After giving plenty of her time and energy to supporting other peoples’ ideas, Erin Campbell Dunkerley had her own and ran with it. The result is ABCs of the ’80s, a coffee-table friendly children’s book celebrating the culture touchstones of a memorable decade. We sat down with Erin to hear what went into the book, starting with the tear-jerking backstory that inspired it all.
First, tell us all about your forthcoming children’s book, ABCs of the ‘80s. How did you come up with the concept?
Erin: I loved growing up in the ‘80s. Truly. And I was genuinely bummed out that my daughter Ezza, who was a year and a half old at the time, would have absolutely no idea about all the fun “stuff” (toys, games, fashion, tv & film, etc.) the ‘80s had to offer because it really was the best. It was such a simpler time that I really long for most days. It was this, combined with the fact that my dad passed away suddenly of a heart attack the day he was flying out to meet Ezza for the first time, that inspired this book. He was such a big part of my life, especially my childhood. I was – and still am – beyond heartbroken that they never got to meet and that he is gone. I was trying to figure out a way I could honor him and the huge role he played in my life along with telling Ezza about him and my childhood. Right around my father’s first birthday after his passing, I had an Oprah a-ha moment and thought that’s it! ABCs of the ‘80s.
What were the first steps you took after you decided to run with your idea?
Erin: I had been taking time off work to stay at home with Ezza and really needed to find a creative outlet or I was going to go crazy, so I had switched my focus from writing screenplays to writing short stories for children because that’s about all my attention span could handle. I was trying to get a literary agent. The very next day after I had the idea for ABCs of the ‘80s, I pitched it to my now-agent Lilly Ghahremani at Full Circle Literary. She loved it. She signed me and we spent a few months getting the proposal together to go out to the bigger publishing companies. It was a very exciting time!
How did relationships you formed through the HEYMAMA community come into play as you turned your idea into reality?
Erin: HEYMAMA has been a tremendous resource throughout the entire process. When quite a few of the bigger publishers were hesitant to pick up the book because of licensing and copyright questions, I decided to ask if there were any attorneys specializing in that area in our HEYMAMA Los Angeles Facebook group and luckily there were! My now-attorney and I had a great phone call, and I hired her to go over the book and draft some licensing agreements for me. At this point I was really wanting to move forward with the book and decided to just “do it myself.” So the HEYMAMA connection I made played a determining role in allowing me to keep going when I realized it could in fact be done!
What factors went into your decision to work with Cameron + Company over the other publishers who were interested?
Erin: The biggest factor was that I was able to maintain complete creative control, which was the most important thing to me at the time. I was terrified of selling the book to a big publishing company and just handing it over as I knew there was no way anyone could do it the way I envisioned unless I was not only involved but in charge. Cameron + Company had recently started a new imprint called Round Tree Press, and ABCs of the ‘80s was a perfect fit for it. We had raised the funding we needed through a successful Kickstarter campaign and had already gone through the entire creative process as well as licensing etc. By this point, we had a finished book which entailed a LOT of hard work and were weeks away from getting it printed. I was nervous that we had put so much into it and it just wouldn’t turn out the way we intended if we had it printed ourselves.
That is when I discovered that the director of new business at Cameron + Company was also a HEYMAMA member. It was kind of meant to be, honestly. I already loved two of their books so much and kept thinking “I really wish I could have them publish mine.” I’m a big believer in putting things out there into the universe. Both my friend/super talented illustrator Desi and I had never done a book before, but we knew exactly what we wanted the book to look like and the quality we expected.
How did working with a publisher take your concept for ABCs of the ‘80s to another level?
Erin: When I got in touch with Angela Engel I pitched it to her, and she said we can do this. She said “What is your dream book? Just tell me…” We did have a budget that we needed to stay within, but the finished version of the book has an amazing neon hardcover and heavier cardstock pages. The book is seriously gorgeous. I think everyone thinks of it as just a board book when they first hear about it, but no joke everyone that has seen it in person is blown away with the quality and how amazing the book looks and feels. It’s fit for your coffee table and not just your kid’s bookshelf…that’s what I had envisioned from the very beginning. I was thrilled we were able to achieve that by teaming up with Cameron + Company.
Did you learn anything unexpected through the publishing process?
Erin: Yes! That it is soooooooooooo sloooooooooow. We turned this book around so fast compared to traditional publishing but it is still such a slow process. After working on feature films for so long, I was a little frustrated at first thinking “why does everything take so long?!” We’ve shot movies and gone through post in a shorter amount of time than it takes to get a book done!
What have you discovered about yourself through this experience?
Erin: It was the first time that I was doing something for myself. I had spent so many years in a support role for other people and their projects that I had actually become quite good at it. It was refreshing that I was able to do so much for myself when it came to the book. I’m sure I’m not the only person that has about 47 random ideas a day that I never do anything about OR I talk about them for a little, kinda get them going but then move onto something else. It was nice to finally be able to see something I had thought of from concept to completion. I think I know now that if it’s something I’m really passionate about, I will make it happen and it’s really not as hard as I think.
Balancing mama life with an endeavor like publishing a book can be challenging. What motivates you to keep going in the day-to-day?
Erin: I really didn’t want to go back to working for someone else. I wanted to create a job for myself doing something I love that also enabled me to still be “at home” with Ezza. This book ended up being a perfect fit for both. She is turning 4 later this month (which I can’t believe), but I am so so happy I have had this time with her.
What does being a good role model for your daughter look like to you? In what ways do you hope to inspire her?
Erin: I think actions speak louder than words. Walking the walk is so much more important than talking the talk. Being kind, caring, considerate and REAL are super important to me. I also really love to laugh and have fun and I don’t take myself too seriously ever, hence my glamour shot with lasers. Haha. It’s very important to be able to laugh at ourselves. I will always encourage her to listen to her dreams and be as creative as she can be, even if that means being different. I want her to believe that she can be or do whatever she wants, because she can. I call the book “her” book. It is dedicated to her (as well as my Father) and she was such a huge part of it every step of the way. I think having her so involved with something will hopefully make a lasting impression on her down the road. I want her to see that if she has an idea, she can make it happen.
Trust your gut. Always.
You don’t have to be perfect just be present.
Never underestimate the benefits of a day or night out with your girlfriends.