With a successful career in animation as a storyboard artist for high end movie adaptations of classic children's books like Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux and Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox, I have become quite acquainted with the world of children's literature. The experience of storyboarding entire episodes of the highly successful TV adaptation of the mischievous character Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon whetted my appetite towards the possibilities of creating my own books for children. Having a passion for drawing and experiencing storytelling at a top level in the film and television industry I felt encouraged to give it a go using Amazon's self publishing tool KDP.
I released my first book A.M.B's Advanced Animal A - Z
Why self publishing? one might ask - well it suited my needs as the thought of full creative control was very appealing to me, coming from an industry where its almost impossible to get even a single idea through without having it being explored and tampered with in one way or another. Having a whole host of ideas for films and books rolling around in my mind since my teens I was spoiled for choice regarding subject matters. But they would remain nothing more than ideas and daydreams unless I acted upon them by releasing them on the page in some form or another. My youtube channel was my first point of call as I have a strong following of art students and animation enthusiasts keen on learning drawing tips and tricks. Initially I set about working on an instructional book on drawing. But what of the classic literary influences? I hear you ask, well my theory is that the demand for my drawing counselling already exists where as my ability as a storyteller is relatively unknown, so it would be a more productive exercise to establish my self initially through the sources that are familiar with my person. If I should be successful then I could slowly introduce more imaginative and creative books upon my readership. So I began writing and illustrating a book called 'how to draw a pretty girl' which is still in development as I type this blog entry.
As I was writing the book another idea that I had kept nagging at the back of my mind and it was something that I could do along side of my major book. Primarily being an artist, it's no secret that the process of drawing is far more familiar to me than writing. So I would often need to take small breaks during my writing in order to not loose concentration in an area that doesn't come as naturally to me. The breaks would result in me doing sketches and drawings and rather than sketching and drawing random subjects I decided to do a series of cartoon animals based upon a phonics game that my wife and I would play with my stepdaughter.
I would then combine these drawings into an alphabet animal picture book and release it at my first publication. The experience of releasing a book and formatting it into the various media types for different e readers and selling it on different stores would give me a valuable learning experience and prepare me for my major book release.
However I couldn't just string together a series of pictures and call it a book as that would be disrespectful to myself and my readership. The finalisation process needed to have as much care and attention placed into it as the drawings within the book have. The book needed to have more substance and a reason as to why anyone would want to buy an animal alphabet when there was already a host of great freebies online in the form of printouts and youtube videos. I decided to think about the recent experiences I had with my step daughter who at the age of seven was going through a rapid learning curve. I thought about the things she was learning at school and in her special kumon classes and how they could be structured and layered into a progressive book that focused on the alphabet. When writing a story for film and television the writer often has 2 story terms known as the A story and the B story - The A story is the main basic plot and the B story is something , often character based, that happens within the main plot adding more depth and substance to the story. I made that sensibility applicable to my animal alphabet book by approaching it as a basic alphabet book (A story). and then taking the topic of animals and giving them personalities (B story). The personalities of the animal could then be used as a further learning tool to explain simple words and meanings to a child. Already my book was gaining substance but then I thought I could push it further. I wondered if my seven year old had any understanding of basic biological terms for animals such as warm blooded and cold blooded and what they actually meant. I didn't think that this was too complicated a matter for a seven year old as it was something I and many of the members in my circle was familiar with at that age. I realised that some children were aware and others were not so there for it was a perfect chance for me to expand upon my book. I added additional explanations about the animals such as groups like mammals, reptiles and amphibians and their classifications. I made sure that the book didn't overload the young mind with information and made small bite sized facts that often repeated for a page or two before progressing. I then posed the odd question to test and jog the readers memory.
The kobo store and the Apple iBook store demand the format to be epub so I set about altering my Adobe Indesign document for epub export. Adobe Indesign CS6 has all the necessary facilities to outputting your book in epub format so I did not find the process particularly challenging - though a few youtube tutorials on preparing tables of contents and hyperlinks did help. I then tested it on my ipad via dropbox - an online sharing space where you can log in and access uploaded files. The format worked in the Kobo app and the IBooks app. In addition to having your book in epub format, an ISBN number is also necessary for publishing on these platforms (Not required for Amazon). So I had to purchase a UK ISBN - bought in a block of 10 for around £100 and assigned an epub ISBN to my book. The number is only valid for an epub book and if I wanted to go into print I would have to assign a print ISBN to my book. Once I had all these details I visited the Kobo site 'Writing life' created my account and uploaded my book. Again the process was very straight forward but unlike Amazon it taken an entire week to become available in the Kobo store. My next point of call was Apple iBooks but I encountered a further obstacle there as I am not a US citizen. Apple require a US Tax code to sell as an individual on their store and if one is not a citizen of the US then they must obtain an EIN number. Obtaining this number was quite simple actually, requiring only one phone call and a short conversation with a very friendly and helpful person at the other end. Apparently the number is good to go from the outset but I have read about numbers being rejected because they have not been recorded in the system so its best to wait a week or two for them to settle in. I have filled out the Apple merchant application form and am still awaiting a response so my book is not yet available on the iStore.
Having become a published author I am now experiencing what I believe to be the hardest part of the entire process - Marketing. The level of difficulty this process takes is dependent on the thickness of the individuals skin - for example if one is not the shy retiring type and particularly great at social interaction then it shouldn't pose too much of a problem, but if one is more introverted and less likely to engage with people then it can be a task of Everest proportions and unfortunately for me I fall into the latter bracket. However as I have chosen to play this game I have had to adapt so I have decided to play towards my strengths - I am currently animating a book trailer with one of the characters presenting the commercial and have also knocked out a straightforward infomercial of the book to keep it going until the main commercial is complete. I have also invested in pay per click advertising via Facebook but I am not sure if I want to pursue that process...A fortnight into the advertising - I have spent over £100 but I know that I have not generated a single sale from those clicks and I would advise anyone thinking of doing PPC ads to proceed with caution.
Having completed a blog page for my book to host the advert and sample pages http://ambartist.blogspot.co.uk/p/ambs-advanced-animal-z-for-ages-3-to-8.html
I decided to take another avenue to ensure that my book is available to an even greater length in opting to publish it on Amazon's Create Space. It's a print on demand service that prints hard copies and sends them to anyone who orders them. Again my weapon of choice for doing this was Adobe Indesign CS6 and the format requested was is PDF. Image quality must be at least 300 DPI and the cover design along with the content should fit into the specified parameters that Amazon set out. This process can be a bit trickier for those who are not acquainted with image editing and document formatting and Amazon offer to do it for you in exchange for a price.