Kidlit in Color member, Aya Khalil, had the honor to interview author Rahma Rodaah about her upcoming picture book, Dear Black Child, which publishes on September 27th. They chatted about her journey from self publishing to traditional publishing, advice to aspiring authors, and more! Read more below:
Aya Khalil: Salaam, Rahma! Thanks for letting me interview you for Kidlit in Color. I was so excited to see your announcement about your new picture book, Dear Black Child, published by HarperCollins and illustrated by Lydia Mba. This is not your first picture book. Can you give our readers a bit of a background of your publishing journey?
Rahma: I am so excited to be featured here, so thank you for this opportunity. Dear Black Child is my third published picture book but my first traditionally published work. I self-published my first picture book titled: Muhiima's Quest in 2017 when I noticed a lack of picture books featuring Black Muslim characters. The following year, I self-published another picture book titled: "Little Brother For Sale." I wrote these books because I was having difficulty finding books that celebrated being Balck and Muslim. These two identities, which dictate how we are perceived in this world, were not common, so my first goal was to fill that gap for my children. I started writing because I wanted to make sure my kids saw themselves in books. In 2020 I was fortunate to be discovered by an editor who wished to publish my manuscript "Dear Black Child" and thus began my journey in traditional publishing.
AK: Wow, that's so inspiring! Can you tell us a bit more about the idea for how Dear Black Child came to mind, how long it took, and how it went to auction?
RR: This manuscript was first written on my phone back in 2018. One day I was sitting in my living room watching my kids, and I had one of those moments when I saw myself at their age. I remembered how difficult it was for me to adjust to my new life in Canada at the age of eight, not speaking the language and being the only Black Muslim girl in my class. It just poured out of me, and then, months later, I realized how special this piece was. I decided not to self-publish it because I wanted to reach many children worldwide. And so I queried some agents. I even did a few Twitter pitches, but nothing happened. Finally, in the summer of 2020, at the height of the BLM uproar, an editor heard me recite my piece during an online Black author event. She reached out to me and offered me a deal on the spot. I had no agent, but things moved very quickly. I got an agent, and then my book went to auction within a few weeks. It was honestly a surreal moment, and I had absolutely nothing to compare it to, so I was nervous the whole time. The auction process was incredibly nerve-racking because it can be intense, and you are on edge all day waiting to hear the news. I was grateful for my agent, who kept me calm and celebrated with me every step of the way.
AK: I love that the editor found you during an online Black author event! There's always a lot of buzz around whether people should self-publish or go the traditionally publishing route. Since you have done both, can you tell our readers a bit of both, the differences, and which route aspiring authors should choose?
RR: I am glad I decided to Self-Publish first because I believe it gave me more awareness and confidence in the publishing industry. I like to tell people a Self-Published author is essentially a small business owner. Because as a Self-Published author, you are used to doing everything alone, whereas now I need to constantly remind myself I am part of a team. For example, I don't need to worry about the distribution and marketing of the book. Therefore, a mind-shift is definitely required when going from Self-Published to Traditional Publishing.
Ultimately the choice depends on the individual and what they feel is right for the book. Both options have pros and cons, and each path has a set of obstacles and triumphs. My advice would be to read up on both, ask authors from both sides, consider your goals and capacity, and make a decision with all that information in mind.
AK: That's great advice. I read an e-arc of Dear Black Child, and it is such a beautiful book. The illustrations are so vibrant! What was your reaction when you first saw the illustrations?
RR: I was very fortunate to have Lydia as an illustrator. She is so talented and connected to the text right away. I was blown away by the beauty of each page and the incredible images she attached to my words. She has truly captured the heart and essence of my manuscript.
AK: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
RR: I think the single and best advice I ever received was not never to give up. Believe in your story and keep trying no matter how long it takes. I would also add investing in your craft by taking courses, attending conferences and immersing yourself in the publishing community.
AK: I love that! Thank you so much for letting me interview you! Where can our readers find you and pre-order your book?