The self-publishing revolution has enabled thousands of authors to get their books in the public domain, and for many it has become a viable way to make a living. But for some people, like Welsh self-publishing author Joanna Goodwin, the initial motivation for publishing a book is simply to create the perfect gift for a loved one. In this guest blog post, Joanna shares her unusual personal journey to becoming a writer of children’s books.
Picture this: I’ve just become an auntie for the first time. I am 26 and am incredibly excited about this addition to our close-knit family. For the first few weeks and months, Emily (the baby) is showered with gifts and visits. In fact, I think there were only three or four days in those first few months that I didn’t see her for cuddles!
Slowly, Christmas crept up on me and I didn’t have a clue what to buy a 3-month-old baby girl that had everything (and parents struggling to find space to put the stuff!). If it was any other child, I may have bought a voucher, given cash or bought something I saw on a shelf somewhere. But Emily had us all wrapped around her tiny fingers, and I wanted to give her something unique and personal.
Whilst driving home from work one day, I came up with the idea of writing a Christmas story. Nobody would expect it as I’d never showed an interest in writing before. This Christmas story could be something from her Auntie JoJo that she would grow up with.
It took me days to come up with the theme and a rough storyline. I didn’t want it to be like other Christmas stories, so I came up with an idea of what happens in Father Christmas’ workshop while he’s out delivering presents.
The characters were soon created from our family dogs with the personalities to match. My parent’s dog, Zak, is hyperactive, cheeky and always eager to please; my dog, Charlie, loves the outdoors and only likes company on his terms; my cousin’s dog, Millie, is a miniature Jack Russell, so she is a tiny, very affectionate and sweet dog (which is why she became half-fairy in the story); and Elvis was my grandparent’s dog when I was growing up.
It took me nine hours on a Saturday to write the first draft from start to finish and then two weeks of tweaks and changes until I was happy with it. What I like to call the first edition was printed on normal white paper and stuck in a scrapbook with ribbons, my own doodles and items I collected to stick in the book.
I wanted the gift to be a surprise, so the only person who knew about the story was a friend at work who I’d asked to proofread it for me. She had a young son, about 8 years old at the time, who loved it so much that she told me I should share it to a wider audience. I was flattered, and the idea of getting Emily’s Christmas Story published was planted!
I had managed to keep the book a secret up to this point. None of my family, not even my husband, knew I was working on a story. On Christmas Eve 2014, we gathered as a family at my parent’s house for turkey sandwiches (a family tradition), and I had decided that this was a great opportunity to give my gift. After food and a drink, I worked up the courage to hand over the scrapbook to my sister, Katie, who proceeded to read it to the family (it takes about 40 minutes to read). I don’t remember ever being so nervous around family before. My mum had tears in her eyes and Katie began to well up while reading. Was this a good sign? Was it the gesture they felt emotional about? Did they like the book?!
The first thing anyone said was, “You have to write another!” I remember the feeling of relief that others liked it – I had poured my heart and soul into making this story as perfect as I could. My biggest fear was that people wouldn’t find it interesting or enjoyable, but by Boxing Day, extended family and friends of the family had read it and all commented that I should get it published. After a large meal on boxing day, I researched publishing on the web and came across Lulu. They offer self-publishing packages which are really easy to use, so I decided to go for it!
I got 20 copies printed as gifts, but it wasn’t long before the odd person got in touch to buy a copy, so I had to order more books in January (for a Christmas book!).
Things went quiet between spring and winter, and I was happy to spend the first Christmas with a published book quietly. I had done no formal marketing as this stage but set up a Facebook page and Twitter account to share inspiration.
The highlight so far was when I was invited to do a book reading in Chepstow Bookshop on 6th December. This was an amazing experience, even though it was just friends and family that came; I felt this was a special moment and was so happy to read it to Emily when she was a little older.
Emily is just over 18 months at the time of writing, and she loves books! She loves to sit on my lap, pointing at the pictures as I read to her. For this reason, I would really like to get the book illustrated ready for this Christmas!
Writing a children’s story has been a life-changing experience for me. I plan on writing more and have ideas jotted in a notebook (which I won’t let anyone else cast their eyes over). I’ve found a passion for writing, greater respect for other authors and have been overwhelmed by the kindness of others.
Joanna Goodwin is based in Monmouthshire, South Wales. She is a civil servant leading in digital content. She published Emily’s Christmas Story in January 2015 and hopes to publish her next book in Summer 2016. Chat to Joanna via Facebook, Twitter or email.