Local author gives back with each book
Last November, Maryland children’s book author Zoe Michal received an unexpected and very exciting email.
Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, had chosen Michal’s second book, Mission: Protect Bear, to read on her YouTube channel, “Storytime with Fergie and Friends.” Ferguson, the former wife of Prince Andrew, who has written four children’s books, started the channel during the pandemic to keep children entertained during the lockdown.
“I was so excited,” said Michal, 55, a Baltimore resident. “She was always my favorite royal.”
That magical moment came about not solely by chance, but rather as the result of Michal’s marketing acumen. Michal had discovered Ferguson’s channel, found the contact information for the Duchess’ business manager, and pitched her book.
“I figured the worst thing she could do would be to tell me no,” she said.
Instead, Michal was surprised to receive a response saying Ferguson would consider it. She mailed a copy of the book to England and waited. She was thrilled to learn that the Duchess would read the book for story time that November day.
Lifelong love of animals
Having her book featured on a royal YouTube channel wasn’t the only honor Michal received for Mission: Protect Bear, which tells the story of forest animals using their special skills to protect their bear friend from hunters after he loses his roar.
Last fall People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), selected it for its list of “Must-Read Compassionate Books” featured on their website. That list includes well-loved children’s classics like Black Beauty, Blueberries for Sal and Charlotte’s Web.
“As an animal lover and vegetarian almost my whole life, that meant a lot to me,” Michal said.
Michal not only writes about animals, but for each copy of the book she sells, she donates $1 to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an organization that promotes a plant-based diet and finds alternatives to animal research.
Michal’s first book, A Human for Huxley, tells the story of a dog who searches for a human to adopt him. For that book, she donates to Pets with Disabilities, an organization providing shelter and specialized care for dogs and cats with disabilities.
In April Michal published her third book, All Mommies Love Their Babies. One dollar for each copy sold goes to Animal Rescue, a Pennsylvania organization that either finds a home for animals in need or enables them to live at their sanctuary.
Pursuing a dream
Michal, 55, still enjoys her full-time job as an administrator for the City of Baltimore, but in recent years, she has been working overtime on her lifelong dream to write children’s books.
“I’m a voracious reader,” she said. “I read immensely to my kids.”
Inspired by other children’s book authors, the mother of two wrote and submitted several manuscripts to editors without much luck.
“When I pitched Mission: Protect Bear, editors liked the idea but were not sure it would reach the public,” Michal said.
Finally, in 2019, Michal decided to take matters into her own hands. She realized that if she published the book herself, she could have control over all aspects of the book. So, she created an LLC, Give Back Books, and in early 2020 released her first title.
One of Michal’s major tasks has been finding illustrators who can translate her vision into images that accompany her text. Over the past year and a half, Michal has worked with illustrators from Lithuania, Italy and Turkey.
“It’s so cool to work with people all over the world,” Michal said. “I give them my words, and they interpret them. Sometimes the illustrations are even better than what I could imagine.”
A ‘5 to 9 job’
Michal has also had to learn to market her books — in a pandemic, no less.
“Once everything shut down and I couldn’t do readings in schools and libraries, I got right on social media,” Michal said.
Managing accounts on multiple platforms has been time-consuming, but she makes time in the evenings, sometimes while watching TV with her husband.
Michal describes her new career as her “5 to 9 job” that starts when her traditional workday ends. Despite the long hours, Michal is happy to be pursuing her passion.
“Some older people feel lost when their children leave the house, but for me this is the best time. I’ve already raised my kids and don’t have all the pressures I had when first starting out,” she said. “I get to do what I want to do.”