Self publishing for beginners; a year of discovery.
#selfpublished #selfpublishing #authorillustrator #childrensbooks #childrensillustrations #mumpreneur #digitalmarketing #environmentalchildren #ecowarriors #sustainablegifts #ethicalconsumer #wahm #smallbusiness #authorvisits #publisher #motivation #parentingstruggles #childrensillustrating #publishingtips #illustration
As the first birthday of the release of my first children's book 'Hilda's Forest' quietly slips by, I have started to reflect on the journey so far. I hope that after twelve months of blood, sweat and tears (OK...blood or sweat may be a bit dramatic but perhaps some tears) I can inform and motivate anyone who is thinking of taking the leap into writing, or starting out on the self publishing journey. This is not a post that will list the do's and don't's of self publishing as I don't feel qualified to write one of those... yet, but join me in my reflections if you are looking for some inspiration around writing, illustration, self publishing and to be honest, sticking at any kind of small business or passion that you are in love with and nurturing- but not always finding easy. I have also added a dash of parenting struggles and a sprinkling of bad jokes for your perusal.
I hope you enjoy reading and please get in touch via email if you have any questions about the self publishing process- i'd be happy to help but I should say I am not an expert and I have not made it as a self published author.... yet!
Fake it til' you make it?
I have a friend who runs a make up business. In all honesty I am not totally in to make up- apart from on my wedding day when she made me feel like the dogs...erm.. knees- but her passion and enthusiasm for her business inspires and motivates me. So a quick message on Facebook and a couple of days later there we are, sat in a cafe chatting about how to sell stuff on social media. I am starting here because at this point I had already written and illustrated Hilda's Forest and I was in a dilemma about whether to take the leap and send it to the printers- surely no one would buy my book? Surely people would humour me and I would only sell a couple of copies to friends and family? I am not an author, I am a mum and a youth worker. Well- that chat, and possibly the cake, who knows, was the catalyst for taking the leap and making that first order. "Ok- if you think it will work then maybe i'll just order 100 copies... it's more expensive per copy but I don't think more than 100 people will buy it." "No- you should order 200 copies, set up a pre- order for signed copies and then see how you get on after that"- that was all I needed to take the leap. We then had a long conversation about the concept of 'fake it til' you make it' and if this was a mantra we should be living to. We both agreed that it's more a case of faking the confidence in yourself- because you have the skills- and then you might actually feel confident enough to be confident... but that doesn't quite have the same ring to it. So, if I ever tell you to 'fake it til' you make it'- that's what I mean.
Girl power: off to the printers to pick up my proof copy- this was so exciting as it would be the first time I'd see my hard work as an actual book! It was a two hour round trip but so worth it to make sure I was happy with it before committing to the first 200 copies. I think there was probably coffee and cake involved too... there seems to be a theme emerging here...
And then book day came...below is me posing with my trusty sidekick for one of my first social media posts, coffee and cake were obviously involved heavily...
And how I really felt...
There's good and bad in everything
The thing with self publishing is that you pay for everything up front. So as exciting as it was to have my unopened boxes of beautiful, crisp little books just waiting to be read, there was a very noisy, and frankly unwelcome, thought monster smashing itself around my head chanting: "uh oh... what have you done?... you aren't rich...you better sell them all and quick". So I did my best to ignore that annoying little brute and got on with spreading the word. That was easier said than done with a six month old baby who didn't sleep too well but I made the most of being up feeding her all night and took to social media. I have a love/ hate relationship with social media- in my 'day job' as a youth worker I see every day the negative impact it has on people. The 'keeping up with the Jones' mentality and the unrealistic expectations that young people have to try and live up to which leaves them anxious and crippled by the sense that they'll never look like, or live like, their favourite social media icon. The constant availability. The concept that we can now be contacted 24/7 and are expected to reply because "you saw the message.. I could tell..." that is just creepy. Anyway, as I was not going to go down the traditional route of finding a publisher, I needed a platform which would show people where they could buy the books from (the website) and also help me to achieve my primary goal of inspiring children to love and protect our planet. Social media served this purpose and gave me the chance to post tips and activities for getting children out in nature, to build empathy with living things and to hopefully help parents who were struggling to 'be more eco'. I'm not going to lie; social media is a tough one to crack and a full time job if you want to do it right- which I still haven't quite done! I read half, OK about 20 pages, of a book about using Instagram as a way to do business and got so bored of the authors self indulgent attitude and constant plugging of his own stuff- I gave up and went at it alone. Unfortunately, in any kind of marketing there is something to be said for 'selling' yourself and dropping the very British 'shrinking violet' act. So I got a bit more used to putting my face out there, in the local paper, in a county wide magazine and I shared the hell out of my platforms in every group or page that would have me! And it worked! I sold the first 200 and took the leap to order more.
If you're not quite ready for your face to be on social media, then a well thought out 'flat lay' will suffice.. as long as no one is there to sabotage it..
After the Christmas rush, there was a sense of calm and a focus on planning- how could I make this a sustainable business and ensure that my book, and the environmental message that comes with it, continues to reach new readers? Luckily, there wasn't a dramatic drop in sales and a few times a day I would get that exciting 'ping' on my phone to tell me that I had received an order. As the hope and optimism that comes with the start of a new year began to fade, my thoughts turned to new book ideas. Our baby, the gorgeous, squidgy thing that she was, had decided that sleep was for the weak. Right at the start of this journey she slept all of the time (there was even a time when we had to give her a poke to get her to open her eyes for expectant visitors who wanted to see her awake... oh the joy...) but she now slept very little. I even coined a phrase to describe the feeling I got when I had nearly got her to drift off and then an external factor woke her up. This was now called 'nap rage'. Anyone that has had the job of rocking, pushing a pram or bouncing a baby to sleep- only for them to be disturbed by someone or something that has the audacity to even BREATHE LOUDLY will understand. As a nature lover, it came as quite a surprise to me when one sunny afternoon, after an hour of walking around to get her to nap I found myself telling a black bird to 'shut up!!!!!' when it dared to sing its jolly tune. Sorry little bird... I had nap rage. Anyway- I digress. The point of introducing you to 'nap rage' is that this new found sleep deprivation, coupled with being completely and utterly head over heels in love with my bundle of fun and all that came with her left me very little time to find inspiration for the next book- let alone sell the current one, so I found inspiration where I could.
Inspiration can be found everywhere...namely bath toys and picture books
Some critics don't give much away...
Hurdles and triumphs
The biggest hurdle that I have faced has been my own self doubt. Everything else I can find a solution for, or at least 'google' it, but self doubt is a difficult one to crack. I guess the reason I am writing this blog in the first place is to hopefully motivate other self doubting authors to believe in their work, and themselves, but before my books were out 'in public', and I was getting some real positive feedback, it was hard for me to imagine that people would like them. I don't have an answer for this- just give it a try! The second thing that springs to mind when thinking about the challenges of selling books, is how there seems to be about a million different ways in which you can do so. I chose to set up a website as my main selling space and then went about approaching different shops to see if they would stock them for me. I worked out how much discount I could afford to offer shops that would still leave me with a (very small) profit and offered this up to independent book shops, children's shops and garden centres. I got met with a mixed bag of responses.
"Oh you're self publishing you say? I tried that once and it didn't get anywhere so I gave up..."
"Hmm I will take two copies but only on a sale or return basis- we will see how it goes" *insert patronising grin*
"We can't work to that profit margin in our shop".
The latter is fair enough- every retailer is different but I find that most ask for 50% reduction and I just can't stretch to that yet. It is something to consider when you are sourcing your printing company though- when you get a quote, remember that you need to think about how much profit you will make per copy depending on where you are selling them.
To be honest, I had many more positive responses than negative and the above comments only spurred me on to try harder and to make it work. I now have my books being sold locally in a handful of children's clothes/ gift shops, a local botanical gardens, four bookshops, a garden centre and I recently sent ten of each to a health food shop! The only limit to securing stockists is the time you have to contact them all- without a distributor or a publisher, as with EVERYTHING else, this falls to you to do. A generic email could work but I have found phone calls much more fruitful. Even if a shop manager/ owner seems disinterested to begin with, the story of a local self published author, and a very friendly phone manner, brings out the best in people and makes them more receptive to giving your work a try.
School visits have generally been a positive experience- after all, the main purpose of starting out on this venture was to spread the word to children to protect our planet and hopefully encourage them to have some love and empathy for the living things that inhabit it. I absolutely love reading my books to groups of children and the conversations afterwards can be as heart warming as they are hilarious.
"So if you drop litter then animals might die... my cat died once..."
"We recycle in our house, my mummy said that daddy has to do it because he makes so many empty beer cans.."
"We made a hedgehog house in our garden and got baby hedgehogs!" *this one couldn't contain his excitement!*
The only difficulty I have found whilst doing school visits is the loss I made financially. Although I now charge a very small fee just to cover my transport, to begin with I worked on the basis that the school and it's pupils would get a £1 discount off each copy and that if parents would like a copy, I could sign one there and then for their child. This worked sometimes but unfortunately the message often didn't get back to parents so there would be no sales. Luckily, I had the warm, fuzzy feeling that I had helped spread some environmental love... and that often is enough for me, unfortunately it doesn't buy the next print run of books though!
The conversations afterwards can be as heart warming as they are hilarious...
Cut the waffle
Even though this isn't a step by step self publishing guide, I thought it would be useful to summarise the process. This is just how I did it and is by no means the 'right' way. This all happened in a big old mix up of confused google sessions, phone calls to unsuspecting friends in the 'business' and not in the order that I will write it, but no one would understand the real version!
- Write your manuscript and get it checked, checked and checked again! I made a 'prototype' and asked my most honest critics, my nieces, to check it over for me.
- Illustrate, or find an illustrator. I don't have experience of the latter because I am my own illustrator so hopefully you will be able to get some guidance elsewhere on this.
- You will need to format your book. If you know how to use a programme like InDesign, then use it! I just researched other children's books to get an idea on layout and went from there. For my first book, Hilda's Forest, I was lucky enough to have a friend who works in publishing and she helped me with this very kindly. When it came to Otto's Ocean- my second book- I taught myself the programme and went from there.
- Buy your ISBN number and create a bar code. There are free bar code generators online. In the UK, ISBN numbers are purchased from Nielsen and their website will take you through the steps needed.
- Find a printing company. There is so much to consider other than cost! How you would like the books bound? Staples are usually cheaper but I went for a glue bound alternative as I prefer the aesthetics. How many copies? The price will decrease per copy the more you order, but then you have a lot of books to shift! What type of laminate if any- Matt or gloss?
What kind of paper? The right printers should talk you through this and send samples on request so make sure you ask the questions.
- Set up your selling method/ methods. As mentioned, I use a website that I have set up (www.hildasplanet.co.uk) to sell and I do most of my marketing on social media.
There are plenty of other means of selling for independent author/ publishers such as Etsy for example. Of course it makes no sense to limit where you make sales- I also sell at markets, vegan and eco events, school fetes and craft fairs to name but a few! Don't be afraid to get yourself out there.
As simple as this sounds- when doing it for the first time it is quite a rocky path to navigate. I
hope this paragraph acts as a tool to help others on this journey.
The importance of a good ending
I really hope that by sharing some of my experiences from the first year of my self publishing adventure that I have motivated or informed you enough to get writing, get researching or even to reignite your love for what you do. It isn't easy. You'll be working hard to make it work but hopefully you'll enjoy it as much as I have!
I am going to wrap this up now- If I have learnt anything over the past year it is that when someone is passionate about something they could talk for hours about it, but I have a 4 hour speech about chocolate and puppies to make now so... happy writing!
For future blog posts, practical tips to get children out in nature and news on my next books then feel free to 'like' Hilda's Planet on Facebook, follow 'Hildasplanet_childrensbooks' on Instagram and find us at 'Hilda's Planet on Twitter.