had never heard about Hangeul before, and that it would make a great children’s book! I am overjoyed that I was able to make this idea into reality.
Was your initial road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Both! I started exploring writing for children when my kids were in elementary school. I tried writing for magazines, I took some courses on writing for children, and I did some random freelance writing jobs writing stories for kids. But I never gained much traction, and I kept doing it in fits and starts. This went on for about 10 years.
Finally, in 2019, I had a kind of epiphany. I was looking back at my rather pitiful attempts to become a children’s author, and realized I had never really made a strong commitment to my dream. I decided 2019 was going to be the year I would make a serious effort. One of the first things I did was evaluate what would help push me toward my goal. That’s when I had the bright idea of finding a mentor. Well, lo and behold, I came across Justin Colón’s #PBChat mentorship program--and to my joy and astonishment, landed a mentorship with author Katey Howes.
I also took a course with the Children’s Book Academy on picture books. Here’s another funny thing--up until that point, I wasn’t planning on writing picture books. (I thought they were way too hard to write!) But I had landed a picture book mentorship, so I figured I needed to just go for it!
The CBA course offers students an opportunity to submit pitches to a group of agents and editors at the end of the course. I submitted a pitch for KING SEJONG and Christina Pulles with Albert Whitman expressed interest. That led to a couple of R&Rs (Revise and Resubmits) and eventually a contract offer.
In other words, it took me years to make a real commitment to pursuing this dream. But once I did, it took one year for me to get a publishing contract for my book. I still can’t believe it!
What projects are you working on now?
I first got into writing children’s books through the educational market. I love doing research and writing nonfiction. When I heard about writing for educational publishers, it sounded like a perfect fit for me. I started exploring it, and landed a couple of work-for-hire projects writing nonfiction books. So technically, I’ve been a published author since 2018, when my first educational book, Pit Vipers, was published.
This past year I’ve had several great educational market opportunities come my way. I was so excited about them, I kept saying yes! In this past year, I’ve written over ten educational books. Many of them were about environmental topics, which is one of my personal interests. I am just finishing up the last of these books. After that, I am eager to spend more time writing stories that I’ve been toying with for quite some time, but have not had time to devote to them. The ideas at the top of my list are all nonfiction, or informational fiction.
What are your best tips for researching nonfiction picture books?
Be organized! There is nothing worse than having to abandon some really juicy piece of information because you can’t remember where you got it from. With nonfiction, it’s very important that your facts are verified. These books are for kids, and we have a responsibility to make sure what we are telling them is true.
I recommend having some kind of system for keeping track of your sources. I like to use OneNote--one reason being that it’s free, and you get quite a bit of storage space. I know other authors use Evernote, which works in a similar fashion. Others use good old-fashioned note cards or composition books. There is no best system--use what you are comfortable with!
Another tip is to ask librarians for help! They are skilled at digging up sources and are always happy to help. During this past year, with libraries closed, I found the chat function worked wonderfully.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I am not much of a movie person. So I’ve missed quite a few blockbusters. For example, I’ve never seen Jaws, The Godfather, Titanic, any Jurassic movies, only the original Star Wars trilogy, Grease...(okay, I better stop, people are going to start shunning me!).
I would always just rather read a book!
Where can people find you online?
My author website is CarolKimBooks.com
My more interesting website (where I talk about being an author and exploring making a living at it) is MakeaLivinginKidlit.com
Also social media:
Carol Kim believes books and words have a magical ability to change the world for the better, and she writes for children with the hope of spreading some of that magic. She is the author of the picture book biography, King Sejong Invents an Alphabet as well as 20 fiction and nonfiction books for the educational market. Carol relishes unearthing real-life stories and little-known facts to share with young readers. She lives in Austin, Texas with her family.
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