About Elizabeth

Elizabeth PassoHow did you come up with the idea for The Reindeer Gift?

When my daughter was 5, everyone in kindergarten was getting Webkinz.  She talked constantly about getting a pink poodle Webkinz.  She was so excited about this gift that it seemed too special to just put under the tree or in a stocking.  So I made up a little story about the reindeer getting bored and sneaking down the chimney behind Santa and hiding a special reindeer gift for her somewhere in the house.  Her eyes got huge and she squealed with delight and had a grand time finding it.


Was that the same story that is in the book?

No, that story was just a couple of paragraphs written in a narrative style.


What made you put the story to rhyme?

I woke up one June morning in 2011 and verses just started pouring into my brain.  I grabbed a pen and notebook and started writing.


How long did it take you?

I had it completed by that evening.  After that, I tweaked it slightly here and there, but it's mostly stayed just as it was written that day.


What made you decide not to go the traditional publishing route?

I shopped the story around to several agents with no results.  Then I found out that even if I did get picked up by a publishing house, I would still be required to do my own marketing and would receive very little in royalties so, with the encouragement of my husband, I decided to start my own publishing company: Happy Knack Publishing, LLC


How difficult was it to start our own publishing company?

Despite owning a few businesses in the past, I had never written a formal business plan before.  I decided that was something I really needed to do for this one.  One of the best decisions I made was to call the Small Business Development Center.  Senior Consultant, Martin Brill, provided valuable input regarding the business plan.  He also coordinated 2 focus groups, helped me obtain funding, and assisted in planning our ribbon cutting ceremony.  His knowledgeable guidance has been  instrumental in getting this venture off to a successful start.


How did you meet Jon?

I had spent a year shopping the story around to agents and piling up rejections so, with my husband's encouragement, decided to go ahead and publish it myself.  I put a simple ad on craigslist asking for an illustrator for a children's book just to test the waters and see what I would get.


Did you get much response?

Overwhelming!  I even had a guy in Ireland respond.


How did you select Jon out of everyone?

My husband, daughter, and I decided to each take turns looking through all the artwork samples and portfolios we had received then reveal our top 3.  Jon was our unanimous first choice.


What made him stand out?

Most people were very cartoony or blocky and very childish.  They used colored pencils or computer graphics.  Jon's artwork was very rich, detailed fantasy with a classic feel.  It transports you to another place.  He's highly skilled in oil paint.


How did you start the process?

We met July 2012.  He brought his amazing portfolio.  I read the story out loud to him.  He thoroughly enjoyed it and said he had images form as he was hearing it.  We decided that he would draw up draft pencil sketches for each verse for us to look at then oil paint the final illustrations.


Who thought of the individual looks for each of the reindeer?

As I was writing the story, I could see each reindeer in my head.  But it was almost like seeing them in words than actual pictures.  I knew each reindeer's overall personality and what each one liked.  When the first few sketches had all the reindeer looking the same, we got together again for a brainstorming session.  Jon pulled out his colored pencils and sketchpad and drew as I described each reindeer in detail.  They don't wear much, so I really wanted each of their collars and antlers and markings to be different.  My husband and his fiance were also at that meeting.  As Jon sketched, we each provided ideas and suggestions.  Jon did a fantastic job of translating the words into images, adding his own unique touches, and bringing each reindeer to life.


How long did the entire illustration process take?

It took about a year.  He would sketch, we would provide feedback, and he would provide revisions.  He made a move of the process that's on the reindeergift.com website.


When did you think of the website idea that would allow kids to find out which of the 8 reindeer hid their gift?

It seemed a natural flow from the story.  After I read it to a couple of people, I started to think that I would want to know which of the reindeer hid my gift.  My husband and I came up with the associated, interactive website where kids can go to find out.


Where can people purchase The Reindeer Gift?

Everyone can go to www.reindeergift.com and click on the Store tab to either purchase it via the website or find out what stores are carrying it.  The book is also available on www.etsy.com and www.amazon.com.


Is it in stores?

It is currently being carried by small, local stores such as Aaron's Books in Lititz, PA and Midtown Books in Harrisburg, PA.  We are signed up for lots of craft and Christmas shows.  People can find out where we'll be and when by going to the Events tab of reindeergift.com.  I'll be signing books at the shows, and Jon will be at some as well.


Do you have anymore books in the works?

Yes, a sequel to The Reindeer Gift is already written and has gotten very positive responses from the people who have heard it.  Jon will be taking a break to get married then will be on board to illustrate the next one.  There are also other books that are completely drafted or almost finished.  So stay tuned!