We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Shanita Allen a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Alright, Shanita thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. Did you always know you wanted to pursue a creative or artistic career? When did you first know?
When I was younger, I read lots of books. Growing up in the 80’s, we mainly had 3 choices for entertaining ourselves: watching television, playing outside, or reading. I chose the latter most of the time, which is I loved. I wrote poetry and short stories all the time. I dreamed of becoming a published author of children’s books since I was in middle school. However, while I was in high school, I fell in love with psychology and decided to pursue a college degree in order to become a Psychiatrist. I changed course after learning about Applied Behavior Analysis and decided to become a Behavior Analyst, and my writing got side tracked by course work.
I hadn’t picked up a pen to write any stories in over 15 years. I loved my career as a Behavior Analyst and put all of my time and attention into it. In 2018, while thinking back on some of the things that I used to love to do when I was younger, I remembered my childhood dream of becoming a published author. I had actually forgotten about it! But, reminiscing on how happy it made me when I was younger, bought a renewed sense of passion back into my heart…all I needed was a topic. A split second later, I had my “Ah Ha” moment and I decided to write a children’s bedtime story about following your dreams, and the rest is history.
I initially wanted to write one book, based on the concept of believing in yourself, following your dreams, and teaching children that they have unlimited potential. When they set their minds to achieving their goals, anything is possible. However, 1 book turned into 9 books and the “Let’s Go Dreaming” series was born.
Shanita, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
I was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), serving individuals with Developmental Disabilities since 2003 in the Tampa, Florida area. In 2018, I decided to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a published author. I wrote a series of 9 children’s books and titled it the “Let’s Go Dreaming” series. Each book also has a matching coloring or activity book.
The first book, released in September 2019, titled Sleep, Tiny Dreamer, is a short bedtime story encouraging young minds to dream big. The remaining 8 books in the series feature Little Ari and her talking dog, Pepper. In each story, Little Ari and Pepper go on exciting adventures and meet new friends along the way. My stories get readers excited to fall asleep so that they can have wonderful adventures in their dreams as well. These stories aren’t just for children though; they are for adults to enjoy as well, since we are all children at heart.
My reasons for wanting to write a children’s book was two-fold; Not only did I want to inspire young minds, I also wanted to encourage parents to read to their children in order to foster a nurturing relationship with them, since it’s so important for children to have that connection. Parents also need to be reminded of their dreams as well. Sometimes, us adults tend to put the needs of others ahead of our own, and we forget about the things that make us happy. It’s perfectly fine to invest time and energy into your loved ones, but don’t forget to take care of yourself as well.
The response that I have gotten so far from the “Let’s Go Dreaming” series has been overwhelming. Since publishing my first book in 2019, I have been featured in several newspapers, had numerous book signings at bookstores, and I became the first author to ever be featured on a Story Book Trail at a Florida State Park. I am humbled by all of the positive feedback and reviews. The idea of people reading my words and being touched by my story is priceless. If I can inspire just one child, or even one adult, then I have served my purpose…and for that, I am truly grateful.
Have you ever had to pivot?
Initially, when I started my journey as an author, I was hyper-focused on social media. I would stay awake for hours doing research on when was the best time to post content, which hashtags to use, and what type of content to post. The research phase and all of the things that I learned were priceless and I don’t regret the sleepless nights at all. But, I would post on social media daily and get so discouraged when I wasn’t gaining enough followers fast enough. One of my friends had to give me a pep-talk and remind me that I have to take advantage of other outlets such as advertising and not to focus so much on the number of followers. While social media is a great platform for connecting with people and getting the word out about your brand and products, it shouldn’t be your only method of promotion.
After a few years of being an author, I realized that making in-person connections was significantly more important than a social media presence. All of the milestones that I have experienced as an author, was a direct result of getting out into the real world and meeting people. I started doing more author events and getting involved in my community, which has greatly helped with brand awareness and direct sales of books.
What do you find most rewarding about being a creative?
Hands down, the most rewarding aspect for me is the response that I receive from the children. Each time that I have gone into a classroom or done an author event, there’s always been several children who are so excited to see my books and hear my stories. Some of the young African American girls would tell me that they love my book because the main character on the cover, Little Ari, looks just like them.