By The Bookollective Team, Aug 17 2017 10:40AM
I am a children’s author with over 35 books, published by several publishing houses, including Walker Books, Heinemann/Egmont, OUP, Frances Lincoln, Macmillan, Hachette, translated and sold around the world. I am now also publisher of Dinosaur Douglas Books.
I became author/publisher a few years ago, after I met Kate Barnard, Consultant in Paediatric Dentistry at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital.
Kate told me that almost one-third of five year olds and half of eight year olds have fillings or missing teeth caused by decay, and the most common cause of hospital admission in primary school children each year is dental decay and infection - 26,000 children aged five-nine needed emergency dental surgery last year.
Kate wanted a book that would make children realize the importance of brushing their teeth, a book that would be available to as many children and parents as possible, including people on low income and those who didn’t go into bookshops. She wanted it to be in all nurseries, schools and hospitals.
Kate and I met many times and Dinosaur Douglas and the Beastly Bugs took shape, finally becoming a fun, rhyming story about a cheeky dinosaur.
Alex Godwin, international artist and street painter, who had painted the streets of London, Berlin, South Africa and beyond, had long wanted to illustrate a children’s book. I sent her the story. She sent back some sketches. We loved them.
Why did I decide to publish the book myself?
Having worked in publishing for many years as editor and commissioning editor of children’s and adult books, I knew it would be difficult to find a publisher willing to produce an inexpensive health-related picture book. Most picture books are beautifully produced hardbacks with international appeal. Those that become paperbacks have usually sold well as hardbacks. I was aware that no publisher would want to commission a book about teeth, written in rhyme, using a first-time illustrator. I had to do it myself.
Many publishers send picture books abroad to be printed because it tends to be cheaper. But I wanted to keep the project local. I found a friendly Hammersmith printer, who advised me on paper, book format, spine, cover and print-run, keeping costs to the minimum.
Aiming to get the book to all the children in nurseries and reception classes in Hammersmith & Fulham, I approached local businesses for sponsorship. A dentist, an architect, a chemist and one or two others were interested. An estate agent challenged me, “If you are doing this for the community, why isn’t the council backing you?”
I had approached the council several times, without success. Now I had one more try. My proposal bounced from one councilor’s office to another and finally landed on the Senior Public Health Officer’s desk – and I received a phone call.
It took several month’s of negotiation but eventually Hammersmith & Fulham Council purchased over 5,500 copies of Dinosaur Douglas and the Beastly Bugs to give to children across the borough.
The book was launched at a local children’s centre, where illustrator Alex painted a Dinosaur Douglas mural to tie in with the launch.
A year later, I was asked to create a Dinosaur Douglas poster to promote Vitamin D for children. Rickets was back and there was a need to inform and educate on the need for sunshine and vitamin D. So I wrote Dinosaur Douglas Has Fun in the Sun, highlighting the importance of vitamin D. Dinosaur Douglas and the Rumble Grumble Tum, which covers the subject of obesity, followed a year later. A further title on the importance of hand-washing will be published this year.
Marketing has been the most demanding and costly part of self-publishing. I spent far too much money hiring stands at dental conferences, Nursery World, Childcare Expo and the Ideal Home. I visited schools, libraries, bookshops, and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in search of foreign co-publishers. I embarked on time-consuming social media.
Has it been worth it?
Yes and no. Financially, no: marketing and distribution on a small scale is expensive and time-consuming. Amazon and Gardeners take 60% of the rrp, and the p & p also has to be paid. But in terms of satisfaction, definitely yes.
Dinosaur Douglas Books have now been reviewed by Books Monthly, The Sun, The Mail on Sunday, Probe Magazine, Dental Hygiene, Baby London, The Dentist and Teach Early Years. Last month the British Dental Journal stated that:
“Dinosaur Douglas and the Beastly Bugs is definitely the best children's book we have read about the importance of brushing your teeth.”
Doncaster City Council has added 3,500 copies of Dinosaur Douglas and the Beastly Bugs to their oral health packs.
Recently, a Director at Public Healthy England asked permission to quote from Dinosaur Douglas Has Fun in the Sun in a lecture on Vitamin D.
To date, over 10,000 copies of Dinosaur Douglas Books have been sold and this year Dinosaur Douglas is a finalist in the Early Years Excellence Awards.
How does self-publishing compare with traditional publishing?
When published by a traditional publisher, the author works with a team of editors and designers, while print, sales, distribution, marketing and publicity are taken care of by others. However, publicity can be an area of contention, as each new title has to compete for time and budget with others on the publisher’s list. Authors often feel their works don’t get given enough attention.
Traditional publishers deal with the financial side, sending out annual royalty statements but an author has no idea who their readers are. Self-publishing is giving me a growing database of readers. It has also introduced me to a new way of life and a host of inspirational people through networking and marketing events.
I spend a lot of time emailing and chasing up, visiting bookshops and exhibitions, but I do still find time to write. And each day there is the added feeling of excited anticipation as I turn on the computer and, hopefully, learn that there has been a sale and/or a review. It’s a great feeling.
- Heather Maisner is author and publisher of the Dinosaur Douglas series of books. Find out more at: www.heathermaisner.com