What does a mother physician do in her free time? Write a children’s book! Or at least that’s what Dr. Charnetta Williams chose to do. Keep reading to learn more about her and her wonderful first book, Penelope and the Power of Positivity.
First off, tell us a bit about you. Who is Dr. Charnetta Williams?
I’m a person who wears many hats. I’m a wife and have been married to my wonderful husband for nine years. Together, we have two amazing children—a daughter who is four and a son who is just about to turn two. (Yes, my home is almost always very noisy!) I’m a New Yorker at heart and regardless of where I reside, New York will always be my home. I’m also a physician and have been practicing medicine off and on for years. My specialty is obstetrics and gynecology. To be honest, I’m a much better OB/GYN now that I’ve had children of my own.
I also work as a medical epidemiologist, which is a fancy way to say I’m a public health professional. I have worked on the national response to several public health emergencies, including Zika Virus, Ebola, and most recently the COVID pandemic.
I can also now officially call myself an author, having just completed my first children’s book, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I’ve always wanted to do something creative but never felt like I was a creative person.
What inspired you to write Penelope and the Power of Positivity, and what is it about?
My answer really comes down to my belief that children’s picture books should do more than just entertain. I really believe they should teach a valuable life lesson and make parenting just a teeny bit easier.
Throughout my life, I often grappled with feelings of fear and self-doubt when learning new and challenging skills like medicine. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I had the power to change my mindset about these negative thoughts, and I immediately knew this was something I wanted to teach my children.
With two little ones at home, I’ve experienced and continue to experience the challenges of parenting. Recently, my four-year-old has started saying things like “I can’t do it” when trying to learn a new skill. Every time I hear this, I quickly remind her that she just can’t do whatever it is she’s working on “YET.” This simple shift in perspective, the power of “yet,” became a driving force behind my book.
Penelope and the Power of Positivity is about an eight-year-old girl. She has big dreams, but those dreams are threatened by her two best friends, Fear and Self-Doubt. They believe Penelope’s dreams are way too big and way too scary, and they jump at every opportunity to remind her of this. Each time they do, it stops her in her tracks. The book follows the story of how she overcomes these two to accomplish her goals.
In the process, children will start to develop what’s called a growth mindset, one that believes that skills and abilities can be developed over time with practice.
When you first wrote your book, what were your intentions? Did you always plan to publish?
I wrote this book at a very difficult time in my life, during several serious health crises for close family members. However, the timing could not have been more perfect. Over time, the process of creating the book became a place of solace for me. Initially, I just wanted to do something creative. But the more I wrote and leaned into the process, my intentions changed. I learned that writing a book was a wonderful way to leave a legacy that allows my children to reflect on the lessons I tried to impart to them.
I thought I would try to publish but didn’t have much faith that it would actually happen. I then felt compelled to publish when I realized that the lessons in the book would help other parents, so I decided to get more serious about it.
How did you find Argyle Fox Publishing, and what convinced you that we would be a good fit?
I’m a firm believer of the saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I also believe that few things happen by accident. I found Argyle Fox Publishing randomly while scrolling social media one evening. I was immediately struck by the clear language they used to describe the process of working with them, how affordable it was, and the focus on the author retaining creative control of the process.
As I started to learn more about the self-publishing process, it became clear to me that I did not want to go down this path alone. I wanted to leverage the experience and connections of someone who’s done this before. I also knew that I wanted to have someone to go to as questions came up but wanted to have creative control, so that the end product would still be my own unique vision. Argyle Fox Publishing checked all of these boxes and more.
What are your goals for Penelope and the Power of Positivity? How will you determine whether it’s a success?
I’m still defining my goals for this book. I’ve thought about this a lot but still struggle to fully outline them. I know I want to help parents begin to have conversations about difficult topics like fear, self-doubt, and the fear of failure with their children. If I learned of at least one instance where a parent used the book as a jumping-off point for these conversations with their children, I would feel I was successful.
Your illustrator, Anastasiya Rudyk, brought your book to life! How was your experience working with her, and how does her work meet your expectations?
My experience working with Anastasiya was exceptional. I’m not quite sure how she did it, but she thoroughly captured my vision and brought the characters in the book to life. I appreciate her dedication to this project, her attention to detail, and her flexibility as I made a host of changes—and boy, there were a lot of changes! I hope to work with her again because I am so impressed by her work.
You’ve been working with a book marketing professional. How has that been going, and what has she had you do that has helped spread the word?
Similar to my decision to work with Argyle Fox Publishing, I knew I wanted assistance with marketing the book. I interviewed a few people and immediately felt a connection with Micaela Benn of the Children’s Book Marketing Academy. Working with her over the last few months has been wonderful.
She is really knowledgeable about both publishing children’s books and marketing them. She is also helpful when I have questions about the business side of this children’s books, about social media and the various apps and resources available to help with creating content.
I think the most important thing she has helped me to do to spread the word is helping me to become visible. Like many people, I am not a big social media user, so creating content is completely out of my comfort zone.
Thankfully, Micaela is always there when I have questions. She reviews my social media posts and often provides real-time feedback on ways to improve them. She is also actively helping me to plan my book launch, which is ongoing. Overall, having her assistance throughout this process has been invaluable.
What feedback have you received so far on your book?
Although I’m still quite early in this process, the response so far has been AMAZING. People love the concept of the story and are immediately drawn to the utterly engaging illustrations Anastasiya created. Most recently, a really successful children’s book author and illustrator (of whom I’m a HUGE fan) came across my book on social media and made the following comment: “Penelope is just adorableNESS on steroids! I love it, love, it, love it, love it.” Let’s just say my week was made!
Did anything surprise you about the publishing process? If so, what?
The most surprising thing about the publishing process is the compensation self-published authors receive from large distributors. I knew there would be costs associated with distributing my books through these distributors, but I did not realize that they would be so high. It is for this reason that I am working on obtaining my own supply of books. Of course, there will be costs associated with this as well, but I’m hopeful that the return on investment will be a bit more favorable by going this route.
There are a lot of writers who are nervous to take the next step and publish their books. Do you have any advice for them?
My advice would be to start where you are and take one small step and then another. Something I struggled with at the beginning of this process was focusing a bit too much on the end result. Of course, you need to have goals and a general sense of how you’d like this to go, but a lot of work happens between the time you finish writing your book and the time your book is published. It can be overwhelming when you think of all you need to do to publish a book and really overwhelming when you’ve never done this before and are unsure of what to do.
The best advice would be to take one small step forward, read as much as possible about the process, and then trust that the process will become clearer and clearer as you move forward. Also, progress always trumps perfection! As a recovering perfectionist, it’s often still difficult to draw the line and recognize when it’s just time to move forward and this can really hamper my progress at times.
Do you have another book in process? If so, do you mind telling us a bit about it?
Several people have asked me if Penelope and the Power of Positivity will become a series, and I’m seriously considering it. However, I have been working on a book with my four-year-old daughter, and she’s really excited about it, so most likely this will be my next project. The book is all about a spunky five-year-old who absolutely hates taking naps. Since my daughter isn’t a fan of naps, she totally relates to this character!
Where can readers find you online?
Is there anything else the world should know about you or your writing?
The main character in my book, Penelope, absolutely loves doing science experiments. So do my four-year-old daughter and I. I’d like to share this experience with other families, so I’m developing a series in which I plan to share weekly step-by-step instructions for conducting interactive and engaging science experiments parents can do at home with their little ones, ages four to eight years. Similar to my book goals, I hope to help parents boost their child’s confidence and nurture a growth mindset through these fun activities.
Thanks so much, and here’s to success!