Friday, January 10, 2014

Interview with Alinka Rutkowska, author of children's book 'Maya & Filippo Make Friends in Auckland'

Alinka Rutkowska is a "Reader's Favorite" Five Star Picture Book Author. She writes the "Maya & Filippo" Book Series for Children - travel books for kids with a positive attitude. She takes inspiration from her own travels while cruising with her husband and daughter around the world. She is positive, appreciative and happy 95% of the time and during the miserable 5% she thinks to herself quickly: "things always work out for me" and they do.

Alinka's doesn't really have a "to do" list but she does have a "fun things to do" list. It usually consists of writing, reading, reading her writing, writing in her diary, blogging, reading other blogs, commenting, breathing deeply, meditating, feeling the warmth of the sun on her skin, closing her eyes, breathing some more and thinking what a wonderful world she lives in.

Sometimes she takes a few minutes to pause and instead of doing something from her "fun things to do" list she just daydreams a little. She thinks of all the great things that she wants for her to happen and imagines how wonderful it will feel to be interviewed about them in the future. She's already preparing the answers to those interview questions in her mind. She especially loves the part, in which she says that she achieved all these things because she spent a considerable amount of time visualizing them first.

Alinka loves to ski while listening to music at the same time, she enjoys an occasional glass (or bottle) of Barolo with dark chocolate, she loves cuddling with her husband and daughter. Alinka really likes tea, especially that last sip which is usually the tastiest.
You can visit Alinka’s website at, where she blogs daily for parents, travelers and authors.

Can you tell us what your book is about?

“Maya & Filippo Make Friends in Auckland” is a children’s travel book about two kids who live on a cruise ship. They dock in Auckland, in New Zealand and have an unpleasant surprise over breakfast. To get their minds off it, their mother suggests that they go and explore the city, and they do as advised. They have several unexpected encounters but they come back on board with a revelation. During their tour they solve the breakfast mystery. More importantly - they learn the cause and effect relationship between what they think and what happens to them.

Why did you write your book?

“Maya & Filippo Make Friends in Auckland” is a labor of passion for travel, kids and a positive outlook. Several years ago I left my corporate job for a trip around the world, which started with a cruise departing from Auckland. I noticed that the more positive my attitude was, the better experiences I was attracting into my life. Maya and Filippo’s adventures are based on mine. All the sights they visit, are places I’ve been to. I am a mom now and what better way is there to convey to your children something you believe in, than via picture books! This book is for all children who love traveling and for all parents who want to show their children how a positive outlook brings good things to your life.

Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

The main characters, Maya & Filippo, are based on myself and my brother when we were kids. Maya is older and smarter :) Filippo is younger and a little goofy, at least in this first book. He will gradually become wiser as the series develops (“Maya & Filippo Make Friends in Auckland” is the first of a whole series). The kids’ parents are based on myself now and my husband, who works on board. The whole family living on the ship (“The Fun Princess”) is inspired by real people.

Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you discover it as you write?

I always have the main idea pictured clearly in my mind before I start writing. I think about the city the story will take place in and about the things the kids will learn. Then I just wait for a good moment. A good moment is a quiet moment - when my daughter is asleep and I am undisturbed. I then do a quick meditation to center myself and to have a clear and sharp mind, and I type. I write the whole picture book in one go. It’s only around 1000 words, so I need about an hour. That’s how the first draft is created. It then goes through a series of edits and copy-editing but I don’t need such a “clean” environment for that.

Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Yes, the city dictates what the children do. In Auckland they travel on a hop-on hop-off explorer bus and see the sights from there. They also admire the views from the Sky Tower of Auckland. This couldn’t be done anywhere else. In a different book “Maya & Filippo Look for Happiness in Tauranga,” (that’s another city in New Zealand,) the children visit a native village and see a traditional dance and go admire a geyser. Their activities always depend on where they dock.

Is it hard to get a picture book published?

Not the way I did it. With self-publishing and print-on-demand anybody can publish a book. It’s never been easier! For me, the main challenge consisted in building the right team. It took me a while to find the right copy-editor, illustrator and graphic designer. It also took me a while to define my marketing strategy. Once you’ve got that, it’s pretty straightforward. It gets easier with every book you write.

Is it hard to promote a picture book and where do you start?

I think it’s much harder to promote a book than to write it. This is especially true for picture books, as they are so short and it doesn’t take much time to write them. With long novels, your perspective is different. After you’ve spent months or even years creating your masterpiece, the thought of having to work equally hard (or even harder!) to get the word out can be both unexpected and unwelcome.

I already know that a book needs extensive promotion so that people can notice it. I now promote my books before I even write them and I’ve managed to line up several retailers who are waiting for future “Maya & Filippo” stories to be published.

You asked where one should start to promote a book. Here’s my advice:

1)   You start by identifying your target audience. For me that’s parents and travelers.
2)   You then set up a blog where you’re active - I suggest blogging daily. You make it easy to navigate for your target audience. My website ( is divided into sections for parents, travelers and authors. The first two are the ones I write my books for (OK, not parents, but parents are the ones making the purchasing decision.) And I also want to connect with other authors - for companionship, best practice sharing and for fun!
3)   You set up social profiles: on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and any others you can manage (I would start with those three). Connect your profiles to your blog so that each time you publish a post all your networks get instantly updated.
4)   You visit other blogs that deal with your topics and comment. That’s how you form connections. I have a special page on my website that lists all the blogs I follow and bloggers I interact with ( Try adding one every day.
5)   Go on a Virtual Book Tour! Let a specialized company look up relevant blogs and get you reviews, interviews and guest posts. This saves you plenty of time and I’m sure you will find an option that’s right for you price-wise.
6)   Give your book out generously. To the right people of course. If you want your book to be picked up by a major retailer - find the decision maker and send them your book. Follow up. Follow up again.
7)   Print business cards with your book cover on them and give them to people at any chance you have. Don’t be pushy but if someones ask about your book - make sure you have a card handy.
8)   Start local. Tell your old school about your book, let your local newspaper know. Tell your hairdresser! My hairdresser is also my local journalist’s hairdresser and that’s how I got my first local interview!
9)   Niche marketing. If I have a picture book about Auckland, then I contact the Auckland libraries and book stores and tourist centers to see if they are interested in buying it. If I have a book whose plot takes place on a cruise ship, I tell cruise companies about it. I learn how to write the right pitch, how to best approach the decision maker and I go for it.
10)              Believe. Everybody, even the biggest names out there started from scratch. Believe in your work, have fun writing and promoting. Soon YOU will be giving advice on how to start to promote your book :)

What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?

I say I would go to the gym or get a massage but I would most probably end up doing what I’m doing right now - writing about writing :)

Now seriously, I do get tired after several hours of staring at my computer screen (even though I really love what I do). That’s the moment I get up and do something else - like sports. Alternatively I load the dishwasher :)

Which holiday is your favorite and why?

As I child I used to love Christmas and I would start counting down in June :) Now it’s any holiday or really, any day that I’m with my family. Since my husband works on cruise ships, our relationship is long distance at times. I really cherish the days that we spend together.

What do you like to do for fun?

Why? Is writing and promoting books not fun?

Can you tell us about your family?

My hubby, my daughter and I. Then we have my family and my husband’s family. My parents and my brother are all very intellectual types. My husband’s family is Italian and they are - very Italian ;) My mother-in-law is a very feisty woman who runs a restaurant in one of the most touristic places on the Italian Riviera. I have two sisters-in-law and that’s great because as a child I dreamt of having an older sister (and I have a younger brother instead!).

What do you like the most about being an author?

I find the fact that somebody is reading the words I wrote - exhilarating. That’s it. Whenever I see a reader leafing through my book, I get chills (in a good way). Something deep inside me awakens and jumps up and down like crazy.

Another thing that makes me go wild is the thought that my books (=my life philosophy, my story, my take) will be out there for all eternity. Even after I’m long gone, people will be able to access a part of me through my writing. I am making myself immortal (as long as paper and electronic devices exist). Isn’t that amazing?

What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?

Chill out. Have fun. Someone very wise told me recently that luck is just the right number of trials :) It’s rarely the first book that makes an author famous. Authors who seem to be an overnight success have usually written several if not dozens of books. What’s the point of being an author if not for the flexible hours? OK, maybe it’s not THE point, but certainly one of the very important perks.

There’s room for everybody. Just find your niche, build your tribe, do your thing, stay positive and let it happen.

About the Book:

Embark on a one-of-a-kind, unprecedented, breathtaking adventure with Maya and Filippo as they travel around the globe on board the “Fun Princess” — a cruise ship full of surprises. Discover their fascinating ports of call, find out what the local customs and traditions are, join the kids in activities at sea, and explore the remarkable world they create through the power of their positive outlook.

This time Maya and Filippo discover Auckland and meet different kinds of people depending the book to find out! Spoiler alert: the kids ride a big hop-on, hop-off explorer bus, where strange things happen. They stop at the famous Sky Tower, where they do something very exciting.


Discuss this book in our PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads by clicking HERE.

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