Like this trainer as a result of a best-selling kids’s writer

In her 15 years as a second grade teacher, Shannon Olsen never set out to become a best-selling children’s author. She just couldn’t find the type of book she wanted to look for in her classroom, so she decided to write it herself.

Her book Our Class is a Family recognizes that teachers do so much for their students outside the walls of a classroom. They really help create a sense of community and give students that much-needed sense of family every day.

It turned out that Shannon wasn’t the only one who wanted a book on the subject. More than 130,000 copies have been sold since it was first released in May 2020. The book also ranked first for children’s books on Publishers Weekly as well as other lists. We met Shannon to ask her if she should still become a children’s writer as a teacher, and we’ve learned so much. Check out how she really stood up to the odds of becoming a best-selling children’s book author. And everything was inspired by her life as a teacher!

Note: WeAreTeachers can collect part of the sales via links on this page. We only recommend items that we really love.

WeAreTeachers: Do you have a written background?

SO: I’ve always wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. Really, I actually knew I wanted to be a writer before I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I majored and studied English at UC Irvine, but that’s my only writing background. I became more inspired to write children’s books after I started creating other teaching resources through Teachers Pay Teachers. When I started creating materials, I started a blog and Instagram account for teachers.

WeAreTeachers: When did you get the idea for your book?

SO: It was at the beginning of the school year in 2019. I was reading several textbooks to my students at the time. I thought I wish there was a book that got the message that our class is like family.

WeAreTeachers: Why was this topic interesting for you?

SO: Like many teachers, I always told my classes that we were like family. Not only does this strengthen class management and the class community, but this idea has really helped students feel accepted and that our class is a place they belong. Unable to find such a book, I sought advice from Beverly Cleary, one of my favorite childhood authors. She once said, “If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it.”

WeAreTeachers: What happened next?

SO: I got the idea, but I didn’t even think about how I was going to release or market it at the time. I just sat down and wrote it down first. Then I thought: what now? With no idea how to publish a book, I started making connections. I spent a lot of time researching the different options, like traditional publishing or self-publishing. At first I thought I wanted to try the traditional route. Then I realized that despite the small likelihood that a traditional publisher would accept my book, it could be years before I actually got the book in my hands. So I thought I’d try to publish myself instead. I figured even if no one bought the book, at least I would go after it and then read it to my students.

WeAreTeachers: How did you choose illustrations for the book?

SO: The illustrations were really important to me because as a teacher I know you can have a great story or a great book, but if you don’t have the right illustrations or pictures for it, it won’t work. I spent a lot of time – hours and hours – looking for and contacting different illustrators. I finally found Sandie Sonke, who lived not too far from me in Southern California. Aside from her talent, I loved that she was open to collaboration.

WeAreTeachers: How did you get physical copies after the illustrations were ready?

SO: As a busy working mother, my time is very valuable to me. I knew I could probably save a lot of time and frustration by hiring someone to help me format the book properly and upload it to sell on Amazon. As soon as the listing was live, I announced it on my Instagram page with a picture of myself holding the book on. It was very scary to show myself out there like that because you just never know how your work will be perceived, but the teaching community has been so supportive of me.

WeAreTeachers: Have you heard of any publishers or agents who want to get your work published now?

So yes. I was fortunate that several publishers, including a few “Big Five” publishers, reached out to me. I am humble that some have made me very generous offers for licensing rights to the book, and in the future I can choose to sign with a publisher and go that route.

I like the creative aspect of being a writer rather than the business and finance, but my husband is like my CFO and a great advisor. Right now, I’m enjoying learning more about the self-publishing process and seeing where it takes me. I started selling copies independently on my website. And I recently signed an agreement for an exclusive edition of Our Class is a Family to be released with a major retailer and due out this summer.

WeAreTeachers: Are you working on new projects?

So yes. I’ve written a few new books and Sandie and I are currently working on the illustrations together. I plan to bring the first out in late spring this year. I’ve also just started offering virtual writer visits which has been a fun new adventure so far.

WeAreTeachers: What is your advice to others who want to write or publish?

SO: Writing the book is the easy part. It’s all that comes after that, that’s the challenge. If you’re a new writer looking to self-publish, you need to have a solid marketing plan in mind. Social media, paid advertising, and email marketing can all help. Also, it helps if you can create an established platform or network in your field before starting your book.

Many aspiring writers turn to me for advice. I try to be as helpful as possible, but I always tell them the most important thing is to invest time and do research. We all have different things in our life that we balance.

When I wrote and published this book, I was teaching full time and running a business in TPT. I am also very family oriented and would like to spend a lot of time with my husband and two young daughters. It would have been easy to say that I don’t have enough time or too much on my plate, but if something is important enough to you, take your time.

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