Katie Constable and Zac Duran spend a lot of time reading to their 2-year-old son Jaxon in their cozy Naches home. Katie is a stay-at-home mom who enjoys sewing and crafting and Zac works as a machinist’s assistant at a local packaging company. He likes to draw and developed a pair of cartoon characters called Kep and Grim. He often posts cartoons featuring the green alien and the bigfoot on social media.
One day, Katie was reading a book to Jaxon when she had a sudden inspiration. “We read a lot of kids’ books and we realized they’re not super complicated,” she said. “We thought we could probably try it, since Zac’s always done Kep and Grim as a little side comic.”
She had no professional writing experience, but with Zac’s cartoon duo already in existence, they thought they’d take a shot at writing and illustrating a children’s book. They tossed ideas around and settled on space as their topic. “We chose space as our first adventure as things have kind of changed since what we were taught as children, like Pluto’s demotion,” said Zac. (Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet in 2006, leaving only eight official planets in our solar system.) “I already had the characters, but I made them simpler and more ‘kiddish,’” he added. He wanted the book to be fun but informative. Katie’s grandfather was a science teacher, so planets were a good fit for her, too. But then came the learning curve.
“We didn’t have the first idea how to publish a book,” Katie said. Zac learned that anyone can self-publish eBooks and paperbacks with an Amazon program called “Kindle Direct Publishing” or KDP. It has programs to help publish everything from fiction to textbooks, including programs specifically for children’s books. Amazon takes a cut of about 30 percent.
While Zac came up with images of the planets, complete with funny facial expressions and spindly arms, Katie wrote the story and tried to figure out the KDP program. Zac sketched out the cartoon images on paper, took pictures of them, and uploaded them onto his tablet. Then he used a computer program to turn them into digital images he could manipulate to change the color, lines and placement on a page.
The book, “What Planet is That!?” was taking shape. The plot is simple. Kep and Grim jump into a spaceship to explore the solar system, one planet at a time. Mercury wipes the sweat off his cratered face because he’s so close to the sun. The earth is itchy because of all the people running around on his surface. Jupiter blushes because he’s so gassy and Saturn has fun heaving his hula-hoop rings around his belly.
But creating this simple book was not easy. Katie is the technical one and said formatting was a huge challenge. She had to redo some pages dozens of times until she got them right, and then the words wouldn’t fit on the page properly with the illustrations and Zac would have to re-draw those. “There were times when I said ‘I don’t want to do this book anymore. I’m done!’” said Katie. “It was frustrating.”
Finally, after about a month, they were finished. The books are printed on-demand as each customer orders them, and Zac and Katie have sold more than 100 copies since it was published late in June. To their surprise, two of the orders came in from Australia. Katie grew up in Wyoming and her grandmother bought a couple copies and gave them to the library Katie went to as a child, where her favorite librarian reads the book to kids at Story Time. “It’s really heartwarming, to see your little project touch someone in a place you know,” Katie smiled.
They get a huge kick out of it when friends and family members send them photos of their children reading the book. Zac and Katie are already thinking of topics for the next book in their “What is That!?” series.