Woah, that’s a bold statement. I’ve heard of procrastination being related to laziness, anxiety, and depression but not self-hatred.
I’ll admit, I’m no Superwoman when it comes to powering through and beyond procrastination. I’ve had to devise multiple systems, test out new theories, and come up with creative ways to hold myself accountable in order to stay on task.
Even with a ton of resources, prioritized action lists, a fancy new journal, and positive incentives, I still procrastinate on projects or activities that I need to accomplish in order to move my business and writing forward.
We all have the same 24 hours in the day to accomplish our goals.
Dedicated writing time
As part of a change in my routine, I scheduled dedicated writing time between 8:30 am-10:00 am every day. I have found that word count goals don’t work for me but dedicated time always does.
Sort of like cleaning where I give myself 20 minutes to clean whatever is around me, I give myself 90 minutes to write about whatever it is I want to write about. It doesn’t have to be going toward the word count of my latest novel if that’s not what I’m interested in writing about that day.
After 90 minutes of writing, I move on to responding to clients’ emails and creating content for my websites.
Write during your most productive time
We all have “productive” times during our day. These are the moments where the words flow effortlessly from our brain to our fingertips. The time when we feel most energetic and excited about writing.
For me, the morning is when my brain is freshest and ready to tackle problems.
Ideas often surface after I meditate in the morning before the kids wake up. I jot those ideas down and expand on them during my block of writing time.
Ideas for stories that come to me later in the day are recorded and I’ll write down as much detail as I know I’ll need to capture the idea and revisit it later. Sometimes, I rush upstairs and capture the flow before it disappears—my fingers clacking furiously on the keyboard.
These moments of inspired writing don’t happen often for me, so it’s crucial that I capture them when they do.
Reduce your distractions
I’m the first to admit that I often choose to become distracted in Facebook groups under the guise of being helpful for others.
While I’m doing those authors a service, I’m doing myself a complete disservice because the time I spend on Facebook is time I’m not spending creating my next book or helping a client with their books.
I’ve reduced my distractions by limiting my phone time entirely and I don’t look at my phone between 7 pm and 10 am if I can help it.
I try to steer clear of Facebook group interaction until my scheduled blocks of time dedicated to email and social media in the afternoons when my productivity is already naturally waning.
You know yourself best
You already know what you need to work on and what distractions you face.
Limit the distractions that are within your control (we can’t control when our kids need us or when our dog has to go outside) and make the most of your productive time.
I’ve made the decision to go to bed a bit earlier and wake up at 5 am in order to start my day with exercise, gratitude, and meditation. I feel it’s given me a competitive edge on starting my day right, owning my schedule, and outlining my goals for every day of the week.
How do you plan to accomplish your goals?
Are you launching your book on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo in the next 3-6 months?
If so, then you need to get started with a crowdfunding outreach plan and strategy.
“But Lisa, I created this book, it’s my name on the spine, how is marketing my book not about me?!?”
Because, my super creative, amazing writer, it’s not. I know you just poured your heart onto the page and you feel a deep emotional attachment to your work—that process was about you but the final product is not.
Change your relationship with the concept of marketing
Once you launch your book out into the world, marketing the book is all about connecting with the readers.
It’s about creating messages that resonate with them, not with you. The “about you” part is done.
Marketing is never about the person selling, it is always, always, always about the person buying.
So, no, marketing isn’t about self-promotion, get that icky feeling and everything that comes with it out of your head this instant. Marketing is about giving the reader more on a topic that they already enjoy.
Create what your readers want and you should have no issues directing them to more content on what they’ve already indicated they like.
Follow the Related Posts model
Think about all news outlets’ website designs…there is always a Related Posts at the bottom of every article directing people to more content on that same topic.
Do you think that’s icky? No, you find it helpful, don’t you?
That’s the same idea you should take with your passive book marketing.
Write a blog on a topic that is related to your book and at the end of it, include a call to action and a link where they can buy your book.
“If you enjoyed this article, then you’ll enjoy this book that dives even deeper into this topic. Buy it here.”
Easy peasy, right?
Listen to your readers and deliver what they want
I noticed that my readers really enjoyed my blog posts and would comment on emotional, heartfelt content. They would share funny videos like wildfire, and they ignored my inspirational quote/images.
Guess what I started doing more of? Emotional blog posts intermixed with funny videos. It’s a good thing I like creating both because that’s what my audience was telling me they wanted.
Put out a variety of content and see what sticks. What do your readers like?
The answer will be different for everyone, which is why you can’t copy someone’s campaign and think it’ll work with your readers. (More on that another time, though.)
The more you focus on what your readers want, the more you’ll feel comfortable promoting that content. It’s not about you, it’s about them and what’s wrong with letting people know when content they would enjoy is available?
Nothing. Nothing at all.
Want this blog in video format instead? I deliver more #truthbombs in the video below.
Psst…my children’s book is on Amazon and I’d love for you to check it out.
Crowdfunding your book entails offering readers extra rewards that are only available for a limited time.
Non-crowdfunding authors can use the same approach to drive more book sales or pre-orders.
Also, this strategy involves MUCH LESS stress and nail biting compared to launching a Kickstarter or IndieGoGo campaign where it’s all-or-nothing.
So, if you like all upside and very little downside (really just your time and effort), then this strategy will set you apart from the other authors who are struggling with Facebook ads and Amazon marketing.
Here’s the process:
Step 1: Create 4 (or more) rewards
These can be anything, really, but can include:
Activity workbook with material that complements your book
Printable coloring pages
Anything that involves your time (e.g., course, coaching, training, webinar, event, etc.)
I advise you to keep it relatively easy to create, original to your work, complementary to the book you are launching, and easy to deliver (digital rewards can be delivered via email).
If you start deviating from the above characteristics, you’re going to create more work for yourself than necessary.
Remember, these are valuable rewards for readers but you shouldn’t be spending tons of money creating them. Mostly, invest your time and effort into creating the rewards.
2. Make those Rewards Disappear
Incentivize readers to take action right away and not wait to pre-order your book.
So, anyone who pre-orders or buys your book during this Reward the Reader month (or whatever you want to call it), will have access to disappearing rewards in addition to your book.
Week 1: Readers get all 4 rewards
Week 2: Readers select 3 out of the 4 rewards.
Week 3: Readers can select 2 out of the 4 rewards.
Week 4: Readers can select one reward.
At the end of your Reward the Reader month, you’ve successfully rewarded ALL of your readers (they should be super happy) but the early bird readers should be the happiest because they got ALL of your goodies.
Step 3: Deliver the goods
At the end of the pre-order marketing blitz, be sure to deliver all rewards to everyone who pre-ordered your book, encourage them to read your book and leave a review, and thank them for being awesome and supportive people.
The best way to do this is via email using your newsletter service provider.
Be sure to have them specifically opt-in to receive your newsletter if they want to continue to receive emails from you to be GDPR-compliant.
Rules, man, I know, but transparency is crucial to building trust between you and your readers.
Benefits to using this approach
1. Everyone can do it
Whether you have already published your book or are still planning your book launch strategy, everyone can use this approach reward readers.
Come up with some great digital rewards that your readers want and get to work.
2. It relieves some pressure
If you aren’t “salesy” and don’t like talking about your book, then you’ll LOVE this approach.
Many authors find it easier to promote FREE items than they do about promoting their book for sale.
3. Organic sharing
Readers love to share free things. They are more likely to share a bundle of four free goodies that are available with the purchase of your book than they would an ad for a book. (Actually, does anyone share ads? Not really.)
4. Everyone wins
Your readers get 1-4 valuable rewards in addition to your book and you get more book sales and exposure. Win-win.
Less Stress but Still Requires Effort
So, no need to stress about launching an intimidating Kickstarter campaign in order to benefit from crowdfunding marketing strategies.
And just a reminder that as everything goes, you’ll only get out what you put into this process.
Creating and promoting these disappearing rewards still requires time and effort and marketing dollars to drive those book sales, but you should feel good about the value you’re giving your readers.
Book launches and crowdfunding campaigns are time-sensitive bursts of marketing so be sure to leverage every interaction with readers with a Facebook frame overlay.
“A whaaaat?” you might be asking…
Step aside coding nerds because technology has made it easy-ish for the non-tech-savvy person to create a Facebook frame overlay. (Granted, not understanding graphic design will make it a bit more time-consuming as you play around with the options, but that’s ok).
Whenever thinking of a new idea, my brain works something like this in approximately 30 seconds:
BING! Ideas and possibilities start racing around.
Yes, this is an amazing idea.
I MUST DO THIS IDEA!
Hang on, let me Google it first.
Oh, awesome, someone has already done this before and has written about it.
Woah, that’s expensive. Way more than I want to spend.
Actually, that person is an illustrator. I’m not an illustrator so my idea would be even more expensive.
Umm…hang on, who is going to pay for all of this?
If I do a Kickstarter campaign, I need an audience first…
Do I have an audience? Not yet. I need to do a lot of work there before I can move forward with anything.
My idea gets shelved indefinitely.
Yeah, I went through this process when thinking through an awesome card game idea.
In doing so, I know that a lot of other authors are interested in creating a deck of cards to either complement or stand alone with their book ideas.
Card game creation and printing are a lot like creating a printing an illustrated book. One needs to consider illustrations (both cost and creation), paper quality, card stock, quantity, box design, shipping, and possible retail price that results in a profit.
How many card decks would you need to sell in order to make money in the process?
Whenever doing research on the costs of producing something, you need to be sure you are factoring in all of the variables like quality, type, and quantity.
How many cards are in your card deck? What size cards do you want to create?
How many decks do you want to produce in one print run? The more your print, the cheaper your price point per deck, but then you’ll have more to sell.
If you’re nodding your head like, “Duh, Lisa…” then good! We’re on the same page.
If all of this is new information to you, then be sure to listen to my free webinar on the True Costs of Self-Publishing where I go over a lot of the hidden costs related to publishing books that will definitely also apply when creating a card game or deck of cards.
Let’s learn from others
In 2011, Daniel Solis worked through the math with SuperiorPOD as his printerand found that he would need to go back to the drawing board. At ~$7/unit cost, and a retail ceiling of $15-$20/game, he decided he needed to lower his printing costs in order to make it worthwhile.
The card game, Corporate America, was Kickstarted and self-published in November 2012 and the write-up completed in 2013. The creator discusses Kickstarter funds raised plus actual costs (~$30k). Be sure to read that article here.
Tevah Platt is a first-time children’s book author and decided to use Kickstarter to fund the production of her book, Snail, I Love You.
Find out what Tevah and her illustrator did to catapult their book over $10k on Kickstarter (433% of its goal).
What did you do before or on launch day that helped you rocket to success?
A little backstory first: I was working on it every day and 24 hours before the campaign was set to launch, we realized that the bank account information we had added to the campaign was incorrect. Worse yet, that information was locked and we could not change it.
I had to rebuild an entirely new campaign page, change all of our links to direct people to the new page, and everything in six to seven hours.
It was 4 pm on launch day and we were wondering if we shouldn’t just wait one more day and go live in the morning. We decided to hit the Go Live button right then and we hit 100% in two hours.
My illustrator and I created a list of 25 people we knew who would champion our campaign. Having other people share your work is critical to your success. We also reached out to friends and family and included, “If you’re going to back us, will you back us on launch day to help us have maximum impact?”
We found personal emails to be the most effective method for promoting our campaign.
Here’s how we did it:
I made a huge spreadsheet of 150 people who would pass my, “Would this person come to my funeral?” test or if they had a kid and was in my target audience. I wrote two sentences that were personalized to them and then mail merged those sentences into my general marketing copy in my email using the Gmail add-on, Mail Merge. (See this article for the Top 5 Mail Merge Add-ons)
I wrote everything before we launched and then sent out the emails to my list of contacts. My contributor sent out her emails on Day 2.
Were you able to relax after Day 2 when you were at 292% funded?
Yes, we very much relaxed. We tested out some Facebook ads but we weren’t seeing much traction. I ended up writing a press release but I didn’t send it anywhere. We didn’t really gain traction with the outside world.
Take me through the $2,500 goal vs. your $7,500 goal amounts. Why did you set your Kickstarter at the first goal instead of the second?
We did the math on a really small print run and $2,500 was the bare minimum we’d need to do that.
In retrospect, $2,500 was too small of a goal and we were being really modest. We knew that $7,500 would cover our costs but we were being risk-averse gamblers.
What types of marketing efforts had the best reach?
As I mentioned earlier, personal emails were the best. We incorporated the feedback from our cheerleaders and that made them feel more invested in the project. It also improved the project a lot.
What didn’t work out so well?
Facebook ads but we didn’t experiment beforehand.
We added new rewards and add-ons but we should’ve added more rewards while the momentum was happening. We weren’t able to generate much momentum past those first two days.
Are there going to be future books?
I would love to create more books. Because of Kickstarter and other routes to indie publishing, I knew this was a possibility. I wrote this book with my daughter and now she’s writing books, which I absolutely love to see. I’d definitely do another Kickstarter but it is so much work.
How did you meet your illustrator?
She’s my neighbor and she went around to our community offering to embroider vector images so she could practice using a new tool she bought.
I really loved the fact that her illustrations are with a sewing machine—a traditional symbol of domesticity for women—and yet her illustrations break every traditional convention. It’s a real statement on feminism.
I want readers to see the beauty of these illustrations and know that a woman created them. That’s the message I want to send to my daughter.
What is your affiliation with your local library?
We are publishing through the Ann Arbor District Library, which provides an amazing service for local authors. It is in their budget to support local authors and illustrators. You have to submit your manuscript and if selected, they will edit, and layout your book. They give you the digital files for your printer and the rest is up to you. They are hosting our launch party in November. I recommend them to all indie authors in the Ann Arbor area.
What piece of advice would you give an indie author considering crowdfunding?
Do the work in advance to line up your people and your champions. Get feedback and consult all of the resources you can find available. Take into account every comment on your video, campaign page, and rewards. Be open to feedback and be personable and warm.
The Kickstarter made me feel like this was a personal project involving everyone I love. The notes I got from people were so nice and supportive. It was a great experience.
Read more crowdfunding case stories by indie authors
“My professors in art school never taught us how to make money from our art. We were taught to create for the sake of it,” explains Natalie Merheb.
In speaking with children’s book illustrator and graphic designer, Natalie Merheb, I found myself nodding my head in agreement with almost everything she was saying.
The rules for succeeding at making money as an illustrator were the same I have found as a writer—1) conduct research, 2) practice until your hand falls off, and 3) create quality content. Easy, right?
Can you describe your process when you work with indie authors?
If the author doesn’t do this themselves, then I will split out the text into pages. The number of lines of text will affect the design and placement of the illustrations on that page. Sometimes, just 10 lines of text will have five different actions but an illustrator can only show one action per page.
I often choose what I feel are the priorities within those actions that move the story forward.
I consider what action fulfills these three qualities: identifiable, remarkable, and memorable and then I illustrate that action.
For example, if the scene is that the kids are waking up in the morning, getting ready for school, and waiting for the bus, I’ll decide to illustrate the kids waiting for the bus. The bright yellow color of the school bus is immediately identifiable, remarkable, and memorable to the kids reading the story.
I also take the readers’ age into consideration as to what they’d like to see on each page.
What are some of the trends in traditional illustrations?
Many traditional artists are moving to digital painting because it is easier in a lot of ways. The equipment is an investment upfront but then you don’t have the ongoing costs of consumable materials like paint, paper, canvas, etc.,
In digital art, everything is composed in layers. Since every illustration has layers, if the chicken needs to be moved and resized, I can do that very easily to create the right composition.
It is easy to adjust colors in Photoshop and many watercolor paintings are enhanced in Photoshop to make the colors more vibrant.
How long does it take you to create an illustration?
For my clients, it depends on the quantity and complexity of the project. I calculate my time spent emailing, sketching, and revising into every illustration and budget 8 hours per spread.
Illustrators should factor in all of the business aspects related to creating something for a client and build that into their payment process.
What advice would you give to another artist who is looking to illustrate children’s books?
Push yourself to create the best work you can and target your ideal client. They will want to hire you based on your quality of work.
Within two months, I was booked months in advance and am now charging what a traditional publisher would pay its artists.
Having done branding for solopreneurs, that experienced really translated into illustration.
My advice is to treat any activity as an entrepreneurial venture. Treat your art like a business and you’ll make money.
Treat it like a business
All new business ventures require a lot of research. Don’t go into anything blind and don’t try to do it at half effort.
Learn the roles of the traditional publishing process and learn about marketing, aesthetic style, and trends in illustration.
Once you get a feel for what you like, practice, practice, practice, and pursue feedback. “Let me know everything you don’t like about this.”
Prepare yourself ahead of time, make the investment, and get out there.
Natalie Merheb is a children’s book illustrator depicting stories written by others, as a brand strategist & web designer crafting brand stories for small businesses. She is a mama to twin girls, wife to a fellow entrepreneur from Lebanon, daughter to parents from the USA and Argentina, a Minnesota native, and Dubai expat.
Beautiful illustrations can make up for a weak story. On the other hand, ugly illustrations can tank a really great storyline.
A great book—one with both an amazing story and beautiful illustrations—is what we should all strive for, but if you’re going to create a children’s illustrated book, investing in beautiful, high-quality illustrations that enhance your story is priceless. Priceless.
Many indie authors think that they can tackle the illustrations themselves but sadly if you do not have artistic talent in your DNA, you’re not going to create illustrations worth publishing. Save your pennies and hire an artist while you focus on the story and characters.
I spoke with graphic designer and illustrator, Natalie Merheb, who is on a mission to educate indie authors about the level of skill and experience required to create beautiful children’s book illustrations.
What are some things you’d like more indie authors to know?
There are a lot of different roles in the traditional publishing world—agent, author, publisher, art director, illustrator, editor, book designer, and then marketing and distribution.
Too many indie authors try to take on multiple roles and it’s really to their detriment (and results in lower quality books).
Not many people have all of the skills and interest to take on all of these various roles. Remember that you, as an indie author, are both the publisher and the author but many authors are forgetting to pay themselves (all authors are paid for their work) like a traditional publisher would.
If you’re going to wear the publisher hat, you need to pay the author of your book (or you, in this case).
Which is easier—author-turned-illustrator or illustrator-turned-author?
It is much easier for talented illustrators to create a story than it is for talented authors to become talented illustrators. You see a lot of illustrators becoming authors because they already have experience telling a story through images. Adding the text is a logical next step.
In what types of illustrations are you a specialist?
I really fell in love with digital drawing over painting and spent all day practicing with my digital drawing tablet. I have my degree in fine arts and nobody taught us how to make money on our art.
I looked at the market of children’s illustrated books, which is so different from art. You have to be able to replicate the same character 40 times, capture emotion, and tell a story.
I studied the different styles the big illustration agencies are using and the type of work they are producing and found a particular style that comes naturally for me.
You don’t need to be in love with your own style but it has to be whatever flows most easily from your brain down your arm and out of your hand.
There are a lot of different trends in children’s books and you need to look at what type of art is sellable in the market.
How many styles should an illustrator have?
Not everyone is going to like your style but if you do your style well, someone will want to hire you. Some say you should be a one-style camp but I say that you can have one or two styles that are your absolute best work.
Remember that your portfolio is only as good as your weakest piece so don’t showcase anything that would bring down your portfolio.
What is a big problem indie children’s book authors face today?
The children’s illustrated market is oversaturated on many levels–in both the traditional and indie markets.
The Internet has given a platform for indies to rise, which is great in one way, but it also means that it is harder than ever to stand out.
There are great stories and illustrators in self-publishing, which is wonderful because it gives people like me a way to make a career doing what we love.
On the other hand, it opens the door for anyone to enter the market.
Being great is not good enough. You have to be at the top of your game to break into the traditional publishing market.
What is the best part of working with indie authors?
I love having a close working relationship with my clients. There is a personal satisfaction I feel in making someone else’s dream come true. I also love the potential for repeat clients.
I have one client who wants to sign me for her book series, which is amazing and not always a guarantee in the traditional publishing world.
What is the biggest challenge working with indie authors?
I said earlier that many times, indie authors will take on too many roles, and I may need to find a kind way to refer them to an editor. If there are grammatical errors on the page I’m illustrating, I’m going to let the author know.
A lot of indie projects are passion projects which means that the author is too close and can’t really be objective. They often want the illustrations to epitomize their child—hair, clothes, body language, etc., —and that’s not always what is best for creating a good children’s illustration.
Creative works are always personal so the hardest part is giving and receiving critiques on our personal works of art.
Continue reading the second part of this interview—
Natalie Merheb is a children’s book illustrator depicting stories written by others, as a brand strategist & web designer crafting brand stories for small businesses. She is a mama to twin girls, wife to a fellow entrepreneur from Lebanon, daughter to parents from the USA and Argentina, a Minnesota native, and Dubai expat.
Julia and I have a lot in common—we are both raising our families outside of our home countries (the USA), we are both authors, and both indie publishers dedicated to producing high-quality books.
Julia recently pushed back her launch date of her first book, Nonni’s Moon, because she was unhappy with the print quality of the first round of books she received. I admire her willingness to sacrifice a bit of ego and time for a better reading experience.
In this interview, I asked her about the nitty gritty of children’s illustrated books and I think you’ll enjoy her responses.
Why did you decide to self-publish your book?
I know how long it takes to traditionally publish a book and honestly, I knew the odds were slim. Self-publishing nowadays is even more possible than it was in the past—which is both good and bad. It means that it’s easier than ever to self-publish but also that bad books can flood the market.
I really wanted creative control, and the direct financial rewards. I know friends who have traditionally published and they will all do a ton of work the month before and the month after their book is released. If I’m going to do all of that work anyway, I might as well have the creative control.
What aspects did you do yourself vs. hire out to someone else?
I hired an illustrator, Lucy Smith, via a Facebook group of indie authors for children’s books. Her interpretation of my story really opened my eyes to a whole new level that I had not intended. The bereavement aspect really spoke to her and it reminded me why beta readers are so important for providing feedback.
How much did it cost to produce your book?
It depends on how you look at it because a lot of my costs were start-up costs for the first book. The illustrations cost the most (I’m paying her a flat rate with no royalties). I paid someone to do my website, and I purchased ISBNs, etc., For a 32-page illustrated book, it’ll cost between $6k-$7k if done properly.
I saw a deal on Bowker for 100-pack of ISBNs for the cost of a 10-pack, so I actually saved some money there.
What surprised you the most about the self-publishing process?
The length of time. Initially, I wanted the book out by Christmas but I didn’t find Lucy until July (I had been searching since February 2017). The level of detail and skill needed to create the illustrations takes a long time and I’d rather not rush anything.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in self-publishing?
You have to decide what your strengths are, what are your skills, and where you want to spend your money. I always feel like I should at least try to figure things out on my own.
First and foremost, join a Facebook group because any question you have has already been asked by someone else. Read 5-6 marketing books—I recommend Martin Crosbie’s book.
Definitely team up with another author to do a dual book launch or book signing event so you have a larger crowd.
You’ll want a timeline to keep things moving forward and most importantly, it’s crucial to build a marketing balloon before you publish.
What do you think worked well?
My launch team is working out really well. I put out a call for people interested in reviewing the PDF version of the book in exchange for being a member of my launch team and the group now has 186 members.
Had I not joined a lot of Facebook groups and done research, I totally would’ve launched without a marketing plan and would’ve missed out on a ton of momentum.
I submitted the book cover to a contest by KidsShelf Books and we actually won! It’s a nice shiny badge to put on the cover that adds a bit of credibility and it was something for me to do while I was waiting for the rest of the illustrations.
I can also recommend the Curiouser Author Network, which is a brilliant group of indie authors. They gave me great ideas for the book launch teams.
It also took me a week to figure out Canva but it was worth it.
Julia Inserro is a mom of three littles, living abroad with her husband and a handful of cats. She is a writer, reader, photographer, and explorer. She is the author of Nonni’s Moon, her first children’s book, set to release in July 2018. Julia finds that life is a series of wanderings and wonderings and enjoys sharing her musings with the world. You can find her at juliainserro.com
In her latest book, How to Create a Successful Children’s Book (part of KindleUnlimited), she gives readers her tips and tricks to creating a bestselling children’s book (hint: fart and poop jokes will go a long way).
Like any good fairy godmother, Bobbie was gracious enough to answer my questions about her Fairy books and take us behind-the-scenes on creating a book like a traditional publisher.
What was the original inspiration behind your fairy book series?
It all started when my husband and I were babysitting our six-year-old twin granddaughters.
I was trying to comb through Emily’s morning tangles, causing her to wail loudly, so…I did what grandmas do so well—I made up a story.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, came the story of the sweet little Knot Fairy who visits sleeping children and loves to tangle their hair. Emily stopped crying. She loved the story and begged me to tell it every day. I was energized by my grandkids’ excitement. The Knot Fairy book was born.
Deep down, I had always known I wanted to write a children’s book. Hubby and I were both retired. So, why not?
You were self-publishing before it was popular. What convinced you to give self-publishing a try? Did you ever pitch your ideas to traditional publishers?
As the author of seven traditionally published cookbooks, I had learned a lot about the book business.
Thankfully, I did learn that, no matter who publishes your book, you, the author, must plan to promote, promote, promote. Even with a traditional publisher, I spent many hours working hard to supplement their marketing efforts.
Yes, I could have submitted my ideas to traditional publishers. It had worked with my cookbooks.
However, the publishing world today is more competitive than ever, especially when it comes to children’s books. I didn’t want to start sending query letters and possibly fill a shoebox with rejection notices while waiting for the right publisher to show interest in my book.
This time I wanted to be the one to make all the decisions—and keep all the money.
You published your first book in 2007 before a lot of the self-publishing tools exist today were available. In your opinion, how has the self-publishing industry changed in ways that have had the greatest impact on indie authors?
Competition in the book world is tougher than it has ever been. Yet many more people are self-publishing. The dilemma I see is that it is too easy for people to publish books that are not of the highest quality.
With the advent of Print on Demand publishing, anyone willing to pay can publish a book, often resulting in higher priced books and, sadly, too many books of poor quality.
Often there is little or no editing offered, and the paper and covers are of inferior quality. I’ve also witnessed the growth of social marketing sites, such as Facebook.
The good news for authors is that they now have a giant platform for marketing their books.
Unfortunately, the growth of social media is bad news for two reasons:
First, too many authors rely only on these sites to market their books, making their marketing efforts very one-dimensional; second, these sites are extremely crowded with authors saying “Buy my book” to an audience of thousands of other authors.
If you don’t mind sharing, how do you print your books? What printer have you found that has the best quality for the price?
My books have been printed by a wonderful company, Amica, Inc., that has headquarters in Kent, Washington in the U.S. I chose them after seeing their finished products at Book Expo America.
They print in China and they produce top-quality books. I recently had 2 of my books printed in the U.S. by Bang Printing Co. They also did an excellent job and were very fair with the pricing.
The price depends on the amount of books ordered—the larger the order, the lower the price.
You include an audio CD with your books, which is something I haven’t seen any indie author do before. What level of production is required to add such a valuable item and do you feel it is worthwhile?
Having been an elementary teacher, I felt that adding a CD would provide an added bonus for toddlers and young readers.
It gives the book the ability to appeal to another one of the children’s senses, helping them learn better by both hearing and seeing the words at the same time.
Producing a CD is an interesting process that involves writing a script and recording it in a sound studio, with an audio engineer.
My basic script consisted of the story narration and an original fairy song. I became a song writer! I tapped into a lot of local talent to make the process work without breaking the bank.
I found a young audio engineer with a studio in his basement, “hired” my vocalist daughter-in-law to sing, and turned my grandchildren into a children’s chorus.
People love the added value of having a CD inside the book, and also love the fact that their children are learning to read with the help of the CD.
If I were to do it today, I would go through the recording process but, in place of a CD, I would use a QR code that would take the reader to my website to listen to the recording. (I haven’t explored the details of doing this, but I have met people who say they have done it successfully.)
Approximately how much does each book cost to produce?
There are so many variables here. It depends on the format (hardcover or paperback), the size of the book, the paper quality, and any additions (dust jacket or CD) and the number of books ordered.
I certainly don’t recommend mortgaging your house to purchase thousands of books, so you have to be realistic and know how you plan to market your books before you print.
Also, of utmost importance, is to first produce a top-quality book that has been professionally edited and market-tested with a focus group of age-appropriate readers.
Your illustrations are beautiful and it is clear that there is a team behind each book. Where did you find your collaborators?
I don’t know why it’s called “self-publishing” because you certainly can’t do it all yourself!
A team of professionals provide the checks and balances you need to produce a top-quality product.
I found my illustrator (Kristi Bridgeman) by doing an internet search for “fairy illustrators.” It was love at first sight! Her magical watercolor illustrations turned my books into works of art.
My graphic designer was a young friend of a friend, who worked from home and was affordable. He meshed the words and illustrations in just the right way.
Although I am an editor, even editors need an extra pair of eyes to check their work. Luckily, my pilates instructor was a retired editor who had worked for a large publishing house.
My team worked together beautifully, even though we were in different states—and countries!
Have you ever felt pigeon-holed by your topic? (Ever want to write about non-fairy books?)
No, I’ve never felt pigeon-holed. I love fairies and love finding things to blame on them. I actually have a few other fairy books written that I would like to publish. (No, I won’t tell you what they are.) That being said, I have also been collecting cat photos for a new toddler book and—to add something different to the mix—I am working on a true-life ghost story. Stay tuned…
What would you say was a mistake that you made that taught you something valuable?
Oh, dear. Here it is: When it was time to print the first book, I thought the cost of encasing the CDs in tamper-resistant plastic sleeves was too high, opting instead for paper sleeves. They seemed sturdy enough to me. I ordered 5000 copies of the book!
Only when I sent a copy to the children’s buyer for Barnes & Noble did I learn that my books were deemed unacceptable due to the use of paper CD sleeves. Fortunately all was not lost, as 10 of my family members agreed to convene on a Sunday morning around a large conference table in my son’s office.
We formed a production line and spent twelve hours unpacking each case of books, carefully removing the paper sleeves, placing each CD into its newly purchased plastic sleeve, meticulously gluing each CD back into place and repacking the books.
Lesson learned: Do it right the first time!
What advice would you give someone considering indie publishing?
Know your target audience. When you decide what age you are targeting, go to the library, find out what this age group is reading, and read as many of these books as you can.
Have your book professionally edited—yes, even if there are only 100 words in your book.
Own your ISBN. Whoever owns the ISBN owns the rights to publish your book.
Before using POD or subsidy publishing companies, ask for samples of the companies’ work and ask yourself if this is what you want your book to look like. Also, make sure to discuss the total price and know what to expect in the way of quality and service.
Are your books available in bookstores, libraries, and schools? Can you briefly describe how you’ve approached each channel?
I have been fortunate to have had my books accepted by a large distributor, which is the only way I know for an indie author to distribute their books to bookstores and libraries nationwide so quickly and efficiently.
As for schools, this has proven to be a very lucrative market for my books.
I do classroom visits where I read a book or two and teach the children the songs on the CDs. I prepare order forms for the teachers to send home with the children a few days before my visit.
I charge a fee for my visit, plus sell my books. For practice, you can offer to do free visits at your local libraries.
What other opportunities has publishing your books led to? (e.g., speaking opportunities, lectures, etc.)
A whole new world has opened since my granddaughter refused to have her hair combed.
I have been a guest presenter at numerous book fairs all across the U.S. and in Canada. I have been a guest blogger on blogs all over the world.
I have had Barnes & Noble book launch parties that have attracted as many as 300 people. I have been invited to sign my books at many Costco stores.
Occasionally someone even recognizes me on the street!
Anything else you’d like to share?
This is an exciting journey. My books have received 28 children’s book awards along the way, including the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award Gold Medal for “Best Picture Book Series of 2017.” I invite everyone to take the journey with me.
Would I recommend self-publishing? Yes, if you do it right.
Let’s face it: As self-publishers, our books are often judged more critically and held to a higher standard than traditionally published books. Therefore, if we’re going to represent ourselves, let’s make our books the very best.
There’s no room in today’s market for more run-of-the-mill books.
Competition is tougher than it has ever been.
On my journey I have verified an important fact that some self-publishers fail to recognize: In order to compete in the book world, you MUST produce a high-quality product!
Read the Best Fairy Books
Note that all of Bobbie Hinman’s books are available in the KindleUnlimited program so you can check them out for free when you are a member (which I am).
I have also purchased the Belly Button Fairy and the Fart Fairy books with my own dime because I like to do my own research when it comes to bringing you the best information and believe me, these books are a hit with my kids.
Bobbie Hinman is a former elementary teacher with B.S. degree in Elementary Education/Children’s Literature.
She is the recipient of 28 children’s book awards, including the Moonbeam Gold Medal for “Best Picture Book Series of 2017.” Her achievements are numerous:
Author of The Knot Fairy, The Sock Fairy, The Belly Button Fairy, The Fart Fairy and The Freckle Fairy which have sold over 51,000 copies
Author of “How to Create a Successful Children’s Picture Book”
Ten years experience editing children’s books
Member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators) and IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association)