A new direction: Focusing on Non-Fiction

Blue Mushroom Books, News, News & updates

I’m starting a new publishing company called Blue Mushroom Books. Everything is still a work in progress right now, but this is the story behind the move:

For love or money?

Some time ago, my writer friend and official encourager J. C. Hart put me in the direction of a book titled For Love or Money by Susan Kay Quinn. There seemed to a be a divide in the indie publishing space – either you wrote for the love of it (and made little or no money) or you wrote to trend, made lots of money, and were considered a sellout.

We all know that life is never that black and white, but Quinn’s book not only built a bridge between the two, it showed that really there was only one side to it. Quinn talked about an author’s ‘wheelhouse’, that is the strengths of an author; what is easy for them to do well. She said to take the skills in our wheelhouse and see what successful genre it may match (disclaimer: I read this aaaages ago, so I might not be 100% accurate, but this is the gist of it anyway).

From then to now

I’ve been thinking about my wheelhouse ever since. I’ve published a fairly wide range of books, and it’s been fun experimenting. Looking back, my mindset has shifted significantly. At first, I was in it to be a children’s author. I love reading children’s novels, so that’s what I wanted to write. I held children’s authors in high esteem. But I also tried wordless picture books, non fiction, zines, anthologies, and colouring books.

I loved writing those books, but I think I’ve got them ‘out of my system’, so to speak. Like, I’ve said what I needed to say. Now I’m just forcing myself to write more – and that’s not good for anyone. I enjoyed the colouring book art, but it wasn’t challenging enough to keep me interested long-term. The zines were also fun, and I intend to keep making them, but I only really played the publisher role so I wasn’t involved enough.

Crafternoon Tea, March 2017

My author wheelhouse

What I’ve realised is that my wheelhouse is semi-collaborative non-fiction. I just have so much fun with it! It’s fun discovering new things, it’s fun publishing other people’s work, it’s fun illustrating, it’s even fun formatting (except when it’s not, then it’s extremely frustrating).

I’m focusing on New Zealand. New Zealand is a fascinating place. We have a ridiculous number of native / endemic plants, animals, and fungi, and some places that are still largely untouched by humans. I’m learning about the weirdness of nature, and I get to share my fascination and excitement with other New Zealanders. I get to draw on the expertise of people who know more than me – people who may not otherwise be published – and describe the wonders that make New Zealand worth celebrating.

The extinct huia bird.

Blue Mushroom Books

I had a couple of options before this name was chosen. First was White Pine Press, inspired by the kahikatea (which interestingly, isn’t actually a pine) but that was taken. I then tried Pohutukawa Press, since the pohutukawa feels like a sign that I am home. That was taken, too. Recently, I’d heard about these blue mushrooms (entoloma hochstetteri) which are native to New Zealand, but also found in India (for those of you who don’t know, I am an Indian-born New Zealander). It seemed like a good fit.

And it wasn’t taken! I registered the domain straight away, and over the next week started building the logo and the book topics. I’d done Ramble On, and I will also be including I Am A Writer / I Am An Artist in the Blue Mushroom Books catalogue, as they are based in New Zealand.

Following on from these I’ll be writing about our plants, insects, fungi, sea and river creatures, slugs & snails, and a whole raft of other things. The leatherback turtle book will also be published with Blue Mushroom Books, as well as a picture book about our native carnivorous plant, drosera arcturii. I don’t know whether I’ll branch out to publishing other people’s work.

Obviously I’m only just starting out, but I’d appreciate if you could follow me on Instagram and Facebook where I’ll be posting interesting stuff about New Zealand’s natural world.

Business Blog: Use what you have

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I signed up for BadRedHead Media’s 30 day marketing challenge (where we get one actionable item per day) and it was a big reminder to really do things – not just think about doing them, or sit back and hope people will come to me.

Not that I did that all the time, but I’m definitely guilty of it sometimes.

There have been a couple of conversations which have reminded me how much I have going for me – and how much I haven’t taken advantage of them. There are two big questions that have been floating around my brain over the last fortnight:

  1. Who are my connections?

  2. What can I do?

For question one, it’s about thinking out of the box. We were talking about traditional vs. indie publishing, and the advantage that publishing houses have, especially their connections: designers, editors, booksellers, illustrators, journalists. The friend I was talking to reminded me that I do have connections, just not in the same way as a publishing house. Some connections are the same (designers, illustrators, editors, booksellers) and some are different (teachers, artists, writers, musicians, actors).

That’s a LOT to work with! Think about how you can collaborate with, trade services, or hire the connections in your life. How can you contribute to someone else’s project? Publicity doesn’t pay the bills but it can be mutually beneficial. I’m booking school visits, I have hired editors, an illustrator, a designer, an actress, and a sound engineer. My (wo)manpower zines are a way to promote female artists, while also promoting my ‘platform’, and of course I pay a local guy to print my books.

PicMonkey Collage

 

Question two is a good one for me, but I think it applies to everyone – especially creatives. Our creative work may be our ‘passion’ (or whatever you want to call it) but it’s not our entire life. We have families, friends, other passions, hobbies, and most of us have day-jobs. How can we use our other skills and interests to add to our work?

For me, the most obvious is my art background coming out in illustration and art. I also have a teaching background, and have taught adults as well. This is great in a teaching or workshop capacity, but also the skill of working with children (who are not simply ‘little adults’). I’ve also been doing colouring pages for events, and have picked up a commission this week. List your skills and think creatively – how can they help with your primary focus?

And that’s my abrupt end to the blog post today – gotta get back to that colouring page!

Zee xx

 

It’s not just about sales [Book Events Series]

Events

As many of you know, from June this year I started doing a range of in-person events. From local markets, to mini cons, to school visits – I’ve got a whole lot lined up. At the outset, my goals were sales, marketing, and generally building awareness of me, as an author / artist. The sales have been a great boost, but the auxilliary benefits easily outweigh the (small) financial benefits.

A quick note on sales

At every event, I have sold something. At some events, I have made a profit, at others a loss, and some I’ve broken even. Overall though, I have made a profit over this year’s events (which is sales, minus cost of printing, petrol and any event fees). A profit is nice, as it contributes towards my business costs, but as long as I don’t make a loss – I’m happy.

Building word of mouth advertising

In conjunction with my social media presence and my webiste / blog, I am beginning to meet people who have had my books recommended to them. One of my primary goals with attending events was precisely this, so it’s great to see this happening in a mere three months! At live events, I have the opporuntity to truly connect with people (whether they buy my books or not) which contributes to word-of-mouth generation. Word of mouth is a powerful way to advertise, because we tend to trust recommendations from people we trust – it just makes sense. (Forbes has an article of WoM here).

Building brand awareness

Similar to the above, I am starting to meet people who recognise me as an author, or specifically as ‘Zee the author’ which, apart from being really, super exciting, shows how quickly brand awareness can begin to occur. My profile photo on all social media platforms is a clear representation of myself, and helps with recognition.

Creating new opportunities

It was from a library-run event that I was offered to be a part of ArtWeek Auckland, a massive arts event held in our city. I also developed connections with teachers and art centres, and have learned about other events worth attending. By networking with other people at these events I have been privy to wonderful opportunities, on a personal and career level.

Market research

Another benefit is learning who is interested in your work, why they’re drawn to it, and what makes them buy. I’ve found that most of my books have been bought by grandparents, aunts or uncles who have bought the books as gifts – but then started reading them and realised they liked it, too! This gives me a good idea of my buyers (adults) and my readers (adults and children). Most of the children that have been interested have been in the 9-13 year old range.

The warm fuzzies

It is incredibly motivating and heart-warming to watch people’s faces light up in wonder as they read some of my work, or flick through my picture books / colouring books; to have previous buyers come up to me and rave about how much they loved my work, and to hear people exclaim how beautiful and professional the books look – and you published yourself? Wow! I also get to share my journey with other writers and creatives, meet some wonderful people, and inspire young writers that this whole writer thing is posisble.

And if that hasn’t convinced you, I don’t know what will!

This article is part of my Book Events Series, leading up to the NZ Independent Book Festival.

Learning to run a business / price changes for The Caretaker’s Colouring Book

News

Becoming an independently published author means learning how to write, how to publish – and how to run a business. I think I’m okay on the first two, but the ‘running a business’ part has been the biggest learning curve of all.

Prior to becoming an indie author, I have had NO experience in running a business. I did fifth-form accounting, but have since forgotten everything I learned. I didn’t do business studies, or economics, and everything I’ve learned so far has been on-the-job learning. At tertiary level, I did a short stint in Visual Arts, and continued on to a degree in Education.

Unfortunately, on-the-job learning tends to go hand in hand with making-lots-of-mistakes learning.

You see, on the one hand, I want to make my work as affordable as I possibly can. I appreciate every single purchase; every borrow from the library; every read. The thing is, if I want to make a living as an author (and I really, really do!) then I need to make sure that my prices can cover my (growing) expenses, so I can run a sustainable business in the long term.

All my books are now printed in New Zealand. When possible, my printer (Chris @ bookprinting.co.nz) prints on recycled paper, and I am proud of the beautiful books he produces for me. As I’m sure you understand, I do pay more for his high quality work and personal service rather than getting my books mass printed overseas, or using print on demand options.

I’ve learnt that a NZ$10 price point for my adult colouring books is really not sustainable in the long term, so The Caretaker’s Colouring Book will be raised to NZ$15 from the 1st of October. 

As some form of compensation, I will be offering bundle deals when the new price comes into effect. I’m also working on some freebie colouring pages that will be available for download as a printable PDF from my website – so watch this space!

And finally – thank you for your understanding as I learn and grow in this indie writing business 🙂

Building a creative business: Contribution (part three)

On Writing

This is the third installment of a four-part series on building a creative business and lifestyle, based on my experiences, what I’ve learnt from others and my plans for the future.

Other than social karma, contribution is a vital part not just of a business, but of a person. I’m not sure how much research there is to back my belief up (I know Tony Robbins assigns it as one of the basic human needs) but we all know that when we help someone, we feel good.

Feeling good should be an adequate reason to help people!

But you’re in business now. You need to make money to pay the bills, buy new resources, advertise and upskill (amongst other things). When do you have the time or money to make a contribution back to society?

Selfless giving is a whole ‘nother level of saint-dom, but for the sake of argument let’s look at ways to can contribute while gaining something for the business as well.

Workshops / Webinars

You’re teaching others your hard-learned skills and sharing your valuable experience. Regardless of whether you are receiving a monetary payment, you are establishing your authority in the field and making connections with potential customers. At the very least, they are likely to mention you a friend or colleague, and you’ve gained publicity with the group you’ve taught and some of their contacts.

Consultation

Like workshops, consultation helps you build authority and word of mouth. This time, you’re not building it with a group of people, but a deeper connection with one person. You’re making a real dent in their universe. The people who have taken time out of their to help me out are people I remember forever, and often recommend to other people.

Inspiration

One of my biggest motivators to succeed in self-publishing is to prove to people that it can be done. Specifically, children and parents. There are too many people who believe a career in the arts is nigh impossible unless you chance on fame, when in reality there are a number of people making good, full-time salaries in their chosen field. As a teacher, I’m in a position where I can prove that art can be more than just a hobby. So, turning your passion into a business can be contribution in and of itself!