Social Media – Friend or Foe?

I have been multi-tasking recently. Nothing new, you might say. Multi-tasking is the norm. But multi-tasking plus social media is a complicated new dimension.

Authors and artists, even with conventional publishing and galleries, are now required to do a large part of their own marketing. This has advantages and, in my opinion, many disadvantages. If your primary focus is creating, then any time spent marketing is time off-task. Nor is it as simple as division of time. There is so much to learn before marketing can begin. Often writers and artists lack the skills for, or interest in, marketing their product.

Self published authors know from the outset that they will need to do their own promotions. The growth of the internet, of online marketing and sales, and the dramatic growth of the self publishing industry has sent authors scrambling to the web to research marketing. There are many avenues to choose from, and it is difficult to select from the different types as recommendations vary widely, but choose we must.

According to Tim Grahl there are six different types of social media. It is not simply a matter of choosing between Facebook or blogging. There are social networks (like Facebook and LinkedIn), bookmarking sites, social news systems (like Digg and Redit), media sharing (would Youtube work for you?) Perhaps you enjoy the immediacy of microblogging? (Microblogging uses media systems like Twitter). Blogging with comments and forums is another popular form of marketing and communicating.

What kind of social media will work for you? How much time will you invest in it? Will you learn a new system to achieve your goals? Should you put all of this into the hands of someone who is genuinely interested in marketing and how social media works, and put your own time into doing what you do best?

Facebook is a platform I know reasonably well. Yes, I can use it, but the danger is that I will become distracted and soon be off task. Pinterest is another useful mine-field. How does one research without following all those delightful pathways? Social media becomes detrimental to productivity – Foe. But wait, surely that seductiveness is exactly the reason we are investing time in the social media – Friend?

Friend or Foe? Using social media should be a part of any business plan, and have an allocated slot in the working week. Social media is potentially the marketer’s Friend, but too many times has become the creative writer/illustrator/artist’s Foe.

Keeping to a Time Line

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In story writing there is always a time line. Most children’s stories are in chronological time and easy to follow. Adult fiction often dips in and out of the chronology, taking readers back in time or plunging in some time ahead of the story line’s actual beginning, creating a more challenging read.

Sometimes my life gets a little out-of-order, and so does my time line. It’s probably why I draw new timelines on A4 paper, rather than write things into my diary. I like the illusion of control.

The down side of being your own boss is being able to alter that timeline and constantly push out your own deadlines. I am good at meeting deadlines. In fact, I am great at meeting them, I’m one of the most reliable people I know. That is, when someone else gives me the deadline.

Now, with only my dreams and plans dictating my day, and with many other interruptions and distractions in my life, meeting deadlines is not so easy. It means treating each day as a work day, and scheduling in time off, or time for other projects in my life.

I frequently draw inspiration from my eldest daughter, who asked me once, quite pointedly,  “Is it in your dreams, or in your diary?” It was a great question; so useful, in fact, that I quote her regularly. When friends say “I’d love to come and visit you … sigh…you’re living my dream…” I challenge them with this question. Very few of them reach for their diaries. Even fewer manage to get past the dreaming stage.

Today, however, is diary/time line day for me. It’s time review progress, and to set a new deadline or two. I’m a ‘big picture’ rather than a details person; I like to have an overview of my year.

At the end of last year my dream was to be sending manuscripts to publishers and to have sample illustrations for other books done by the end of March. I was then going to head to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (see earlier post) to familiarise myself with the industry, portfolio under my arm.

My timeline had dates running down the page and details of books, paintings and travel plans alongside them.

My aims to the end of March:
Three manuscripts posted to three different publishers.
Three more manuscripts finished and sample illustrations made.
My (still secret) book written and illustrated, ready to send to publishers.
Ten new paintings for a joint show in Italy to be completed.
Trip to Bologna as a hopeful writer/observer.

The reality: 
Loads of research into publishing, and the decision to self-publish was made.
Publishing house chosen, account set up.
Seven manuscripts completed.
Three illustrated books published.
Legal Deposit copies of three books posted to the  National Library of New Zealand.
My special (still secret 😉 coming later this year) book written, revised, and ready to illustrate.
Eight new paintings completed.
Three paintings currently on display in Cassino, Italy, at a group exhibition.
Blog up and running.
Lots of new materials purchased and work happening (a treat to play with, instead of going to Bologna).

Am I on schedule? Not really. I am still about twenty years behind with my goals, because it took me that long to move them from my dreams into my diary.

Today’s diary: 
Review time line. (Done). Decide what went well and what could have been better.
Set new deadlines. Then it’s on to some small pictures.

I have a tough boss, and little owls are waiting to fly.

Discovering Freedom in Self Publishing

In the month of February – when I looked ahead and made the snap decision to self publish after a year of telling myself that it was not the way I wanted to go – I did a lot of research. Why should I publish via a “print on demand” company? Why shouldn’t I self publish?

The more I researched, the more I learned about the realities of publishing. Well-established authors are self publishing because their books are not getting into the shops in quantity. Many mainstream bookshops are not buying more than 5 copies from publishers and are not re-ordering when stock is sold. The internet has taken over.

I have already witnessed, to my dismay, that bookshops are closing. Amazon and similar web-based companies are destroying the shops we love to lurk, dream and relax in. During my last visit to the town where I lived for 33 years I was upset to find that the bookshop on the corner, the meeting place, the browsing place, the institution – has gone. In its place is a sports store. The town has lost two of its three bookstores.

When publishing books many years ago I learnt that marketing was not my thing, and that only independent booksellers bought from independent and small publishers. How would I ever get my work out to the people who might benefit from it? How did one begin? Then I remembered the growth of Facebook.

In the space of a few years, because of public initiatives I was involved in, I had Facebook friend requests from all over the place. My private family space had become a public connecting place. In accepting all those requests I was forced changed the way I used Facebook, moving from private to more public interactions. Hmmmmm. If I could cope with that, perhaps I could cope with on-line marketing too? It was an interesting but rather scary thought.

I ran the idea past my family. Half an hour or so later Little Goat Books had a name, a web address, a Facebook page, an internet profile, and I was looking for the print on demand company that would suit me best.

I chose Lulu ahead of Createspace and one or two other companies. Lulu gave me the option of doing my own page layout and cover design. I could upload directly to their site. They would handle all the sales and distribution for me. I had seen examples of Lulu books and was happy with the colour reproduction.

Createspace and its companion were marginally cheaper than Lulu and gave immediate access to Amazon sales, with bigger margins to the author if sold through Amazon. But Amazon is the giant that is killing bookshops. Some part of me was resistant to joining that throng. Closer investigation about systems, support, problem solving, taxation, and customer service kept returning me to Lulu. And so my choice was made.

I suppose the occasional “Are you self-publishing?” question did fuel a lingering doubt about the wisdom of being publisher, author and illustrator all in one. Had I failed myself in not actively seeking established publishers for my books? In January I had formed a plan to send proposals to publishers in three countries: New Zealand for the local stories, the UK for my rhyming children’s stories, and the USA for my stories with messages of peace. If I had followed that plan I would still be waiting to hear back from those publishers, ready with more packages to post to names further down the lists. My books would still be just manuscripts, drawings and dreams. Instead I am also a publisher, and have even received queries about publishing works for other authors.

Today I received a message from New Zealand from a customer. Here is a small part of her message, with any identifying details removed.

“The books have arrived – so quick, I paid for the fast delivery option to get them before I went away and they were here in only a couple of days. They are just delightful, I look after a special needs girl aged 15 … I have just read her Michelle and the Bumblebee. Well she was so interested and loved it, I’m saving When Mum Fell Asleep in the Bath for tomorrow. They really are just gorgeous, I love the drawings. Will have to order another lot I think, as I want to keep these. Have you any more that I can use for special needs, as she doesn’t have a long concentration span?”

When I read this request it hit me how free I am, as my own publisher. Yes, of course I will have something for special needs students, just give me a few more months. I was once a primary school teacher. Many years later I was a special needs teacher. After that I became an RTLB (Resource Teacher, Learning and Behaviour), working across several schools. I know how hard it is to source (and fund) appropriate books for these children. It will be my pleasure to follow this up, writing with this need in mind. Self publishing is the very thing that gives me the freedom to say “Certainly – I’ll let you know as soon as the books are available.” In fact, via self publishing, I can produce as many titles as I like – even to order, should a special case need it. If each one sells only one copy per school, they will have been useful additions to classrooms and libraries, bookshelves and toy boxes.

I proudly embrace the knowledge that my books have already served their purpose somewhere. Just think – they could still be languishing in the in-box in a publisher’s office. Instead they are bringing smiles and laughter, and are piquing the interest of children of all ages.

I am happy with my decision; in self publishing I feel an exciting freedom that I didn’t expect to find.

A milestone along the way

michelle  2Today the first copies of Michelle and the Bumblebee arrived in the post. It took me several hours to actually open the book and check to see that no errors had snuck into it, no pages had jumped out, no blips had entered.
Michelle first copiesI have just sent off a request for further proof copies of the other two books – learning to “let go” is difficult! I am always sure I could “just improve this a little bit” – but at the end of the day the books will end up in toy boxes, on the floor, under the blankets, and any little thing I might let slip through is not going to matter at all!

I have been battling with the format for “When Mum Fell Asleep in the Bath”. I had it ready in landscape 9″ x 7″, but was unable to complete the uploads in that format without pictures jumping around within the pdf file. What I sent didn’t match the downloaded proofs I got back after they had been received and processed. So, reluctantly, I reverted to the square format for this one too. Reluctantly because my illustrations were for the landscape format; I do like the size and shape of the square template I am using. I have spent another 12 hours or so adding to illustrations and adding little critters to make the most of the extra space the square format gives me. To complete the trio, “The Lost Happy” is in portrait form. It is a slightly bigger book so that young readers can colour the illustrations once they have read the story.

Over the next few days I must prepare the legal deposit forms for the books so that they can be sent to the NZ National Library in Wellington, and as soon as those books arrive they will be on their way again. I have 20 days from the official date of publication to get the books to Wellington.

And then, I suppose, I can take a break for a couple of days until the next book pushes its way to the fore. It is likely to be the Owl series, another light-hearted one for the younger readers. I am not quite ready for my serious one yet.

Tonight I intend sleeping well; it’s been a long stretch of working extremely long hours. My pillow has been missing me. Mmmm… I wonder, is there a pillow story there somewhere?

Exciting times!

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Tomorrow Little Goat Books will be two weeks old. Time flies when you are having fun – and I am!

Yesterday I sent two more books to the print-on-demand publisher, and now it is time to address building a website, establishing a blogging routine, and learning how social media works.

Little Goat Books has a Facebook page. You can find it by looking for Children’s Books. Look for the little white goat on a bright blue background.