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Meet Rhonda Accardo and Jessica Waterstradt! (Author Success Stories)

Updated: 4 days ago

Welcome to our latest Author Success Story! Our featured author, Rhonda Accardo, partnered with her daughter, Jessica Waterstradt, who is a talented illustrator!

Rhonda Accardo and Jessica Waterstradt
Rhonda and Jessica at a book signing event.

Meet Rhonda: Rhonda Accardo and her daughter Jessica Waterstradt come together for their debut book The Acorn & The Oak



AHA: Hi Rhonda! So, let's start at the beginning. What inspired you to become an author?


Rhonda: I always loved to read and write. Throughout high school and into college, my teachers and professors read my papers in front of the class. I was torn between being a veterinarian or a journalism major and my mom talked me into being a nurse. I’m glad she did because it gave me an insight into people’s lives that most people don’t get to see.


Jessica was born with the same love of writing and drawing. She was also torn about what to do, to pursue a degree in some type of medicine or her love of art. I told her, she had one life, and to do what made her happy. She received a degree in illustration. After graduation, she kept asking for us to do a book together.


After the loss of my aunt, who had lost her husband young and then four of her six children, I told Jessica that I thought I had found our story. My aunt's children had asked if I would speak at her funeral, and so I wrote her a story. The story of a little girl, her mother, and an old oak tree.


AHA: It sounds like it was meant to be! How did you decide on self-publishing, rather than submitting to traditional publishers?


Rhonda:  My daughter’s watercolor illustrations are amazing! Traditional publishers usually use their own artist. And even if they did pick us up, Jessica didn’t want to lose the rights to her art. It helps us tremendously. She has been asked to put her art from the book on display in art houses and been asked to put her art in contests. She has made prints, magnets, bookmarks, ornaments, keychains, waterproof and dishwasher-safe stickers and beautiful cards from her illustrations. It gets us into a lot of art shows and vendor shows that may not just take an author.


AHA: I've seen the illustrations, and they are uniquely breathtaking. Did they take a long time for Jess to create? How long did it take to publish The Acorn and the Oak?


Rhonda: Forever! It took Jessica an entire year to find an oak tree to inspire her art. I was working a lot, and Jessica was a flight attendant. Time kept getting in the way of us pursuing a book. 


I pulled into a parking lot of a Barnes and Noble and sat and cried thinking the book was a pipedream. When I finally stopped crying and went to get out of the car, there on the ground was the littlest acorn. I knew then the book was meant to be. That night I posted on Facebook asking if anyone had a really big tree, that we would fly anywhere to get pictures of it. It was my cousin who asked me to speak at the funeral who knew of one. It is 27 ft around at the base. Jessica said standing beneath it she felt as if she was looking up into a giant chandelier. We knew that this was our tree.


Each print is approximately 26” x 32” so she could capture all of the details. Each piece was drawn by pencil and then transferred to watercolor paper, and painted layer after layer to give the pictures depth. It took her a really long time.


We were originally going to go with a hybrid company because we needed help. I then found some author groups on Facebook. I learned which authors to trust and to reach out to; Vicky Weber was one of them. She was awesome! So, we changed our mind and decided to publish on our own. It took me a whole year to find a printer. I would research indie authors and buy the books that were done in watercolor. I would then reach out to them to see if they were happy with the colors and quality.


Jessica was married in the middle of the book, and I lost a total of three nephews and two siblings, surrounding our book. It definitely took its toll. All together it took around five years after I first put the story on paper.   


AHA: What a journey! So, overall, would you say the process of publishing your own book has been easier or harder than you anticipated?


Rhonda: Oh my goodness, way harder! There was an editor that reached out who edited for television radio and on an international basis, who told me I needed to write, that I had a large following and people couldn’t wait for my next post. I sent her a copy of my aunt’s story and she loved it, but said it needed to be longer. Little did I know there was a difference between children and adult editors! So my story became over 1700 words. We did everything backward!

I was so happy I stumbled upon author groups on Facebook! It was then that I found out we were doing everything backward. We ran it through three different children's editors. I then researched printers in the US, which was difficult. Our book is 9” x 12”  to capture all the details. We needed a printer with true color, that printed that size, and there weren't that many who offered those options. 


AHA: Self-publishing is definitely more complicated than most people think! And it seems like everyone has a slightly different idea of what qualifies as "success." When you first started, how did you measure success? Has that benchmark changed?


Rhonda: Five weeks after our book was printed, we were picked up by The Magnolia Company and their sister company, Seeds of Life. They used to carry The Giving Tree and now they carry us exclusively. The crazy thing is, we did it without being on Amazon, an email list, a school visit, or any real marketing. We recently were picked up by a distributor. We are grateful and will tell you how blessed we are, but we measure our success differently.

There was a young girl in the second grade who had lost her best friend and their entire family in a car wreck. The little girl never fit in because kids weren’t used to seeing a grieving child, and so they steered away from her. Her mother was given our book, and she said they loved it and she wished she had found it early on. She said she wished every child at a local grieving center could have a copy. We donated thirty and went on family night to read to the kids. The kids said it was their best night ever! This is only one of many stories.


There are many nights I cry after being at an event and call to tell my husband and daughter. When someone has recently lost a child, husband, mother, father or friend and they love your book, or when people tell us they saw it at someone’s house on their coffee table, it is then that we know we have far exceeded anything we could have possibly dreamed of.


The Acorn and The Oak

AHA: That's such a beautiful perspective! Okay, lets get into the business side of publishing a bit. Marketing is one of the hardest parts of the publishing process, especially for new authors. But you said above you didn't do much marketing. Surely you must have done SOMETHING to get your book out there! What worked for you?


Rhonda: Our whole journey has been kind of crazy. I am terrible with the computer so it really slows me down on social media, email lists, Instagram, Tiktok, and all of the other ways to market. I know our niche and write letters to companies who I think can use our book. I do a lot of vendor shows to network with other authors, business owners, schools, social workers, artists, teachers, and psychologists. I get there early to walk around and meet other vendors and authors and listen to their stories about what they are selling and then they ask about what we are. I always let vendors take a book back to their booth and read my book.

I go into businesses during the week, (not on weekends or busy times), and ask if I can leave my book with them to read. I leave it for a couple of days and then go back so they have time to really read it. Upscale stores really love our book and other local authors. We also donate. We do a lot of fundraisers. If we can give a store 50% commission then we can support communities with fundraisers, especially when it helps families with loss, our forests, hospice groups, grieving groups, orphanages, and the list goes on and on.

I think the thing that helped us the most was credibility - getting a good Kirkus review and being picked up by The Magnolia Company and Seeds of Life was enough to get us picked up by a distributor without being on Amazon.


Always have a book with you. One day while on a road trip, I had to take a break and stopped in Burger King for an iced tea. A young girl asked what I was doing on this beautiful day. It came up that I was an author, and she said her little girl loved books and she asked where to buy my book. It just so happened I  had a few cases in the car. When I went out to get a book and I  came back to the store, all of the help was behind the counter counting their change and money so they could each get a book. Pretty soon I had a line in Burger King!


AHA: Grassroots marketing at its finest! Another big challenge for new authors is funding their first project. How did you do it?


Rhonda: My husband was an airline pilot and had not retired yet. He paid for printing the book and all of the other things along the way. My illustrator is my daughter. She decided early on that we wouldn’t pay her in advance but we would split everything 50/50. I wouldn’t recommend that to anybody, but this is our venture together. It is much cheaper and more fair to pay your illustrator upfront.


AHA: And last, but not least...if there is a hopeful author reading this post, what advice would you give them?


Rhonda: From the beginning reach out and find a group like Vicky Weber formed. It would of saved us years, and so much time!


AHA: I swear we didn't tell you to say that! LOL! But we couldn't agree more!


Rhonda's Stats:

Title:

The Acorn And The Oak

Release Date:

11/23/2021

POD or offset print run?

Offset printing

Formats Available:

Hardback only

Total Investment: (All amounts are rough estimates provided by the author and should not be considered 100% accurate or used as estimates for your own project. Do your own research!)

We did not have to pay an illustrator because Jessica was the illustrator. Our first print run was roughly 2,000 books for $4,300. But we've had multiple additional print runs since then.

Total Number of Books Sold To Date:

6,000 so far

Inspired by Rhonda's story?


Ready to start your own publishing journey?


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