Debut children’s book author Erica Swallow hasn’t always dreamed of writing for children, but she’s been a writer since she herself was a child.
Swallow recalls the first story she wrote. “It was about a young girl named Emerald with a green dress. She travels to New York and deals with the woes of living alone in a flat,” she recounts. “I’m not sure how I knew the word ‘flat’ meant ‘apartment’ at the time, or why I was writing about living alone, but it was what lit the flame for me. I based the story on this porcelain doll my mother gave me. I was mesmerized by her.”
Swallow was in the fifth grade, and she credits her fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Tamra Edrington (now Tamra Powell), with uncovering her passion for writing. “She taught me everything I know about grammar and put me on a path to honing my skill for storytelling.”
It’s been nearly two decades since she wrote that first story, but Swallow says she’ll never forget how it made her feel to express her ideas in words. “It’s now long gone, and I can’t even remember the plot or if it had one. But I remember that character and spending an entire night making the book cover in Microsoft Paint – that was the first time I had designed something digitally. It’s crazy what passion can drive you to do. You’ll learn a whole new trade if you have to!”
With Little Launchers, her debut nonfiction picture book series about real kids with real businesses, Swallow did just that. “I decided to self-publish, because I wanted to understand the entire trade, from writing and editing to working with an illustrator to understanding pricing, printing, distribution, copyrights, and so on. Little Launchers is now an official publisher, and we started from scratch just last year.”
A Career in Writing: Passion Meets Experience
If her passion wasn’t enough, she has the writing background to back up this debut project. Swallow has split her career between marketing and journalism for the past decade. She started her career at The New York Times as a full-time social media consultant. “I worked with incredible journalists like Nicholas Kristof and Mark Bittman, and I was the voice behind The Times on every social platform. That’s where I fell in love with the art of writing.”
She next pursued an opportunity as an editor at Mashable, where she built the company’s supported content program, then jumped ship to go full-time on her consulting agency, which was founded during her New York Times gig. “Self-employment was awesome. I spent half of my time expanding my journalism career, writing for places like Forbes, Entrepreneur, and this upstart lifestyle magazine Pursuitist, and the other half of my time consulting with clients, such as Contently and WeHostels, about their social and content marketing needs.”
“I keep coming back to writing,” she adds. “I guess that’s how you know it’s a calling. Publishing this first series is a dream come true.”
Swallow is an award-winning journalist. While obtaining her MBA, I was a writer for MIT’s The Tech, the first newspaper in the world published on the web. For her 2015 article “UN’s First VR Film Pushes the Bounds of Empathy,” she was awarded First Place for “Entertainment Reviews” in collegiate journalism across the United States by the prestigious Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s 32nd Gold Circle Awards program. The program attracted 11,110 entries, of which she was one of 1,471 winners placing First, Second, Third, or Honorable Mention. It was Swallow’s first journalistic award. Of it, she said, “I was over the moon, because I didn’t even apply. So, that must be a good sign that my writing is on the right track.”
Plotting the Future: Education and Children’s Writing
Writers come to the field from many backgrounds. For Swallow, it wasn’t a straight path. She is a first-generation college student and holds an M.B.A. from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a B.S. in marketing and international business from the NYU Leonard N. Stern School of Business.
“Education was what made the difference for me. The day I got my acceptance letter from NYU, I knew my life was going to be different. I had been waiting for days as the mailman drove up our dirt road, and the day I saw him put a big white envelope in our mailbox, my life was changed forever. I now had the chance to be somebody. That’s why education is the driver for everything I do now.”
— Erica Swallow, Author, Little Launchers books series
She believes education is the key to opportunity. She knows, because it opened so many doors for her, she says.
Today, education drives Swallow’s career and side projects. Before Little Launchers, she made the decision to join the education sector after graduating from MIT with an MBA. Straight out of graduate school, she was one of 540 Education Pioneers Fellows selected from 6,500 top graduate students and emerging leaders for the 2014-2015 Education Pioneers leadership development program. She served at Noble Impact, an education non-profit based in her home state of Arkansas.
Now, she’s set on continuing that impact on a broader scale. “I want kids to know that they don’t have to wait until college to decide what they want to do in life. They have the opportunity to do that now,” she says. “That’s why Li [Zeng, the illustrator] and I created Little Launchers. It’s starting with a book series, but I think we have the potential to change a lot of lives.”
“I hope I can inspire kids with my career and the stories I write, to think big about their lives and potential.”
Swallow currently resides in Little Rock, Arkansas with her fiancé Dan Ndombe.