I've meant to write this blog for a while now, but I never got around to doing it. As someone who writes children's books, writing a blog has never felt like something people would want to read. So, after being contacted by a number of authors & illustrators wanting to know how to get started in self-publishing, now feels like the right time to start.
A year ago, I decided to take that scary leap of faith and leave my job to become an author & independent publisher. Going from a regular income to being self employed was a daunting prospect, especially for someone who craves a structured day and has always worked for other people. ‘Was I mad?’ I thought to myself.
After receiving great feedback when reading to school assemblies of 400 children, I decided to hand in my notice. I had found a passion that I enjoyed doing everyday. It felt like Lemon Drop Books had diverse stories that children could enjoy, and that there might be a small place in the industry for us.
I will always remember the day I handed my resignation to my boss. I'll never forget the look on his face, that pause followed by, ‘Are you sure?’ After breaking the news I clearly remember that sinking feeling: ‘Had I made the right decision? Will our family be okay? Will the books really do that well?’ It was a tsunami of emotions that made me sweat, lots!
Since starting the journey as an author, we have received fantastic feedback from children and parents making the whole process worth while. It has been a busy, but exciting journey. Our books can be found in Waterstones and Foyles stores in Bristol as well as online with these retailers. They can also be found on Amazon, a large number of independent retailers across the UK, plus our own website. Our titles have sold out on various occasions since first being stocked at the Waterstones in Bristol and we have sold over 1,000 books through our website and wholesalers.
We have also carried out reading events at Waterstones and Foyles, proving successful. I have carried out BBC radio interviews to promote Lemon Drop Books, giving us fantastic exposure and highlighting the lack of diverse children’s characters in modern literature. More recently our books have been enjoyed by HRH The Royal Duchess of Cornwall and her grandchildren.
We have provided books to the Bristol Children’s Hospital and the Great Ormond Street Hospital, local libraries and worked closely with a number of primary schools having created the schemes of work to go with every book. I am now a patron of reading at Air Balloon Primary School in Bristol, promoting reading for fun & literacy with the students and their parents and guardians. In 2017, I will work with the Bristol Mayor office, as an ambassador of the Bristol Learning City project engaging with local schools & communities.
I never would have thought in my wildest dreams that all of this would have happened in such a short space of time. With the help and support from my wife and the fantastic PR team, Hustle + Fox, we have managed to reach a positive audience. To top it all off, last Summer our debut children’s book, Otis Lemon & The Spectacular Submarine, was awarded the Platinum Junior Design Award 2016 in the Children’s book of the year (with words) (within last 12 months) category. The awards, organised by Junior Magazine, recognise the finest modern toys and books. The Platinum Award is the highest accolade possible and is reserved for those products that go above and beyond the high judging standards and showcase immaculate design. As a small independent publisher from Bristol, we were over the moon to win such an award so early on. The hard work was paying off!
So, my reason for deciding to write this blog is to try and help like minded children's authors & illustrators looking to self-publish themselves. Over the last six months I have been contacted by numerous people wanting to know how to get started. Below, I have included my four 'top tips' on what to consider when starting your journey into self-publishing.
Tip number one
- It goes without saying that you need to make sure that you believe in the stories that you are writing. If you don't have faith in whatever you are creating, then you might as well put the pen down and step away from the table! I personally feel that one of the hardest things to do, is start. Once those first few lines have been written, it tends to all flow from there.
Tip number two
- Test your stories out on children first. Kids tend to be extremely honest critics. They will let you know soon enough if the story has potential or not.
- Ask their opinion: What would make the story better? What sort of characters would they like to see in the story?
- Reading the stories aloud also helps you to check that the story flows structurally. Put yourself in the parents mindset at bedtime when reading the story to the children.
Tip number three
- Generally children's books tend to have a word count of 800-1000 words. When writing the story try and stick to this word count.
- If you need to reduce your word count then make sure that it doesn't affect the integrity or flow of the story.
- Children's picture books tend to be structured around 32 pages, so you will need to fit your writing around the illustrations and artwork.
Tip number four
- Once you feel that you are in a position to illustrate your work, make sure that you look around for an artist or an illustrator who fits with how you want the story to feel. I was extremely fortunate to stumble across Maia Walczak via an old school friend. Never underestimate the power of social media when asking friends for help.
- If, like me, you are terrible at drawing then take photos of landmarks, ideas, people, clothing etc and send them across to the illustrator. It's much better to give the artist an idea visually than nothing at all.
Okay, that’s enough of my waffle for now. I hope you find these four tips helpful.
I am thinking for the next blog it might be useful to move into ISBN codes, character builds and finding the right printers.
Please feel free to leave me a message in the comments section below.
Look out for our next blog coming in April.