|Katherine Graham on Amazon|
Do you have a children's book inside of you, just waiting to be converted into words and images? Self-publishing could be the best route, but don't worry – it's not as scary as it sounds, writes guest blogger Katherine Graham.
It's funny how having a child can be compared to a near-death experience. Not something you'd see in a feel-good nappy ad, for sure, but with both my pregnancies as the due date approached, I felt some of the fear that you probably experience before dying. And then, once the baby makes its entrance into the world, it's like you're given your life back again, albeit with dirty nappies, sleep deprivation and all the rest.
I also felt that with this near-death experience, I gained such a clear sense of what my purpose in life was. Up until then, I'd had a foggy sense of what I should be doing, but when I became a mother I-knew-like-I-knew-that-I-knew that my God-given purpose in life was to write. Not just articles, which is what I'd been doing up till then (and still do to make a living), but to write books. And so my journey as an author began.
Whenever you start something new in life, you have to brace yourself for the challenges that go with it. You have to expect a certain level of resistance to your ideas. After I'd written my first two children's books, The Dummy Fairy and Alfonso the Tooth Mouse, I had to endure months of waiting and rejection letters that came from publishers. I suppose that is the point at which many people give up, but something told me I needed to carry on fighting.
I had engaged the services of an illustrator friend, Wendy Paterson, so I had a bunch of great illustrations for both books, plus I had the text which I had written. I got an e-mail from writeforkids.org telling me how now was such an exciting time to be self-publishing children's books on Amazon – it's easy and free and the royalties are better than traditional publishers – so I figured, Why not?
That's how my journey into self-publishing began last year and it's been an interesting ride. Yes, it is fairly easy to get published on Amazon, I've learned, but marketing your own books comes with its own challenges. It's been a very steep learning curve for me, but I'm happy to say that I now have three children's books under my belt – The Poofiest Pong is my latest release and is a huge hit with young kids – and am busy working on my fourth, a magical story set in Lesotho about a flying unicorn called Moonshine. I'm hoping that once I get into a routine and rhythm, the books will just keep popping out and more and more children will read them and enjoy them.
If you'd like to write your own children's book, here are some tips for getting started:
1. Keep a journal where you write down ideas for stories and characters.
2. If you have children, pay attention to what they say and what engages their imagination. Use those ideas to fuel your own creativity.
3. Join a writers' group and try to nurture your writing skills. Remember, talent is an asset, but skill as a writer will always trump that.
4. Flex your creative writing muscles by “working out” i.e. writing for at least half an hour every day. (You can take Sunday off!)
5. Look at the work of other children's writers – Julia Donaldson, Roald Dahl and Shirley Hughes come to mind. What do they do in their books that makes their stories so appealing? Is it the rhyme, the plot, the characters? Bear in mind that children relate most to stories which are told from a child's point of view.
6. Once you've written your story, show it to others whose opinion you value. Read it to your kids or kids you know. Make changes if necessary. It must be thoroughly polished and error-free before it goes to print.
7. If you're going the self-publishing route, you'll need to find and pay for your own illustrator. (A traditional publisher would source one for you.) Contact the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators to find a good one – www.scbwi.za.org – or perhaps you could do the illustrations yourself to keep costs low. You might even know a friend or family member who would be willing to help you.
8. Download Kindle Kids' Book Creator, which is free software, onto your computer. This will help you build your book for Amazon.
9. Next, you'll need to register with Kindle Direct Publishing – www.kdp.com. Once you've done this, you can upload your book title onto Amazon.
10. You'll need to be responsible for your own marketing, which means you'll need to build up a social media presence – a Facebook author's page, Twitter account, Goodreads author page, etc. Having an active blog also helps to engage with your readers. Organising readings at schools or libraries is another great idea.
A journalist by training, Katherine writes regularly for a number of South African magazines. She has published three children's e-books, The Dummy Fairy, Alfonso the Tooth Mouse and The Poofiest Pong. The Lemon Tree, which was longlisted for the Golden Baobab Prize in 2014, is due to be published by Penguin Random House next year. She lives in possibly the world's most beautiful city, Cape Town, is married with two boys and a ginger cat, and loves peaceful, uninterrupted moments sipping tea and reading. She blogs at www.wordcount.co.za.