Hello! I have been off the scene for some time as I went overseas on holidays and then was sick when I came home and then I got carried away with a big writing project!
However, I have just had the good fortune to interview a wonderful author, Helen Ross.
The transcipt of that interview is below. I think you’ll be wanting to read her work after you read this!
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS FOR HELEN ROSS
Did you always want to be a writer?
Like a lot of kids I pretty much wanted to be a gamut of things – from a movie star to a spy. In my search for ‘that niche’ I have tried most things – silver jewelry making, tap dancing, drama, African dancing and the list goes on, and on, and on …… But I have always enjoyed creative pursuits – music, drama, drawing, and the like.
When I was a primary teacher (many moons ago) I loved encouraging my primary school students to develop their imagination and creativity through storytelling, creative writing, art, music and drama. As a teenager I also tried song writing so I guess writing has always been in the background without me being conscious of it.
When did you start writing?
Thinking I had discovered ‘my niche’, I spent three years studying drama part time (during my early-mid twenties), but little did I know that a poet was soon to be born.
As part of a drama assignment I had to write and ‘perform’ a poem, or piece about an animal, as selected by a ‘lucky dip’. My animal was the gorilla and so I penned my first poem, Lulu, the gorgeous gorilla. So pretty much from this time, around 1983, I have wanted to be a writer and this hasn’t waned. Acting went out the window, and I took up the pen (or nowadays the computer) instead.
What writers do you think have influenced you?
In regards to rhyming poetry – Dr Suess and A.A. Milne. Other influences have been C.S Lewis, and Lewis Carroll, and Agatha Christie. I will also have to give special mention to Jackie Hosking (http://jackiehoskingpio.wordpress.com)
and Dr Virginia Lowe’s Create a kid’s book course http://www.createakidsbook.com.au ). Jackie, Virginia, and Virginia’s husband, John, have been instrumental in honing my craft.
What genres do you write in/or have written in?
I completed a Diploma in Writing with ‘The Writing School’ which encompassed a variety of genres so have written in many genres and styles. But to date my published work has been children’s picture books, rhyming poetry (which I am trying to perfect), and article writing (online websites and for a local community magazine). In 2009 I completed a 50,000 word novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). That was certainly a month of madness. Even though no one will ever read that, I didn’t realise how much I was going to enjoy being in that novel writing zone. So I have some ideas that I am working on.
Have you had any work commercially published?
10 Yellow Bananas (released 2010) New Version. Little Steps Publishing, New Frontier. Illustrations by Dee Texidor
Bubble Gum Trouble and other Giggle Poems (2009) Little Steps Publishing. Illustrations by Dee Texidor Giggle poetry published in Cherububble (Primary/Early childhood education on-line resource).
Heart-felt poetry published in anthologies.
Freelance Journalist (resident writer) for South City Bulletin (Logan community magazine) August – December 2010.
On the horizon: two of my poems will be published in Jelli-Beanz Publishing’s Volume One: Hopscotch of their annual publication “Packed Lunch“, a collection of children’s short stories, poetry and illustrations. Due out in November 2011.
How many books have you published independently?
If you look at self publishing in the traditional sense of the author pretty much doing everything, then the answer would be two. In 2006 I self published Ten Yellow Bananas (original version), and Santa is in our Chimney. Both books sold very well, and because of this, I felt ready to take the next step of making my books more commercially appealing.
I then decided to take the partnership publishing path because I still wanted some creative control, but I wanted to use a reputable company that offered professional services. I decided upon Little Steps Publishing, a Division of New Frontier (a well respected, award winning NSW publishing company). The company offers great services, using the same professional team that it would for its traditional contractual published books. However, unlike some partnership publishing companies, Little Steps doesn’t just take on any work. The company is very discerning about what it publishes, so I felt like I had the best of both worlds ie. a reputable company agreeing to publish my work whilst still allowing me some creative control.
To date I have had two books published with Little Steps: 10 Yellow Bananas (New Version, released 2010) and Bubble Gum Trouble and other Giggle Poems (2009). The new version 10 Yellow Bananas has been revised quite dramatically with the assistance of Dr Virginia Lowe’s Create-a-kids-book course, and my poetry collection was edited by Little Steps before going into production.
So why did you decide to self-publish/publish independently?
For quite a number of years it has been a well-known fact that ‘it isn’t easy to get a publishing contract.’
As such, I didn’t want to spend the possibility of months and years of sending manuscripts to publishers and receiving rejection slips in the mail. Also I didn’t want to be dependent on a publisher deciding whether my book was marketable or not (when I believed there was a market for my style of writing).
I have good intuition, a very independent streak and am very resourceful, so having acquired a number of skills and experiences over the years in my secretarial/PR/teaching and sales background, I believed I could take on the various roles required of a self-publisher.
How did you get started, i.e. how did you go about self-publishing or gathering information?
First, I read as much as possible on self-publishing, and looked objectively at the pros and cons. I started researching self publishing years before I took that path; as well as noting all the processes required.
After years of research, one of the easiest and clearest books that I have come across is Self-Publishing Made Simple – The Ultimate Australian Guide by Euan Mitchell. There are also lots of websites on self-publishing to assist.
I then estimated the size of my book, number of pages etc. to get approximate quotes from a graphic artist, and printing companies, before making the final decision to go ahead to self-publish. I then organised the procedures involved, considered time lines, and took it from there.
How did you go about editing your work?
In relation to my first book, Ten Yellow Bananas, I did hours of editing in relation to the story and rhyme. A number of English teacher colleagues then proofread it for grammatical errors, and assisted in story flow. I then passed it to some primary teachers for their feedback, and to gain feedback from their students (target market group).
Santa is in my chimney was assessed by the wonderful rhyming poet, Jackie Hosking and her manuscript assessment service. (http://jackiehoskingpio.wordpress.com)
Bubble Gum Trouble was edited by the professional team at Little Steps Publishing, and the new version 10 Yellow Bananas was assessed by Dr Virginia Lowe as part of her Create-a-kids-book course. ( http://www.createakidsbook.com.au).
How long did the self-publishing process or independent publishing take place, ie. from the beginning to the printing of your books?
In relation to my first two books, it took about six months (from memory). The two books published independently by Little Steps probably took about a year (no more), which included illustrations. There were some shipping delays in relation to 10 Yellow Bananas.
What obstacles did you encounter during this process, if any?
Nothing too disastrous. Probably some minor time delays because the graphic artist for the 2006 published books was also working on other projects. And this also applied to the illustrator working on the Little Steps books.
How did you go about organising a printing company?
I researched as many as I could. Finally I visited newsagents and bookstores and found a couple of local companies where the print production was of a high quality. Then compared quotes and production quality. Also the graphic artist worked closely with the selected printing company.
The books published by Little Steps were published by their selected printing company.
What was your print run?
For the 2006 published books – 3000 each. I got my money back fairly quickly.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing or publishing independently?
Advantages: The creative control
Disadvantages: The creative control. Being accountable for most of the processes can be very daunting. For my first book, I found it quite difficult to get advice at times, and in the end, just had to realise that it was all going to be a learning curve.
What was your biggest learning curve or is there anything that you would have done differently?
Don’t let a couple of ‘negatives’ set you back. I have learnt you can’t please everyone. And not all people in the publishing arena
know what parents and children like. Just because a distributor won’t take on your books, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a market for your work. It is what your target market thinks that is important, and then finding out how to tap into that market. Starting out is a learning curve so hindsight is a great thing after the event. And you can only do the best you can do with the information you have at the time.
How do you market your books? Do you come across any obstacles when dealing with bookstores, etc?
Marketing is hard work. But if you don’t make it a chore, it should be exciting and very rewarding. I have never had any problems dealing with bookstores, especially the books published by Little Steps. Little Steps’s bookstore distributor is well known book distributor, Dennis Jones & Associates. I market through schools, and small advertisements in Thorpe Bowker’s bookstore and library newsletters. I have given up doing the door to door bookstore round. Firstly it is very time consuming, and secondly, there is
not much profit left after the publisher, distributor and bookstore take their share. I try to find ways to directly reach my target market (cutting out the middle man). If I have to put in the hard work, then I try to think laterally to recoup my expenses, and aim for some profit.
What does successful self-publishing or successful independent publishing mean to you?
Living my dream. Doing what I love doing without going bankrupt.
What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self-publishing/publishing independently or setting up their own company?
Do your research. Don’t go in blind but keep an open mind.
You must be true to yourself as to why you want to go down that path. If you just want a story to pass down on to your grand kids, then get a couple of copies printed at your local print store.
What attributes do you feel are necessary to be a successful self-publisher, eg. determination, patience, organisation, sales and marketing experience, self-belief …???
All of the above. And learning to develop a thick skin like a rhinoceros can help. Having a rich partner, will also help.
What inspires you to keep writing and continue publishing independently?
I just love writing and improving my skills. Publishing independently is a way of getting my work out there and this keeps me a happy gal.
Is there one person you can think of who played a significant part in your writing career?
My dad. He always instilled in me to be the best that I could be. This was a little hard at times, especially as a kid just wanting to have fun, but his words now resonate so strongly with me.
Other than my dad, I would have to mention a few other names in relation to honing my skills – Dr Virginia Lowe and her husband, John, Jackie Hosking, and the team at Little Steps for giving me the confidence to believe in my work.
Where would you like to be in five year’s time, writing wise?
Full time writer. A novel or two under my belt. Roll over J.K Rowling. Hmmm. J.K Rowling who?
If you were offered a publishing contract with a mainstream publisher, would you accept it?
I would certainly think long and hard about this one. The contract would have to offer me something that I couldn’t do on my own. Regardless of how a book of mine is published, I would still be involved in the marketing.
I couldn’t completely let go of those reigns, unless I knew I had a best seller and the publisher was going to rock the world with a marketing campaign. The downside of having a publisher and distributor is that a lot of profit goes to them. So definitely food for thought. However, if I was given a huge book advance, that might be another story.
What projects are you working on now?
Lots. Have two finished children’s picture book manuscripts, assessed by Dr Virginia Lowe, that are ready to go. However, I am currently looking at my options. Also working on a couple of story ideas. Also working on marketing strategies.
What words best describe you?
Quirky, intuitive, creative, intelligent (most of the time), determined yet flexible, happy, friendly, and, at times, non-conventional.
Have you any other words of advice?
Develop your craft. And network. It is amazing what you can learn from other writers about writing and the publishing world.
Also believe in yourself and your work. Taking alternative publishing paths doesn’t mean that your work is inferior to those published under a contractual basis. You have to think outside the square and believe in yourself. But don’t be too precious about your work if it means improving your skills.
Enjoy your journey but don’t neglect your family and friends.
And Helen just to finish up, could you please complete the following:
At school I was … quiet, a dreamer and a little quirky. But quite bright and creative.
When I was a child I wanted to be … a nice but quirky witch, an actress and a spy
I relax by … reading, watching movies, painting and browsing French inspired stores.
My website address: http://misshelenbooks.com
My blog: http://misshelenwrites.wordpress.com
10 Yellow Bananas and Bubble Gum Trouble can also be purchased at stores (just quote the ISBN number).
You can find book reviews at: http://misshelenbooks.com