How Katie Maskey and Her Special Cat Made a Big Splash

by | Jan 20, 2021 | Interview

Katie Maskey published her first book, Ferdinand with the Extra Toes, at the end of 2020. Thanks to a great story, Katie’s hard (and smart) work spreading the word on social media, and her infectious enthusiasm, the children’s book was an instant hit. Ferdinand with the Extra Toes is a fictitious story about Katie’s real-life polydactyl cat of the same name. Polydactyl means that he has extra toes, which is the basis for his adventures. At first his too-big paws make Ferd feel like an outsider, but when he’s able to use the extra toes to his advantage, he starts to see how valuable it is to be unique.

Ashley Thoreen, a tattoo artist from Ohio, provided the illustrations. Together she and Katie Maskey created a light and engaging book that is accessible to readers of all ages, and especially interesting to toddlers and early elementary schoolers. The Bedford Press says the book tells “not only an engaging story, but one that also had a message.”

Putting out a book is exceptionally hard. I often break it down into three stages: 1) writing and editing; 2) the production stage; and 3) sales and marketing—letting people know that the book exits. They each present their own challenges, but the third stage often seems like it is the most mysterious to me. Interested in how she was able to turn the book into such a success, I emailed some questions to Katie and she was kind enough to respond.

How did you get the idea to write the book? Did you go looking for an idea, or did the story just occur to you and you thought, “I should write a book!”

The book idea honestly just came to me out of nowhere. When the pandemic began and everything started shutting down and people were encouraged to stay home, I got bored really quick. As someone who is used to being on the go all the time, I needed something to do to fill my void while also keeping me calm as my anxiety was increasing due to everything going on. That’s when I looked at my cat (yes, the one with extra toes), and decided that he would make a great character and I started writing down my thoughts. I had no clue where those thoughts were actually going to take me at that moment, but I just started writing.

How did you know Ashley, your illustrator? What was it like to work together? Was there a lot of back and forth?

Ashley, my illustrator is actually my former boss. She switched careers to spend more time with her autistic son, but to also pursue her passion as an amazing tattoo artist. We kept in touch through social media afterward. When I really moved on with taking the thoughts that I had written down and turning them into an actual book, I knew I wanted to work with someone I new for the illustrations, someone who would be just as invested in the success of this book as I was. So I reached out to Ashley and asked if she’d be interested in taking her tattooing skills to paper by being a children’s book author. Without hesitation, she jumped at the idea and after reading the content, she was fully on board and her heart was in it just as much as mine! Since neither of has navigated through these waters before, we obviously relied on Good Book Developers’ expertise on the technical aspects, but we did go back and forth on illustration ideas for each page. Honestly, the hardest part was getting Ferdinand, the main character, nailed down. We wanted him to have a certain look to capture his personality, so we went several rounds with that, changing his eye shape and expression and even his ear colors and paws. Once he was done, the rest just flowed.

Did you look at a lot of children’s books? What are some of your favorites (and what stands out about them)?

When I finally decided to really actually turn this into a book, I researched a lot of children’s books and talked with a lot of friends. I have friends that worked for book companies, have written children’s books themselves, and of course, have kids of their own. I asked a lot of questions and luckily, everyone was excited to help me out. I did grab a lot of different books and looked at them, reviewing the content, number of sentences, the layout, the front and back covers. I just wanted to know what was out there for the same age demographic that I was writing to.

Once you started working on publishing the book, what did you think you’d feel when you first held it in your hands?

When I met you and finally felt like this book was actually going to happen, I just wanted to keep moving as fast as I could because I was TOO excited! I know I went rounds with you with lots of questions and doing everything I could while Ashley was finishing up the illustrations, so after a few months when everything was then finally done and ready, it was go-time for me! Seeing the final pdf of the finished layout was everything I could have ever dreamed of. But, once we got the files uploaded and corrected and then ordered the proof, that was the dream moment. Seeing the physical book and how “legit” (for lack of better words) it looked was so surreal. “I actually did this?! I’m a published author?!” I still say and think this today and it’s been over 2 months since the book first made it to my hands! What a sense of accomplishment though. I’ve had career successes and have received awards for community service work, etc, but being someone who I never would have considered to be a “writer” take an idea and actually turn it into a published book – is something I will cherish. Then, on top of that, selling nearly 500 copies in just the first month – WOW!

And what had been your expectations in terms of sales? 

When I first got the book, I had pretty much no expectations other than the fact that I did it and had a great copy of it at my house. But, I wanted more. So, I shared a picture of me, the cat and the proof copy and posted it on my community’s Facebook group page. Within minutes I received messages of congratulations and excitement. The next day, a news reporter messaged me after seeing the post and loved the feel good story of someone accomplishing a goal during times as tough as a pandemic (I also found out later that she’s a big cat-lover, so I’m sure that helped.) So quickly, everyone else’s excitement kept my motivation up. Still, I had zero expectations other than I would just go with the flow and see how far I could take this thing!

How has the response been?

As I mentioned, the response has been AMAZING! I had an interview on the local news where they came to my house, stayed for 2 hours and cut in every half hour during their segment to talk with me about the book. I had local businesses reaching out to collaborate, so from that I was able to schedule a book launch at a children’s boutique and then a book signing at two other local businesses. From those events and the online sales with friends and family purchasing and sharing, I was able to sell over 500 copies within the first month. Something I never would have thought was possible, but I quickly learned that you just have to put yourself out there. People seem to love the book, were quick to share my posts (which I shared often) and help me spread the word. Since then, I’ve sold books all over the country as well as Canada and the UK!

Once the book was ready with the printer, you launched it really fast. Had you done a lot of work in advance to let people know it was coming? 

No, that’s the crazy part! Since I really didn’t know where this “pandemic project” was going to go or how far I would actually go with it, I told very few people about the book. I do have a core group of friends and family that helped me along the way, but the vast majority of people had no clue I was working on this. Once that physical proof came and I snapped that selfie with it and the cat, it was one. Comments and messages started pouring in. I was actually also surprised by the amount of friends who wrote to tell me how they had always dreamed of publishing a book, but had no clue what to do, so they were now looking at me as the expert! I would laugh and throw your name at them because I am certainly no expert here!

Can you share some tips with people on how to publicize their book? 

Best tips I have for marketing, as mentioned before, just put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to ask local businesses or area people who might be able to either promote or sell your book for you – the worst they can say is no! I started asking around. I messaged friends that bought the book and asked them to leave their amazon review so it would help boost my book there. I visited local businesses and just asked and now have the book on the shelves of 3 local businesses and I’m currently working on 2 others at the moment as well as getting it into 2 big box stores. So, use social media to your advantage, do the leg work and take copies into places. Put your passion for your project out there. You’d be surprised how much people really do want to support others in their community. I think that’s something good that has come from this pandemic, everyone is a little more community-minded and encouraged by helping others succeed. Now, the national publicity? Well, that’s something I’m still working on!

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What has been the most effective thing you’ve done?

Sharing, sharing, sharing! I’m a big fan of using social media for marketing, so I searched for facebook groups that I thought would be good to market. Since it’s a book about a polydactyl cat, I would share in those groups. I found general cat groups or black cat groups and would add a post with my amazon link. Of course, the community pages or women’s networking group pages, teacher’s resource groups. I shared the photo of me holding the cat and the book every possibly place I could!

How’d you come up with the name for your publishing company?

Oh, the publishing company name was a little tricky. I didn’t want to just use my name, but I wanted it to be something that reflected me. Well, I’m a total Irish girl through and through with a few green clover tattoos myself, so it just seemed to really be the most appropriate! Plus, I didn’t want to connect the publishing name to the cat book necessarily, you know, in case I really keep going with this new skill and decide to write other books with other characters. Hey, I’m keeping all of my option own now that I’ve seen what I can accomplish!

What’s next for Green Clover Books? Will there be a new adventure for Ferdinand?

Well, there is a lot on the horizon for Green Clover Books. I’ve encouraged so many of my friends who reached out to just “DO IT! Finish that book you started a year ago and connect with Adam to get it published!” From there, I’ve talked a little about publishing under my publishing name if that will help. So, that’s something we’re looking at. But I can absolutely tell you there will be more Ferdinand books listed under Green Clover Books by the end of 2021. My goal is actually to publish two more by the end of the year and develop a custom plush version of Ferdinand to go along with the books. I mean, what more could a kid want than a good story to read and a cute plush to snuggle with? So, stay tuned because I’ve just begun!