This week I’ve been talking to Mark Watson, author of this year’s Must-Have Christmas Children’s Book Milo & Ze…

Mark, in March of this year, nobody had heard of you. Now it’s impossible not to hear about you in the Self-Publishing world. How did you do it?
Hard work is the real key. When Pablo and I finished “The Shark in the Park” we knew we had something original and special. We both thought that was enough to sell books but the reality turned out to be different. The harder you advertise and market your book the more sales you get. It’s a steep learning curve and to ride that rollercoaster you have to buy a ticket, there are no shortcuts. We actually finished the book in October 2013, but we realized we hadn’t paid enough attention to how the book would actually work on different page and screen sizes. So I went back, did a LOT of research, and redesigned the book. The first .mobi file I produced took two days to construct with HTML, which is not for the faint-hearted! These days I can do it in a few hours. If you’re doing fixed-format picture books you need to learn this stuff, or be prepared to outsource everything, because if you don’t get it right, your book won’t look good or sell well.

How do the stories come about?
Pablo and I start with an idea. “The Shark in the Park” was an adult short story I’d adapted for children years ago. A new creative writer has to learn to bring something out. We all have great ideas fluttering around in the clouds, but the trick is to lasso it, pull it down to earth, and beat it into some kind of shape. It takes time and focus. With our latest book Milo & Ze, I wrote pages and pages of story then trimmed it down to about five lines a page. I find this method really useful as it creates lots of description and vocabulary I can use later if a line in the poetry doesn’t work. I worked on the Shipwreck in Milo & Ze for months, starting with reading Life of Pi, Robinson Crusoe, and some select passages from Patrick O’ Brian’s Aubrey Maturin series. This background reading gave me a sense of how important it is to make the experience as rich as possible. About 95% of the test is cut away to get the final rhyme, but I find that the better the preparation, the better and more adaptable the final verse. You can see how that works in the example below.
What would be your most important piece of advice to someone wishing to create and sell an illustrated children’s book?
Try everything, not just with the writing but the marketing too. I’m no expert on the social media platforms; Tumblr, Flickr, Stumbleupon, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and numerous others, but we have them all and use them (maybe not as well as we could) but we try to develop a strategy for each. This time we’re trying a Thunderclap. We’re always open to giving something new a crack in the hope it flips the switch that makes us successful. The reality is, even if you have the best book in the world, once your family and friends have bought it, it can quite easily slip down the rankings and into the murky depths of obscurity. You have to be prepared to keep hustling. The margins are not in your favor either, I marketed relentlessly all last week for just twenty pre-orders. If you stop marketing you stop selling; simple.

John Quinones read your book “The Shark in the Park” in the YouTube video. How did you manage to recruit such star-power?
Ha! He’s a big fan of the book! What can I say? Don’t be afraid to ask people to help you; if you’ve put real time and effort into making a book that shines people will be glad to help. The creative community is incredibly supportive, and you’ll be surprised about how much help is available. And, expect the unexpected. Unique problems arise all the time; we’re currently fighting Amazon to stop auto-correcting searches for “Milo & Ze” to “Milf & Me”. I kid you not.
OK, Plug Your Book!
We are now running a Thunderclap campaign to help promote our book. You DO NOT NEED TO BUY IT or PRE-ORDER IT OR ANYTHING! All you have to do is follow the link and support us with Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr, or all three! It does NOT send messages to your friends and you DON’T have to post anything on your wall until release day. Please help, just 100 of us can really send this book on its way. Here’s the link

And the other ways to connect with Mark and Pablo?
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