Lobsters and Lakes and Loons, OH MY! An entire collection giveaway!

For my family, August and Maine are synonymous. Well, a few weeks of August anyway. We spend time with my mom in her parents’ old farmhouse in a rural corner of the state, enjoying long soaks in Kezar Lake (to which I dedicated my book Come Next Season) and visiting relatives. As we wrap up this year’s trip, I thought it was the perfect time to share the work of Stephanie Mulligan, whose McSea Books are taking Maine bookstores by storm. (A happy storm, of course!)

Author and publisher, Stephanie Mulligan

Although Stephanie and I still haven’t managed to meet in person, we’ve become friends through Facebook, where I was first impressed with the beautiful cover of her self-published book about lobstering, How to Catch a Keeper. Stephanie has been busy since then. She has branched out to become a respected regional publisher of children’s books about Maine. Regional publishing is an exciting part of the kidlit biz I though our readers would enjoy learning about. AND Stephanie has an incredibly generous offer for PBB blog readers: She’s offering an entire COLLECTION of McSea picture books to one of our commenters. While the books all take place in Maine, because of the many science and other nonfiction elements, they’re really perfect for young readers in any part of the world in all seasons, so be sure to drop a comment below for a chance to win!

Stephanie, I know your first book was How to catch a Keeper. At that time, did you plan to become a publisher of other writers and illustrators? If not, how did the idea evolve?

When I decided to print and publish How to Catch a Keeper, I had no intention of publishing other writers and illustrators. At the time, I felt it was taking every ounce of my energy raising a family and trying to get that title into the hands of as many children as I could. It was more than my wildest dreams. I couldn’t even imagine how successful it would be. As far as how the idea of becoming a publisher evolved, it had a lot to do with my friend, Suzanne Buzby Hersey. She is a Maine author, and she started a small press, Little Beach Books. She is the author of My Maine and Find a Moose with Me. At one point, she told me she was thinking about transitioning to focus more on her writing. We kept talking about the idea of McSea Books taking over Little Beach Books and eventually that all came to fruition. I’m so grateful Suzanne encouraged me to go down this path of publishing because I had never imagined myself doing anything like this. If I hadn’t been open to it, we wouldn’t be here today on track for about fifteen titles in the next two years.

The first book I traditionally published through McSea was Suzanne’s book, Find a Moose with Me, illustrated by Ashley Halsey. Suzanne ask my opinion of the book just as a friend, not as a submission at first. I absolutely loved it, and I was secretly hoping that I could publish it one day. I loved it as much as I loved my own books – maybe even more – and I never knew that feeling was possible. Now I feel a deep and personal connection to each book I publish. This past year, How to Catch a Keeper and Find a Moose with Me were each chosen as a “Best Read for Science and STEM” by the Children’s Book Council and the nonprofit Every Child a Reader.

Your books have been a hit around the state of Maine. How did you get the word out and manage such wide distribution?

To get the word out about McSea Books, I used a lot of social media and started with my family and friends. Once I realized I had 2000 copies to sell, it really lit a fire under me. I was very encouraged when I walked into a bookstore (it was the first bookstore I walked into) and the owner said my book didn’t look “self-published.” I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but now I have a better idea. He was giving me a compliment! I ended up going up and down the coast, making my way to Bar Harbor, while visiting gift shops, hotels, markets, and bookstores. I made my rounds with my lobstering book as my husband and my mother-in-law took the kids. After that, it was mostly phone calls and emails. NONSTOP.

Inside spread from Journey of the Sea Glass by Nicole Fazio

And that is related to your next question— where do I get my energy from? I have a lot of help from my husband, my mother and my in-laws. It truly takes a village to run a publishing company!  I have a great team and that is so important when you’re getting into the publishing world to have experts and people you can trust and rely upon. I am deeply grateful for my designer Grace Peirce who owns Great Life Press out of New Hampshire. Besides all of the time she puts in for creating the designs of our books, ads, banners, etc., she and her partner Dennis Collins Johnson (Rollicking Productions) have created our beautiful book trailers. Dennis’s granddaughter did such an amazing job in the Find a Moose with Me trailer that it garnered a nomination for an award for best children’s voiceover.

Inside spread from Journey of the Sea Glass by Nicole Fazio

Related question: with three young kids, where do you get your energy? Related related question: do you plan to sell that energy in pill form?

Honestly, I would say my energy comes from the encouragement of everyone surrounding me. I have so many voices saying they’re proud of how far the company has come.  Another source of energy for me is the people relying on me to get out the word about their books. It isn’t necessarily money driven; it’s more. It’s an opportunity for people to see their dreams and visions come alive, and part of that process is sharing their dreams and visions with other people. It really is more about sharing a passion, lesson, or experience, and that’s how it all started for me. I was very passionate about my summer job working on a lobster boat for eight years, and giving people tours and teaching them about lobstering. People from all over the world would come to Portland, Maine, to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience on a real working lobster boat.  I loved it so much that I just had to write about it and share that experience with other people. I think that’s what drives most writers. I’d say my position is unique because I’m a writer, but I’m also wearing many different hats, so I definitely let my heart and my gut lead me on most of my decisions.

What makes you decide a title is a good fit for McSea? For instance, do your authors/illustrators need to live in or come from Maine?

As far as deciding what is a good fit for McSea Books, again, I really go with my gut instinct at this point. I’m not a business person by choice. First, I’m a creator. That has been an adjustment for me. Our authors and illustrators don’t necessarily have to be from Maine, but so far, most of them are. I’m not opposed to expanding my horizon as far as seeking illustrators and authors outside of Maine. For now, we’re so small and regionally based, that’s what has worked thus far.

Your latest release, Journey of the Sea Glass, is GORGEOUS. It’s a little unusual since it’s wordless. Was that a hard decision for you to make, going with illustrations alone? Tell us anything else about the book you’d like to share.

Journey of the Sea Glass is illustrated by Nicole Fazio. It wasn’t a hard decision to publish this book. Nicole is a friend of mine, and her book was originally published by Down East Books, which is one of the biggest publishers here in Maine. I wanted to see this book come back to life, and so did she! Nicole has children now, so it’s wonderful she is able to share this experience with them. Nicole Fazio Ochsenbein’s abilities and talents are so versatile. She can do anything, and she amazes me. This is our third book that she has illustrated under our publishing company. Journey of the Sea Glass is for all ages. It’s a book that will touch every generation as it has some history, marine life, and a darling relationship intertwined. You can make up your own story as you go along, which encourages readers to use their imagination. It’s a great teaching tool as well, and we have free downloads available on our website.

I know you have a book in the works about your husband’s childhood. Tell us a bit about that.

My husband Matthew and I have co-written a book called Just a Kid from Maine, illustrated by Rick Parker. Rick is a comic book artist with more than forty-two years experience, including working for Marvel Comics for about twenty of those years. He’s fantastic. Just a Kid from Maine tells about my husband’s journey from a young boy through almost a decade playing professionally for the NFL. He actually started playing football his sophomore year of college when he decided to “give it a try.” He was involved with pretty much every other sport except for football, because it was not offered at his school. He had a graduating class of thirty-eight and grew up in a small rural town, Enfield, Maine. This story really encourages children and adults from all walks of life and any age to have courage when they try something new. I think it also mirrors our journey with publishing. It was not something we intended getting into, but when you start with a passion and you stick it out — I think great things can happen. Listening to encouraging voices is important as well. The timing of this book coming out is amazing because we had no idea Matt would be getting a position as a strength coach at the University of Maine this fall. Also, he’s being inducted into the Maine State Hall of Fame this year, which we were unaware of when we decided writing the book. It was truly confirmation for us that this was the right time to share Matt’s story of courage and perseverance.

What’s next for McSea?

This holiday season we have The Maine Christmas Song by Con Fullam (illustrated by Cynthia Baker) coming to town! About a year ago, I reached out to Con, the composer and lyricist of the song back in the 80s. His inspiration came from a sad time in his own life, when he was only five. His hometown of Sydney, Maine, wrapped their arms around his family after Con’s father died. I had no idea when I reached out to him what inspired him to write the song. I contacted him because the song had meant a lot to me during my childhood. We did sign language to the song during a Christmas performance when I was in elementary school. Two winters ago, I asked my mom if she remembered the song. We Googled it, watched it on YouTube, and I had tears in my eyes. I thought to myself what a beautiful picture book it could be. At this time, I had not even started writing How to Tap a Maple. I was barely keeping up with the distribution of How to Catch a Keeper. Con Fullam is the founder of the Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus out of Portland, Maine. Over the course of time, more than 300 girls representing forty countries have passed through the chorus. They’ve performed for the UN and have appeared on the Today Show. He’s also a producer for a PBS series here in Maine.

Another title coming down the pike is Way Up in the Woods by Bill Wise. Bill is the author of several nonfiction books, including If Animals Built Your House (Dawn Publications) and the upcoming King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin (Simon & Schuster.) We’re excited about several books we’ll be publishing by Maryann Cocca Leffler, including Heart Stones, a middle grade mystery. Next spring, we’ll be republishing her picture book, Clams All Year. Another title we have coming along is Space Girl, a story about the astronaut Jessica Meir, who grew up about an hour north of where we are. Suzanne Buzby Hersey is also working on a title for us, Barbara Cooney’s Beautiful World. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share special moments with you!

Thank you for taking time from your busy life to visit with us, Stephanie! Speaking of catching a keeper, dear readers, be sure to comment below for a chance to win a six book collection of McSea books (five hardbacks and one paperback because – typical Stephanie success story – the hardback version of one title is currently sold out. Good problem to have, right?) One winner of the collection will be chosen randomly from a commenter below this post. I’m in crazy mode, traveling home to Virginia from Maine, but I’ll try to make sure to let the winner know by August 27, (2021, in case you’re somehow reading this years from now), so you guys have a little extra time this month to enter by leaving a comment.

And speaking of winners, congratulations to last month’s giveaway winner, Deb Buschman, who won a copy of Annette Whipple’s books, Woof! The Truth about Dogs!

Kim Norman

Kim Norman is the author of more than twenty children’s books, already or soon to be in print, published by Sterling; Scholastic; Penguin/Random House; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; and Candlewick, and forthcoming from Abrams. Calling herself a “Bedtime reading evangelist,” Kim has been invited to countless schools around the US to talk to students about her favorite thing: books! Years ago, Kim sang briefly in a big band – for pay even – but she’d rather sing Broadway songs for free. The parents of two grown sons, Kim and her husband live in Smithfield, Virginia, with two dogs in a little house shaded by giant pecan trees. Read more about Kim and her books at kimnorman.com.

54 Comments:

  1. Congratulations on an amazing list! Maine is top on my list of “to see,” and now I have books to buy when I do!

  2. What a generous giveaway – and potential mentor text bonanza! 😃

  3. These books look so wonderful! I can’t wait to read them! I agree that none look self-published. Thanks, Kim, for sharing them on the blog!

  4. i have visited 49 of the 50 states, and Maine is one of the most beautiful!

  5. Such a delightful collection, and such an inspiring success story! 😻

  6. I live in New Jersey and have always wanted to visit Maine. It looks beautiful. What a nice collection of books. I love the topics (I’ve always wanted to see how a maple is tapped and to taste the fresh maple).

    • I love that she touched on the topic of maple tapping, too. I’ve never tapped a maple, but my grandfather used to pluck bits of hard sap off of spruce trees, hand them to me and my brother, CLAIMING it was a popular type of chewing gum when he was a kid. It tasted HORRIBLE. Haha! I do think kids of that era probably *did* chew spruce gum, but I doubt they liked it anymore than we did. 😆

  7. I have such fond memories of summers in Maine as a kid. I’d love to win this collection of books!

    • I had the pleasure of reading a year’s worth of Stephanie’s creative writing when I was her sixth grade English teacher. She was talented even then, and we have been in touch throughout the years, even though I moved back home to NJ. An aspiring author myself I am motivated by her drive and dedication to all her authors. I was lucky to have her as a guest this year for my summer camp here at the Jacques Cousteau Ed Center, Creature Feature, that was virtual this summer. She enthralled the students with her lobster knowledge and she got a copy of the book into each child’s hands. I am eagerly awaiting her new publications, and gifting her books whenever I can!

    • And the nice thing is, so much of it is unchanged. The road to my mom’s house (her parents’s old farmhouse) still looks nearly the same as it did when I was a kid. She’s even still using my grandmother’s 1970s dishwasher! 😆

  8. I had the pleasure of reading a year’s worth of Stephanie’s creative writing when I was her sixth grade English teacher. She was talented even then, and we have been in touch throughout the years, even though I moved back home to NJ. An aspiring author myself I am motivated by her drive and dedication to all her authors. I was lucky to have her as a guest this year for my summer camp here at the Jacques Cousteau Ed Center, Creature Feature, that was virtual this summer. She enthralled the students with her lobster knowledge and she got a copy of the book into each child’s hands. I am eagerly awaiting her new publications, and gifting her books whenever I can!

  9. Danielle Hammelef

    Thank you for the interview and peek into publishing. I’ve never traveled to Maine, but it sounds beautiful. Thank you for the chance to win a set of books to read and review and share.

    • And I’ll be drawing a name soon, Danielle. Sorry I’ve made everyone wait so long! Coming home from an unusually long stay in Maine (because my mother needs more help up there than she used to) seems to have thrown my brain — and my schedule! — for a loop!

  10. When the kids were little we traveled to Maine. It was the most amazing trip. Biking in Acadia, camping in the mountains, and lobster, lots and lots of lobster. Maine is gorgeous and someday I’ll get back there.
    Congrats on your publishing company. It sounds like your off to a great start.

    • Oh wow, you had the whole Maine experience! Most people, when they think of Maine, think of lobsters and the coast, whereas we spend most of our time inland, nearer the White Mountains, 30 minutes from the NH border (where the shopping is cheaper because of no sales tax.) I’m glad you experienced that beautiful part of the state, too.

  11. Kim and Stephanie, thank you for this wonderful interview. I loved reading about how one book turned into a small press that’s making such beautiful books! Congratulation Stephanie!!! I’m amazed at how many hats you wear–just to publish a book yourself is quite a feat, let alone taking on all the business responsibilities as well.

  12. So great – congratulations! Maine is the best.

  13. My husband grew up in Massachusetts and we lived in MA and NH after we were married. Headed to Maine for vacation in October to see the great fall colors! Maybe I’ll see these books in shops! congrats

    • Oh what a wonderful time to visit! We mostly do summer, but I sometimes get a taste of fall when I fly up to drive my mom home for her winter nearer us in the south. It’s so gorgeous then.

  14. What an interesting interview! It has been years since I’ve been to Maine. I’m thinking it’s time for another visit!

  15. What great regional books. You gave me an idea for a regional book about Arizona.
    Thank you.I cannot wait to read them.

  16. I have met Steph in person and she is an inspiring and amazing woman! It was so fun to read how her career has evolved and learn a bit more about each book here. She works so hard promoting all the amazing books she’s publishing!

  17. Jessica Hinrichs

    Wow!! These all look amazing!!! We have some family in Maine and have visited a couple times. I’m always struck with how beautiful it is! My toddler son and I would love this collection of books!

  18. I can’t wait to check out these books!

  19. Wow, this is a fun and very interesting collection of books! I’ve always wanted to visit Maine and that corner of the US. Congratulations on all of these great books, Stephanie! Thanks for sharing with us. 🙂

  20. Congratulations, Stephanie, on these beautiful books and your amazing journey to publisher of McSea Books. Truly inspiring!

  21. A very interesting interview! Stephanie, congrats on successful blending of creative and business skills. You must be an incredible mulittasker! Best of luck with all your ongoing and future creative writing and publishing efforts. Love the Maine/regional flavor of your lists! Thank you, Kim, for sharing this interview with PBB readers.

  22. What a wonderful success story, Stephanie! And your dedication to helping your authors is so encouraging. I grew up in Maine, right on the coast and love all your titles–beach glass and lakes and loons and lobsters and how to tap a maple! I miss that and the bright colors of maples in the fall, too! When I was in elementary school a moose came right up onto the school’s front lawn, and we were all urged to be very careful as we walked home later that day!

    • Oh how nice to meet a fellow Mainer, Kathy. (Okay, in truth, after all these years, I’m probably more of a Virginian, but with all my relatives being from Maine, I feel like an honorary Mainer.) 😆

  23. Wow! There were so many interesting points contained in this blog, I had to take notes! Congratulations to Stephanie on all of her successes – your own publishing company – I am so jealous. Congrats to Ms. Hersey, as well. Having a book chosen as “Best”of anything, Stephanie, is so huge, too! I loved when Stephanie said, “It really is more about sharing a passion…” It is so cool that you reached out to Mr. Fullam about his song. Kudos to him, as well, for founding the Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus. This entire post was awesome!!

    • Oh gosh, thank you, Lori! I got a lot out of it, too. I honestly know embarrassingly little about the magical things my publishers do with my manuscripts once they leave my computer! I’m glad you found Stephanie’s story so inspiring!

  24. Stephanie, you’re amazing in all aspects of life!. More great things to come!! Great article!! Wicked proud of you!!!! 💙💙💙

    • Aw there, someone who knows how to speak Mainer! There’s a little store in my mom’s town called The Wicked Good Store. (Properly pronounced “stow-uh,” of course. 😆)

  25. It was fascinating to learn about McSea Books and their titles.
    I enjoyed the interview!
    Congratulations!

  26. Such delightful books! You had me at the covers.

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