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Showing posts with label Self-Publishing Journeys. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Self-Publishing Journeys. Show all posts

[Self-Publishing Journeys] Marjuan Canady















Creating Callaloo from Scratch: Finding my Power through Self-Publishing


I never dreamed of becoming a writer or self-publishing a children’s book series. It may seem like my children’s brand Callaloo has been an overnight success but it has taken years of hard work, dedication, sacrifice, self-exploration and a relentless pursuit to leave my mark on the world. 

My unique background has heavily influenced my work as a children’s book author. I spent years of study as a classically trained actress in New York and Los Angeles. As a child, I dreamt of performing on Broadway and in Hollywood, like many of my friends. But as I grew out of my adolescent dreams, I began to truly accept my path as not solely an actress but as an artist. Through creating my original work, I found power in my own creativity as a means to speak out against the world’s injustice and to leave a legacy far beyond my physical life. I’ve always had an incredible curiosity about the world, a passion for entrepreneurship, history and the arts. I never planned to become a writer or business owner, but it was inevitable.

My children’s media brand, Callaloo, which I began developing in 2011, promotes cultural literacy and social awareness for children ages 3-7 through books, animation, live performance, digital content and arts education. Callaloo, 100% owned and published by my company, Sepia Works, LLC, is a reflection of my identity, my academic and creative passions and a true reflection of the world as I see it. As a first-generation, Caribbean and African-American woman from Washington, DC, my identity has a played a large role in my work. Finding my voice through my craft has been challenging, rewarding and has taken time.

While in college, I experimented with directing plays and producing community events while pursuing a degree in Theater and African Studies, all of which would later play a major role in my creative and research methodologies. In graduate school, I shifted my focus to studying the politics of art-making and deepened my own practices as an artist-activist. Callaloo is a reflection of these focus areas. To understand how I came to writing and self-publishing, one has to understand my perspective as an artist, scholar, entrepreneur and activist.

In 2010, I completed my Masters in Arts Politics at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. For my thesis, I created a one-woman play called Girls! Girls? Girls. that I wrote and starred in. I was terrified, as this was my first original piece. But after six years of living in New York, balancing three jobs and constantly auditioning for demeaning acting roles, I made a decision to use my skills to do what I want.

For two years, I toured my one-woman show across the country, performing Off-Broadway, at schools, theaters, parks and even on the subway. My creative foundation is rooted in grassroots performance, which has deeply affected my perspective as a content creator. During this time in my life, I learned by doing and failing… failing a lot. Nevertheless, I had tremendous courage and belief in myself. It was the beginning of finding my power. By late 2011, I began working on my second play, mostly for the small fan base that supported my first play. This next play would change my life.   

On a chilly evening in Lower Manhattan, I went to see a friend, Trinidadian trumpet player, Etienne Charles, perform jazz from his album Folklore. Etienne and his band brilliantly celebrated the richness of Trinidad and Tobago’s folklore. His music transported me back to my bedtime as a child, when my mom would tell me scary stories about Trinidad folk characters like the Soucouyant and Papa Bois. That night, my vision was ignited. I closed my eyes and saw the story of a Caribbean-American kid traveling back to his parents’ homeland of Trinidad to discover his purpose through his ancestral island. This was my story. That night, I knew I had a brilliant idea─ to create a story called Callaloo.    

That year, I became obsessed with folklore, specifically African-Caribbean diaspora folklore and oral traditions. I also became increasingly intrigued by the lack of African diaspora stories in theater, literature and mainstream media. I studied the work of legendary animator, Walt Disney, who packaged European folk stories through animation. Disney did more than create cartoons; he created values and upheld European folklore for children to celebrate. Disney never did this for African diaspora folktales. As a trained artist and scholar, I had spent years studying the power of images in the classroom and now it was time to put these theories into practice. I knew what I envisioned with Callaloo had the power to influence future generations. 

By 2012, I had independently assembled a small team in Los Angeles and New York City to produce the play, Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale. At our final Washington, DC performance, my high school friend and brilliant visual artist, Nabeeh Bilal, attended the show. He was so moved by the play that he approached me about developing Callaloo into a children’s book. I was surprised and taken aback by how deeply he connected with the story; I had to jump on this collaboration, as I too was inspired by his work. It was the perfect marriage of friendship, trust, respect and creativity. Soon after, we began adapting my play into our first children’s book. 

We had no idea what we were doing but we were determined. The first logical step I took was to reach out to publishing companies and literary agents. They all rejected me. I was told I was an unknown writer, there was no audience for this work and Caribbean folktales would never sell. But I knew they were wrong. I knew so many children who could relate to growing up in a city with parents from another country, as this was my experience. Besides, I had faced so much rejection as an actress in New York City in my past that these rejections from publishers meant nothing to me. They actually fueled me. 

Photo credit: Chris Creese

Once again, I headed back to researching, but this time, it was children’s books. I studied the works of Virginia Hamilton, Walter Dean Myers and the Grimm Brothers fairytales, and deepened my understanding of African diaspora mythology and folklore. On the business side, Nabeeh and I taught ourselves the nuts and bolts of self-publishing: formatting, editing, illustrating, producing, writing, directing, web developing, distributing and animating. We did it all, just the two of us. By January 2014, we had completed our first book. 

My business partner and I operated in a space of not knowing and although it was frightening, it was also freeing, as it allowed us to truly create without limitations. It was truly a perfect mix of our individual talents, work ethic, drive and vision. Our goal was to produce our children’s book, but it quickly grew into something bigger. Because we self-published, we had full control of the marketing, distribution, production and direction of the Callaloo products. 

We performed readings for free across the country and partnered with local businesses, literacy organizations and schools within our community. In our first year of production, we also began to produce film, animation and educational classroom tools. We even integrated hand rod puppets into our live performances. We were slowly creating a brand with black and brown children leading the narrative. Since 2013, we have self- published two books, produced an online web-series, developed an arts education classroom curriculum, partnered with major institutions like the Smithsonian Institute, Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy and Children’s National Medical Center, secured national distribution in all Barnes and Noble stores and sold thousands of books worldwide. 


Photo credit: James Jeter

Self-publishing has taught me a lot and it has been no easy journey. The mistakes I’ve made have allowed me to grow, and to find my inner voice and power authentically. I have learned that writing is a craft and publishing is a business and creating a solid team is essential for your survival. In self-publishing, quality and professionalism means everything. Being an inclusive leader when there is no praise, and enduring long hours of re-writes and rehearsals while making tough decisions that affect the entire team, has been a learning process for me. My team began with just two, and now we have over twenty consultants, designers, animators, performers, musicians and educators who make Callaloo live everyday. 

I hope my story encourages aspiring children’s book creators to take control of their voice. I’m proud I chose to self-publish. I would have never been able to find my power any other way. 

I still dream of making it on Broadway and Hollywood one day; after all, I still have time to make it to the bright lights as writer, director and producer of Callaloo with my voice center stage.


About the Author

Marjuan Canady is an award winning author, director, producer, actress, educator, entrepreneur and creative consultant. A native of Washington, DC with Trinidadian roots, she founded the production company Sepia Works, LLC. She is the CEO, author and co-creator of Callaloo, a children’s media brand that promotes cultural education for kids. She has held fellowships at The Schomburg Center for Black Culture and Research and The Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute. She is the founder and president of Canady Foundation for the Arts which serves young people of color in arts education and mentorship. A graduate of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, she holds a B.A. in Theater/African Studies from Fordham University and an M.A. in Arts Politics from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her website is www.marjuancanady.com.

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[Self-Publishing Journeys] Gail Morong















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.


About the Author

Gail Morong has been a secondary and university educator for over 36 years, both in Trinidad and Tobago and in Canada where she now lives. She is currently an instructional designer at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC, Canada. She is also involved with initiatives to promote culturally diverse course design and provide higher education to disadvantaged individuals. She is co-chair of an Equity Committee, and a member of a Status of Women Committee and the City of Kamloops Diversity Committee. For many years, she organized community events such as Black History Month and fundraisers for refugee families. She taught Caribbean dance for many years and loves the arts. Her first children’s book, Lost at Carnival, was self-published in 2015.

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[Self-Publishing Journeys] Gregory Skeete















A Pelican, A Publisher, Potential and Possibilities


It is September 2016 and I am preparing to leave the shores of Barbados as one of four young leaders and entrepreneurs who will represent the island at President Obama’s Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Fellowship. I am joining a group of two hundred and fifty fellows from thirty-six countries in the Western Hemisphere. I was selected based on the impact and potential of the Pilly the Pelican children’s book series, which I have been writing and publishing since 2013, along with my work in the development of people and organizations under my Life Engineer coaching practice.

One year ago, I left my manufacturing job in Process and Operations Engineering to begin the full-time pursuit of this dream of becoming a successful author, publisher and professional coach. It has been a tough year mentally filled with uncertainty and a major reduction in personal income. Simultaneously, there have been times of great satisfaction like qualifying for YLAI, or recording a national tribute alongside my grandfather at a primary school as Barbados counted down to 50 Years of Independence, or being the first e-book in history to win a literary prize at the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts.

Here are five reflections from my journey so far.


1) Be clear about your dream and your Why 

If you’re like me, you may not have started with a clear dream when you began writing your first children’s book. My first book was crafted from a desire to explore an idea and it was a bit of a trial to see if I had the skills required to complete the publishing process. I also knew I wanted to create another source of income to support my family. 

However, my vision of Pilly the Pelican continued to evolve as I grew and learned more. My dream for Pilly the Pelican has gone from a fun, part-time hobby into a life mission to inspire families and children across the Caribbean after experiencing the impact I was able to create and the lives I have touched so far. 

Don’t be afraid to move towards your dream and remember that your dream will evolve with you. At first I grew my dream, but then my dream grew me! I’ve had no choice but to re-invent myself in order to pursue this passion professionally. 

Recalling the reasons I started Pilly the Pelican has also been critical to my motivation to keep going, especially when financial rewards are limited. I’ve seen the social value of writing and leading youth through stories. Witnessing the moment a child learns something from my book or presentation inspires me deeply because I know I am creating positive change.


2) Believe in yourself

This is the dilemma of the artist. We share our work with the world without being sure how it will be received. I can relate to the many writers who share stories of fear and rejection before making a breakthrough. 

In writing, publishing and life itself, I’ve also found great value in “doing it afraid”. I remember my very first story-telling session in front of an audience of children at Warren’s Pre-school in 2013, a few weeks after releasing my first book. I had not done any formal testing and I was not sure how children would respond to the book or to me. If you work with children, you would know that they are very honest and say exactly what they think. Although I thought my book was good, with positive initial feedback from adults, I was afraid. Thankfully, they loved it and it started a wonderful journey in my life.

As I write this, it’s the start of October and I’m now in the “Windy City” of Chicago for YLAI on the thirty-first floor of my apartment looking down at the city below. I never imagined this experience when I wrote my first book and I’ve learned so much about publishing and business since then. 


3) The business of publishing 

Even though you may be self-published, if you want the best results you have to think and act like a publisher in order to attain the professional standard set in the industry. I was clueless about these things when I started but I quickly realized that I was thinking like a writer but not a publisher. The writer creates books but the publisher gets them sold. 

It’s a balance that must be achieved as a self-publisher and I had to learn to segment my way of thinking at different times. I had to grow as an entrepreneur because after all of the work creating a wonderful book, I wanted children and families to be able to find and enjoy it. 

Plus, if I intended to build a sustainable livelihood as a publisher, I had no choice but to either learn about entrepreneurship or partner with someone who understood the big picture of business strategy, finance, marketing and operations. Technology is also integral to our business model as our books are available around the world thanks to the Internet and distributors like Amazon. 

Also, I’ve come to realise that creative professionals are often undervalued and I’ve had to do lots of educating to help others understand the effort, time and costs that go into making high-quality publications and live presentations. I’ve learned to understand the value of my intellectual property, creative skill and my company’s processes. I grew away from simply “doing or giving it for free” upon request to offering services and products and operating with a schedule, and found that this professionalism was appreciated and the value of my work was better understood.


4) The publishing industry needs our diversity 

It’s late October and my last day in Chicago. I’ve just placed second in the YLAI Pitch Competition against others from thirteen countries. I told the audience about the lack of diversity in the publishing industry which I aim to change. 

An article on the Mother Jones website outlined that 80% of the publishing industry is composed of white people, including authors, illustrators, editors and executives. Additionally, of the children’s books published in the USA in 2014, only 14% featured leading characters who are Black, Latino, Asian or Native American. 

This lack of diversity is one of my key motivators for self-publishing with the goal of creating a company which can represent Caribbean voices, culture and heritage in the years ahead. I hope to contribute to the development of this sector of our creative industry and our economy over time, and I hope to inspire others in the region to become publishers of their work as well.


5) Create value and positive change 

President Obama said, “Don’t wait for change. Create it.” I’m in Washington DC during the week of US Elections and his words continue to inspire me during this YLAI experience. I had the chance to meet Sir Richard Branson yesterday who reminded me that we all have the power to create better lives for ourselves and others through our dreams and our work. 

There are many prizes available and it is great to have your work recognized by peers and critics. I’ve won some awards and gained some recognition but my ultimate measure of success and fulfillment remains the impact created on readers of my books and their parents or guardians. The most important question I can ask myself is, “What problem am I solving for the children who read my books?” This question has helped me to stay focused and keep my readers at the core of my work and all other activities. 

As I finish this article, it is November 29th, 2016 and the eve of the 50th Independence of Barbados. Pilly the Pelican has a long journey ahead and I have come to realize that our mission is bigger than writing and publishing books. My goal is to build an organization which creates social impact and inspires children and families to shape a better, brighter future, while helping other creative professionals share their work with the world. 

I encourage you to follow your dream, believe in yourself, continuously improve, fail forward and think about how you can create value for your readers while sharing yourself with the world through your art. In the Caribbean, we have proven ourselves to be creative people but now, we have to act on our potential to be great publishers of our work. If we can do this, the possibilities of what we can create socially and economically are endless. Let’s do it!




About the Author

Gregory Skeete , a.k.a. “Engineer Greg”, is a Barbadian author and the Founder of Pilly Pelican Inc. and Life Engineer Inc. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering and is a globally certified John Maxwell Coach, Teacher and Speaker. He is part of the inaugural cohort of President Obama's Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Fellowship Program through which he has worked alongside the Executive Team of 826CHI, a non-profit writing, tutoring & publishing center in Chicago, Illinois. He received the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme's Rising Star Award. His first self-published children's book, A Day in the Life of Axel the Ant (2013), was the first book in the history of the The National Independence Festival Of Creative Arts (NIFCA) to receive a national award in the e-book format. His second children's book, Making Milk, was self-published in 2014.

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[Self-Publishing Journeys] Stacey Alfonso-Mills, Bish Denham, Kellie Magnus, Jo-Anne Mason, Geoffrey Philp

by Summer Edward

Five self-published children's authors share their personal reflections and sound off on the self-publishing debate.


Early on in my practice as a children's literature blogger, I received an email from Trinbagonian children's author Joanne Gail Johnson that still remains salient in my mind. Johnson, someone who has successfully navigated the traditional publishing path and published several well-received children's books with a major Caribbean publisher, wrote to offer me her opinion on self-publishing.

I had been blogging about Caribbean children's books for a while and would occasionally highlight a self-published book that I thought was valuable for whatever reason. Johnson was not flat-out against self-publishing, but shared her reservations that self-publishing could undermine the development of a serious children's publishing institution. She wrote:

"I resist promoting the idea of self publishing... for now I see that we are circumventing the development of our talent pool by not taking authors to task on the work of professional development the art of query letters, the joy of rejection and perseverance and the victory of making it to the top of the list over hundreds, even thousands of others in an international peer group. This is the vision that will really grow our talent."

Since then, I have been quietly mulling over the self-publishing dilemma. Self-publishing is still a relatively new frontier and many are grappling with the complexities of this paradigm of making books, including the shifting dynamics of authorship and power ushered in by the self-publishing movement. Does self-publishing contribute to a culture of amateur professionalism in Caribbean children's publishing? And given the less than stellar track record of traditional publishing systems, both here in the Caribbean and worldwide, to foster the children's literature of developing countries such as our own, is amateur professionalism necessarily a bad thing at this point?

We really do not have the answers. We can, however, cite one analysis showing that 63% of the English-language Caribbean children's and YA books released in 2013 were self-published books (compared to 56% in 2011 and 58% in 2012). The fact is, self-publishing of Caribbean children's books is steadily on the rise. With that in mind, we are taking the stance that it behooves us to inquire into the self-publishing trend, or movement if you will. This is what our Self-Publishing Journeys feature is all about.

Here at Anansesem, we made it our policy early on to only review traditionally published books. We have sometimes done interviews with self-published authors, and when we have done so we have always been careful to select authors whose works and work ethic demonstrate a certain critical level of engagement with the possibilities and responsibilities of writing for children. Our Self-Publishing Journey's segment is no different. We asked five children's authors who have enjoyed both objective and subjective success, and who have shown commitment to the external path of children's authorship and to the internal path of developing their craft, to write reflections on their experiences with self-publishing. Here's what they had to say.



Stacey Alfonso-Mills 


Books: The Boys of Sinclair Hill-Fun in the Backyard (2009), The Boys of Sinclair Hill-The PrincessThe Treasure and The Blue Dragon (2011), and Manatee has a Question (2014)
Country: Trinidad and Tobago
>> Click to read




Bish Denham


Books: Anansi and Company: Retold Jamaican Tales (2013)
Country: U.S. Virgin Islands/USA
>>Click to read






Kellie Magnus


Books: Little Lion Goes to School (2003), Little Lion at Bat (2007), Little Lion Goes for Gold (2008), Shaggy Parrot and the Reggae Band (2009, co-author)
Country: Jamaica
>>Click to read





Jo-Anne Mason


Books: Paddy, the Goat That Saved Rainbow Island (2003, republished as Paddy the Goat That Saved Anguilla), Trixy the Monkey That Ate Nevis (2012), The Perfect Shell (2012)
Country: Anguilla
>>Click to read




Geoffrey Philp


Books: Marcus and the Amazons (2011), Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories (2012), The Christmas Dutch Pot Baby (2012)
Country: Jamaica/USA
>>Click to read





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Self-Publishing Journeys: Stacey Alfonso-Mills















Why I Will Continue to Self-Publish


There is definitely a new era of Caribbean books by an even newer era of self-published authors! For many authors, self-publishing is a personal choice, while for others it is the only choice. My journey as a self-published children’s author, however, has had an element of both.

In 2009, when I was finally ready to write my first children’s illustrated storybook, The Boys of Sinclair Hill-Fun in the Backyard, there were limited choices of traditional publishing houses. As such, self-publishing was the best option. However, I was not at all prepared for the many roles I would have to fill in order to see my book from start to finish.

As a working mother of 3, just finding time to be creative and actually write my book was a challenge. But I now also needed to source an illustrator. This was no easy task as there are no ‘how to’ sites or handbooks in Trinidad and Tobago for writing a book. So sourcing an illustrator was done the old fashioned way– by asking! Over the following months I became the writer, the contracts director, the proofreader, the editor, the graphic design consultant, the production manager, the marketing/public relations manager, the sales manager and finance guru.

Because of my business and communications background, some of these additional roles were easier than others. I was fortunate to find a very talented graphics designer who worked closely with me to put my book in a format that I was happy with. However, there were other areas that I found very challenging as a self-publisher. The production aspect of the book, particularly sourcing and working with the printing company, became a very daunting task.

At the time of my first book in 2009, I found that local printing companies lacked cost-effective packages to benefit a self-publisher. And in many instances, the quality of the finished product was less than desired especially in relation to cost. Despite this, I felt very strongly about printing locally and contracted a well-known local printing company to print 1000 copies of my first book in hardcover. However, when I received the first 250 copies from the printer, I was appalled. Despite the printing company’s insistence of internal quality control checks, my own quality checks uncovered poorly done binding, smudged pages and many of the books were printed either upside down or with pages missing.

When continued production did not improve, I was forced to stop production and I refused to accept any more poorly printed books. Although in the end I worked with another local printing company to complete the production of my first book, it came with additional costs. So in the process of maintaining my quality standard as a new self-published author, I was hit hard financially. So there was no question that the printing of any new books would be done externally.

In 2011 I wrote and self-published The Boys of Sinclair Hill –The Princess, The Treasure and The Blue Dragon, which I out-sourced to China. This proved to be a far more cost effective experience, not to mention a far more superior quality in the actual finished product. Although I now incurred a new expense to receive hardcopy proofs via expedited post (DHL or FEDEX), the overall cost of printing and shipping was far less than printing locally. Using this option meant that the entire communication process was conducted online. While this was a new experience for both my graphic designer and myself, it was a welcomed change. However, despite the benefits derived from printing in China, an immediate downside was the delivery timeline, which was up to 90 days from shipping out of China via ocean freight. This delay in receiving a finished product would certainly affect any scheduled launch and supply of product to the market.

In late 2013, while preparing to print my new book, the challenges of printing locally had not changed so outsourcing to China was my immediate choice. However, while in the production stages, I experienced an elaborate online hacking incident, which forced me to retreat from my business relationship with the printing company in China. And while this new development caused quite a bit of grief, there was a faint silver lining. I was now discovering the wide range of online self-publishing/print-on-demand companies available for the new era of self-publishers like myself. So after much effort, in April 2014, I printed and launched my third self-published book, Manatee has a Question.

Another major challenge for self-publishers, particularly in Trinidad and Tobago is the absence of financial support and/or subsidies for contributors to local literature. As a self-publisher, producing a book is by no means cheap. Apart from the printing/shipping costs, other expenses include contracting an illustrator and/or graphic artist, ISBN and barcode registrations, office supply (for example a small personal colour printer including paper and ink cartridges to print drafts for reviews), editing and finalizing. There were also expenses for promotional material such as flyers, advertisements and bookmarks. In the case of a children’s illustrated storybook, the collective cost to produce a quality product can cost thousands of dollars. In most cases, as it is in mine, this is financed completely out of pocket.

Other challenges include the lack of interest by mainstream bookstores to promote and supply local literature. I have found the most interest and support from non-mainstream bookstores, non-bookstores, teachers and general citizens who simply desire more local literature, particularly children’s literature. There is a particularly high demand from foreign nationals and expatriates residing in the country. This is the area that also requires a lot of work once the books are ready for distribution. There is a small window of opportunity, once the books have been delivered, for a self-published author to enjoy the actual accomplishment of writing and publishing a book as this can quickly become lost in having to move onto the next crucial steps: launching, marketing, publicizing and selling a new children’s illustrated storybook that just cost you a personal fortune.

There is no doubt that the era of self-publishing is here to stay and in this regard there is a desperate need in Trinidad and Tobago for government subsidy intervention for local authors. This would encourage not just more local authors but a wider range of quality local literature into the market, which of course promotes cultural and historical preservation and appreciation. All of which continues to build national identity.

However, despite the many challenges associated with self-publishing, this avenue created an opportunity me for to expand my knowledge of online marketing using more social media networks. It also provided the opportunity for me to build my own networking base and work on developing a writer platform. Over the last two years I found that having author control from self-publishing has opened new doors for collaborations with literature and writing programmes at schools.

While there is still a notable absence of quality local literature in our public schools, there has been a high demand for book readings at private schools and at children's events. It is at a book reading that I can interact freely with my direct customers – the children. If a first-time children’s author wants a truly honest book review, then do a book reading. It is a humbling yet exhilarating experience.

After three self-published books, I have learned that apart from my job in the oil and gas industry, I love to write and create books that children can enjoy and learn from and in particular that children from Trinidad and Tobago can relate to. At this time, it is clear that self-publishing is the only option that would allow me to control the supply of my books, not only to where they are needed but also to where they are truly appreciated.

I would definitely invite any author to self-publish. The key is to be realistic about how much work you will have to do on your own, while being aware of your talents and your limitations. But most importantly find a support network and with each experience the self-publishing option should open new doors.




Stacey Alfonso-Mills is the self-published author of The Boys of Sinclair Hill-Fun in the Backyard (2009), The Boys of Sinclair Hill-The Princess, The Treasure and The Blue Dragon (2011), and Manatee has a Question (2014). She writes for the early primary school age group and her books are perfect for reading aloud. Her books are included in the BGTT-sponsored Bridge Foundation’s ‘Read to Rise’ programme, which uses a book rotation strategy to inspire and encourage student reading while innovatively building classroom libraries.

When Stacey is not writing books or reading her books to students at primary schools across Trinidad, she is a Communications Consultant and the Managing Director of MAALAN Resources Limited, which is a service company in the Trinidad and Tobago energy sector. She is married with three sons and currently resides with her family in Trinidad and Tobago.

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Self-Publishing Journeys: Jo-Anne Mason















Publishing with Purpose


My story is probably a bit different from most who go the self-publishing route because my first book was accepted and published by a regular publisher. Problem is they took forever to get my book printed and insisted I use a designer to do the final prep work. Since I am an artist/graphic designer first, I knew how I wanted to present so I really did not need the help. When my contract was up I took my book back, changed the things I did not like and did much better with sales.
So the decision to go the self-publishing route was easy. The hard part was finding a good printer, deciding how many books to print, figuring out how to store them and ship them, and finding outlets around the islands to sell them. These are not easy problems to solve.

Money is always an issue. How much can you afford to spend to get the right amount of books? If your costs are too high, you cannot be competitive. If you don't own a warehouse where in the world are you going to put the books? And remember, if you have to spend to store them, the cost goes up and having piles of book boxes around the house can get quite annoying.

Printing the books was the easiest part. We went online, found a printer in China and we use them every time. They are careful, considerate and do a good job. They also pack very well for shipping.
Logistics is an important word in book sales. All well and good to get a bunch of books printed but when you live in the Caribbean you must get your books to where they will sell. That means a boat or a plane. Once again every time you spend money your books cost more.

There are tons and tons of little gift shops around the islands but most cannot afford to buy the kind of inventory you want to sell. Believe me, trying to accommodate small shops when you have to ship the items is a nightmare and very expensive. I have been very fortunate to find shops that sell books but it is never easy. You have to start with a good product that has broad appeal to make sales.

As far as the fear factor, I live in constant fear. Did I do it right? Can I justify doing another? What else can I do etc. etc. but if you are compelled to create you must overcome these fears and move on otherwise you will end up sitting around waiting for your big break that will never come. The only time you should sit down is when you are inspired to write.

Another thing about writing...you can never write and rewrite enough. I swear I checked every word, every sentence. Remember, you are the publisher, that is what they usually do. I have many other people read and correct but the author has the final word in proofreading and if the author makes mistakes only my readers will see them, and they do see them.

Oh and if you are planning to write a book to become famous you might as well make a video about a cat that plays the piano. Writing is about telling a story that is inside and just has to come out. The reward is in the writing. If you get rich, well, that is just a nice little bonus.

Reading this little article over, probably for the tenth time I realize it may sound a tad negative, but that is not my intention. It is just really important that you weigh the reasons for your decision to self-publish. If you have a crusade, use the Internet, you can get your word out much faster and for free. If you are writing a book that is more about words and less about pictures, make an ebook; there will be no printing costs at all and you can focus on a group of people interested in your topic. If you are an illustrator/writer, consider an app. Kids like devices and once again no need to physically print. One more thing, once you go the self-publishing route, you are no longer just a writer. You are a writer, proofreader, shipper, sales person and a media person. It takes a lot of time and means you have to be tough and nice and friendly all the time. That can be difficult for a person that prefers the quiet and solitude it takes to write.

So after all those depressing facts, my best advice? Start small. Seek out those that are interested in your topic and make your book available to them. Create a website with freebies for your target audience. Submit your book to a publisher just to see what happens, it can't hurt...well it can, but that is part of the process.

Be generous with your books. Offer them as a gift to organizations that are interested in your topic, they will then help you with sales. Go to your local newspaper and submit a press release about your book. Attend functions so you can talk about your book. Look on the Internet for websites that promote authors. There are a lot of ways to promote your book that don't cost you anything but time, so do them all and enjoy it. Because if you are not having fun, then doing your own thing is just no fun.




Jo-Anne Mason lives on the island of Anguilla and writes books for children. Her first book, Paddy The Goat that Saved Anguilla is about a goat who saves the island from a hurricane. Since then she has written Trixy the Monkey that Ate Nevis, about a tricky monkey who lives on the island of Nevis, and The Perfect Shell, the story of a hermit crab who lives in Sint Maarten/St. Martin. Her next book due to be released later this year is about a geeko that takes a strange trip. Jo-Anne loves creatures of all kinds, even bugs, so she uses them as the characters in her books. Her books try to capture the spirit of each island and the kindle ebooks contain an additional section about the island and creatures in the story to give the reader information about the Caribbean. Jo-Anne is a digital illustrator and uses a computer and a digital draw pad to create all of her illustrations.


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Self-Publishing Journeys: Kellie Magnus












Why I self-published. And why I hope fewer Caribbean writers have to.


Many years ago, on a trip to Jamaica, I had a conversation with my then eight year old niece. I’d become frustrated by how attached she was to American television and movie characters. We took a trip to a bookstore in Kingston to find her some local books and I was horrified by how few there were and how poorly they compared to the American ones on the shelves beside them.

I was living in New York at the time. I’d probably have forgotten all about it had a little red-headed Rastafarian not come to take up residence in my brain. He was persistent. When I wrote the first Little Lion story, Little Lion Goes to School, I circulated it to a few friends in publishing. The responses were encouraging, but…there was always a “but”. “I love it but does the boy really have to be Rastafarian?” “I get that he’s supposed to be different, but can’t you just make him blind?”

It didn’t take me very long to realize that my best option for getting the book out was to publish it myself. I emailed an old friend, Mike Robinson, and asked if he’d illustrate it. I called a few bookstores in Jamaica to get advice on the market for children’s books. It wasn’t positive: don’t print more than 3,000 copies, I was told. It’ll take you at least three years to sell them. That seemed nuts to me so I decided to print 5,000 copies. I knew nothing about children’s books and Mike knew even less. But together we cobbled out our first version and launched it in Jamaica.

It sold out in six months.

What we learned was there was a market for Jamaican children’s books, both at home and in the diaspora. Jamaican parents desperately wanted books that connected their children to their culture and their way of life. Jamaican children wanted books with children who looked like them and scenes and situations that they could relate to. I lost track of how many cards and emails I got from parents thanking me for putting an otaheite apple on the cover of the book. (I’d like to take credit for that, but that was Mike’s idea.)

It’s been ten years since the first Little Lion came out and that demand has not lessened. What’s sad is that the supply of local children’s books hasn’t increased that much. As the years went by, I dabbled in publishing more and more. I put out two more Little Lions and a couple of board books for babies. I joined the Book Industry Association and the Caribbean Publishers Network. I traveled around Jamaica reading at schools and talking to parents and teachers. I went to the big book fairs in New York and Bologna and Frankfurt and London to learn everything I could about publishing. And the more I learned, the more I realized that self-publishing, while it offers great opportunities for writers, is only a tiny part of the answer for Caribbean readers and, particularly, for Caribbean children.

Advantages


Don’t get me wrong. Self-publishing, especially now, gives writers unprecedented opportunities to get their books on the market. It gives them control. It frees them of the gatekeepers that ask absurd questions like the ones I quoted above, gatekeepers that don’t necessarily share the same goals we do. Self-publishing allows writers to control the look and feel of their books and how and where they are marketed and sold. Mainstream publishers in the US and UK don’t necessarily understand the nuances of our market. (For instance, in New York, I sold more Little Lions in patty shops than in bookstores.)

In the Caribbean, self-publishing gives writers what is often their only shot at getting published. In 2014, there are still only a handful of houses that publish children’s fiction. Hell, there are few houses that publish fiction at all. In small countries where the cost of capital is high, publishers are, perhaps understandably, cautious. Our industry focuses on textbooks, where the money is safe (for now). Self-publishing gives books that would never see the light of day a chance to find a home.

We’ve all heard the self-publishing success stories from outside the region. We have our success stories here in Jamaica; writers whose books outsell titles from the larger publishing houses. That’s worth getting excited about. Self-publishing can give writers a much higher return than a traditional publishing contract, if the books sell well.

But that "if" is a challenge.

Disadvantages


Behind that "if" is all the work that self-publishing requires.

The challenge of self-publishing is that it means the author is responsible for all the tasks that a traditional publishing house would undertake: the editing, the design, the illustration, the marketing, the printing, the distribution and the financing. In the children’s book market that can be difficult. And expensive.

Self-publishing means your book won’t languish on your publisher’s back burner – but when you’re the publisher, the odds of it languishing on your own back burner can be pretty high. Writing is an art; publishing is a business. The truth is that not many of us are good at both.

What worries me these days is not how few Jamaican children’s books there are on the shelves (even though there still aren’t nearly enough.) What worries me is how bad many of them are. The best of intentions don’t always guarantee the best product. When cash-strapped authors publish independently, the quality can suffer. There are many well-written, beautiful, self-published books on the market, but too many of them are poorly written or edited; need improvement in design and illustration; or are inferior in paper and print quality.

Then there’s the money.


On top of that, the self-published books are often more expensive. There are clear cost efficiencies and synergies in printing, marketing and distributing a line of books rather than a single title. Because of cash constraints self-publishers often send books to print in cost-inefficient quantities that result in absurdly high unit costs. The print-on-demand advantage hasn’t yet taken hold in the children’s book market and in the Caribbean, where e-reader and tablet penetration is still relatively low, print is still king.

Even though social media has made more effective independent marketing possible, it’s also harder for self-publishers to recoup their marketing costs. The result? A combined perception of local books as more expensive and lower in quality. That has serious consequences not just for the individual author, but for all of us.

The Big Picture


For me, the biggest limitation to self-publishing – when it’s done by under-capitalized authors working in isolation – is that it doesn’t begin to tap into the economic opportunity publishing offers.  Caribbean stories deserve a place in the multi-billion dollar children’s book market. Publishing a book here and there isn’t enough. Tapping into that market requires focused effort and commitment to understanding and building a publishing business and creating the necessary supporting infrastructure – editorial support, marketing and promotions, distribution.

Let writers write. Someone else needs to stand up and build a business. A few people need to stand up and build an industry. That’s why I’ve stopped self-publishing and shifted efforts to try to build a children’s publishing house. The opportunity is too big to be someone’s side hustle. As much as I wish my fellow Caribbean self-publishers well, my strongest wish is that the Caribbean finance community would take the opportunity of children’s publishing seriously.

Until we get there, can self-publishers contribute effectively? Yes. But it takes partnerships. There are many things that self-publishers and small publishers can do to improve the quality of the work we produce and our collective opportunity for earning money from the books we publish. Fora like Anansesem and CaribLit that allow industry players to identify each other and facilitate collaboration between are critical.

Self-publishers can ensure that they hire in the appropriate editorial, design and illustration skills. We can share information, best practices and contacts. We can collaborate on print runs and consolidate shipments to reduce costs. We can conduct collaborative marketing and retail initiatives – a full page ad in the paper promoting six children’s books is probably more likely to be seen than a tiny ad that a single author could afford. Ditto for a collaborative catalogue. Ditto for sharing a booth at a book festival. We can take the cooperative model that’s worked well in other industries and apply it to publishing.

We can develop partnerships with the private sector and secure support from like-minded donor agencies to ensure that we put out books at the highest possible quality. We can make sure that we understand the needs of other markets so that we have a shot at selling books across the Caribbean and the diaspora and selling rights into other international markets.

And yes, I know there are lots of authors who have worked by themselves, published incredibly crappy books and found success. But I think when it comes to children’s books we need to try a little harder.

Caribbean children deserve it.




Kellie Magnus is a Jamaican children's book writer and publisher. Her books include the popular Little Lion series as well as several titles in the Ministry of Education's Literacy 123 series used in primary schools. Her publishing imprint, Jackmandora, released Jamaica's first board books for infants Trixie Triangle and A Book for Baby which were used in the BookStart Jamaica Pilot Programme to promote reading to children from birth.

Kellie serves on the boards of the Book Industry Association of Jamaica, the National Library of Jamaica and the Early Childhood Commission.


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Self-Publishing Journeys: Bish Denham












A Journey to Self-Publishing


For 23 years I worked at a home for abused and neglected children. For eighteen of those years I was the assistant editor of the newsletter that went out to about ten thousand people across the United States and various countries in the world. Over the course of that time I wrote hundreds of articles and stories.

When I retired from my job I decided it was time to wake up my own writing dreams, dreams of writing for children. They were dreams I’d had for a long time but had been unable to pursue. To that end I took all three correspondence courses at The Institute of Children’s Literature which included two on learning how to write short stories and articles and submit them to children’s magazine and one on novel writing.

I had some success getting stories and articles published in children’s magazines like Spider, Fun With Kidz, My Friend, and Wee Ones to name a few. I also had a couple of lower middle grade novels under my belt that I was submitting to agents and publishers. But I had no luck getting anyone’s attention with them. While I was doing that, I started a blog and began making friends.

At some point I translated and retold an old Jamaican Anansi story about why dogs beg and submitted it to Children’s Writer when they had a folktale and fantasy writing contest. To my delight and surprise it won first place. That win inspired me to translate and retell more stories until I had a nice collection of ten stories which I peddled around to various agents and publishers. Again, I had no luck getting anyone’s interest.

I was beginning to become discouraged. By this time, I started seeing many of my friends in the blogging community going the self-publishing route. And, they were encouraging me to do the same.

As more rejection letters trickled in I realized I didn’t have any more time to play the waiting game. When you go the traditional route, you wait for an agent to respond – or not. You wait for a publisher to respond – or not. If an agent picks you up, you wait while the agent peddles your book and there’s no guarantee your agent will be able to sell your book. If the book actually get sold, you wait until it is published, a process that can take several years.

I realized I’d started too late in life and that self-publishing was the only logical route to go if I want to get my stories and novels out into the world. It was not as easy, nor is it as hard, as I thought it would be. I had lots of help, thanks to all the wonderful friends I’ve made through nearly seven years of blogging.

If you go the self-publishing route you are in control of your own product, which means you want to put out the very best product you can. If your work is sloppy, if it’s full of spelling and grammar mistakes, if the formatting is bad, it reflects back on you, the author. Who would buy a second book from you if the first one is terribly written?

There are things you can do to help you on your journey.

1. Learn your craft. Read books on writing, take courses, find critique partners and beta readers. Never be afraid to ask questions and ask for help.

2. Find a good editor. Even if you think your manuscript is perfect, I can just about guarantee there will be mistakes you can’t see. As writers we get so close to our work we can’t see mistakes, like a missing word or a misplaced comma.

3. Find a good cover illustrator. The cover is the first thing people are going to see. Make it good, make it pop.

4. If you are unsure – as I was – about formatting for the various platforms, find someone who knows how.

5. Be aware that an editor, an illustrator and someone to format, will probably cost you money. You will have to decide how much you are willing to spend.

6. Have fun!



Bish Denham, whose family has been in the Caribbean for over hundred years, was raised and educated in the U. S. Virgin Islands. In the 1980s she moved to Texas to work at a home for abused and neglected children. After 23 years she retired and began pursuing a dream of writing for children. She has had stories and articles published in several magazines including, Spider, Fun With Kidz, My Friend, Wee Ones, and Children’s Writer. She is also the author of Anansi and Company: Retold Jamaican Tales, a collection of ten Anansi stories. She still lives in Texas with her husband and regularly visits her sister and cousins in the Virgin Islands.


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