SNHU Talks Inspiration, Dreams and Book Marketing with Children’s Author/Cartoonist Sharna Fulton

by Pamme Boutselis

Sharna Fulton and her friend, Abby, who inspired Fulton’s latest book.

You recently published your second children’s book, “The Tell Your Secrets & Stuff to Chloe Pink Diary.” How did the character of Chloe Pink come about and what led to your latest book?
I think it’s two-fold. First, I knew from the age of seven I wanted to create a character that would be featured in greeting card and books, etc. Secondly, and almost forty years later, I was finally compelled to draw her in a sketchbook while sitting on a beach towel at Myrtle Beach. Alone on the seashore, I had an aha moment about my own lifelong joys and struggles of being a girl and a woman and felt compelled to lampoon these experiences. Since that day, Chloe Pink has evolved into the character she is now. A little cartoon girl filled with hope, joy and encouragement. She simply wants girls to follow their dreams.

The second book was an idea from my dear friend, Abby, who I met in my after school arts class I did a couple of years ago. She is now 9 years old. Always full of great ideas, Abby suggested I do a Chloe Pink journal where a girl could tell secrets to herself. While I loved Abby’s concept, I didn’t want girls to get the wrong idea – that their dreams should be kept under wrap. After all, Chloe Pink is all about encouraging girls to shout to the world who they are. So, I changed the title slightly. That way Chloe Pink could be the person a girl could talk to and receive reinforcement from her along the way, too. Abby seemed to have no problem with that and in fact, the book is dedicated to her.

Your background is fairly diverse in terms of writing. You started out as a copywriter in an advertising agency and now operate as a freelancer in addition to your work on Chloe Pink. What have some of the constants been throughout the years that you have found to be an important part of any writing you have done? 
I’d have to say heart and grit. I’ve wanted to be a better writer and artist my whole life, which is why I’ve kept at it. For instance, when I worked at Red Robin in college, I was more interested in making their sales fliers and posters than waiting tables. And I got them to let me do it. After college, I struggled to get into the ad agency business. My English degree at CU/Boulder left me unprepared that. So, after doing promotions at a radio station and writing women’s fashion ads for a department store, I finally got word of a concepting class taught by an ad agency creative director in Denver, CO. I came out of it with a portfolio that helped me land my first “real” agency copywriting job at DDB Needham in Washington, DC. From there, I was able to work with incredibly talented and experienced creative directors, writers and art directors, etc. who generously taught me about the communications business. Afterwards came more mini-successes, medium failures and major flops! Ha! The story of my creative ups and downs continues!

Both of your children’s books are self-published. Can you tell us a bit about your experience? 
While I’ve long had a goal to be a “published” author, I didn’t want to wait for “that day” to come. When the 2010 Decatur Book Festival rolled around, it gave me a newly found purpose, or medium, in which to apply the concept of Chloe Pink. I felt an activity book for girls would be an appropriate use for this self-publishing vehicle. The entire experience was self-taught. With three months to create and produce the book, I was driven to meet a deadline to have a product in time for the show. If you want to get something done, I highly recommend giving yourself a tight (but doable) deadline!

How has your background in advertising and marketing helped you promote and sell your books?
I suppose with a career in advertising and marketing, I’m not afraid to try stuff. I’ve learned a lot from trial and error. For instance, I found out in my days, that it’s easier to get that really big client when they walk past your booth at a national trade show, then through a cold-call. I’m still working on a way to make Chloe Pink an overnight success. I throw a lot of stuff against the wall and see what sticks. I just did a book launch where I felt I did everything right. I gave myself enough time to promote, issued a press release to local media, hung posters at every Starbucks, put it out on social media, etc. The turnout at the event was not nearly what I’d envisioned it might be. But I left satisfied knowing I’d done everything I could possibly and reasonably do on my end.

You may just be one of the original bloggers. What was your initial inspiration for creating a blog?
Not to bring up my other business again, but the first blog I created was for in the early 2000s. I wanted to promote my business other than just through the website and events. There was no Facebook back then to post pictures of my company’s custom mugs and ornaments or to show our booth at the New York City Marathon…or to highlight the amazing achievements of the female runners and other athletes who bought our wares. So, I blogged about it.

You are part of the Young Audiences Arts for Learning program and offer a program called “You’ve Got to Blog – Expressing Your Point of View in a Digital Age” for students in grades 3 – 12. What’s the feedback been from young people on the message you share in this program?
The feedback I get from kids most is that they have fun expressing their point of view! This confirms that their opinions, thoughts and ideas need to be communicated and validated. I wish that the workshop didn’t end after 45 minutes. That way, I could keep on reminding them just how much their voices matters.

Social media is also a big part of what you do professionally. How important is social media to a writer and what are the benefits?
Social media is a mixed blessing to me. As somebody who’s way more comfortable sitting behind a keyboard than around conference table, social media helps me “feel” connected to others. And I really like that. The downside is it’s too easy of a distraction to keep me from working towards my goals, such as writing and illustrating a children’s book.

By posting the link of my book product page or reviews, prospective customers are able to purchase a Chloe Pink activity book virtually from Facebook or Twitter. I attribute some of my book sales to social media tools, which are also free. I’m also a big believer in posting a URL or at least a picture, to make posts “come to life.” But a short headline, lead-in to explain what you are presenting and what you would like to happen is helpful.I monitor and update the Chloe Pink Facebook page daily with the help of Kelly Wright Liddell, Chloe Pink’s marketing manager. Followers of the page have also ‘shared’ content with their friends, which has amounted to t-shirt and book sales. Social media offers a great low-pressure selling technique as you educate your fan base along the way about your brand – in my case, Chloe Pink.

What are the frustrations for you as a writer and what do you do to combat those challenges?
I have a fairly flexible schedule, which frees me up to do the creative things I want to do. The downside is there are always lots of balls in the air and I’m constantly having to deal with minutia. This tends to pop the proverbial bubble of coming up with great ideas. As I’ve matured a bit, I’ve gotten a little better at being organized and leading a more balanced life so as to make room for creativity. And to simply enjoy the process of living an artful life. And then of course there’s that issue of trying to come up with the big idea, but every day is a fresh canvas.

What’s next for Chloe Pink?
After several false starts, I’m starting to work on a Chloe Pink picture book to submit to children’s agents in early 2013.

Which books have influenced you the most as a writer?  
“Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White. My 2nd grade teacher read it to us and I can still hear her voice of Wilbur and Charlotte in my head.