“Inspiration surges from the Seashore”
by Joanne Evans
Like many authors, I believe my love of writing started with my love of reading. It has always felt like a wonderful gift to be able to enjoy books. I also began to write a lot of poetry in grade school. This had a lot to do with popular songs/singers at the time like Sam Cooke. I also wrote and illustrated my first book when I was around ten years old. I declared then that it was what I wanted to do when I “grew up.”
Looking back now, I realize that writing all that poetry was probably quite helpful in writing for children. It taught me to say what I needed to say in as few words as possible.
Over the years I wrote several more fictional children’s books, which I tried to publish. When I first started sending out my manuscript to publishers, I had a lot to learn. In those days I sent out my original artwork and manuscript. I did not fully realize at the time how crazy this was, since most publishers will not return your manuscript let alone original artwork. I was very lucky that the publishers to whom I submitted sent my illustrations back to me. Further, it was very discouraging, sending my work out on and off for years with no success. Still, looking back, I can see that both my writing and illustrations needed to mature.
I ended up going back to school after my kids were in grade school. After I finished my masters at Worcester State with Dr. Sharon Yang, I started to write and illustrate stories from my childhood. Around that time, I became a bit frustrated with working on those stories. At one point, I decided to take a break from them and just paint something I love. So I started painting my seashells and scenes from the beach. These initial paintings included seashells, seaweed, and a crab. While painting the seashells, I had the thought that there might be a need for a book about seashells and the experience of visiting the beach. I decided to focus on the shells that I had gathered here on New England shores. My initial research into similar seashell books was discouraging because there were already so many. However, when I actually read them, I realized these books all focused on Florida shells. When I learned this, I could see there was, indeed, a need for my book focusing on New England.
Once I finished writing and illustrating the seashell book, I put it together in InDesign (a page layout program). I printed a small version of the book and sent that out to numerous publishers. One publisher said he really liked it but felt it still needed work, suggesting I also think about doing a series. With that direction, I recalled some advice I read in an advertising book: have one focus. So I reworked the book to focus only on shells. I removed the part with the seagull and the crab, hoping they could show up again in other books. I nearly gave up on getting my seashell book published, as I still kept getting rejection letters. Finally, I decided to try one more time. As this is a regional, book I googled “New England publishers,” leading me to Islandport Press of Maine. I submitted my book to them and months later got an email saying they were interested. I was over the moon!
Before I even published with Islandport Press, I had started working on the other books in the series. When Islandport ended up declining to publish the rest of the series, I began to send out to other publishers again.
Fast forward a few years and a few more rejection letters to the second book in the series, Seaweed. I was ready to give up again. However, I noticed that self-publishing options became more and more prevalent at this time. More importantly, I felt that I was getting older and only had so many years left to finish the work I had started. So, I decided to give Amazon a chance; if the quality was good, I would publish with them. After getting my proof copy of Seaweed, I was satisfied with Amazon’s work and moved forward with it, as well as the rest of the series: Marine Animals and Marine Birds. I then turned my attention to another book that I had been moved to write. One that I felt could not wait.
This book was inspired by seeing a lone, little piping plover on Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. I knew that seeing this bird was a small miracle, considering their endangered status. After stopping numerous kids from chasing it and capturing it, I became obsessed with getting a book written and illustrated to help educate the public, especially young people. Because I really wanted to connect with children in a way they could relate to, I decided to switch my traditional informative way of writing non-fiction. To help children understand and empathize with this bird, I chose to do this one as narrative non-fiction. Little Piping Plover was published in May of 2022.
Now that Little Piping Plover has launched, I’m turning my attention back to the seashore series. In writing all these books, I feel as if I’m following the old adage: “write what you know.” So, I write from my experiences at the sea shore, on things I love and I’m curious about in nature. I write about the seashore life that a child is most likely to witness.
I’m grateful for the option of self-publishing. Self-publishing is not ideal ‒ without the support of a publisher, it is hard to market and place books in stores. I was lucky to be able to build on the success of Seashells when I contacted many of the book stores where it was already placed in Maine. Many of the book stores and shops in Massachusetts and Rhode Island I visited personally. I also feel my experience with Islandport Press taught me many valuable lessons about the publishing world and especially working with a small/medium publisher. I learned that a writer has to be open to edits and changes so the book will evolve during the process. Also important, publishing takes time, even several years, once the book is accepted.
I’m very happy that I persevered and published these books. I love sharing them with children and adults, and they have been very well received. My overall mission is to educate and to raise awareness of the natural world because I love nature and the seashore; this is where my innate focus still leads me.
For more information there are several interviews I have done on YouTube. Just google Joanne Roach-Evans. I also have my own YouTube channel about the seashore @jroachevans. You can find me on Instagram and Facebook under the same name jroachevans and, of course, my web site @ jroachevans.com
Joanne Roach-Evans attended The School of the Worcester Art Museum, Worcester State University, and Quinsigamond Community College, majoring in Art, English, and Graphic Design. She has a Masters in Education from Worcester State University. Her first children’s book Seashells: Treasures from the Northeast Coast was published in 2013 by Islandport Press. Seaweed: Marine Algae from the Northeast Coast was published in July of 2019, Marine Animals from the Northeast Coast was published in February of 2020, Marine Birds from the Northeast Coast was published in May of 2021, and in May of 2022 she published Little Piping Plover.
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