Blog

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.

About

A head full of Coldplay

I discovered this week that Coldplay are releasing a new album very soon. Hooray! The 16yr old me just did a little squeak and a swoon.

I have been a Coldplay girl since their first album, Parachutes, and saw them perform twice during the first few years. Both shows are still very vivid in my mind, and some fab memories.

During the last 10 years, I dropped off the fan-boat a little – mostly because I had other stuff going on. Met a beardy guy, moved house a few times, married that beardy guy, had a couple of children and got my freelance business off the ground! But, I am still a Coldplay girl. I can pin-point particular songs and albums to very specific points in my life.

The wonderful thing about music is that it has an incredible ability to infiltrate our lives that way. Music is like something that can inhabit us. So when we are reminded of a particular piece, it can magically transport us to moments, or people, or places in time. For me, Coldplay have been with me since my teens – so they have been with me through some stuff.

So, I hope you will humour me whilst I indulge myself a little (actually, a lot) and share three really clear times that Coldplay evoke in my mind. Thank you for indulging me, reader.

Yellow vividly reminds me of finishing my GCSE’s, and the summer of 2000

First up, Yellow, from Parachutes. I can still remember when this song was Jo Whiley’s Record of The Week on Radio 1, and this would have been when I heard it. I was on revision leave from school, to finish my GCSEs. And the more I heard it, the more I fell in love with it: the words, the guitars and the sound. Then I saw the video. Way back in tender 2000, when my sisters and I were all teenagers, and the music video channels were what we used to bicker over, I remember seeing this slightly geeky guy singing along the beach about how he wrote a song and it was called Yellow.

When I watched this video this morning, to put in the link for you, I was totally transported to my parent’s old living room, and I just completely smiled. This song is magic to me. It makes me smile from my head to my toes. And although I probably wouldn’t say that I loved being 16 that much, this song reminds me of how I would listen to it and be absolutely hopeful that someone like that would love me that much one day. (And if that person happened to be Chris Martin, even better!)

Fix You takes me back to summer 2015, living in London whilst doing my BA in Illustration

I’m not going to dwell on this one too much. Weirdly I’d never seen this video until I posted in the link, and it seems strangely serendipitous that Chris Martin is walking and singing again, but this time in London.

During 2015 I had completed my second year at Camberwell College, and was living with my art school friends in our big old house share in London. That summer I was working in a lovely shop in Covent Garden, and also starting to prepare for my final year at college. It was the first summer I didn’t go home, and I was ridiculously homesick. The words in Fix You married with how I felt exactly, and all I wanted, was to be at home in Shropshire. Even though I had a lovely job, great friends and lots of fun in London. I have a very embarrassing memory of listening to this on my headphones, completely balling my eyes out on a tube train, whilst sitting opposite a family who were quite clearly on holiday. What they must have been thinking, Lord only knows!

A Sky Full Of Stars sums up my learning how to be a mum to my new baby Sidney

This last one happily makes me smile top to bottom again. My memory of this song is linked to my maternity leave with Sidney, and how I felt about him. To me he was My Sky Full of Stars. After a totally normal pregnancy, his birth was a bit scary, and he then gave us another scare at two weeks old, so to say that I found becoming a mum easy, is about as far from the truth as you can get. But I think that is probably fair to say of most mums.

Anyway, once things had settled down, I used to take him for walks each day around where we lived, and this song resonated so much. Its uplifting and beautiful and brings tears to my eyes when I hear it. So much love in such simple words. Now, I often hear this song when I’m washing up in the kitchen when it comes on the radio and it just makes me so happy.

With their new album coming, I am really hoping that Coldplay will tour soon. I have been telling Noel for quite some time that next time they tour, I want to go. By writing this post, I’m definitely putting it out to the universe and declaring my Coldplay fan status! Please tour, please!

About, Mindset, Parenting

A rainbow of mental health

As I write this, today is World Mental Health Day. This post was actually going to be called, “School Day, Short Day”, and be about how short the school day is, and how I now seem to spend all of my time clock-watching now, and the stress that ensues from that, when you are trying to get work done, or anything done for that matter. Instead, I am going to tell you about my week.

Some women will say that they don’t really get affected by the change in their hormones every month. I am not one of those women. My hormones have the ability to increase my core body temperature, undue my ability to think rationally, and they can also create torrents and torrents of tears. They also do other things too when I am particularly stressed, but you get the picture.

One of my favourite mummy friends put it perfectly last week, “It affects your ability to cope”. She couldn’t be more right. For the last week I have waded through a quagmire of worrying, tears and also a snotty nose. Anyway, yesterday it came to a head when I literally felt consumed with a familiar feeling of panic, which I haven’t felt in several months. The same old panic, which I now understand is essentially, “I won’t be able to cope if this happens” – whatever “this” it may be.

I also understand now, that panic of “I won’t be able to cope” is actually rooted to my self-esteem. I don’t believe that I will be able to cope if something beyond the normal, everyday happens, or, things might happen that are beyond my control. On a subconscious level, what I am essentially telling myself is “I am not good enough”.

So, what do you do when you feel like this? You reach out. Definitely reach out. Please, always reach out. Yesterday, I chose my dad. Over the weekend, when everything was too much, I reached out to my sister. Of course, the conversations that I had with them didn’t really alter anything physically, but in sharing how I was feeling, I could attempt to stop internalising. I was still feeling teary and anxious , but I didn’t feel so isolated by my feelings.

What I really wanted to tell you though, was this. As I was gathering in the washing after tea yesterday evening, still feeling panicky and worried, I saw a rainbow. A very clear, lovely, beautiful rainbow.

Now, when Sidney was about 2, he went through a tricky phase of crying every time he went to nursery. I used to tell him, that if he was ever worried, or sad, if he saw a rainbow in the sky it meant that everything is ok. He got that he would remember this, and if we ever saw a rainbow, we would talk about it and remind ourselves that everything is ok. When I told him this, I was thinking of the story of Noah and the rainbow, and the promise that God makes to Noah.

Now, I’m not overtly religious, and I spend my time focussing more on an attitude of gratitude and believing in the universe than going to church these days. But yesterday, God, or the universe, or someone powerful somewhere, had my back. Seeing that rainbow totally grounded me. It said, everything is ok. And I smiled. All the panic feelings, and lack of control pretty much melted away in that moment, and I went back inside the house feeling like my steadier, positive self again.

Today has been much more normal. Thank goodness. Thanks to that rainbow. All day today, I have thanked whoever sent me that beautiful, perfect, magical band of colours.

About, Mindset

The journals of my mind

Since January of this year I have been journalling every evening. I use it to channel my thoughts and engage the mindset that I want to have. At the end of 2018, I was constantly anxious and worrying about a variety of things. I was also full of self doubt and couldn’t really understand why I felt that way. I had everything to be proud of. So, as well as getting stuck into some books about mindset, I began journalling.

Let me tell you what I write. First I write something that I am thankful for from that day. Then I write my ‘perfect’ moment of the day (inspired my good friend, Ali Gill and her My Perfect Journal), and then I write 10 affirmations for myself: I am … Usually these include things like; I am successful; I am patient; I am a great mum; I am the best children’s book designer!
Finally, I write down at least one piece of evidence for that day of why I am important. Perhaps a friend got in touch with me, or I noticed something important for someone. Sometimes, it might even be that I remembered a bit of kit that the children needed for the day!

Many of the things that I write down are pretty inane and very inconsequential to anyone but myself. But to me, they are the moments that I choose to remember for that day. They are reminders of the person that I am choosing to be. They are helpful hints as to how I will conduct myself the following day. They are a guide to my dream life and goals.

It also means that I go to sleep each night remembering some lovely thoughts. It means that I often find myself thinking about what my perfect moment will be, and being really inwardly happy when a wonderful moment presents itself during the day. It also means that I end the day thinking of things to be thankful for, I am in a place of gratitude.

We do this as a family too, usually at teatime. We will take it in turns to say our favourite moment of the day. Sidney will often choose his lunch, ’nuff said there. And Harriet is just about old enough to give an answer too, she might say the name of a friend she played with at nursery, or tell me that she had ‘gardy (garlic) bread’ for her lunch, her favourite.

Today I am already thankful that I can ride a bike with a trailer on the back. It’s been pretty rainy this week, so I thought I would end the week by using the car to drop the children off. Let me tell you – it took longer to use the car to drive around town this morning that it does for me to cycle around it – with a great big trailer on the back! I was pretty irritated, but then I realised how glad I am that I don’t do that every day. I am so thankful that I genuinely love riding a bike, and even in the rain, its more empowering than sitting still in a car.

And there you have it, through journalling I have trained my brain to a mindset of gratitude. There is always something to be thankful for. And, like Pollyanna, I think the ‘glad game’ is pretty good too.

Projects

Space: My next frontier

It has been many months since my last blog post. A lot has happened in our house, including a rather hefty total kitchen and pretty-much-the-entire-downstairs of our house update; Sidney, my eldest, has started primary school. Harriet is out of nappies and embracing pants, and I have taken to journaling in a big way.

So what, of all of these things shall I begin by writing about? Well … None of them today. After fab success with my first self-published picture book, Reynard the Fox, I have been looking for a new book project to work on. I want to go through the traditional publishing route this time; get myself an agent, and work with them to get my book to print.

For a long time, I had planned to create a bedtime book about British Birds – something that would entertain and educate both grown-ups and little ones – as I adore the birds that feed in our garden. My favourite books to read to my children are the ones that entertain me as well as my little listeners. However, I finally admitted to myself that though I feel this a worthy project – to break into the mass market with a book only marketable in Britain – would probably not be my best idea.

Then an idea presented itself in the best way possible. Sidney, not far off 5 now, loves Space. He has a couple of Space books, which are both lovely (including one I have already designed for a client) but have a little too much information for him to take in. They are aimed at children aged 7-11. Here, I noticed an enticing opportunity!

After doing some searching, I couldn’t see a Space fact book aimed at pre-schoolers, or first-readers. So, my new book is going to be exactly that. The text will contain bite-sized facts that children can easily absorb and remember, with colourful, engaging illustrations of our amazing universe, and it will work both as a bedtime book or something that can be dipped in and out of. The fonts will be easy to read for first-readers and I hope it will engage children to learn and find out about Space.

I am really excited about this concept, as I know that it could also work as part of a series. I have written a first manuscript, and am working up three sample spreads to begin sending out to potential agents.

When I was last writing my blog posts I used to mention imposter syndrome, and also talk about my mindset and lack of self-belief. In the last 9 months, I have begun to see that we all have the power to achieve our dreams if we really want to. My dream has always been to be a children’s author illustrator. I am firmly on that path now, I have published one title myself, which I am so proud of. Now I am looking to take the next step on that career path, and find an agent and a publisher who believe in me too.

Shall I use this final sentence to go all Law-of-Attraction on you … Oh go on then, why the flip not!? … As I was looking for my next fab, big, book idea, the Universe, which clearly has a sense of humour, presented itself to me. Thank you, universe 🙂

About

A few of my favourite things

This week at one of my networking groups we had a guest-speaker who is a life-coach, Karen Carpenter. She was such an inspiring woman and shared with us a few tips and tools to use as boosters when we are feeling low in confidence. One idea she shared with us was so uplifting, I thought I might take the opportunity to create it as a blog post, which in turn would convey the idea to you, and you could then also use it as a positivity booster yourself.

For a while I have been wondering how to do a post about myself. Not my anxiety or my mindset. Not my children, or my work-ethic, or any of the projects I am working on – a post just about me. I’ve procrastinated about it for a while – “Me, Myself and I” is a pretty epic theme for a blog post – and no one wants to read my entire autobiography when they’re just browsing social media feeds!

So what I am going to tell you in this post, is three times in my life when I have felt a completely overwhelmingly positive emotion*. The idea of this, is that we think of these moments, and make a list of them. Actually, the life coach suggested created them as pieces that fit together as a puzzle. In doing so, we begin to see the wonderful moments in our lives that have shaped us. Often we remember the negative or traumatic moments, but if we can remember more of the amazing and profound experiences – and focus on the powerful feelings that these experiences evoked – we can increase our positive sense of self, our confidence, our emotional well-being and ultimately start to control how we feel about ourselves – hopefully a more centred, happy self! … So … Here you are:

Meeting Noel

Noel and I have been married for three and a half years, and together for ten. We met at our office Christmas party on December 18th, 2008, when we were both working on different floors, for different departments of the same media content agency in West London. I had seen Noel a couple of times around Shepherds Bush, near where I lived and I had assumed he must live somewhere quite close by. I thought he was extremely cool – too cool for me even to have a crush on in fact – but I thought that I could perhaps say hi to him at the Christmas party and then he would be someone cool for me to say hi to around work!

Well … My colleagues and I had arrived fashionably late to the party as we’d been invited to another party first – so by the time we were at our party I was feeling sufficiently sparkly. Fast forward a few songs on the dance floor and I noticed that this cool, tall, beardy guy (Noel) was hovering nearby and looking at me. With my sparkly confidence nicely in place, I tottered over and went to say hi. Next thing I knew, one of my friends dangled some mistletoe and Noel went in for a full-on snog! After I had gotten over the initial, ‘Oh my goodness, everyone will have seen!’, the rest of the night was a bit of a blur. Noel was a little more tiddly than me, and told me that he thought we would be, ‘A good match’! … Now any young woman worth her classic literary salt would instantly hear the Jane Austen rings in such a statement. What choice did I have really. The coolest guy in our building thought that we would be, ‘A good match’! Well, that was that. The memory I have of that night is just one of sheer excitement and a lot of, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe the coolest guy in the office likes me!”

Being told that Reynard is a child’s favourite book

As it was World Book Day last week, lots of children all went in to school dressed up as their favourite book characters, with their favourite books tucked under their arms. A friend who had bought my story, Reynard the Fox for her daughter for Christmas, this week told me at our networking group that her daughter had taken Reynard with her – its her favourite story!

There are a few moments in my life where I can note that my heart genuinely swelled in my chest, and that is one of them. I know that this little girl really loves reading, and to be told that your book is her favourite story makes me feel so proud and so happy. I have wanted to write and illustrate books since I was a child, and to know that my book is someone’s favourite makes me genuinely feel like I have achieved something truly magical.

Sadie

Sadie was a dog. Not just any dog, she was the dog. Sadie was the dog that I had pretty much spent 18 years begging my parents for. She was a black Labrador and she was a rescue – probably about 6 or 7 years old when she came to us. It took her a little while to settle in – she did not care for being left alone to begin with, at all. But it did not take long for her to be the apple of everyone’s eye.

In some ways, writing Sadie as a profoundly positive experience is cheating a bit – as she clearly was loved for her whole life with us – but I am choosing to include her as she was the dog that I had wanted forever. And she did not disappoint. When I think of her, I am filled with a love and affection that I don’t think will ever leave me. She left us many years ago now, but I can still remember her smell and the feel of her soft, thick fur when you buried your face in it. To my family, she was perfect (obviously she was also a tinker – what dog isn’t in their own brilliant ways?) But when I think of her, I am simply filled with love. And that is the profoundly positive bit.

*I was actually going to tell you about seven or eight moments, but as you can see, no one would want to read that many!!

Parenting

Toddler tantrums and Fournager feelings

I am a person with a lot of emotions. Always have been. Luckily Noel is someone who understands about emotions, and being married to me, he has to. So it is no wonder that our children have big emotions. And at the moment they have a lot!

Sidney is 4 and due to start school in September. Around this time for the last few years he seems to go through a developmental phase. On one side he is noticeably more independent, and will surprise us by saying or doing something quite new and grown-up. And then, on the other side, we get a regression to a needy and highly-emotional child. Very like a mini-teenager.

Turning off the telly is one of the cruelest punishments one can bestow on Sidney.

The triggers are often to do with me. He suddenly doesn’t want to be apart from me and go into nursery, or let Daddy put him to bed. Likewise, where he can be pretty reasonable, the emotional mini-teenager side to him can burst into mega-tears at a moment’s notice and be pretty intense until he can calm down. The telly is another trigger for him. We almost always have the telly on in the daytime in our house, and Sidney is very fond of it. Turning off the telly is one of the cruelest punishments anyone can bestow upon Sidney.

Harriet meanwhile has properly morphed from baby to toddler and along with that have of course come the tantrums. She is quick to anger and has a fantastic banshee-like screech that would make even the most zen of people wince. Harriet has also perfected the art of throwing her entire body on the floor, anywhere at all, and kicking around like a crazy 80s body-popper. It’s actually quite impressive … I could add here that her hair is on the strawberry side of blonde, and that hot-headedness may be something she will take with her through life. As a ginger myself, I can see this being a thing.

So, you see, our house is quite tumultuous at the moment. We have lovely, happy, quiet moments. Mainly I thank CBeebies for their hard work here. I also bless the lovely Spring weather we have had recently – what a joy! And also, the best bringers of peace to our home; a very friendly neighbour’s tabby cat – who even when sleeping doesn’t seem to mind being prodded by little fingers. And the lovely Bella – a Labrador-collie of senior years belonging to my parents – who comes for the occasional ‘working holiday’ – earning her keep by being ever-patient and enduring endless cuddles from two mostly-gentle small children.

I can see that they are the frustrations of having to share, or wait, or take turns.

The tantrums are for the most part fine (the noise is the worst thing). I can see that they are the frustrations of having to share, or wait, or take turns. And these are hard lessons to learn. Sometimes I don’t want to share things either … That is why I wait until everyone is in bed to eat a chocolate muffin. I can choose when to eat it so that I don’t have to share! Mwah ha ha ha! And these emotional phases will pass with time. (Phew).

For Sidney and Harriet though, who both live very much in the moment, those “No, I’m sorry. You have to wait” responses are terrible. They can be pretty awful for all involved if I’m honest. They add a certain intensity to the day, but they also make the happy moments all the more joyful. When everyone is happy and playing together, or eating fish fingers, or watering the empty pots, I try to be mindful and enjoy the moment – knowing that happy moment is extremely precious and could end in a mili-second.