Interview With a Pro:
How Copywriter Kieran Doherty Achieved His Dream of Becoming a Children's Book Author
AWAI Board Member Kieran Doherty is a successful copywriter who is also a successful children's book author. He has been writing professionally for almost 40 of his 56 years, with a background in newspaper reporting/editing, magazine editing, and freelance writing. In addition to being well-known in the direct mail industry for his copywriting skills, Kieran has published three short stories and more than 300 newspaper and magazine articles about business, travel, health, and investing. Four years ago, he achieved his lifelong dream to write nonfiction books for children and young adults. In today's interview, he tells how he overcame the obstacles and started this personally satisfying (and moneymaking) side business.
TGT: You've been a successful copywriter for many years – and now you've started a second career as a children's book author. What made you decide to branch out?
KD: I'm a copywriter, first and foremost. Make no mistake. Copywriting is what makes it possible for me to have the kind of lifestyle and freedom I enjoy. Still, I always had a dream to write nonfiction books for children. And though I don't make nearly as much money from my children's books as I do as a copywriter, I'm proud to say that I will have 10 books published by the end of this year – and I only work at it part-time.
You can't imagine the feeling I get when I sit at my desk and look at the bookcase in my home office and see them lined up … with my name on the spine of each and every one. Writing these books has also given me the opportunity to talk to groups of young students about history (I write history stories, mostly). And there's nothing better than explaining the first Thanksgiving in the context of William Bradford or the real story of Pocahontas as told by John Smith in Jamestown. It just can't be beat.
TGT: What was the turning point for you? What finally made it happen?
KD: I tried and tried, and just couldn't seem to make a sale. Then, about four years ago, I met a successful children's author who gave me the start I needed. As soon as I began using the tips she shared with me on how to get my work noticed and published, I was on my way.
Within about four months, I sold my first book – a collection of profiles of recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. I didn't make much up-front money … but the royalties started to roll in at the rate of about $2,500 a year. I followed that with a five-book series about the settlement of the United States. Again, my advance wasn't great – about $1,000 per book … but the royalties from that series now amount to about $15,000 a year. I've written three full-length biographies for a different editor: on the life of William Penn, the story of William Bradford, and the story of John Smith. And I'm now working on my fourth book for this editor.
All told, I figure that I'll earn about $40,000 over the next 12 months from those books. But it's not really about the money to me. I love the work. The money's just an added bonus.
TGT: How much of a demand is there for children's books?
KD: There's no end in sight. It seems that the market for children's books is booming. My specialty is historical nonfiction, but publishers are also hungry for picture books, novels for children ages 8 to 10, and fantasies (thanks to the popularity of J.K. Rowlings' "Harry Potter" books). I truly believe that anyone who really wants to be a children's book author can do it.
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