When it comes to children’s books, Michael Patrick O’Neill has quite the edge over his competition.
“Not only do I write my own books,” said O’Neill, “but I take the photos for them as well, so I’m always ready to go.”
O’Neill, who kicked off the annual Authors’ Institute program at Worcester State University, discussed the benefits of being an independent author, photographer, and publisher, as well as his experience of being in the business and how he encourages children to develop their creative writing. He has published seven books for children and adults through his publishing company Batfish Books, and his photographs have appeared in numerous publications, including in BBC Wildlife Magazine and National Geographic.
Although he is an award-winning marine life photographer by trade, O’Neill decided to try his hand at writing a children’s book and published Fishy Friends in 2003.
“I didn’t have any experience in education or business,” O’Neill admitted, “but I had always loved to write, and I knew that kids love ocean animals.” Through his books, O’Neill aims to encourage children to explore the world around them and engage with nature, as well as to inspire environmental conservation.
He credits his personal connection with the photos and his writing with his success, saying that “people want to feel how you felt in that moment you took the picture that they are looking at.”
O’Neill is also proud that he has control of publishing and selling his books, which resulted from bad experiences in working the traditional publishing and book distribution industry, including retail super-giant Barnes & Noble.
“Barnes & Noble is constantly churning their inventory, and once they discontinue the sale of a book, they send the remaining stock back to the publisher,” explained O’Neill. “If you’re a self-publisher like myself, this method of selling books will never sustain your business.” Creating books, said O’Neill, requires a lot of money for both traditional and self-publishers, and the costs of printing, page layouts, and editors can rack up thousands of dollars.
However, O’Neill’s has been able to use his talents for photography and writing, as well as his keen sense for business, to create a profitable career doing what he loves. He travels to schools around the country to share his books and photos with children and to help them create stories of their own through his writing workshops, which he called one of the best parts of his job.
“There are few things better than receiving letters from children who say that, after I visited at their school, they want to become photographers,” said O’Neill. “Whenever I’m feeling down, I look at those letters, and I remember why I love my job.”
Visit O’Neill’s website to view his photos and purchase his books.
Every June, the WSU’s Authors’ Institute features influential writers who present to graduate students and teachers from across New England. The event takes place over a one-week period and features a different children’s author each day. Authors featured this year included O’Neill, David Adler (Cam Jansen series), Matt Tavares (Oliver’s Game, Jack and the Beanstalk), Greg Tang (The Grapes of Math), and Mary Jane Begin (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice).
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