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It was not a decision I took lightly, I off course wanted to try to get a traditional publisher on board. However after a year of rejections from both agents and publishers I decided enough was enough, it was time to do this on my own.
In this day and age it is so simple to self-publish a book. I never thought I would say this but the actual production of the book is the easy part. How to market yourself and your work is a whole new ball game and one that I am still struggling to get my head around.
I have learned a lot the past year with the self publishing versus traditional publishing routes and I am continuing to learn each day. I think it will be a good couple of years until I have established myself as a children’s author. I have had a great start with it, but it is going to take more time and alot more writing/illustrating before I start seeing the results I am working towards.
One of the main ways I have taught myself about the wonderful world of publishing is by connecting with fellow creatives and swapping stories/ideas. I am always fascinated with everyone’s stories about how they have got to where they are today, it inspires me and keeps me motivated to keep going. I thought I would interview a few people that I look up to in the hope that their success stories will inspire me and other hopefuls out there. I will try and do this once a month as a new feature.
A J Cosmo is the first person I have chosen to quiz. This super lovely chap is a creative machine when it comes to writing and illustrating books. Over 40 self published books to date, and his first book was published only 4 years ago… see what I mean about a creative machine! When I first came across A J Cosmo earlier this year I remember going through his website and thinking wow, this is exactly how I would like to see myself a few years down the line. You can’t help but admire the level of success he has achieved all by himself. It just goes to show that self publishing can work providing that you have the passion and commitment to see it through. So here we have a few questions that I wanted to ask the man himself…
INTERVIEW WITH A J COSMO
You are an illustrator and an author; did you have any training in either field?
I have always taken art and writing classes, my best subjects, and have an undergrad in fine art and a master in film with a minor in painting. I have also worked as an airbrush artist for many years, which gave me my speed, and written screenplays in my spare time to try to break into film.
When did you realize this was your path in life?
Children's books were one of many spokes I had in the fire when I found myself unemployed. People responded after the third piece and I have been creating children's book sever since.
When did you publish your first title and how did it feel?
My first children's book for Kindle came out in December of 2011. It was called Gordon's Gravy and has since been discontinued. It felt like a naked relief. I never expected fame or fortune, still don’t, but I was happy to simply have something out there. So much of my artistic life has revolved around asking permission; so simply publishing something, anything, was a breakthrough.
The self-publishing industry has a huge learning curve. Did you find it easy to publish your first book?
Publishing is easy. You can find hundreds of tutorials and services to get a book on Amazon. Publishing professionally, creating something of value people want, that's hard. Self-publishing has a bad reputation because so many people forget that our audience has been fed filet mignon for years. They have high expectations and want indie writers to match or exceed the professionalism of traditional publishers.
Did you invest much financially in your first book?
No. Doing almost everything myself, I invest very little in each of my books. Doing things this cheaply means that I spend a huge amount of time on each project. Luckily I am quick. It also means that I have had to acquire every skill that a book needs to be created. The past four years have been one long education. I do not recommend people break the bank with each book. Rather, spend thriftily and where it matters (cover and content) and expect that your investment will never show returns.
You have self published all of your titles, did you ever try to go down the traditional publishing route and how did you find it?
I have tried half-heartedly and still think of trying to this day. Traditional publishers frustrate me because everything is on their terms and they are painfully slow. It's also bizarre to talk to traditionally published authors who brag about their one book and be looked down upon myself for having sold twenty times their numbers.
What made you decide to go down the self-publishing route?
Fear of rejection from traditional publishers and ease of entry combined with the newness of the technology. It became a job as soon as I started treating it like one and it definitely gives back in proportion to what I put in.
What are your top 3 dos and don'ts for self-publishing?
1) Be professional.
2) Pay attention to your market.
3) Be humble, expect nothing.
1) Carelessly throw anything out there.
2) Assume that you cannot be better.
3) Rely on magical thinking, easy solutions, or other people.
At what point in your career did you feel like you were on the right track and started to see significant results?
There's an assumption that once you do well you will always do well. Make no mistake, I struggle same as everyone else. I have had mind-blowing months and heartbreaking months. You cannot have success without failure and often they are mixed together. I'm just now coming out of a personal recession, so to speak, and I'm still not entirely sure whose fault the whole ordeal was. Regardless, if this is something you want, expect to keep working even after you do well. That's why it's so important to value the craft over the rewards.
I have found marketing to be the hardest part about self-publishing. Did you have any help with this or was it a case of picking things up as you go along?
I have asked many questions of people who call themselves marketers. I have read many books on marketing, taken many online courses, read articles, and watched countless videos, but the most useful advice I ever found was that you need to be of use to other people. No one cares that you wrote a book; they care if you can help them make their life easier. If your book can stop a child from crying at night, you will sell a billion copies. Realizing that the customer, the reader, is the most important person in the world is the first step in effective marketing and is what I stress when teaching marketing to others.
Have you ever paid for help with marketing and if so was it beneficial?
Yes I have and I encourage everyone to try whatever he or she can at least once. What works for one person may not work for another. As for me, the most useful paid advertisement has been with the email blaster services such as BookBub and FreeBooksy. Those both require either substantial discounts or for you to offer books free, so to take full advantage of them you need to have an email subscription shell around their promotion.
I was researching awards recently but was quite shocked with the fees for entering. What is your view on awards and paying for reviews, in your opinion is it worth the investment?
Awards can be a cash cow to the creators of the awards (same with contests) so you would do well to research the notoriety of the award before entering. You want an award that is hard to get and that people care about. Unfortunately, so many authors have slapped award seals on their books that I'm afraid it has lost a lot of meaning (same as palm fronds with films) so the value of the award might be in the recognition that the award gives to its audience, not on what you can stick on your book.
I have found the journey so far to be a rollercoaster of emotions, a mix of extreme highs and lows. Did you go through similar feelings when you were starting out?
Always have and always will. Fear is a sibling of creativity. Depression is the shadow of joy. Even the simplest walk has a vast variety of surfaces on the path. It's best to make peace with your emotions and use all that as a fuel to power you. I believe in feeling emotions fully, cherishing them, and then releasing them. It can be very good to be afraid.
What plans do you have for your future writing and illustrating?
I plan on continuing to create, market, and help in whatever ways I can. I just want to be able to continue to do what I'm doing because it feels right. Sure, other things may come up, but I plan on producing at least one book a month until something stops me. There are a huge variety of projects on the slate from new middle-grade novels, to sequels, to multimedia iBooks, as well. I want to create something for everyone.
What would be the biggest bit of advice that you would give people like me that have only just dipped their toes in the huge self-publishing ocean?
1) Decide if this is really what you want. Some people may only wish to publish one book and be done, that's perfectly fine.
2) Be honest with yourself. Look at your work like others would. See the faults and the strengths. Look at your work like a stranger would look at you, not someone who is invested in you.
3) Never stop learning. This industry changes quickly. Learn everything you can about business, marketing, art, graphic design, publishing, everything, and teach whenever you can (the best way to learn.) Knowledge will give you confidence and confidence will give you endurance.
Thank you Corrina for this opportunity to speak. It was a pleasure.
If any readers have a question for me I'm always available through email at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can contact AJ at:
Thank you so much for the fantastic interview AJ, you are a true inspiration… keep up the fantastic work!. AJ has always been so helpful when I have had any questions, so do get in touch with him if there is anything I haven’t covered here.
I still have a lot to learn but the biggest thing that came as a shock to me was the harsh realization that selling books is HARD work!. Please don’t be disheartened if you don’t sell many copies. I had a huge amount of support when I published Animania but the actual sales of the book was incredibly disappointing, to the point where I had a bit of a grey spell over it. I soon found out though that this is quite normal and even AJ himself said that the average sales of your first book is 20 copies! Well that made me feel a load better and I have been plugging away ever since. Sales are beginning to trickle in now and I am sure there will be more once I start getting myself out there in person. There is only so much you can do online, it is time to now see how sales go through things like author visits, Christmas fairs etc.
As they say “Rome wasn’t built in a day” so even if initial sales are disappointing you mustn’t give up, keep plugging, get yourself out there and start writing and producing more books. It will take time but with strength and determination you can get there. I won’t lie deciding to go solo is scary, there is a lot to get your head around but the actual process of getting the product together is really very simple and very affordable. I encourage anyone to give it a go, you really can’t lose with it. The hard bit is the work after, but if you like a challenge and have the passion then anything is possible, AJ is a prime example of this.
Have you self published a book? Do you have any tips on what helped you with your journey? If so please do leave a comment. If you have any questions at all then do feel free to ask me, I may not know an awful lot right now but I know a lot of people who do ;)
Happy writing xx