Writing Children’s Books and Storytelling for Brands with Leah Komaiko

Leah Komaiko
Leah Komaiko

What was the first children’s book you ever read? Mine was The BFG by Roald Dahl. Thinking of that book could help you tell better stories and even connect with readers today.

That’s an approach branding consultant and children’s book author Leah Komaiko recommends. 

In this interview, Leah explains: 

  • How she got started writing children’s books.
  • Why the first children’s book you ever read is so important.
  • What effective copywriting looks and sounds like.
  • Why I (and you) should re-read the first children’s book you remember…and what it could mean for your creative work.

And lots more.

I start by asking Leah to describe how she transitioned from writing children’s books to advising Fortune 100 clients about storytelling.

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Leah Komaiko: Say how I made a living as I didn't think there was any other way, but to make a living as a creative. I came from a kind of family when that's what everybody was doing it. It was considered like kind of gauche to be in business where I came from, and it was just like, "Oh, if you're not ... be a creative." So everything was very backwards in the way that I was raised. Thank God. But how you make a living as a creative, is you just figure that you have a stand and a story that's valuable to people. And that it will help people, change people's lives, and it's worth money. And-

Bryan Collins: And you've written over 20 books, Leah. So did you start with books or did you start with something else?

Leah Komaiko: I started with books. I started being a kids' book writer and that's the whole foundation of what I use for all the areas of my business. And I started writing kids' books ... and then I ... Well, through writing kids books ... When you're a creative, you're still always in business. You have to sell all your own product, you've got to figure out the ways and means. But I started doing that and then from there I started getting some unique marketing opportunities and building a business to help brands and grownup older people figure out the story of their business ... using the foundation of kids' books, actually.

Bryan Collins: So you started out basically when things were more complicated and ... Like now it's quite easy for somebody to write and publish a kids' book, but it must have been more harder twenty-

Leah Komaiko: Actually, it was hard then and I believe that it's hard now.

Bryan Collins: Okay.

Leah Komaiko: In the States, the market for kids' books is the largest area of publishing, completely. There's nothing that sells like kids' books. They sell more than anything, but it was never very easy and I thought it would be. I thought, "Oh, it's for kids. This should be nice and easy." Wrong! It took me several years to break in, but I'm glad that I didn't give up.

Bryan Collins: And how did you transition from ... or perhaps your approach to doing both, from writing kids' books to the other part of your business, which is helping entrepreneurs and business people find the stories that they need to tell to connect with customers?

Leah Komaiko: I was living in New York and I realized I needed to eat. Even though I had a three-book deal. And I discovered, in writing kids' books, that there's a very strong connection between what makes a great kids' book and what makes it a very powerful brand. And they're very similar. I met somebody who was a correspondent for ABC and I was trying out my system on her and she introduced me to a very well-known and established business person who brought me into their company and said, "If you can show me how to tell my story by beginning with my first kid's book, and it makes sense to me, I will pay you. If not, I'll show you the door." And he paid me.

Leah Komaiko: And that's how I got started, because I saw the connection and I love the connection. The fact that you can write a kids' book or you can be struggling with a business story, as part of his team, but the same thing that makes a kid's book powerful and classic is the same thing that's going to make your brand powerful [inaudible 00:03:05].

Bryan Collins: So if somebody has started a business, but they're struggling to tell their story, where do you recommend they start?

Leah Komaiko: They start ... ? I recommend they start with their kids' book. I recommend that they ask themselves, first and foremost, if they can remember the very first kid's book that was read to them. My very first kids' book was a book by Dr. Seuss called If I Ran the Zoo. And when I look at that story and I look at my business today, my business today is pretty much the story of that book.

Leah Komaiko: That story was about a kid who just basically felt like he could do everything much differently and much better than the way that it was at the zoo. He found the zoo to be boring. And that's pretty much what I've landed up doing. When I work with people, I basically see these two or three different ways that they could create what they've got. And that's how I tell people to get started, is rather than struggle with trying to figure out all the elements today of "What's my mission?" and "What's my what, why and what's my ... my point of view and all these things." I just start with, "Let's get simple."

Bryan Collins: Yeah.

Leah Komaiko: Let's cool it, "Let's remember who you are." And the simplest way I have found, in working with all different kinds of executives and teams and stuff, to discover who you are is to recall your first kids' book. It's just remarkable to me. Can I tell you a really quick story?

Bryan Collins: Sure. Of course.

Leah Komaiko: Okay. Since I know you're a story person. So I was on a plane the other day coming back from speaking at a conference, and I'm sitting next to this man who's an executive for a very large firm here. And he was talking to me about the nuts and bolts of his business. And he said, "I could talk about this