An Inside Look at Writing Your Own Book with Cassie Stephens

Cassie working

Have you ever dreamed of writing a book? I know I have. There’s something about it that seems so thrilling. It’s easy to get caught up in the fantasy of seeing your name in print, your words and illustrations being read by thousands of people, your ideas reaching the masses.

However, when you really sit down to think about it, the task seems daunting. Even if you have a great idea, where do you begin?

Cassie HeadshotI recently had the chance to sit down with the one-and-only Cassie Stephens, and we chatted about this exact topic. Cassie just had her very first book published. Titled Clay Lab for Kids: 52 Projects to Make, Model, and Mold with Air-Dry, Polymer, and Homemade Clay, the book is full of ideas you can do with students whether you have a kiln or not.

book cover

It’s currently getting rave reviews on Amazon, but the road to get here wasn’t easy.

Below, Cassie shares her story.

On how the book began

When I ask Cassie when she decided she wanted to write a book, she tells me, “I’ll be honest, this all happened by accident. I mean, I think ‘write a book’ is on just about everyone’s bucket list but I wasn’t actively pursuing the dream.”

The editor for Quatro, the publisher of Cassie’s book, actually found one of the clay projects Cassie had posted online. After doing a little digging, she saw that Cassie had a few more kid-friendly projects on her website and sent her an email.

Cassie tells the rest like this, “I believe the subject line was something like, “Write a Book?” As you can imagine, I just about freaked out when I opened the message. I honestly thought at first it was a joke. ‘You have a great uncle living on an exotic island and he wants you to have all of his wealth and possibly write a book!’ You know—it seemed too good to be true.”

On putting yourself out there

But it wasn’t too good to be true. And, it wasn’t really “an accident” either. You see, Cassie has been diligently blogging and sharing work via other social media for the past ten years. Yes, YEARS.

In the beginning, Cassie thought sharing her students’ work via a blog would push her to be more creative in her lesson planning, and it did. She also documented her whimsical sense of style in posts titled “What the Art Teacher Wore.”

Then, as social media advanced, so did Cassie. With the ability to upload quickly and easily, Instagram became her favorite platform. However, you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Cassie Instagram

Cassie said, “If you want someone to approach you about a project, you obviously have to be getting your work in front of others. However, don’t feel like you have to have a blog. Putting the amazing work of you or your students online for the world to see, whether that be via blogging, Instagram, or Facebook, will reach a wider audience. Like-minded folks who appreciate what you are doing will find you.”

On taking matters into your own hands

All that said, Cassie did have a bit of advice for people who want to seek out publishers on their own. She told me, “If you are going to actively pursue publishing a book, start by seeing who publishes the artsy or art education books you enjoy the most. Then, check out their website, search for a contact, and drop them a line. It never hurts to try!”

On sealing the deal

Before the publisher agreed to sign Cassie, she had to outline all 52 projects. Talk about a huge undertaking! Because the book is meant to be used by children who have little to no clay experience, Cassie couldn’t use any kiln-fired clay. Cassie started by organizing the book into categories. Then, she started to dream up projects. She told me, “Once this list was typed up and sent to the publisher, I just waited and hoped that they liked what they read.”

On the daily grind

While Cassie was thrilled when the publisher officially signed her, the daily grind got to be a bit much. The whole process took a year and a half.

Cassie describes it this way, “We had a timeline with lots of hard and fast deadlines. That was a struggle for me. I’m a procrastinator! Balancing teaching, blogging, writing a book, and having some sort of life was a struggle. I spent the entire month of June 2016 in my pajamas from morning until night working with clay, snapping photos, and writing copy. I didn’t really have a summer vacation that year.”

For a workstation, Cassie purchased an extra long fold-out cafeteria table from the hardware store and covered it with oil cloth. She wrote off to the left and did the photography on the right-hand side. Below, you can see Cassie using the same space as she works on painting a sign for her classroom.

Cassie working

On working with others

Cassie told me she worked with a lot of different professionals over the course of the creation and promotion of the book. In the beginning, there was an editor to help formulate the content and layout and a photo editor to help make Cassie’s photos look their best. Later there was a freelance copy editor who made sure directions were clear and looked for typos. Now that the book is published, Cassie has been working with people in the marketing department to get the word out. She even appeared on a few local mid-day television shows. (And was subsequently approached in the grocery store!)

Cassie told me, “I was surprised by all of the moving parts that go into the making of a book: the editor, the author, the photographer, the photo editor, the list goes on and on. And it doesn’t stop once the book is complete. A whole new group of folks become involved. It’s not as simple as, ‘I want to write a book!’ and having it in a book store once it’s complete.”

On seeing the finished product for the first time

I asked Cassie how it felt when the finished book was actually in her hands. She said, “I was too afraid to look! I had to wait a couple hours before flipping through the pages. I was afraid I wouldn’t like the layout or the photos (I do!). I spent so much time on it that I was afraid I might be unhappy with the result. I’m not. I’m very happy with how it came out! I’m not gonna lie, I look at that book and I think: I wrote that! It’s a real book! One that I would buy!”

Final thoughts

The first words out of Cassie’s mouth when I asked if she had any advice for other teachers thinking about writing a book were, “Don’t do it!” But that was quickly followed by a, “Just kidding…Kind of.” Basically, Cassie said people should realize it is a serious commitment.

She went on to say, “But if it is something you have always dreamed of and you know you have something wonderful to share, then do it! And remember, you don’t have to publish with a publisher. I’d actually been reading up on self-publishing before I was approached. I have a friend who recently was able to quit his job to self-publish full time. Where there is a will…”

I want to thank Cassie for sharing her insight with us! If you’d like to hear even more on the topic of air dry clay from her, start with this article. Then, be sure to sign up for the Summer 2017 Art Ed Now Conference where Cassie will be diving even deeper into the topic! Today is the last day to register. Don’t miss it!

What other questions do you have about publishing a book?

Did anything surprise you about the process?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Amanda Heyn

Amanda Heyn is AOEU’s Director of K–12 PD & Media and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She enjoys creating relevant and engaging professional development just for art teachers.

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