Today we learn a little about Ellen Feld, author of Blackjack: Dreaming of a Morgan Horse. I am very proud to interview this very ambitious and successful lady!
Jennifer Walker: It's obvious from the book that you have some experience with horses and horse shows. Can you tell us a little about your background?
Ellen Feld: I started riding as a teen and showed on the local and Class A Morgan circuit. I began showing with my first Morgan, Rusty, who I bought from money saved from summer jobs. I currently have ten horses, eight of which are Morgans. Although the stories are fiction, all the horse characters are based on my real horses. That way, all the funny quirks, behaviors, etc. of each individual horse are accurately portrayed.
Jennifer Walker: What inspired the story of Blackjack?
Ellen Feld: The real Blackjack was my show horse in the late 90’s. I raised him myself and when he went off to the trainer’s, I missed him terribly. The trainer was almost 2 hours away from home and during that first winter, it seemed like it snowed every weekend and I couldn’t visit Blackjack. In January of that long winter, I was between writing assignments and wrote a short story about Blackjack, sending him on a fun adventure. I never planned to write an entire book. But several friends read the story and encouraged me to expand it into a book. Thus the story of Blackjack evolved.
Jennifer Walker: Will we ever see Blackjack again?
Ellen Feld: Yes! Blackjack is the star of the entire series and appears in all five books, Frosty, Rusty, Robin, and Annie – and will again find a place in book six, Rimfire, coming out this fall. He’s actually become something of a celebrity because Breyer Animal Creations made a model of him and packaged it with a copy of my book Blackjack. We toured the east coast, going to BreyerFest, as well as Equine Affaire in both Ohio and Massachusetts, and then to northern Vermont for Everything Equine. Blackjack loved all the attention and looked wonderful in his official blue Breyer cooler. He’s just received his first invitation for this year and will be hitting the road again in April.
Jennifer Walker: Can you talk about how you got your books published?
Ellen Feld: Because I’ve been writing for numerous regional and national horse publications for over 20 years, I thought (incorrectly) that it would be easy to get my first book published as I was a proven commodity. Wrong. I contacted about 20 publishers and received lots of form letters saying ‘thanks but no thanks.’ Not one to quit, I decided to self-publish. I created my own company, Willow Bend Publishing, and love it. It’s been a great experience and I truly enjoy having full control over my books, from plot, to format, to cover artwork. Of course there’s also an enormous amount of work involved and I am busy marketing every day. To date, I’ve sold over 50,000 copies of my books, with is a huge number for a self-publisher.
Jennifer Walker: What is your greatest writing accomplishment?
Ellen Feld Professionally, it would be winning the ‘Children’s Choices’ award co-sponsored by The International Reading Association and The Children’s Book Council, not once, but twice! The winners of this award are selected by 10,000 kids from around the country and I was competing with titles from large publishing houses with all sorts of topics. For horse books from a tiny self-publisher to rise to the top is a huge honor.
What touches me the most, however, is when parents come up to me at book signings and tell me they couldn’t get their child to read and then they bought my books and their child now reads them over and over. I really love it when my readers stop by my booth at a signing and tell me they’ve read all my books, then proceed to tell me about a horse they bought because of my stories, and then ask why I can’t write faster and have more books published. It’s very cute.
Jennifer Walker: Can you tell us a little about your family? Are they supportive of your writing?
Ellen Feld: Yes. My husband gets a kick out of the success and has been great about being my driver and handyman whenever Blackjack and I need to travel. I have two teenage kids who have grown up with my books so they’re pretty used to the attention. As long as I include their horses in the stories, they’re happy.
Jennifer Walker: What advice can you offer to aspiring authors?
Ellen Feld: Don’t ever give up! It takes persistence to get anywhere in the book world. There are so many wannabe authors, but many give up too easily. You also need to stand out from the crowd to gain a publisher’s attention as there are literally thousands of authors vying for that one book deal. What makes your book different? Why should a publisher take a chance on you? Do you simply have three chapters of a book that you’ve been working on forever, or is your book finished? For those who want to go the self-publishing route, it’s a great way to go. But do your research! The average self-published book sells between 60 – 100 copies and most (all?) of those are to family and friends. Regardless of whether you self-publish or go through a traditional publisher, you will have to do most of the marketing for your book. Are you comfortable speaking with groups or strangers? Can you make cold calls? For every ten calls I make to push my books, I may get one or two responses. Some of my biggest successes came after countless calls to the same venue/customer.
Jennifer Walker: Can you tell us a little about your work as an equine journalist?
Ellen Feld: I’ve been writing for numerous equine publications for over 20 years. I’ve written for Equestrian, The Morgan Horse, The Appaloosa Journal, Young Rider, The Miniature Horse Voice, The Reiner, Horseman’s Yankee Pedlar, Equine Journal, and many others. My favorite articles to write are those that deal with horse or people profiles. What makes them unique in the world of horses? I love interviewing people who have dedicated their lives to their horses. The enthusiasm when they talk about their beloved animals is contagious. As my books have taken off, however, I’ve cut back on my article writing as my time needs to be spent on writing the books and marketing them.
Jennifer Walker: What is a random, interesting fact about you that few people know?
Ellen Feld: Hmmmm…I’m a bird nut and have several parrots that keep me company while I write.
A huge congratulations to Ellen and her success! Her accomplishments as a self-published author are truly inspiring. Thank you again, Ellen, for stopping by!
Readers, don't forget to leave a comment on this post or the review for your chance at winning my review copy of Blackjack: Dreaming of a Morgan Horse! I will make my random selection at the end of February.