My big trip to London, oh and we won an award

By now the whole world will know we’ve won the children’s book category of the David St John Thomas Self publishing Award 2011, in collaboration with Writers’ News and Writing Magazine, in London on Wednesday 11th May. Did you get the memo? This is my account of the day, lessons learned, the future…

I travelled by Bongo, Catamaran and train to the fabled North Island alone from our secret base on the Isle of Wight. I passed the time by reading the next book for my fabled #wightbook twitter book group – a book I cannot speak of as I’d violate the first rule of the book club. Anyway, I digress. I got to London, wide-eyed, staring up at landmarks I’d seen on TV (OK, I’m milking it here – I did work in London for years) spotting Ian Lee and Paddy Ashdown on my walk to the venue for the awards. No doubt my entire journey past The London Eye, across Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, captured in the foregrounds of a million snapping tourists’ holiday photos.

And then the wait. I’d got there too early so I had my first coffee of the day in a boring chain coffee shop. A mistake, as little did I know that at the end of the day I’d pay for all the coffees I drank as it kept me awake half the night and did serious damage to my guts. And I read and started to daydream about winning and getting up to address a stadium-sized hall of thousands of publishing professionals and authors. The DSJT Awards couldn’t have been further from my fantasy, set in a conference hall laid out with chairs for around 100 people or so, with the judges sitting, like judges, behind a long desk on a raised platform. It wasn’t the BAFTAS but all jokes aside this was a well established event, started some 20 years ago by David St John Thomas Charitable Trust, who, along with charity work overseas, was created to encourage writers and self publishers. I remember seeing photos of previous winners years ago in Writers’ News and Writing Magazine, so I immediately recognised David, a tall well spoken and humorous man, now some 82 years young.

I sat nervously while they went through the awards, reading out highlights and a summaries of the various nominees’ major achievements, runners up and then winners announced in each category. And they got to the children’s award and I got really nervous. When they announced the runner-up I knew I’d won, my heart raced. I wiped my sweating hands on my trousers so I’d not disgust the judges when they shook my warm wet hand. They got to us, and it felt so strange other people talking about our book. The room erupted – there was some applause – and I got up to collect my award, a certificate and cheque for £250. Am I sounding ungrateful? No, an award is an award – the recognition that we’d written and published a book that well respected judges had chosen to win was incredible. I felt good.

We were also “highly commended” and seriously considered for the two other awards for Self Publisher of the Year, which went to a historical novel, and Winner of Winners, which went to an anthology produced by a writers’ group. Maybe next year we could scoop those two?

After photos were taken of all the winners together – a feat of endurance smiling I’d not accomplished since my own wedding photos – we had refreshments and a chance to network and sell a few books we’d all brought. It was interesting to note not many of the authors bought many books – my sales came from people who hadn’t self published, guests, etc. Just shows, networking with other writers and self publishers won’t necessarily boost your sales.

I had a chat to a few authors who, on the face of it, had done remarkably well selling their books, sometimes in their thousands, but they still seemed very negative – or should I say jaded? – about the whole self publishing process. They told me how difficult they had found it to get into bookshops, and even selling direct had not yielded the expected sales for them. I cannot say I felt the same as I’d not gone into self publishing with any great expectations of big sales – or even any – although there was a part of me, an arrogant, naive one, that felt I could compete with the big publishers and “do it better”.

With “some” experience behind us now, I have a more realistic view of what can be achieved with self publishing, and a better idea of how to take advantage of it. Firstly, it’s crazy to compete with other established publishing companies – learn from them for sure, but to compete in the same market, where even they are under pressure to sell books, is folly. In my view the benefits of being wholly independent and able to make all the decisions ourselves, the ability to react to the market – and our readers – quickly and target sales in areas that the main publishers don’t compete in is our advantage.

We hoped Jack and Boo’s adventure would appeal to children and families, but it wasn’t until we sold books and began to get genuine positive feedback from children and families telling us how much they’d enjoyed the book that we realised it really did appeal to others. Learning how children were inspired or families learned new things was our biggest reward in this whole process and has spurred us on to complete our next Jack and Boo adventure, out in the coming months.

We’d like to thank the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust for running these competitions, for choosing us as winners and encouraging other self publishers – you’ve certainly encouraged us! Importantly, a big thanks to everybody who has bought and reviewed our book and all the great friends and contacts who’ve supported us along the way. Winning this children’s award is just the start of even better beachy books to come.