Another success story.
In April, I blogged that Self publishing can open doors.
Well, this week’s interviewed author certainly shows how self publishing can open doors to a publishing contract.
This talented author self-published her first children’s book in 2006. It subsequently was joint winner of the 2006 Best Australian Self-Published Book Award for Fiction and was picked up by a commercial publisher who re-released it in 2008. They also published its sequel in 2009.
So let’s find out who the author is, why she initially self published, and more about her subsequent successes.
I would like to welcome children’s author, Leanne Davidson, to my blog.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I think, deep down, I always dreamed I’d one day be another Enid Blyton and write a book that people would read and enjoy, but while I was growing up, writing was always just a hobby (my absolute favourite hobby!) because there weren’t the opportunities for budding writers that there are now. I didn’t even consider writing as a realistic career, as it had always been something I did in my spare time that no-one else except my family knew about. I was always good at English throughout my school years, but I was very shy and lacked confidence, and at no time expressed my writing dreams to anyone. I was particularly good at typing, and when work experience came around at secondary school, I was told I’d make an excellent office person, so that’s what I did, and I’ve been working in an office environment ever since (with my writing still in the background, squashed in between everything else!)
When did you start writing?
I started writing in primary school. I’d write about anything and everything. I remember making my own little books by cutting up bits of paper, writing my story on them, then sticky taping them together so that it looked like a book (a very novice one at that!). Then I’d give it to mum and dad to read. They would always make a big fuss over it, as parents do! I remember in grade 4 at school we had a writing competition. Our dog had just had pups, and I’d just happened to be in the garage when one of them popped out, so I wrote about that, in very vivid detail. It won me a lolly snake from the principal and inspired me no end!
What genres do you write in/or have written in?
At the moment I am enjoying writing for children. It’s not just the writing, it’s the whole package – the writing, the editing, the finished book, the going out to schools/libraries and meeting the children who read them, the letters from children saying how much they enjoy your books and how much you inspire them – it’s just so fulfilling and rewarding, and it’s where I enjoy being at the moment.
Why did you decide to self-publish or publish independently?
When I first wrote Quizzical as a 2,500 word short story, I was approaching forty years of age. I sent the manuscript away to a publisher (one of Australia’s biggest ones) and received a letter back several weeks later. Even though it was a rejection, they had taken the time to tell me that the story was well-written and enjoyable and showed great potential, even though it wasn’t suitable for their list. I wondered how I could improve the story, or make it more saleable to publishers. In the end I decided to make it into a novel. At around the same time, I’d enrolled in the Diploma of Professional Children’s Writing Course, a correspondence course, at the then Australian College of Journalism. I wanted to learn as much as I could about writing for children, and it was through this course that I used some of my prospective chapters in Quizzical, as assignments. It was also an opportunity to work with an unbiased tutor, who could be blatantly honest with me about my work, and let me know if I had any chance of making it as a writer or whether I was just kidding myself. At the end of the course, when my tutor told me it had been a pleasure working with such a talented writer, I was buoyed beyond words, which gave me the confidence to finish Quizzical. I thought about sending the completed manuscript off to publishers, but as I have already said, I was approaching forty, and I didn’t want to have to wait for weeks or months for a reply, and for that reply to be a rejection. So, with my husband’s blessing, I decided to self-publish. I felt that this was something I needed to do for me, and that the time was right to do it.
How did you get started, i.e. how did you go about self-publishing or gathering information?
I began by looking up various sites on the internet, but I was wary. The quotes given did not include editing or any extra things that could pop up along the way, so I didn’t want to be impulsive. I am fortunate that there is a small book publishing and distribution company only five minutes away in the next town, so I contacted them and was put on to a man named Allan Cornwell, who had self-published some of his own books, and was now branching out and self-publishing books for other people. From the samples I saw of his work, it looked very professional, and right from the beginning I felt very comfortable dealing with him.
I sent him my manuscript of Quizzical and, after reading it, he wanted to come on board.
How did you go about editing your work?
I really was fortunate being put on to Allan. Anything that was required, he organised for me. That included the editing.
Initially, I thought that being self-published meant simply typesetting my words onto paper, sending it off to the printer, then slapping a cover on the front. But it couldn’t have been more different. When Allan suggested getting the manuscript edited, I was thrilled. Having someone else read it and offer their input, suggestions, and opinions really appealed to me. Being self-published, I wanted my book to be the best it could be, especially when it was going to be sitting up there on shelves alongside commercially published books.
I was very fortunate in the editor Allan had in mind was Nan McNab, who had edited for Penguin, The Five Mile Press and Pan MacMillan (she now edits all of Bryce Courtenay’s work). Nan just so happened to have a small break in her schedule and, after reading Quizzical, wanted to be a part of my project.
How long did the self-publishing process or independent publishing take place, ie. from the beginning to the printing of your books?
It was close to eighteen months from start to finish. The longest part was the editing, and trying to work in with both our schedules.
What obstacles did you encounter during this process, if any?
I was quite surprised, not to mention impressed with Alan’s professionalism, knowledge, advice and enthusiasm right from the start. He was as keen as me to make Quizzical the best possible book he could, and I’d have to say it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had, watching the book come together as well as it did, then finally seeing the finished product in my hand. He made the whole process seem so easy, but I know it’s definitely not.
How did you go about organising a printing company?
Again, Allan did this for me and, again, I was surprised and impressed by the quality of the books once they’d been printed.
What was your print run?
We initially had a print-run of 2000 for Quizzical, but after selling well it went into a second print of 3,000.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing or publishing independently?
There are definitely advantages to self-publishing. You have total control of the book, right from the beginning. You can have the final say on everything, what you like, what you dislike, what you want to change. You also get to keep the full price of the book when you sell it, as opposed to a small percentage if it’s published commercially. The disadvantages are the costs involved, although if the book sells well you can recoup these. I found marketing to be my biggest issue. It’s hard to get your book ‘out there’ into the public arena without a publisher continually pushing it. They also have industry contacts they use on a regular basis and the books they publish definitely have an advantage over books that are self-published. In my personal experience, I found that whether you are commercially published or self-published, you can never stop marketing yourself. Your book will come out and then soon be forgotten, as others hit the shelves and the cycle continues. I visit schools and libraries with my interactive quiz show in an effort to help promote literacy, and to encourage student participation in a fun way. I also have a website and not long ago started a blog. It’s important to be accessible, and to keep yourself in people’s minds.
What was your biggest learning curve or is there anything that you would have done differently?
When Money Bags (the second book in the Quizzical series) came out in 2009, I sat back to a certain extent, assuming the publisher would do everything with regards to marketing. I’d worked hard marketing my self-published version of Quizzical, and The Five Mile Press did the same when they re-released the re-jacketed version in 2008, but with Money Bags I just assumed that with the success of Quizzical it would automatically be the same with Money Bags. The only thing was, from between the time Quizzical first came out in 2006 and when Money Bags was released in 2009, three years had passed, and I didn’t realise that just as much effort should have gone into marketing that as had gone into Quizzical. So now, with every new book that comes out, I exhaust every avenue trying to get it ‘out there’. That way, whether it succeeds or fails, at least I know I’ve done all that I can.
When Quizzical won the 2006 Australian Best Self-Published Book Award for Fiction, did you immediately feel that this would open doors for you, or did you just appreciate winning the award? Did it make you feel any different as a writer?
I definitely just appreciated winning the award. It never even occurred to me that it might open doors for me. It was such a wonderful experience. I travelled to Sydney to accept the award, and met other authors and industry people. It just reinforced to me that this is what I truly wanted to do.
How did you market Quizzical? Did you come across any obstacles when dealing with bookstores, etc?
When Quizzical initially came out at the end of 2006, I must have emailed or faxed every library in Australia. I also wrote to newsagents, emailed schools, and sent the book into the various Premier’s Reading Challenge committees in the hope they would consider the book for their lists. Quizzical is now on the Victorian, NSW, Tasmania and ACT booklists. I was also fortunate in The Australian Book Group agreed to distribute Quizzical for me, which took the book out into the bookstores. My biggest obstacle was trying to get TV exposure. No-one was interested. When The Five Mile Press re-released it in 2008, more people took notice and I was interviewed by quite a few radio stations, including Life Matters on the ABC. As for TV, my story was just not interesting enough. But I don’t let things like that stop me. An important thing I’ve learned is, if one door closes, don’t give up, because down the road another one will open. All you can do is take any opportunity you’re given and make the most of it.
What does successful self-publishing or successful independent publishing mean to you?
It means that I can now call myself a published author, and I can hold my head up high knowing I took a chance in my life, not knowing what the outcome would be. When I self-published Quizzical, I was worried that people would think I was a wannabee author because my book wasn’t commercially published. Believe me, to be willing to put myself out there to be ridiculed wasn’t a decision I made lightly, but I believed in Quizzical, and felt that if I didn’t self-publish it when I had the chance, I would regret it.
What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self-publishing/publishing independently or setting up their own company?
I would say, self-publishing is definitely worth thinking about, but not before considering everything thoroughly. Getting your book printed is one part of the process, but there are a lot more things to consider. Don’t skimp on your budget, and make sure it allows for important things such as editing and a great cover (mine have foil incorporated into them to make them stand out more). You need your book to be the best it can be, so don’t take any short cuts. Marketing is the biggest issue you’ll face, so you can’t be thin-skinned. Some days will make you question what you’re doing, others will make you feel as though there’s nothing in the world you’d rather be doing.
When you’re self-published, the costs can be huge. I would have loved to have had a publicist when I self-published Quizzical, but I just couldn’t afford one. So I had to resort to other measures.
I developed a quiz show (based on the idea in Quizzical) that I now take into schools and libraries. This not only gives me the opportunity to get myself ‘out there’ and connect with the children who read my books, but it is a lot of fun and very rewarding as well. It’s one of my favourite parts of being an author. I also have a website at: www.quizzicalbook.com and a blog at: http://leannedavidson.blogspot.com so that I am accessible to my readers.
What attributes do you feel are necessary to be a successful self-publisher, eg. Determination, patience, organisation, sales and marketing experience, self-belief …
Most of the above would definitely be necessary. I don’t have any sales or marketing experience, but I have worked in an office environment for 30 years which has given me a lot of experience in different areas, including working with the public, which I think has been very beneficial. You definitely need to be determined and have a never-say-die attitude, and be willing to forge ahead when the chips are down. I have been told that I am very easy to work with because, apparently, some writers can be ‘precious’ when it comes to their work. All I can tell you from my experience is, accept any advice you are offered, because it is in your best interests – people are only trying to help you. And don’t be offended if people suggest changes to your work. Take it from me, it is these changes that will make your book the best it can be!
What books have you had published since Quizzical?
Since Quizzical I have had several books published. Alby and the Cat, (a shorter chapter book about Alby the guide dog and the mischievious cat that lives next door) was published by The Five Mile Press in 2008 as part of their Ripper Reads series. Money Bags, the sequel to Quizzical was published by The Five Mile Press in 2009 along with A Classic Christmas Treasury: Carols and Stories, (released by The Five Mile Press last Christmas) which I wrote the text for. In July, 2010, Puzzle Palace (the third book in the Quizzical series) was released, along with Alby and the Cat: Showbusiness (the second of my ‘Alby’ books).
Are you still involved in the marketing of your commercially published books? If yes, how do you promote your book? And do the commercial publishers assist you greatly in book promotion?
I am fortunate that both Quizzical and Alby and the Cat are part of a series, because whenever I promote a new book in either series, I am able to also promote the earlier books from that series, which keep them alive in people’s minds. My publishers have an online bookstore and promote the books in their catalogue, but once the initial release of a new book comes and goes, the onus turns more to the author to keep themselves in the public eye, as the publishers have other books to then deal with.
Where would you like to be in five year’s time, writing wise?
At the moment I work pretty much full-time in the office of our family business, where I have been for the past 16 years. Ideally, in five years time, I would love to be writing, or doing writing-related things such as visiting schools/libraries on a full-time basis, or at least much more regularly than I’m currently doing. To me that would be perfect!
Would you ever consider self-publishing again?
Definitely. I know a lot more about what to expect now, and I’ve made some great contacts. I’ve been very fortunate, and now that I’m better known, bookshops, schools and libraries are more willing to take my books.
Do you feel more accepted as a writer now that you are commercially published, and what other doors have opened for you?
Anyone who loves writing dreams of becoming commercially published, but I was happy just to have my book ‘out there’, even if it was self-published. I really had faith in the book and its concept and, although I lacked self-confidence when I was younger, this time I backed myself. I’d also had positive comments from people who had read it, although that doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, but it gave me the confidence I needed to do something about achieving my dream. The last thing I expected was for Quizzical to win an award, or to be picked up by a commercial publisher. There are no words to describe the feeling knowing that people thought my work was good enough to be commercially published. It gives hope to people with similar dreams.
Going from being a self-published author to a commercially published one has definitely opened doors for me. I now visit schools and libraries to share my story with students, I am asked to speak at functions, and I am able to continue my dream of writing, knowing that people now know who I am and want to buy my books.
What projects are you working on now?
Apart from marketing my two new books, Puzzle Palace (the third book in the Quizzical series) and Alby and the Cat: Showbusiness (the second of my books about Alby the guide dog), I’m working on a third Alby book, as well as a couple of other story ideas. I’m in my element when I’m doing anything to do with writing, whether it be the writing itself, sorting out characters and storylines in my head, promoting the books, or visiting schools and libraries to share my story. I just love it!
What words best describe you?
Motivated, determined, proactive, easygoing (and I’m told, inspiring!)
Have you any other words of advice?
If you have a dream, follow it. Don’t ever give up. Believe in yourself, that you can do it, and you never know where it will take you. The best part is often the journey itself! I’m not saying it will be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is, and the rewards far outweigh the negative aspects.
And Leanne, just to finish up, could you please complete the following:
At school I was …
Always the teacher’s pet. Don’t ask me why, because I have no idea. But it worked well for my grades!
When I was a child I wanted to be …
Initially, a vet. I have always loved animals and loved the idea of wanting to help them, until I realised that at some point I might have to cut one open and see all the blood and insides. It didn’t seem such a good idea after that!
I relax by …
Writing. As ridiculous as it sounds, writing is my therapy. I also enjoy reading and going for walks. I used to take the dog with me, but he is older (and fatter) now, and turns the other way when he sees the dog lead!
My website address: www.quizzicalbook.com
My blog: http://leannedavidson.blogspot.com
Books can be bought from bookshops or online via my website.
You can find book reviews at:
Wow, what an inspirational author. We wish Leanne further successes, and hopefully this author’s journey can inspire writers who are thinking about the self-publishing/independently published path.
Helen Ross interviews Leanne Davidson 29 August 2010. Copyright Helen Ross 2010.