[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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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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