The things I’ve learned.
I used to jump off this jetty when I was kid. I also used to crawl around underneath, pulling on fishing lines and making the tourists jump for joy believing they were about to catch something. The harder I tugged, the higher they jumped. I was a kid and this was my own private joke. Like many things from my childhood, this jetty’s no longer there. It was claimed by wind, water, sand and the unforgiving nature of time that eventually rendered it impractical.
In 2016, I chose to launch Grandad and the Baby Dolphin near the site where this jetty once stood. The road to self-published author was much longer than I anticipated. It took 7 years from the day I sat down to write Dad’s story until I had something to share. Most of this delay was because I was so determined to “do-it-alone”, but there were other delays like finding an illustrator, finding a graphic designer, finding a printer, and so the list goes. You can imagine how I felt once I finally had my book in my hand. I leapt! Like my childhood self, I literally launched myself off the self-publishing jetty without taking the time to fully understand my choices. The leap was fun and the splash was great - but like any unplanned jump into the deep end, once the ripples hit the edge I was left simply floating alone in still water.
November marks the 2nd anniversary of my first book launch. As I reflect on those early years; I thought I’d share with you the mistakes I made, the choices I make and what I’ve learnt along the way.
I work harder at sharing my work with Publishers or Agents
These days I’m a little cynical about self-publishing although my natural tendency is to stick within this space. I know … I’m confusing.
Have you heard of “A 1000 True Fans?” It’s a marketing philosophy for creatives that suggests you don’t need to be the next JK Rowling to make a worthwhile annual salary from your work. All you need is 1000 True Fans who support you, buy from you and eagerly await anything you are about to do next. I’d like to believe that I’m capable of finding my own 1000 true fans - I am a Master of Marketing after all. BUT, as an indie-newbie in this beautifully, crowded and creative industry of ours - finding those fans proved to be so much harder than I thought (#duh).
I keep searching for the best way to share my unique voice and find those people who will value and love me (yes, I believe you’re out there). There are so many creative and talented people writing and illustrating and sharing their stories across the globe, that simply yelling louder within the crowd Is not an option. I often wonder how much easier it would be with a Publisher or Agent by my side.
The flipside - I absolutely LOVE the creative process behind building a book. Working with storyboards, layouts, image roughs, colours, fonts and even playing in photoshop brings me as much joy as writing the story itself. Traditional publishers will prefer to own this process and I honestly don’t know how I feel about letting them have it. Therefore, historically, I avoided submitting my work.
I don’t do that anymore. I push my work out as wide as I can as often as I can. Why? Because it helps me find my people! For every agent or publisher that says no, there’s someone in the office who says “Actually, I quite like this story.” I may not win the competition, but I may find a true fan - someone who celebrates with me and advocates for my work. I may not be offered a contract, but I get an opportunity to raise my voice a decimal or two for a few short minutes … and that’s gold!
I’m protective of my talent
I’ve learnt to be cynical. Third-party distributors, book fairs, hybrid publishers, promises of exposure in catalogues or online services - anything that costs me substantial money to ‘buy-into’ makes me nervous!
This doesn’t mean I’m not generous, it simply means that I’ve chosen to advocate for my work in a different way. Like a fireman who visits his local kinder, I’m more than delighted to attend a classroom reading or to give a book or two away to help a good cause - BUT I can’t fight the fire for free.
I do not accept distribution contacts where I agree to make a loss. I will not accept an unpaid invite to facilitate workshops or run classroom activities ‘for the free publicity’. I rarely discount.
In my experience, these things rarely convert to any meaningful connection with my community. I have yet to find any true-fans investing in this space. I may sell a random book or two (but that currently costs me money). What I’m looking for is the friends who love what I have to say.
These days, I protect myself from fake followers and instead choose to share my work with more intimate audiences. This means I can also share more of who I am; why I write what I write; why I love what I do. I choose to believe that my work has true financial worth. If I don’t value the effort that I’ve put into my own creative processes, how can I expect someone else to? It’s a self-belief thing. I choose to place a premium on my books and on my writing skill because I believe I’m worth it.
I’m less sentimental and idealistic
As an indie-author, the biggest mistake I made was to print my book independently of a distributor such as IngramSpark, Amazon or CreateSpace. I’m a sentimental soul who honestly believed that supporting local printers and distributors was the right thing to do. A classic case of idealism versus business acumen. The cost per unit of doing it this way essentially priced me out of the market. The print cost was fine – the cost of distribution (or postage) simply means that I make a loss every time I sell a book.
I hate to admit this, but I recently declined an order for 20 books because the postage cost was over $200. As a result, I reluctantly removed the online store from my website and I’m currently exploring alternative distribution methods. The lesson – I will never be so sentimental again. IngramSpark all the way!
Finally. Effort must match Ambition.
I like writing children’s books because I can I tell a story in 500 words or less. Don’t get me wrong, I’m clearly a VERY chatty person. But when it comes to writing, brevity works for me. It’s short, sharp and to the point. I write fast and play with paint to fill the gaps. What’s not to love?
What I don’t love is labouring over the computer for hours and hours and hours churning out words because the novel is lodged in my head and won’t come out. I registered for NaNoWriMo this year and failed dismally. I think my current word count is just on 1000. However, someone recently told me that ‘Effort must match Ambition’ and it resonated.
Turning up and getting the words down is what will make me a better writer. Logging into and completing my drawing classes will make me a better illustrator. Refusing self-doubt and presenting my best self will make me a stronger story teller.
This is what I’ve learnt - 2 years later.