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 🙂

Mindset, Projects

Retrospectively speaking

This year I have been really lucky to have jumped back into my life as a designer, post maternity leave, and be consistently busy throughout. I have worked on projects for large publishers and self-publishing authors. I have designed a logo for a charity, and of course got my own picture book finally out of the archives and out into the public domain. (You can buy that here of course!)

I always seem to have a plan of what I will be aiming to achieve

As we draw near to the close of the year, many of us will be starting to think about our goals for the year ahead – I always seem to have a plan of what I will be aiming to achieve – next year it is going to be working on my book sales targets, the next step in our house-renovation, and getting Harriet out of nappies and into pants! (I have actually told her already that is her big goal for 2019 – she thought that was pretty funny).

I don’t usually look back retrospectively though. I am a person who is always very much focussed on the next step – never really reflecting on my achievements or failures – just ploughing through life like it is a great big To-Do list. Tick one thing off, then move straight onto the next thing … You can read a bit about that in my post, On a path to Happy. I do understand however, that this goal-oriented lifestyle tends to mean that I am never really satisfied. Or, more, I find it difficult to feel content.

What can I take from all these events and experiences and apply to my 2019 goals?

However, I am mindful that this year has been a big one. Returning to work and being busy as a graphic designer, continuing to try and be a good parent (not an easy feat), support Noel as he moves forward with his career, and my biggest personal career achievement – publish my book. We did also manage to decorate our bedroom in the summer, though its not quite finished yet …

So with all these things, not to mention the fact that I am constantly trying to keep on top of my anxiety (some days are more successful than others here), what have I learnt? What can I take from all these events and experiences and apply to my 2019 goals?

Well, these things actually:

Good time management requires focus and a lot of concentration
 I definitely find it difficult to maintain focus sometimes. Wondering whether there are any social media notifications is a killer to my focus. This is an area I need to work on for sure – some tasks are easy to become absorbed in and others require much more effort. If I want to continue to grow my business, I need to become better at maintaining my focus. … I will do some investigating and let you know how I get on!

My work to grow my business is as important as my paid design work
When I came up with the idea for Designer Mum in June, I finally realised how I could develop myself in terms of a brand. Until that point, I believed that I would only get work if people offered me work. Developing Designer Mum has shown me that I can actually create my own work. Creating content for this site has become something I genuinely enjoy, and I understand its importance for business growth. Yes it is important that I do not let my paying clients down, but I also have to grow my own career alongside it. And by nurturing the things that I am passionate about, I become master of my career – which is something I don’t think I ever believed I could do before now.

Social media holds so much scope to market your business
I never really got on much with Twitter in the past, and lost interest in Instagram quite regularly too, but I am learning how they can be used to build brand awareness, and your brand profile, which if used correctly can start to build up a following. All the main platforms; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on have their individual niches and purposes. I don’t pretend to understand how they can all be used to their best yet, but I am starting to understand how to get good responses with each. As with time management, I definitely need to build some structure into this area. It requires my time, but it is worth it, if used well and brings in traffic to my site, and ultimately book sales.

Worrying does not help me
I have known that worrying doesn’t help since I was a little girl, but its a hard habit to break. When I have anxious moments, and my mind is focussed on all the things that I am worrying about, I can get very lost in all the things I think I am not very good at.
… Breathing does help. My very first post Remembering to breathe got some fantastic responses and I genuinely underestimated how many people did the same things that I did. Talking too, does help. Writing my thoughts down and sharing them with you does help. And if it helps you too, then I am really pleased. It’s so important to normalise how we talk about our mental health – I definitely want Designer Mum to almost be a safe space for people to feel reassured that how they feel is normal. And that it’s ok.

Sometimes reaching out can hurt a bit
Anyone who has worked in the publishing industry knows that self-published titles are often quickly slighted by traditional publishers and book sellers. Honestly, I agree that the quality of many self-published books can be poorer than their traditional counterparts. However, I also see traditionally published titles that do things I consider, not up to scratch too.
In the pursuit of raising awareness for my book I have reached out many times and been knocked back more than once. Sometimes my pride is quick to bounce back, but sometimes it takes a little longer. At the moment, I am nursing a wound that seems to have left a little scar. This particular rejection has hit a nerve more deeply. So what can I do to heel it? Well, with any rejection I try to understand why I was rejected, so that I can learn from it. In this particular instance I do understand the reasoning, however much I don’t like it, and I do have a plan in mind of how to move beyond the setback. (This particular plan will likely take me 10 years to achieve, but I am confident that I have the drive to get me there).
In reaching out we are bravely putting ourselves in the hands of others. Like any rejection, it can hurt our pride and make us want to hide away to prevent further injury, but I am a believer in following dreams and passions. If you want something enough, you will always find a way to make it happen. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Wow. That was a long post. You get my total gratitude and admiration if you made it to the end! Thank you for bearing with 🙂
In summery, there is much to take from the endeavours of the year. I hope that you find some of my thoughts useful and that they may help you reflect on your own adventures. I really enjoy this process of writing down my thoughts. They help me find clarity in the way that I think about things. Looking back is a great foundation for moving forwards – there is much to learn from – and much to make me a stronger me in 2019.

Projects

“Oh dear, Oh dear,” said the tiny mole

Well. Those few words put together and read out loud are among one of the most emotive passages in my memory. The story of The Little Mole is famous in my family, and was always told to us at bedtime by our Nan whenever we used to go and stay.

“Don’t bother me!” the white rabbit said

Several years ago we also recited it out loud at her 80th birthday party to a room full of bemused faces and giggles. Now, 9 months after we said goodbye to her, I am still transported to a little bedroom in her old bungalow in Bettisfield, Shropshire, listening to Nan’s soft voice telling us about that lovely little mole and why he was so upset.

10_the-little-mole-b

I promised several times that one day I would illustrate this story, and now, finally I am. It is a gorgeous poem about a little mole, and a fairy who gets stuck in his mole-hole. There’s a white rabbit, and a brown rabbit, and a happy ending. Perfect!

A little brown rabbit popped up from the gorse,

“I’m not very big but I’ll try of course!”

I have often thought about how I would illustrate this story, and I have mostly only fretted about how I could possibly ever do it. It is so embedded in my mind, I have always worried that if I ever tried to draw it, I wouldn’t be able to bring the characters to life in the way they are stored in my memory.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

10_the-little-mole-a

I have nearly finished creating all the roughs for this new book, and actually, the characters in their simple line form, have mostly flowed out. I haven’t had to spend hours researching what they should all look like, and what kind of characters their faces have, or how big they are. I just know. What a joy.

But he caught the fairy tight by the hand

And he helped her get back to fairy land

The poem itself however, is something with a bit more mystery. Very little is known about the origins of The Little Mole, also known as Grey and White, and it is thought to be written by a poet named Charlotte Druitt Cole, who’s work was published in several children’s poetry anthologies in the 1920s and 30s. Whenever I research this poem, I see that others are looking for it too, knowing it as I do, simply from hearing it being recited over and over. How wonderful, the power of rhythm and rhyme – that a story so simple can transcend time this way. Also, in case you were wondering, I don’t think there will be any copyright issues with this poem – Charlotte Druitt Cole died in 1943. Also, I will in no way be claiming that I wrote the poem – instead I see myself as bringing this perfect poem to a host of new bedtimes.

I don’t have a full timeline of when I hope to publish this book yet. It will take a while I think. I have quite a few other book projects that I am working on at the moment, and will probably be pretty busy with them until December. But that is ok! I always promised that I would do it, and Nana Eileen, do it I am.

Projects

Publishing … independently!

I’ve come to a bit of a boggy cowpat with my picture book. As any indie publisher knows – there are many different options – and trying to figure out the best option for me is something I think I could research until the cows come home. (And I don’t even have any cows, so you see how long we could be looking at!)

I want to be sure that the print quality of the book is going to be sound enough

Currently, one the most popular methods in which to self-publish, is to use a platform such as CreateSpace (Amazon’s own self-publishing platform), IngramSpark, Blurb, etc. Many of these sites will do as much or as little as you want them to in your book editing/designing/publishing process. I have been looking at all three of the afore-mentioned companies and can see pros-and-cons of all. One of their major pros is ‘Print on Demand’ – which saves the author having to order large print-runs. This sounds great, except that I want to be sure that the print quality of my book is going to be sound enough. Can I do this if I haven’t even see a copy apart from the one I have ordered myself? Having said that, these sites are hugely popular and do tend to offer small print-runs and different paper stocks, finishes and weights, so could still be a goer. They are also pretty handy for helping you get your book out onto their own – and other book-selling platforms – also a major pro.

A helping hand where my knowledge, and confidence is lacking

Another method is to use a more scaled-down version of one of these companies. A small independent publisher that will give me the bespoke options that I need, and a helping hand where my knowledge, and confidence is lacking. They will also be able to help me with tailored marketing advice – something else I otherwise need to learn. Main downside here is that my costs will go up.

The other option that I feel is perhaps my strongest contender is to publish completely myself. I have already got an ISBN, begun the process of registering my book on Nielsen’s book database (this is the database that enables your book to be found by booksellers), and I even have an imprint name, Designer Mum Books. Obvs! So what am I waiting for? Well … Now I have to go out into the world and find myself a printer.

Finding a printer suddenly seems like the most scary part

So far I have found a few, contacted a couple, got a few quotes – but I am definitely nervous here. Finding a printer suddenly seems like the most scary part. Why is that? Well, I want my book to feel as lovely as all the best books I read with my own tiddlers, and I don’t want to get the quality wrong. And I suppose its because its the final major piece of the puzzle. The part where I might actually succeed in my (sounds corny but is absolutely true) lifelong ambition of being a children’s book author and illustrator.

So here’s my real blocker: The fear that I might actually succeed, and of course, the fear that I might fail. At this point I could delve the route courses of my fears, but that is not the point of this post. We can do that another day. For now, I need to get my head down – do some serious reading and price comparing – but be decisive too as I don’t currently have room for any cows that do want to stop by … And once I’m happy that my book is as text and image perfect as it is going to be … Get ordering a proof!

Projects

Believing in your own story

Sometimes I wonder if it is pride mixed with a little (or maybe even a lot of) vanity that makes me so determined to publish my own book.

I am passionate about my book, and I believe that it is good.

I have been turned down by several traditional publishers with a picture book, and now my best option is to publish myself.  But if I’ve been rejected by traditional publishers so many times, perhaps I should accept that maybe my book is just not that good? Perhaps it isn’t, and maybe I should listen?

However, I am determined. I am passionate about my book, and I believe that it is good. I believe that children and their grown-ups will enjoy reading it, looking at the pictures, and mimicking the funny words that are housed within it. I understand that it is a little niche, and unusual, but at the heart is a rhyming story and some very colourful pictures.

What’s got me thinking is why I am so determined to publish this book? This is a book that I began at art college, and have revisited many times – 12 years altogether! If I just started working on a new book, I could easily address some of the points that hold this one back. I have ideas for three more picture books that I want to do. Maybe I should just apply myself to those?

But I’m not. And here’s the for why. It is nearly ready. It will take me a very long time to get a whole new book designed, written and illustrated, even if I know what it will be. Also … And here’s the big one. My husband and I both work as hard as we can. We regularly have to dip into my tax pot to make it to the end of the month or pay the childcare fees, or make the next purchase to continue doing our house up. So essentially an extra revenue stream, however meagre would be handy!

I am determined to make this book work for me.

And I would of course be lying if I pretended that I’m not hoping it magically becomes a bestseller – we’re all allowed our dreams, right?!

I suppose the point is, that I am determined to make this book work for me. I don’t need to publish it for my own vanity, I want to publish it because I want to earn some money from it. I could here compare myself to the Brontë sisters, or Jane Austen, or Beatrix Potter, or J.K Rowling, or indeed any ambitious entrepreneur. Indeed, what do all these people have in common (besides all having written some of my favourite prose)? They were all determined to make their creativity work for them.

Sometimes I think it is crass for a Creative to say that they wish to earn money from being creative. Surely all us Creatives just do it for the love? Well – Spoiler alert! – No, actually. We creative bods also need to pay the food shop, or the childcare fees, or need to knock down the dining room wall.

So, I am choosing to believe that my book is good enough to pay it’s way. I am choosing to believe in my story, so that we can maybe get the Industrial-Rustic kitchen-diner of our dreams a little quicker! And that is definitely a story worth believing in.