Meet LA-region SCBWI member, Antonio Sacre, a storyteller and author of four children’s books. Multiculturalism is an important word in the marketplace today. In his three children’s picture books and one YA collection of stories (memoir and traditional folktales), Sacre incorporates this theme using his own mixed ethnicity.
Sacre successfully diversifies his talents to promote similar products in distinct ways. In addition to being a published author, Sacre is a storyteller, keynote speaker, and Author-and-Storyteller-in-Residence at the UCLA Lab school on the Westwood campus.
CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Welcome! “Storyteller” is one of the best job titles I’ve come across. Describe what this means.
ANTONIO SACRE: I tell stories in schools, libraries, and festivals for money. Often, schools have at least one to two cultural arts assemblies a year. Sometimes they hire a theater company, or a jazz band, and sometimes they hire someone (like me) to tell stories. Libraries have family reading nights and summer reading programs, and I get paid to appear there as well. There are about 30 storytelling festivals nationwide (and more worldwide) that pay storytellers to come and share stories. I have been paid to perform at festivals in 10 other countries, including New Zealand, South Africa, Austria, and Mexico.
My stories are a mix of personal stories about what it was like to grow up in two cultures, and folktales and traditional stories from Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. I often perform in English, Spanish, or both, and I have performed at dual-language programs across the country.
I do many district-wide trainings and keynotes for teachers and other educators regarding the power, importance, and joy that the oral tradition of storytelling can bring in nearly every area of the curriculum.
CVZ: How has promoting similar products in distinct ways help to grow your audience?
AS: It is out of my storytelling career that I became a writer. After telling a story orally roughly 50 times in front of audiences, I discover that it crystallizes into a little gem. First, I contacted a very small record producer that had some history producing spoken-word albums and entered into a partnership to record the best of these stories on CDs. I sell them on my website and at my public appearances. It was a way of augmenting my income while allowing families to enjoy my stories long after I leave a place.
A little while later, I was asked to speak at an author’s festival, and while I wanted the gig and needed the money, I told them I was not an author. They said the fact that I had recorded the CDs with a record producer counted, so I spoke there and did well. It was there where I met real live published children’s book authors, including a man named Juan Felipe Herrera. He asked me why my wonderful oral stories were not books. I said I didn’t know how to make that leap. He said, “It’s easy. Mail them out to publishers, and wait for the rejections. When you get to 50 rejections, call me, and I’ll help you.”
It took about a year to get to 50 rejections. I called him. He said, “When you get to 100, call me.” That continued. He said if I get to 200 rejections, to put that story away and go out with another one. My first picture book was rejected over 150 times before I heard my first yes.
When the first book came out, I was able to sign with an agent in New York who helped get my next two picture books published, and my first collection of stories for older readers. Also, once I was published, the UCLA Lab school hired me to support their teachers in the teaching of reading, writing, and storytelling, and to inspire their students with my stories. Theirs is a dual-language program, so I also do this entirely in Spanish. I have been in residence at UCLA for six years.
Being an author has opened many doors for me, and I wouldn’t have known it was possible if I hadn’t been pursuing a storytelling career. I meet many writers who are not published yet, or having a hard time getting a second book published, and often, their ideas and writing are incredibly publishable. They just haven’t collected enough rejections yet.
After I had actual books published, I was invited to speak at author festivals around the country to promote the books. Some of them would pay my expenses and my normal speaking fees, some just my expenses, and some would not pay anything. I would say yes to as many as I could fit into my schedule, and then e-mail and call every elementary school and library near the festival saying, “I’m coming to your local author’s festival and have space in my schedule to visit your school.” Some schools have a budget for visiting authors and can offer payment; others do not, so I’d ask them to promote my books and CDs to the families. I can often sell enough product to pay for the whole trip.
CVZ: Your first book was published before you became a parent. Has parenthood changed your career goals?
AS: Yes. I have curtailed my on-the-road days from a high of 240 ten years ago to only 30 last year and even fewer this year. It’s too hard to be away from my family, so I choose my out of town work carefully. But also, I have been writing much more, partly because I have more time at home. My first audience of any of my stories is my two children at our nightly story time. Over the six-and-a-half years I’ve been a parent, I have created hundreds of new stories to tell to them, many of them not worth sharing in schools for money. But some do turn into stories I can share in schools, and a very few turn into books I actually share with my agent. My goal now is to get as many books published as possible and live off of the residuals. I know this is highly unlikely. I’ve met successful authors with dozens of books published, and they still depend on speaking fees to pay their bills, not advances or residuals. But when I write and submit and get rejected, I enter into the writer’s process that teachers are teaching their students, and this makes me a formidable force in the classroom. I’m struggling, rewriting, revising, learning new vocabulary, just like their students are.
CVZ: What projects are you working on now?
AS: I have three books being rejected as we speak! My first nonfiction book for 3rd-5th grade readers about toys, a picture book called Buried in Books about a little girl who loves to read, and a YA Fiction novel about a little boy being raised in two cultures and two languages. Sound familiar?
I just shot a storytelling TV pilot for KCET called Telling LA. Hopefully it will air on public TV later on this year.
Lastly, one of my stories for adults is being pitched as a TV pilot. HBO asked to read the script and subsequently passed, as did three other producers, but I haven’t heard “no” enough times to give up on the idea.
Antonio Sacre is an internationally touring bilingual storyteller, author, and solo performance artist based in Los Angeles. His books and audio recordings have won numerous national awards and are available at http://antoniosacre.com/store.html.
Facebook: Antonio Sacre
Twitter and Instagram: @Antoniosacre
Article by Christine Van Zandt, Managing Co-Editor of SCBWI’s Kite Tales
Owner of Write for Success Editing Services; Christine@Write-for-Success.com
Twitter: @ChristineVZ, @WFS editing