A Bucket List Item Crossed Off: Write a Children’s Storybook
I have been a secondary school and university educator for over thirty-six years, both in Trinidad and Tobago and in Canada where I now live in Kamloops, BC. Back in 1988, I wrote my first children's storybook, Lost at Carnival, primarily because the local bookstores carried mainly foreign books that did not reflect my three young daughters' culture. In 1990, I asked well-known local Trinidadian water-colour artist, Jackie Hinkson, the father of one of my students at Bishop Anstey High School in Port-of-Spain, to do the illustrations for the book.
It was not my intention at first to become a writer, but I wanted to make a small contribution to the preservation of our culture. I realized many children knew little about our traditional carnival characters, such as the Moko Jumbie and the Fancy Sailor, so I decided to write a book about a children’s carnival band called “Ole Time Mas.” As a self-proclaimed "culture-vulture”, I also included mention of steelpan playing to highlight our national instrument, and because two of my daughters were members of the steel band at Diamond Vale Primary School and would be able to relate to the story. I purposely mentioned locations such as the Queen’s Park Savannah and the Red House to introduce, and also preserve the memory of, these historic local sites.
As a parent and teacher, I also tried to impart some educational lessons about safety during carnival and similar public events. Finally, I included discussion questions at the end of the book to help students interact more closely with the content of the story. Adults could discuss the book’s contents with young kids to ensure the lessons imparted were not lost on them. The educator in me was trying to meet a few goals with this one project.
I was about to start contacting Caribbean publishers when our family migrated to Canada in 1993. I am ashamed to say I forgot about my project and the book sat in my closet for twenty-two years! At the time of taking up residence in Canada, I was not sure that the book would sell well to a foreign market, so I didn’t actively pursue the project anymore. Many years passed by and I got busy with my work and raising a family. I only re-discovered and dusted off the project in 2015. I thought to myself, “I need to cross this item off my bucket list.” I also felt so guilty for letting Mr. Hinkson’s beautiful watercolours stay hidden from the world for so long.
Since I work as an instructional designer at Thompson Rivers University Open Learning, I was able to get help from some of my colleagues who are trained graphic artists to self-publish the book in Canada. The layout was fairly easy for my professional friends, and I obtained the ISBN online myself. I then did some research into getting the book printed. I first approached the print shop at my university and discovered the cost per unit was too high from a business point of view, especially if I was not planning to print a large quantity. It was only when I visited Trinidad on vacation in 2015 that I found a printer in San Fernando offering an affordable price and decided to print some copies through them.
On my own, I would have only done a small print run, but when I showed a mock-up to the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism, I had the good fortune of securing financial help to print books for donation to all libraries in Trinidad and Tobago. I also printed some extra copies to distribute and sell myself. There was a bit of a challenge getting printed books to Canada and finding a place to store them safely. My goal is to primarily sell copies both in the Caribbean and in North America.
The marketing and distribution phases have been the most difficult part for me. I was able to get help setting up a Facebook page for the book at https://www.facebook.com/lostatcarnival/, but I do not have time to keep the page up-to-date. I am currently trying out Discovering Diversity Publishing to help me with that part. On a visit to Trinidad in February 2016, I was able to do a formal book launch, appear on Gayelle TV and two radio stations, and get the book into most major bookstores and a few gift shops. It’s a lot of work and I only managed because my youngest brother who lives in Trinidad helped me with some of the communication and business work.
|Gail Morong at a bookstore in Trinidad|
I also did a Toronto book launch at a Caribbean bookstore, A Different Booklist, which is now carrying my book. I have also done readings at the public children’s library and a few elementary schools in Kamloops. However, I am just too busy with work to spend time doing more public events. I have done well trying to be a one-woman show so far, but I may not be able to devote the time needed until I retire, hopefully in 2017.
I do have ideas for other books, but I need to make this first project a success before thinking of the future. I need to learn more about social media use and selling books online so that is my current goal. Caribbean folks living abroad are among those who are finding the book to be a great gift for young family members, but I have to figure out how to market more widely and get the book to interested buyers.
I recently found out through Twitter and Facebook that my book has made it to Egypt and London, so I know there is potential for it to be sold more widely to a Caribbean and international audience. So far, things have been moving slowly as I learn more about the self-publishing business, including the marketing and distribution part of the business. It has taken me twenty-eight years to get to this point, but I am very proud to be a published author and to know I am leaving a valuable legacy for generations to come.