I first met Ellen when she contacted me about designing her first book, The Giving Book, Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving. I was immediately drawn to her enthusiasm for her book, and her courage and determination to start her own publishing company, Watering Can Press. She had very little publishing experience, but really wanted to get her book published to her exact standards. She decided that she needed to make this happen on her own without the help of a traditional publisher. I decided to interview Ellen because her story is a true success story of going the "indie" publishing route that Ellen Lupton discussed during her interview at The Casual Optimist that I blogged about here.
Her company slogan is, "Watering Can Press, Growing Kids with Character". I think this is brilliant! Here is Ellen's story (my comments are in italics!)
1. How did you get your first book published?
My first book, The Giving Book, Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving, was originally meant as a birthday present for my 6-year-old niece. It wasn't until I got hundreds of calls and e-mails asking for a copy of the book that I thought to get it published. I went to several publishing houses to offer the book, but decided that the changes I was being asked to make changed an inherent part of my message. I decided to start my own publishing house, Watering Can Press.
2. What was your next big break?
I had so many breaks it was crazy! After calling the executive offices of a major bookseller (I have to say, Ellen has guts...she'll call just about anyone!) I found myself at breakfast with their head of publishing who became a mentor, and still is to this day. My designer (me), illustrator (Keri Barbas Steckler), and editor all had more experience than I did and made my product far more than it would have been. A marketing director at a major financial institution wanted thousands of branded copies of my first book, which led me to custom publishing. The list goes on of the people who have advised, helped, guided, and supported me and my books.
3. What is your educational background?
I have an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Emory, a Master's in Health Administration from NYU, work at the London School of Economics in Medical Anthropology, and a Master's in Public Health from Harvard.
4. Where do you get your inspiration?
My first two books were written directly as gifts for my niece, so she was my inspiration. Following books came from my life or issues in the world around me. For example, I wrote a The Healing Book for kids after a summer when my family faced several deaths and I found a huge need for the book. I wrote an The Greening Book for kids when an executive at Barnes and Noble asked me to do so while guaranteeing a large pre-order. My most recent book, The Healthy Body Book, seeks to inspire kids to develop healthy habits. I wrote this one because of the epidemic of childhood obesity and avoidable illness that I think can be reduced by getting kids "hooked" on caring for their bodies.
5. What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Ignore all the "nay-sayers". There will be many people telling you why it will be so hard to publish, write, get distribution, etc. If you love your message and book, then other people will too! Also there are hundreds of ways to get to the same end goal. Sometimes doing it your own way and not knowing the traditional way gets you there too!
6. What were some of your first rejections, and what made you keep going?
I went to one or two agents and publishers at the beginning and found that a different idea was often equated with something too risky so they wanted to fit my idea into a proven niche. To me, that felt like a rejection (Ellen's books are interactive...having the child "co-author the book, which may have been a little too "different" for some publishers). I kept going because I really liked my book and my message—it was all about getting kids involved in making the world a better place, so I figured that even if I was wasting my time and money, if I got the book out and it inspired a couple kids to get excited about charity and giving, than my downside was pretty low and it was worth doing.
Thanks to Ellen for sharing her bold journey into the world of indie publishing! I hope she inspires you...she has definitely inspired me as I've worked with her to design these great books!