The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
by Heather Anderson
Nereg the Ugly Frog (Front cover)
As an author, I give my full, undivided attention to the task of absorbing myself in my "work-of-words." My peers will know the joy, the tears, the frustration, and the continual editing that one must endure in this wonderful process, and the ultimate feeling of success when your thoughts become reality through the tangible end product. My personal experience of getting there is what I'd like to share with you.
Writing my story came pretty easy. I studied children's writing in the US for several years, so I was fairly disciplined in committing words to paper and screen. Finding an illustrator to work with, well, serendipity stepped in, and everything fell comfortably into place. Roger, the husband of a friend, had always dreamed of illustrating a children's book, and my manuscript sealed the deal for him.
Initially we were just excited about bringing the characters to life. Without really having a plan of action, we began with one or two thumbnail sketches, then a more detailed coloured illustration of the main character. About two months into this process we met a small local publisher; again the meeting "happened" to us rather than us searching for it. This lady had big plans for Nereg, and together we all mapped out a pagination, detailing exactly what would go where and how many printed pages would be required, then got a pricing from her printer. We discussed royalties over a bottle of wine and became quite heady with the idea of our success.
Roger and I, overflowing with enthusiasm and belief in our product, worked tirelessly to structure our book; a combination of hugely detailed illustrations which took Roger many months to complete, along with my continual editing of the text to create simplicity of communication.
Unfortunately, disappointment struck once the illustrations were complete. The publisher pulled out; personal reasons were given.
After a considerably long stretch of moping, we gathered our momentum and, undeterred, decided to plough ahead and complete the artwork in the hope of finding a new publisher. We both believed the book worked and were very happy with our collective efforts. While we toyed with the idea of self publishing, we decided we would rather find a publisher.
Easier said than done!
I searched and searched, enduring rejection after rejection. The process was very long and quite draining. All of my friends and work colleagues knew of the book and were highly encouraging, cheering me on at every juncture. Eventually one of my printing contacts saw my cover design (pinned to my office wall in an attempt to encourage me not to give up). He had always been interested in children's books and suggested that this may be an opportunity for his company to take on a new challenge. They were a packaging company; three generations of his family had grown the business into a very large and profitable outfit with a host of international clients, so this was something relatively new for them.
He assured me he would personally take charge of the project and provide me with the best possible pricing. We had worked together for many years and so had a considerable amount of trust.
Though I had not seriously considered it up until this point, self publishing for me, seemed like a fairly simple task; I had been in the design & advertising industry for around 15 years, I knew my printer would provide a fast, affordable and high quality product; how hard could this be? I was a Creative Director with a degree in Graphic Design; artwork and typesetting came as second nature. I had all the industry contacts an author could need to get my book comfortably off the ground, onto the printing presses and flying into the book stores...or so I thought.
Yes, I was correct in my analysis of putting the physical book together. It was no harder than creating a corporate brochure, and I did that on a daily basis. But the challenge really started the day I sat grinning from ear to ear at a huge pile of glossy green books in my lounge. The smell of freshly printed pages made me giddy with excitement as I envisioned hordes of parents beating down the doors of every book store in town to buy our picture book. Then I woke up.
I realized, as I sat surrounded by my new creation, that I hadn't the faintest idea what to do next. My biggest challenge was distribution. I recognise that I was hugely fortunate to have the advantage of working in the design industry and having complete knowledge of the production process, however there's a lot more to publishing than simply printing your book.
As a full time designer, I was not in a position to dedicate every minute of my time to visiting book stores and selling myself. However I did use my wide array of business contacts to make initial sales. I managed to sell the book to a school group, the National library, a small online book store and a local bookstore. This process took around 6 months and only amounted to total sales of around 20 books.
My next challenge was to let the world at large know the book was out there. I couldn't rely on customers accidentally coming across my book, so I started to pursue publicity. I took what opportunities came my way (and fit with my work schedule) to give readings, send out press releases and generally try to create awareness. It's an extremely difficult process if you don't know the business, so I then began to look for a distributor. About 6 months after the book was published, a friend introduced me to a distributor, who agreed to take my book and send it out to stores in Singapore and Malaysia, which gave me greater reach.
Through my experience with Nereg, I discovered how complex the whole publishing process really is. To be successful, I believe you need to work with a team of experts and plan ahead.
From a financial perspective, it is extremely challenging. One spends an awful lot before receiving much back (if anything at all), as stores take books on consignment. Of course this made me realise why finding a publisher can be so difficult; they take all the financial risk and have no real guarantees with first time authors. In my case, I had a very short print run: 250 hardback copies. This drove up the price of my books in a market where, as I have discovered, price is a big issue. On reflection, for Asia, softback would have been more successful.
These are the specifics you learn about the market as you go through the process of self publishing, so I'd advise anyone to do their research on the spending limits of their intended demographic before going ahead to print. All you really have to do is visit a few of your local bookstores and ask them what's selling in the greatest numbers and what price range is most popular. You'll get a feel for what your market is prepared to spend. When you don't have the luxury of large print runs, it's essential to create something cost effective.
On the positive side, I was able to create exactly what I wanted, with complete control over design and production. I believe self publishing is definitely a powerful way to begin your career as a published author. Whether you intend to ultimately become a full time publisher or not, you show the world of publishers that you are serious about your work, and more importantly, you have the opportunity to reach all those little people you created your work for in the first place.
I am delighted with my end result and the smiles I've seen on those little faces. Self publishing has certainly been an interesting and worthwhile experience in my view.
Self published, printing by Stellar-Grafix, Singapore.