HECK! Here's the heron!
The first book I am publishing is from my Grandma’s Garden Collection titled 'HECK! Here’s the Heron!'
It is a humorous tale of a Heron who picks off the inhabitants of a pond one by one. The other animals living there hatch various plans to stop being eaten - but will they work?
While living overseas all things typically English frequently occupied my mind, and with fond childhood memories of my parents' country garden, the stage was set for my animal trilogy 'Grandma's Garden Collection'. With a strong belief that rhyming picture books are the most enjoyable and memorable for young children, combined with a genuine passion for writing them, 'HECK! Here's the Heron!' promptly became the first of three rhyming picture books in this series.
The text of this book took a good couple of years to perfect, particularly as I work full time and have had a baby! Once I decided to self-publish, I did what any other self-respecting self-publisher new to the industry would do - buy lots of self-publish self-help books and undertook extensive research!
Illustration & Graphic Design
To see Davina illustrate life into my story has been phenomenal. I have loved working closely with her and Emily, devising exactly how each page will be laid out.
Undoubtedly the most important aspect of working with an illustrator and graphic designer is finding people you synchronise well with, so that ideas readily bounce off one another. I have been so lucky to have Emily and Davina as part of my team - they are creative geniuses and true gems! Before any work commences it is important to have a legal contract between author and illustrator signed, so that both parties understand their roles and what is expected of them. I chose to employ Gill Tuck Turner Solicitors in Maidstone to draw up my contract as they are experts in Intellectual Property, rather than devising a contract myself through Google research! It cost a fair bit but this contract can be used as a template for future projects.
I am extremely proud of the finished product. The illustrations look absolutely amazing and Emily has done a fantastic job of combining the text with them. The book flows beautifully and I couldn't be happier!
"Have faith in your dreams and someday your rainbow will come smiling through"
ISBN, BIC CODES, CIP REGISTRATION & PUBLIC LENDING RIGHTS
Every book published in the world needs an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) code so that it can be identified, listed and ordered by booksellers and libraries. The actual process of obtaining your set of 10 (the smallest number available) is fairly straight forward and just a case of filling out a form from Nielsens. You are provided with your own log in details to the Nielsen's Title Editor, where as a publisher you can manage information about your book. My advice here, particularly when applying the correct BIC (Book Industry Communication) codes to your title so it is categorised properly, is to seek advice from the Nielsen's helpdesk the first time you do it. They are so friendly and helpful, but perhaps most importantly they make sure you get it right. If you decide to convert your book to ebook format you will need to assign another ISBN to it. Again I sought their advice and was efficiently guided through all the endless drop down menus you have to select!
It is important as a publisher to CIP (Cataloguing-in-Publication) register your title ahead of publication, as it is the bridge to the library book market. Once registered, again a fairly easy process of simply emailing details of the book (I just submitted my AI sheet), your title will then be listed by the BDS (Bibliographic Data Services), which produces bibliographic data for use by libraries plus booksellers and other publishers.
It was recommended to me I enter the PLR (Public Lending Rights) scheme by the British Library. If you are successful enough to get your book into libraries, (or indeed if you lend a few copies to your local ones) each time the book is borrowed, the government pay you a subsidy which you receive annually! It really is very simple to register and you get your own PLR account so you can monitor the amount of times your book is borrowed throughout the year.
I selected Marstan Press as my printers who are based in Bexleyheath and I am absolutely thrilled with the service they provided. They have been so patient with me, (as a perfectionist this has meant endless rounds of proofs and changes!) and offered continuous help and support. Throughout the whole process I was sent samples of everything I had in mind, from different paper weights to embossing. They have even helped me save some pennies - a unique quality in the book publishing industry!
All my books have now arrived and I literally cried when I opended up one of the boxes and held a copy! I think it was the sheer relief that everything about it was perfect after all my hard work, and the culmination of all these years leading up to this point!
"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose"
After much deliberation I selected Troubadour Publishing Ltd who are based in Leicester as my distributor to the trade. In my opinion they outshine all other self-pubishing companies with their knowledge of the industry and realistic advice. They also offer complete transparency with their prices, which I also found to be the most competitive. I opted for their one year distribution service through Orca Book Services combined with a sales reps and trade marketing service. This is direct marketing to local and national bookshops and libraries with an AI sheet which they devised.
Through Star Books Sales, regional sales reps also directly targeted retailers' head offices. This was carried out 6 months before publication date as this is the lead time the trade works to. I cannot be certain whether the trade marketing has been successful until my book is ready for sale and potential orders placed, but it is a positive start in getting myself noticed in this highly competitive industry. With their distribution package I automatically have a relationship in place with Gardners, the UK's largest wholesaler, which is essential if I am to make it into any book shops or libraries. I have everything crossed 'HECK! Here's the Heron' gets noticed by a buyer for one of the national bookshops! I will just have to keep persevering until they do!
It is important to take out insurance on your stock held at any distributor in case of fire, product damage or potentially the earth opening and swallowing up all your hard work! Troubadour offers this directly for £25 per year.
Another vital decision is the best mode of transport in getting your books to your distributor. I chose ABC logisitics couriers in Aylesford, as they thoroughly understood the importance of my three boxes arriving in tip top condition. Each box weighed 15kg and I was charged £40 for delivery on one of their own vans, rather than a subcontracted courier, which again was an important factor to me. It works out to 17p per copy, which is much cheaper than sending a copy via post!
"The best way to treat obstacles is to use them as stepping-stones. Laugh at them, tread on them, and let them lead you to something better."
For a number of reasons I have decided to stock Amazon directly. The main reason is that they take, as commission, 60% of your list price on their Advantage scheme. The Advantage scheme is no doubt the most reputable way to sell on Amazon, as they stock and ship the book themselves, but it does not make their rates any less painful to accept - particularly when it has been my blood, sweat, money and tears that I have poured into this project! By the time you then take out your print costs, you sadly are not left with much profit at all. That is why I could not face my distributor's additional 15% cut on each sale, as although this project has never been about making money, the businesswoman in me cannot sell anything at a loss! After getting a list of the most up to date postal rates, a set of scales and pages of mathematical workings, I discovered you earn more money supplying Amazon yourself, if you can post 3+ books at a time. My first batch of orders from Amazon ranged from sending 1 to 19 copies to 8 different fulfilment centres across the UK. Where two orders are for the same centre you can combine them, but this still left me with some parcels only containing 1 or 2 books. I am just going to take the risk that more often than not I am sending more than 3 copies! I am obviously also hoping the book is a success and warrants a second larger print run, which would bring the unit cost of each book down and leave me with a few additional pennies profit per sale!
You really cannot enter this venture with any grandiose dreams you are going to earn a fortune from selling your masterpiece. With profits of only pounds and pence, you miraculously would need to sell thousands of books to even earn your money back let alone make profits on it. It entirely has to be about your love of literature, writing and the accomplishment of creating a legacy that's out there in the world, reflecting this passion forever.
Amazon Advantage have unfortunately made it seriously complicated to get your books to them. The whole process is completed with code names for things, which for a first timer is really confusing! I recommend watching all the video tutorials before you do anything! Even finding and printing the correct package and shipping labels took me a whole weekend to fathom, and even then at the last minute I realised I had done it wrong! I must have sent about 5 emails to the helpdesk, because of course there is no way of telephoning and speaking to a human being about your difficulities! On the plus side it is very easy to set up a vendor account with them and create an Author page. I think they are just luring you in under a false sense of security that the process will be easy and not require a degree in distribution! I'm sure in future I will be a dab hand at it, but I really could have done with advice over the telephone. I am happy to share my Amazon expertise with anyone! Please contact me if you have problems!
As an Advantage member you also automatically benefit from their various internal marketing strategies, such as 'People who bought this book also bought this book' - and lets face it, as they are the most influential selling platform in the UK and worldwide, it would be daft not to join them!
Embracing modern technology I decided to get my book converted into ebook format. To me it added another, much simpler and cheaper way to sell my book. To have one side of the business where I do not have to worry about printing, massive discounts from wholesalers, Amazon and distributor, or postal costs seemed very appealing!
Through my research it became quite apparent that you need to employ the services of professionals when getting your book PDF converted to workable ebook files that can be uploaded to the various platforms. For this I employed the services of ebookpartnership.com who are fantastic! They were so helpful throughout the whole conversion and distibution processes, which is all run like clockwork.
Their website is filled with endless resources and they pride themselves on being one of the only providers to get picture books working properly in the ebook market. Unlike a standard black and white text novel that is easily converted to a 'reflowable format' with no issues or restrictions when viewed on a device, converting a picture book with combined illustrations and text to a 'fixed format', which is still in proportion and flowing correctly is not easy to accomplish.
For £250 my book was converted to the files required for Kindle, ibooks and Barnes and Noble (Nook) devises and distributed to these platforms, along with three others for a whole year. This was also the most competitive quote I received as they do not take any commission from sales. From year two onwards I will pay a flat annual fee of £35 for the distribution. These files will work for other providers, but I made the decision to stick with these 6 as they dominate the ebook market, and I would be able to keep my pricing under control. Problems arise when providers, such as Googleplay, start discounting as others try to price match. If prices drop below a certain level, particularly on Amazon, you receive a lower comission. If my price remains unchanged I will receive 70% comission from Amazon, which is pretty good considering their traditional print comission is only 40%
Publicity & Marketing
One of the most important decisions I have made in this venture is to employ the services of Ben Cameron of Cameron Publicity and Marketing. Without doubt in this industry it is who you know when it comes to getting your book noticed and he has so far done a fantastic job. His company appealed to me as he is always featuring in publishing blogs and magaine articles. He seemed like the most reputable contender in a field full of money grabbers who offer little in the way of promoting your book. I opted for his press release and media pitch service. I was very pleased with his media pitch, details of it are below. This was sent to over 400 of his contacts and I started getting positive leads straight away. These ranged from pregnancy and parenting magazines, to local newspapers, radio and even a BBC wildlife magazine! So half the battle has been won in that the media pitch has been of some interest, I now have everything crossed they decide to run a review!
Social media has an enormous impact on book sales and something you can embrace FOC yourself and still reach a worldwide market. Since the beginning of 2016 I have been an avid Twitter and Goodreads user, the latter being an absolute must in reading and literature circles. A month before publication date I started a Goodreads giveaway of 20 books to Goodreads members in the UK, US, Canada and Australia. Everyone who enters automatically has my book added to their 'to read' list which is promoted to all their followers. That is pretty amazing worldwide coverage! The lucky 20 who win should also write a review, which will be for all to see within the Goodreads forum. I made the decision to start my Facebook campagne from publication date, once the book is available for sale. I felt that when I announce to my Facebook friends/acquaintances about the book, most would want to buy it in a whim in that instant, out of curiosity at what I had produced. Personally, and this does go against the grain of what most would say, so fingers crossed it works for me, if I had harped on about my book for months prior to publication date, I would have lost the interest of those 'friends' who may just make a split decision to buy it out of inquisitiveness! I am talking about those in my list who have been more acquaintences or long lost friends from school times. From publication date onwards I will market with a separate dedicated page and take part in their paid advertising to gain more coverage both in the UK and abroad. Then I will be appearing in people's newsfeeds regularly!
Locally I am advertising the book in three nurseries and a creche the week of publication date. In return for free copies, I am allowed to put up promotional leaflets and leave leaflets for the parents, encouraging them to both buy the book but leave reviews on the site they purchased it from, as it is this after all which will gain me notoriety on sites such as Amazon, Waterstones Online and my ebook providers. An example of the leaflet is shown below.
"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them"
You really need to grit your teeth and persevere when self-publishing a book, particularly a children’s book which has to be the most complex to produce. The amount of times over the past few years I have questioned what I am doing. But the good times, excitement and sense of accomplishment at every stage of this process far outweigh the stress! It is something I definitely would do again. To me, being part of the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. I started off a complete novice and taught myself everything. I couldn't live knowing my story was just sat on my laptop, I had to get it out there into the world! I couldn't have comprehened at the start how in depth this process has been. Writing the manuscript seems like such a small part that was completed so long ago. I have become versed in the whole publishing process and have appreciated every high and setback.
I owe it to myself to complete the series as I have thoroughly researched everything, have valuable experience and now know what the best practices are in the publishing industry. I am ready to take on more projects! The biggest realisation however has been that writing and producing books is my truest passion. I will continue indefinitely with my hobby and only hope that one day it becomes a full time pursuit. The second book I publish in this series will be undertaken with far more confidence and less self doubt. After all, doubt does nothing for making you fly in life!