Interested in knowing more about the diverse team behind AcuteByDesign? Scroll through to get to know a bit about each of us, where we come from, what we do, why we are here, and how we found this new, creative family.
Niki Key moved away from her dusty East Texas birthplace to New York City in her early twenties, where she attended the art program at City College of New York in addition to a special study at The Art League of New York in figure drawing and watercolor.
Although she illustrates primarily in watercolors, she explores her craft through a variety of media and subject matter, which can be seen on her site: NikiKey.com. Working in children’s literature has been a lifelong dream of hers, and she is currently working on her own manuscript, to be published autumn, 2015.
She happily resides in a small community outside of New York City with her little family, wee dog, and ginormous cat. In the sparse moments she is not in her studio painting or writing, she enjoys stand-up comedy, riding her bike, and live theatre.
Editorial Operations Executive
Many of Cyn’s friends and associates call her the Energizer Bunny—because she just keeps going and going. This perpetual motion machine (though it’s mainly her typing fingers and her brain that are always engaged—the rest of her has slowed down with time) has had over 100 books published—so far. And she’s not done yet.
She has produced and hosted two different TV shows that were broadcast in the South Florida area, where she has made her home since 1984, and she has edited or ghostwritten books and other materials for countless clients over the years. Her editing experience has been varied, encompassing magazines as well as books, not to mention websites, business materials, and diverse miscellania.
The author of over a dozen plays, she has seen all but one of them produced somewhere—mostly in her home base of Palm Springs, FL, although one, a play for young audiences, enjoyed a 12-weekend run in New York City in the ’90s. Cyn is on the board of 4 Authors by Authors, an organization whose aim is to help authors, whether they are simply hopeful, or emerging, or established. She plans to never retire, stating that her work is her raison d’être, and indeed she bounds out of bed every morning by or before 5:00, eager to start a new day. Declaring herself “arguably the happiest person in the world,” Cyn says, “There’s no one in the world I’d want to trade lives with.”
Michel has a background in both education and business, having spent many years in each before going on to found AcuteByDesign, where he finds that his prior experiences are serving him well. He has long been aware of the need for more children’s books that depict ethnic diversity. There is still a paucity of books for kids that feature characters who are Black, Latino, Asian, or Native American, and when the spark of an idea turned into the reality of AbyD, Michel determined to use his publishing power to fill that gap. As publisher of a small publishing company, Michel wears many hats throughout the course of a workweek—and his workweeks are seven days long, not five. But his work is a labor of love, and despite the staggering workload, he’s not complaining.
Definitely not a traditionalist, Michel has a vision for AcuteByDesign that involves the company doing far more marketing than is typical in the publishing field these days. His vision also includes a totally virtual office—the AbyD “team” of editors, marketers, layout artists, and others is spread out not only across the U.S.A. but across the globe. Each team member works from her or his own home office or other workspace of choice. Michel also has brought onboard publishing hopefuls with no real experience, giving them a real chance to each follow her or his dream of a career working for a publisher. Could it be that AcuteByDesign is creating a blueprint for the publishing house of tomorrow?
Another part of Michel’s vision for AcuteByDesign involves providing opportunities for emerging and under-represented writers and illustrators who can offer children’s stories that showcase our diverse and multicultural world in a positive way.
Michel is passionate about providing a venue for parents and teachers to exchange great stories, and for their children to access well-crafted literature featuring stories and characters that empower children to laugh, cry, and express joy in the language of empathy, sharing, and caring.
He says that a big part of AbyD is giving back—-small grants and funding opportunities to teachers, classrooms, and after-school community programs that allow staff to do their jobs more effectively while instilling the love for reading and writing in children.
Tyrelle Smith is a freelance illustrator, concept artist, and character designer living in Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art with a BFA and a focus in illustration. Specializing in fantasy and science fiction work and enjoy creating colorful worlds for people to get lost in and characters who look memorable and unique.
Assistant Regional Coordinator, Southwest
Yezanira (“Yeza”) Venecia is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, where she double-majored in English and Psychology, with a minor in Sociology. A class in Creative Writing at UT opened Yeza’s eyes to what her true passion was—writing. Although she loves science fiction, she writes in a variety of genres and fields and also does some editing, including a recent freelance assignment editing a movie script. She also grades Student Standardized Tests for Pearson, the folks behind the well-known SATs.