Happy December, all! It’s been a while since my last post – and for good reason: I’ve had my head down finalising my new Christmas picture book The Christmas Tree Wish, which is now out not just in English but also in German and French! I had meant to post an update here sooner but have been so absorbed managing the marketing and translations that finding the time has proven somewhat challenging!
I have to confess that translations were not on my plan when I started on this project. But when Amazon recently announced they were opening up Amazon Ads in Germany I felt it was an opportunity not to miss. I also felt that, since the story is not rhyming (phew!) and only 700 words (930 with back matter and the bio/copyright page), it offered the perfect case study to test the ‘direct translation’ process, on which more a little later.
Inspiration for The Christmas Tree Wish
The Christmas Tree Wish is a story that had been going around in my head for years after I saw a small, bedraggled Christmas tree left unsold one dark evening a few days before Christmas. My heart went out to the little fellow and I just knew I had to write about him and give him a happy ending!
From the outset I was certain I wanted hand-drawn illustrations rather than digital, so it was a question of finding the right person. Until I did, I kept playing with the storyline then putting it away for months at a time as I could never find a satisfactory ending.
That all changed when a great friend Anne Swift – an architect by day, but who has always been incredibly creative in other ways – drew an image for her son’s then girlfriend for a family story. As soon as I saw it, I knew the style would be perfect for my story and couldn’t believe I had never thought to ask her to try her hand at children’s illustrations! After that it was a race against time to get my storyline finalised if we were to have any chance of being ready for Christmas.
It took three whole days of sitting down and thrashing things out to find the missing link I had been searching for. Anne read the story and was up for it. I then realised I had the unenviable task of cutting back word count from a hefty 1,400 to 700! But I did it. Deadlines really do work!
The story really is written from the heart and, in many ways, it gives me the same tingly feeling I experienced when I conceived of and wrote my bestselling time travel adventure The Secret Lake.
Christmas book marketing opportunities and challenges
I’ve been running Amazon ads in the UK/US since mid October and – after a few weeks of testing – the book is finally starting to earn its keep. A small team of advance readers gave it lovely reviews and these certainly helped support the ad campaign when they came through. It took time to test and identify which keywords and bids worked best, and this continues to be an evolving process. Competition is extremely stiff in the run-up to Christmas!
More recently, several local print and online magazine articles that I pitched with press releases back in October have come to fruition, with the The Christmas Tree Wish being featured in their December issues. In the case of the print magazines, these are being distributed in a five-mile radius from where I live. I always make a point of directing readers to my local bookshop/s in these releases before mentioning that the book is also available online. Shopping local is, as we all know, so important – and the local angle makes it more relevant for both editors and readers.
I have to say that it only occurred to me quite late on that having a Christmas-themed title really is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it makes a perfect seasonal gift, which means it should be easy to ‘sell’. On the other you really do have a very limited window in which to market your book. Once Christmas is gone, it’s gone! At the same time, you need to have everything planned well in advance, when it’s really hard to feel Christmassy at all! Having to cram all of this activity into six to eight weeks is an ongoing and quite exhausting process.
Knowing how many author copies to buy is also a challenge as I can’t, of course, plan to sell leftover stock through my school visits throughout the rest of the year. And whilst I could, of course, use some next year, a lot can happen in 12 months and I may want to update my back matter by then.
I will report back on all of this once the Christmas season is out of the way.
The translation process
Once I made my decision to embark on translations I hired literary translators and editors (one of each) in each language so that I could be sure that the final products would be of professional quality. I have a degree in French and am still pretty fluent, so on that basis I could have skipped the editor role and perhaps relied on French contacts. However, being the control freak that I am, I wanted to be sure that the final text flowed as well as it could. Ditto for the German edition – I have German ‘O’ Level from back in the day but that’s about it!
How I found my translators
I found my translators and editors by searching online at Amazon.de and Amazon.fr sites (seeing who had translated well-known children’s books from English then googling and contacting them) and also looking at overseas translations agencies. My gut told me to avoid the popular online translation sites, as I felt I couldn’t be sure of the credentials of the translators. Having completed a literary module as part of a Post Graduate Diploma in Translation course (French to English) many years ago, I know just how crucial it is that your translator should not only be a native speaker, but also be sensitive to the voice and rhythm required for literary translation. They also need to be confident in knowing when not to translate word for word, and in how to express an idea differently but without fundamentally changing the story’s core or author’s style.
Illustrations and art direction / layout
As I knew I wanted full double page spreads with bleed, I chose to work with a specialist and experienced layout artist. Here I was following my own advice in How to Self-publish and Market a Children’s Book, where I recommend not to try doing your own layouts unless you are already a designer, or you plan to keep things extremely simple, such as having text on one page and images on the facing page. For The Christmas Tree Wish I used the highly talented Rachel Lawston, who also provided art direction that ensured that our tree characters had – um, character! This is Anne’s first children’s book and while her drawing style is off the scale in terms of style and appeal (see examples above and below), we both benefited hugely from Rachel’s input to ensure we made the very most of Anne’s talent. Thank you, Rachel!
A further learning curve for me was that Anne works in pen and ink on paper, unlike Damir, who has illustrated my other books and only works digitally. This meant getting my head around a whole new process for specifying the images to ensure they would be the correct size and definition for the print book. Working wholly digitally is of course much fast and easier to adapt if things go wrong, and we did have a few occasions where drawings had to be restarted from scratch!
All in all the project has been both enlightening and, as I’ve already said, exhausting – but worth every minute of it!
Where you can find The Christmas Tree Wish
You can find the print English edition of The Christmas Tree Wish on Amazon here and on most other major online stores worldwide. You should also be able to order it from your local bookshop, with delivery times varying depending on their distributor. There is a Kindle version too if you prefer to share stories on tablets.
French and German Editions
You can order Martin, Le Sapin de Noël on Amazon here and Chris Christbaums Weihnachtstraum on Amazon here. No eBooks of these available I’m afraid but I will plan these for next year. I simply ran out of time!
Amazon ads – a quick note
Just a quick note for those of you have bought How to Self-publish and Market a Children’s Book to say that I am planning to add an overview sheet of the latest Amazon Advertising options into the online folder. If you are running ads you will know that a lot has changed in the last couple of months. It’s all for the good but can be overwhelming at times knowing where to start to make the most of what’s now on offer. There’s plenty of free advice and courses online so my notes will be extremely high level, but they will include tips on how to use your ad budget sensibly, and avoid making costly mistakes. A lot is trial and error, combined with careful monitoring, and we are all constantly learning from each other. Just in case of a delay getting my note up, three main tips I can say here are:
1/ Don’t bid high – the recommended bids are just too risky – I rarely bid above 0.25c/25p and often quite a lot less – even into single figures. Where I do bid higher it’s never above 30c/p and is only on a well-performing keyword that is already showing a good return on investment
2/ Research keywords carefully and be sure that they are relevant to your title. Relevancy rules.
3/ Make the most of the available search term reports to harvest new keywords for your campaigns.
That’s it for now. I hope that your writing and marketing journey is going well in the run up to the holiday season 😊🌲
PS: Please do share The Christmas Tree Wish details with friends and family who may have children or grandchildren aged 3-5+. And, as ever, if you buy and enjoy it would mean a lot if you could take a moment to leave a short review online. Those links again: