About, Parenting

When the sh*t hits the fan (or gets on your shoe)

Anyone reading this not in the UK might not be aware of our upcoming election and what feels like a really pivotal moment in our political and community sphere. Please don’t think that I am about to bombard you with my political opinions, I’m not. But, I do have some comments on how things feel as a working mum, and mostly those comments rotate around the word, community.

Community is a word I am aware of more and more at the moment. It is in the semantics all around us: in the words of politicians, in the need to be more climate-aware, the move to shop more locally, and even how we need to be a community in social media too – we all have a duty to care and support – not troll and bully.

As a mum herding two children on the school-run, I am ever frustrated by the lack of community-spirit when it comes to picking up after one’s dog. I am a dog-person through and through, and believe you me, a dog has been on my personal life goal list for my entire adult life. But. Every walk to and from school has become fraught with me trying to keep my children out of dog poo! I can’t understand why people don’t pick up. What I do think is that lack of respect for others, and that thinking from a position of ‘self’ sums up a lot of the problems facing our society at the moment.

When you only think in terms of ‘self’ that disregard for others, which at first may seem harmless, and just a bit lazy, actually has a ripple effect. That one person who doesn’t pick up after their dog creates a series of hazards for everyone else using that path. It means that each mum has to try and develop x-ray poo vision and seriously, at the moment, I think I must sound like a crazy lady the amount of times I am yelling and grabbing my two to keep out of the poo!

That disregard also shows to others that it’s ok not to pick up after your dog, and therefore it’s ok not to care about the other people using that path. So a couple more people stop picking up. And soon, there is literally sh*t everywhere!

Apart from the dog poo, there are pockets of working-mum-hood that are pretty flippin’ fantastic. One of those, is Bizmums, which truly is the epitome of community. It began as a series of networking groups aimed at self-employed mums, the main aim being that you can network with other self-employed mums, at child-friendly venues. I have been a Bizmum for two years now, and truly I have never felt so supported. We are all women who work hard, juggle running a business around our families, and through online and face-to-face I have found a community where we all work to help each other. It is not competitive, it is nurturing and collaborative and open-minded. It shows me that the true spirit of community is a powerful and amazing thing.

Without Bizmums, I probably wouldn’t have created DesignerMum, I certainly wouldn’t have published Reynard, and I would feel a lot less secure and settled where I live.

And how does all this relate to our election? Well. When we operate from a position of ‘self’, we are choosing not to care or support those around us. For me, here we have a problem. If we all remembered that as human beings we have a duty of care to those people and the world around us, I believe our world would be a happier place. It would also be a richer place. A society which places community at its heart is surely somewhere where everyone can benefit, in all sorts of ways. I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t strive for our own goals, of course we should. But instead of only caring about ourselves, we can choose to pick up after our dogs, and make other people’s walks more fun. We can choose to get milk delivered in bottles and keep a local farmer going, whilst also reducing our plastic consumption. We can choose to support those working around us, and improve our local economy directly.

This election feels to me like a choice between self and community. From the bottom of my heart I hope that we can choose community, because I am tired of all the sh*t.

Design tips, Publishing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a self-published book is difficult to get into a bookstore

I love making children’s books. It is something I wanted to do since I was very little, and through a good mix of luck, determination, stubbornness and maybe even some talent too, I can say with confidence, that this is my job.

You name it, I have worked on it. From picture books and novelty books, to magazines and annuals, fact books and activity books, e-books and lots and lots of primary school learning content! Mostly these are books that I create for other authors and publishers, but I also have a head bubbling with ideas for books that I intend to write, design and illustrate myself.

One of the big discussions that often comes up for me at networking and mastermind groups, is, why don’t you just self-publish? I have done this successfully (incidentally you can find my first picture book, Reynard the Fox here). Or, do I go down the traditional route of hopefully finding a publisher to get on board.

Self-publishing is definitely a more dependable option. Once the decision to publish has been made, it is simply down to me to make that happen. I could publish a book next week if I wanted to. However. I have decided against this, for several reasons:

Fresh eyes, Many hands, Light work
I want the fresh eyes of editors and publishers to give me their opinions and feedback. I want to take in their comments and resend the book in its updated and improved form. I want designers and art-directors to look and tell me if the colours are working ok, and whether the point-size of the font is too big or too bold. And then I want to rejig those things and send it again, feeling confident that it is revised and perfected a little more. I also want the marketing team of the publishing house to guide me with how best to advertise and sell my book.

Production Quality vs. Mass availability
One of the reasons I decided not to publish Reynard the Fox with any print-on-demand services, such as Blurb or Amazon’s KDP, is because the quality of the printed books is not good enough for me. I don’t feel that their stock options print books that can sit on a shelf next to traditionally printed books. Their quality can work for a novel I think, but for a children’s picture book, which is meant to be read, and re-read many, many, many times over, needs to be something stronger. And the paper needs to be able to show the colour of the artwork at its vivid best.
I must say here that I did achieve excellent production quality with Reynard, as I did much research and chose UK book printers, Biddles. I couldn’t have been more pleased, and I am so proud that my book looks and feels as lovely as any traditionally published title.
The downside of this though, is that my book is not widely available. I have to rely on traffic to my site here, and doing an awful lot of promotion, which I don’t spend enough time on, therefore my sales figures are not what they could be if my book was more readily available through Amazon for example.

Bookstores don’t often like self-published books
This is the big one. Any author who has self-published will know how tricky it can be to get a physical bookstore to stock your title. Unfortunately as self-published books are an unregulated entity, anything and everything can be turned into a book. This means that books worthy of the Booker prize may be self-published, but also books that are of much lesser quality.
And as a self-published title may also lack the production quality of its traditionally published counterpart, most bookstores simply won’t consider your self-published work.
Again, I must say here, that because I was so determined for my book to be ‘the real deal’, my local bookstore has taken copies of Reynard. For me, this was an incredible achievement. And one of my proudest moments as a creator of children’s books, to see my title sitting proudly alongside some incredible names in children’s publishing.
But one can easily understand why this is not the norm though. Physical shops have to work hard to keep their place on the high street, and stocking titles that are lacking in content or production quality would not be a sound business move.

I feel that I must now explain the purpose of this blog post a little. I have nothing against self-publishing at all. It is a method that works – especially as a way of getting an author’s work into the public domain. Many authors now begin by self-publishing, and then secure book deals later on. And for me, self-publishing was a great option for Reynard the Fox. I knew from previous feedback that it was never going to be suitable for the mass market, but there was still a market for it. So a traditional publisher would be unlikely to go for it.

What I will offer up is this: When you are self-publishing, work with as many publishing professionals as you can. Get editors to sub-edit and proof-read. Get designers to storyboard your artwork and style the covers. Commission illustrators to bring your text to life. And above all, listen to their suggestions. All the publishing professionals that I know, love their craft. Our collective goal is to make every book that we work on, the best book it can be. So work with us. Yes, that means we cost money, but know that we are experienced and are here to help.

For me, my next career goal is to find a traditional publisher. This is something that I want very much, for the reasons stated above, but also it is my dream.

For you, if you are an author and looking at your self-publishing options, do get in touch. My specialism is children’s publishing, and I can assist you personally there. But I also know talented people who work on grown-up stuff too. We can help you create a book that will be worth its place on your favourite bookstore’s cool book shelf.