In June, Readings Kids assistant manager Dani Solomon named My Family Doesn’t Look Like Your Family by Tenielle Stoltenkamp as ‘hands down, the most popular’ self-published title stocked at their store.
Stoltenkamp spoke to Independent Publishing about the motivation for her book, securing bricks-and-mortar stockists, reaching the schools and libraries market and treating self-publishing as a small business.
Describe My Family Doesn’t Look Like Your Family.
My Family Doesn’t Look Like Your Family blends counting and inclusive questions with bold illustrations crafted to represent diverse families of all shapes and forms.
My aim for the book was to ensure every child could see their own family on the pages and to know that—even though every family looks and does things differently—they have a place where they belong.
What inspired you to create the book, and why did you decide to self-publish?
My Family Doesn’t Look Like Your Family was inspired by the time I spent volunteering with The Pyjama Foundation. I was paired with an incredible young girl and her foster family, who I’m still close to today. Whenever I searched for new books to read with her I was struck by the number of children’s books that depicted one-dimensional families that were so far from her reality. This opened my eyes to the number of children who aren’t represented in the stories we tell about families.
My Family Doesn’t Look Like Your Family is my first self-published book. It’s a message I was passionate about bringing to life as I strongly believe in the importance of representation in children’s content. Self-publishing gave me the freedom to choose the team I wanted to work with to make this book a reality. I was also keen to learn as much as I could about the publishing process and the industry.
What has the response to the book been like from parents, booksellers and kids?
The positive response has been overwhelming. I have received heartwarming stories from parents, teachers and social workers alike across Australia. The book has been used as a resource in so many different settings. Mum bloggers and school teachers have been huge supporters. As a result of their online reviews and seeking out the book from their local bookstores, we’ve had orders from independent bookstores in the USA, South Africa, Brazil and the UK. I’m so thankful to have worked with the amazing Go Suga on this book. Go’s illustrations brought the heart and vision of the book to life. Every time I see kids engage with the book I see them drawn to different elements. It’s beautiful to see how kids place themselves in the story and takeaway unique details from every page.
You have secured stockists at bookstores in Queensland and Victoria. Can you describe how you went about this process? What advice would you give to other self-published authors wanting their titles in their local bookshop?
I’ve treated self-publishing like starting a small business. A lot of time went into building a database of local bookstores and reaching out one by one. There were a lot that never replied, but those who have are passionate about supporting independent authors and passionate about the themes of the book.
You also have distribution to schools and libraries through James Bennett and ALS Library Services. Again, can you describe how you went about this process?
My Family Doesn’t Look Like Your Family was written with the classroom in mind and I knew schools and libraries were essential. I reached out directly to both distributors through their websites but ensured we included strong marketing materials, pricing models and promotional images from that very first email.
What would be your top tips for those starting out in self-publishing—what lessons have you learned from publishing My Family Doesn’t Look Like Your Family?
Have as many conversations as possible. Creating the book was the easy part. The majority of my time was spent researching the process and the industry from as many angles as possible. This meant meetings with bookstores, printers, self-published authors, childcare specialists and academics, PR professionals, digital marketers—you name it! I soaked up every detail I could. Also—be practical. Beyond the amazing stockists and distributors I work with, this is now an online business that requires a lot of time of attention (on top of full-time work and commitments). Think end to end about your operations, customer support and the personal time and financial investment required to see your book succeed in the long term.
What will you publish next?
I have the next few books (almost) ready to go. I’ve always been passionate about children’s content. As a society, we’re speaking more openly about deep issues such as identity, diversity and acceptance. I want to be a part of those conversations and to translate these important concepts into art and literature that children love and enjoy. I’m excited to partner with different creatives, bookstores and even publishers to bring these ideas to life.