We’re always being told
to step out of our comfort zones.
I agree, but that doesn’t mean
climbing Everest in stilettos.
With my first book under my belt, here’s the question I’ve been asking myself for the last year. Erhem. Does the world really need another CHILDREN'S BOOK? Does it?
Every time I sat down to blog or start designs for the next book, the answer increasingly became "no". "Heck no." The world doesn’t need another kid’s book, it needs more good teachers and surgeons, environmentalists and bioengineers. It definitely needs more no-bull journalists to get the truth out there. It needs someone to invent chip packets that you can actually open without resorting to ripping them down the middle… But the world does not need more kiddy book writers.
This realisation froze me into non-action every time I sat down to write or draw something or post on social media. It actually felt like Twitter punched me in the face whenever I scrolled through the feeds. Twitter overwhelms me. There is so much talent there. I see endless incredible artists and published authors, some of whom have perplexingly few followers. What the heck hope would I have? While seeing all the talent out there is certainly inspiring, in other ways it just makes me feel like I’m on the outside looking in.
So essentially, other people’s prolific tweets and incredible daily artworks, actually stunned me into submission. I was looking down the barrel at hundreds of hours’ work for my next book. Yes, it really does take me hundreds of unpaid hours to create one lil’ book. Hopefully, it will be less time with each ensuing one, but other people’s work and prolificacy (it’s a real word, I checked) can be just so intimidating. Eventually, I felt I had nothing to share….apart from pictures of my dog looking completely ridiculous – not exactly relevant to the book “brand”. I almost gave up.
It’s not that I doubt my ability to illustrate or write and being creative is the best part – but after that, you end up with something you have to promote and sell, too. You need to get it out there somehow. I imagine most artistically-minded souls find this rather painful. It’s an unfortunate paradox. The most creatively inclined probably have the least business nous. If you are both, you’re a winning combo, otherwise, without the business smarts and no other job or partner to financially support your creative endeavours, the sharp end of the deal isn’t much fun.
Since I was not blessed with much business sense, I had a PR savvy person help set me in the right direction with some plans. She also created some press releases. That was great because there is nothing more nauseating for me than extolling my own virtues. She set me up on Twitter. I doubted Twitter was my shtick from the beginning and I still do. Maybe it’s because I post under the brand of “illo books” and not me as a person that I’ve felt restricted. For example, I soon lost apparent pro-Trump Twitter followers with the odd cheeky political cartoon I’d slipped in there. I didn't mind losing those of course, but illustrators and kidlit tweeps no doubt felt confused about my métier. But I couldn’t help myself. I don’t really know how to behave like an author and illustrator.
So having had time, in between my other work, to indulge in reassessing things, I came to realise that maybe, there is room for another book. No, the world still doesn’t need it, but there will be a library somewhere with a space for my book. I will never be great at marketing my stuff but I love watching the kids’ faces when I read to them. I’ve been to schools where they’ve never had an author of any kind come to read and no matter their age, they are so darn attentive and just so cute the way they gaze up, listening. Kids do love being read to. In a way, that sentiment is enough to encourage me to get another book out there.
So after this self-administered kick in the pants, I will be getting back into this book thing. I’m forcing myself to take some business-minded steps. It’s a bit like forcing myself to like the taste of celery…it could take a lifetime. My first sensible step is to move to a new website host as my Shopify one is a bit pricey long-term - better for bigger retail businesses. Before I move, I’ve halved the price of my animated narrated iBook down to $3.99, then I'm going to finally put it on Amazon - it's only taken me a year.
Next, I’m ‘rebranding’ a bit to see if I can find my zone. As much as I’d love someone to come in and organise my life for me, (God, that would be so great) I see that I just need to find a realm I’m comfortable operating within, so that I’m not like a deer in the headlights every time I try to make something fit with my so-called brand. I like to write articles about other things, to make fun of the odd ridiculous politician, to draw cartoons now and again and, sometimes, to write about health and wellbeing – which was my job for a long time. Because this doesn’t fit the brand of children’s books, I’m changing “Illo Books” to something like “Illos & Media” (illo is a short form of illustration) a broad enough umbrella to allow room for these other things. I'm going to find a way to comfortably plug in rather than just watching from the sidelines.
When the shoe fits
To finish, I have a quite cringe-worthy, utterly clichéd, very clumsy metaphor, (which is probably the underlying message in many a self-help book I’ve been too lazy to ever read). I think I’ve learned if you feel you’ve hit a wall then perhaps you first need to step back and check if that’s a wall you actually want to get over in the first place. Stuff it, maybe you should leg it in the other direction towards the hills. It might be more fun yonder. If you do want to get over that wall, maybe you just need to change your approach, like changing your footwear. Find ones that better suit YOUR climbing style. Maybe you need crazy pogo shoes (check those babies out on YouTube. I want them!) or it might be no-nonsense comfy sneakers that help you find your stride.
Really, if you are coming from an authentic place, it's got to be easier to find your voice and then maintain the all-important momentum. If it feels scary, it's probably okay. If it feels scary and totally awkward, maybe it's going against your grain too much. It might be time to reassess and reset or you won't be able to keep it up. I couldn't. We’re always being told to step out of our comfort zones. I agree, but that doesn’t mean climbing Everest in stilettos. Have I made a point yet?
I can’t write prolifically about the world of children’s books, for now, I’m a one-trick pony in that field. However, I do have other interests and insights and probably struggles along the way I’d be willing to share, too. Watch this space…or Squarespace, which is where I’m likely to set up my new website.
Thanks for reading - if you got through this, you are amazing! Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear if anyone has had a similar experience about finding their niche and momentum. What worked for you?