After a summer spent trying and failing to get my children's book, 'Destiny Calling', to reach its target on Britain's Next Bestseller, and hence win that elusive publishing contract, I'm bloodied but unbowed and have decided to cut the middle man and publish it as an eBook. I'm pleased that my book is finally out there, as the BNBS campaign generated a lot of interest in it and I'm glad people can finally satisfy their curiosity and read it. However, this would not have been my ideal route. I didn't want to only put my book out digitally, as I feel that this discriminates against those who can't afford or aren't interested in purchasing an e-reader or a tablet. It leaves those who prefer physical books (still a pretty strong market) out in the cold, and as my book is a children's book, it's not going to be accessible to those kids whose households don't have e-readers and tablets.
Still, there's only so much banging one's head against a wall you can do, and trying to get 'Destiny Calling' published the traditional way meant coming up against that wall constantly. I refuse to pay to have my book published as I still hold on to a quaint belief that writers should be paid for their work, not forced to pay others to put it out there. So for now, it exists digitally, and that will have to do. Apart from the art of compromise, here's another few things I've learnt during my journey to try and publish my book on the BNBS platform:
Timing is all
Looking back, trying to generate interest in a kid's book during the summer holidays perhaps wasn't the best idea. I thought summer was prime book buying time, which it may be, but at the same time it's not prime time to get parents, teachers or children interested in a book they can't even seen yet. Asking people to pre-order your book on faith is quite a request, and you need people's full attention when you're doing it. The tight networks of parents and teachers scatter during the summer holidays, and any word of mouth you might have achieved will be severely limited. You need a captive audience - now that school is back in session, I might have a better shot at one!
Look at who has the purchasing power
Another thing I don't think I quite appreciated was the difficulty of generating interest in a children's book when it's not necessarily children who are the ones doing the buying. Generally, you have to hit the parents and hope there's a trickle-down effect, but that's easier said than done. Some parents are engaged in their children's reading habits and will seek out and buy books that they think their child would like - others will just wait to be asked. The latter strategy isn't likely to get your new book ordered, because the child isn't likely to know it exists. The age group my book is aimed at (8 - 12 year olds) is one that's generally too young to be on social media, so any promotion has to go towards adults. However, this means that anyone who's not a parent immediately tunes out (I'm childfree and treat most advertising to do with children as white noise), and that you're relying on parents to sift through the 57 other demands of their day and take notice of your pestering on Facebook. It's quite a gamble.
Librarians and teachers are your friends
By far the most support I got during my campaign, both in terms of willingness to publicise my book project, and willingness to order multiple copies, was from librarians and teachers. These are people who know, love and support literature. They know the constant struggle to get children to read, and they also know what children want to read, and they will give you an honest appraisal. I got fantastic feedback from the teachers and librarians who read my book, and whether it was in the form of ordering 11 copies at a time, or flyering every library in the county, I wouldn't be half as confident in the appeal of 'Destiny Calling' had I not had their support.
People are flaky
This is a bit of a rehash of a point in my last post on things I've learned as a writer, namely where I say "Everyone says they will buy your book. The ones who actually do are worth kissing all over". However, it can't be stressed enough. People want to be nice, they want to make you feel good, so they'll tell you what they think you want to hear. However, I'd prefer some honesty any day over wondering how many people are just blowing smoke up your backside by saying they'll support your work. If everyone who said to me they were going to preorder my book had done so, I would've hit the 250 target no problem. I'm sure I've failed to honour a fair few promises in my time, but generally I try not to raise anyone's expectations on false premises, and I loathe the modern convention that disorganisation, lateness and poor memory are acceptable, even lovable parts of a person, rather than character flaws. Maybe some people forgot, maybe some had no intention of ordering in the first place but thought that was too mean a thing to say. However, hand on heart, I'd rather they'd just told me "Nah, I don't fancy it" or "I'm pretty useless, it's doubtful I'll remember" than earnestly repeating "I'll preorder it tonight, I promise!"
People are great
For all the flakes who make you want to beat yourself unconscious with your own book collection, there is a silent and fantastic faction who would rather die than shout about their generous actions, but nonetheless go ahead and do it. The amount of people who I wouldn't have even considered as possible supporters of my book yet came out of the woodwork and quietly placed their order was both astonishing and heartwarming. People I've only met a couple of times, those whose contact with me might have been limited to running into each other at roller derby games, plus total strangers, even the lady who cuts my hair - they all came out swinging for me. They believed on total faith that my writing was worth their money, and they clicked that button and showed me some love. Now that my book is actually live, the amount of people who've already ordered it and are telling me "I'm on the train, reading it now!" is also incredibly touching. It's a kid's book and yet most of those who've bought it so far are child-free adults, which I find rather lovely.
It's an interesting journey ahead and I hope it results in some success, however modest, in getting my writing to an audience wider than just the fantastic people I'm lucky enough to know. So, to that end - here's the pitch.