When I self-published my first children’s book in 2017, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew I had a message I wanted the world to hear and that, somehow, I was going to publish a book.
My background in early childhood mental health allowed me to create stories with healing messages that spoke to children and parents with ease. After having my first son, I felt a huge sense of responsibility to change false narratives that exist for Black children, specifically Black boys. I noticed that Black boys were rarely on the front covers of books, so I created the Hey Carter! brand to focus on increasing representation and putting Black boys front and center.
Five years later, my brand has been featured on Netflix, the Today show, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, as well as in Forbes. I had one goal five years ago, which was to show Black boys a true reflection of themselves and elevate Black joy. This goal has been the impetus for everything I do, and it has allowed me to take my books to places I never imagined.
My journey as a self-published author has at times been tough, and I have made some costly mistakes. I can recall times when I wanted to give up and felt that there was no way I could ever succeed at being an author.
Imposter syndrome is real and has shown up a lot during my journey. Battling feelings of inadequacy was a part of the journey I was not prepared to handle. I know that a lot of authors face this—especially as they get close to releasing their books. For me, things shifted when I started speaking life into myself in the same way I was encouraging children through my books. I believe everyone has a story inside them worth sharing. If anyone hasn’t told you lately, you are capable of self-publishing a book.
As I said earlier, when I first started, I had no idea what I was doing. I researched “how to self-publish a children’s book” and spent a lot of time reading everything I could find about self-publishing. It was very overwhelming. Internet research can be helpful, but there is so much information out there that it is hard to discern which route to take or whether the information is outdated. One wrong microdecision can have a tremendous impact on your book sales for years.
The self-published author journey requires support. This isn’t something you want to embark on alone. No matter what stage you are at, I highly suggest connecting with other authors for support. Facebook is a great resource because there are groups filled with authors at every stage in the publishing journey who are willing to answer your questions for free or direct you to sources of good support you can pay for. In these groups, authors share their journeys and you can learn from their mistakes and feel a sense of community. If I had known this earlier on, I know my journey would have been less stressful.
In addition to starting this journey without support, I didn’t share a lot about what I was doing along the way. This was something I would have done differently looking back. Sharing your story is a key part to being a successful author. Your future customers want to know who you are and fall in love with the story behind the story.
I was too embarrassed by all the mistakes I was making and would overthink the process. This led me to not talking about my book before it was released, which is extremely important to do. Don’t be afraid to share your story and allow others to learn from your mistakes. Talk about the process and collect emails along the way! You never know whom you are inspiring or who will see it and want to buy your books.
Again, not knowing what I was doing, I didn’t realize that becoming an author meant I was starting a book business. My plan was to write a book, get it printed, and sell the book. I didn’t think about a business plan, inventory management, marketing strategy, and all the other things that come with running a book business. It is important to start off your author journey knowing this, so you aren’t deterred by the complexities of running a book business.
Before releasing a book, it is imperative that you have a business plan for your book business. You are more than just an author. Your success is dependent upon how your book business is structured. It was a slow start for me in my book business because of this. I didn’t see an increase in my sales until about the second or third year in business, because I didn’t have a solid marketing strategy and business plan. You can’t expect to sell books with no plan.
Once I started treating my books like a business instead of a passion project, I began to see my profits increase. Start your marketing plan by writing down all the ways you plan to market your book and who your ideal customer is. The more you know the profile of your ideal customer, the easier it will be to sell books when you find them. It is important for you to know how to find those ideal customers and sell to them based on their wants and needs.
I remember signing up to be a vendor at a local book festival. On the day of the event, the weather was bad, and I quickly realized I had signed up for an event that didn’t have my ideal customers in attendance. I paid a $250 vendor fee and only sold three books that day. Overall, I lost more when you include my time and what it cost to prepare for the event. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Just because an event allows you to sell your books there doesn’t mean you need to be there. I believe exposure is always great, but you want to ensure that you are focusing on the vendor events your ideal customers attend.
As I reflect on my fifth year as a self-published author, I am proud of my accomplishments, better because of the journey, and grateful for the experience. The self-publishing journey is a long-term commitment. It is one of the things I love most about being an author. I released my first book five years ago, and I am still sharing that book with the world. I encourage you to share your book every chance you get. If you get discouraged, take a pause, but get right back to it. You got this!
Thomishia Booker is the CEO of Hey Carter! Books. She was a speaker at the 2022 BookLife Indie Author Forum.