When Benji Bennett decided to self-publish Before You Sleep and his eight other children’s book, there was one important and over-riding factor: “Adam was not for sale.”
As Benji describes here, his Adam’s Cloud books were created after his son Adam died at the age of four and his series of books sees Adam embark on childhood adventures, all with the message to encourage parents to spend magical moments with their children.
Benji says: “I am very protective over Adam. He isn’t just some character I made up in my head, he is my son and I wanted to have complete control over the books. I didn’t want a publisher editing the message or changing the illustrations. The books were too special, they were so personal. I had to be true to myself, and to Adam.”
And so Benji embarked on his own adventure. He says: “Initially I sent it to a publisher, and I got some interest, especially after Before You Sleep won the Irish Children’s Book of the Year and I did think about it, of course. But my decision to self-publish isn’t just because a publisher has creative license to change your books, it’s because they also have control over the selling of your book.
“So if you want to sell your book at a show, you have to buy it back off them.”
Benji says meeting people and telling them about Adam’s story and message has helped the sales of his book massively. “I’ve gone to all the big shows. I’ve met many readers over the years at the Ploughing. Gifted at the RDS is always a good one.
“Doing it on own is fun, you can be more creative – not just with your books but with sales, marketing and publicity. You can go to a Christmas fair and do a book signing and sell some books.”
However, it isn’t without its challenges. “It’s not just about writing books, collaborating with illustrators and getting it printed. You need to manage getting it into book shops, sales, marketing, promotions and digital marketing. You also need to finance it on your own.
“I spent years working in sales in Vodafone and other organisations, so I have a lot of business skills but a lot of it I also had to figure out on my own.
“The pandemic brought its own challenges as I couldn’t just head off to a show. It was all about selling online. Our business took a hit, we made back our revenue online but we had to advertise which took a big chunk so last year, we had a good year revenue wise but not so much in profitability. So we are working on our digital strategy which I find challenging because it’s intrusive in my personal life. However, it is also an interesting venture as social media allows us to tell people more about Adam and his life. I’ve also done some blogs to help parents and siblings deal with bereavement. So although it’s been challenging, it has opened new doors and I think Adam’s story is becoming even stronger as a result.”
With all the ups and downs, Benji has been a full-time self-published author for over a decade now. “If you’re thinking of embarking on this journey, my advice is do it because you have something to say. Don’t expect a lot out of it but aim high.”
Dolores Keaveney self-published her first children’s book when she was 60 years old. “I was inspired by my grandchildren,” she says. “And by nature.”
“It wasn’t that I spent years thinking about being an author – I was busy, as a mother and a grandmother, I worked as a secretary, and I was very involved in art. I was doing a beekeeping course and then one night, the words came to me. ‘If I were a bee, I would dance in the sun’, and that was it, the story of If I Were a Bee unravelled. I worked with a local artist who is a friend of mine on the illustrations, got it printed and my first book had landed.”
Dolores says she contacted many publishers, both in Ireland and the UK. “I got lots of no but I decided that wasn’t going to stop me. I had something to say and I wanted children to enjoy my books about nature.”
Self-publishing doesn’t just take time though, it requires a bit of investment. “I had my SSIA (Special Savings Incentive Account) money so I decided to invest that. I’d say some people thought I was a bit mad but if I spent it on a holiday, no one would bat an eyelid and this is what I wanted to do.”
Following a successful launch in Mullingar and some of the big fairs in the RDS, Dolores had made back the money she invested. She has operated on this model for over a decade and now has 15 children’s books to her name. Dee the Bee is published by a publishing house in Australia.
Dolores says for anyone that is thinking of self-publishing she advises to have your signature style but not to be afraid to try something new. “Many of my books have lots of colour and detail. However, some parents said to me that children with autism can find that very busy and would I consider something a bit more minimalistic? So I followed that style with Huwie the Apple Tree which was a little adventure I went on with my grandson Huw, when we grew an apple tree. I kept the illustrations very simple and it turned out to be one of my most popular books.”
Dolores also says the libraries of Ireland have been amazing to her.
“It started with a few readings in my local library in Mullingar and within the county, but during the pandemic I did online readings for libraries across the country. Also, the nature element of my books has also led to some gorgeous story trails. During the summer, there was a Dee the Bee story trail erected by the Westmeath Library in the Mullingar Greenway. It’s a story stroll for children with beautiful images and educational messages.
“There was also one in Tralee and another in Laois. The library in Dun Laoghaire in Dublin have recorded five of my books and added sign writing to them for children who are deaf. This brings me great joy and satisfaction, that children are enjoying and learning from my books. This is the reason why I keep writing and why I never let a ‘no’ from a publisher stop me.”
1 Once you write the book, choose an illustrator who understands your vision and what you want to achieve.
2 Find a good editor, there is nothing as bad as having mistakes in your lovely new book.
3 Order an ISBN from Neilsen UK so that the book can be sold in shops.
4 Have a big launch. This is where you will recoup some of your outgoings.
5 Most importantly, enjoy what you are doing.