Saturday, 12 December 2015

Inspirational Spotlight – Interview With Sondra Rymer, Founder of Fairy Tales Imagery

For my 2nd inspirational spotlight feature I would like to introduce you all to the multi talented and all round super woman Sondra Rymer aka Fairy Tales Imagery. I have known Sondra for about  a year now and we met through the wonderful twitter hub. I refer to Sondra as twinny as she is the complete mirror image of me, but I am the more lazier one ha ha. We have had many chats and rants about our creative journey and one thing that always amazes me is how much this lovely lady is capable of! I have no idea how Sondra fits everything in, at times I have wondered if she is super human because the amount of work that she puts in is ridiculous. Not only for her own creative pursuits but also in helping and supporting others in the creative community. On top of being a working Mum Sondra is also a photographer, graphic designer, blogger and active on pretty much every social media platform out there.

Sondra’s work has always made me smile, she creates worlds of happy ever afters and you just wish you could transport yourself into one of her images. Sondra manages to capture  unique worlds by digitally manipulating images using her own photos, occasional stock photos and props. Her children also feature in some pieces and are so soooo adorable!

Sondra does many interviews with other creatives and I was honoured to be featured on her Artist Spotlight Interview recently. So I thought it was about time we knew more about this super woman. So with further ado  I bring to you Sondra Rymer aka Twinny….

Tell us a little bit about you and what you do

Howdy! I am a conceptual photographer and digital illustration artist specializing in children's and YA fantasy and fairy tale art.  In college my time was spent primarily in photojournalism, theatre arts, graphic design and English literature. As life goes my career has taken many different turns from managing a photography department of a large curriculum and book publisher to freelancing photography from my home studio. I have ALWAYS wanted to be a creative visual storyteller. When I worked on newspaper feature stories, I adored telling a story through my photography and I think this has always stayed as a core value and desire in my work through the years.  Making art personable, engaging, and unique has always been key components in my profession. I have a desire to want to engage an audience with photography and art that tells a story. 

What inspired you as a child? Did you ever know that you wanted to pursue a career in the creative field?

Yes, I do believe I always knew I would pursue a career in the arts. From early grade school days I distinctly remember always leaning heavily on my favorite courses such as art, photography, reading, literature, language and music. Unfortunately, courses like math and science held little interest for me. I have always had a rather wild, vivid imagination and can easily get lost in a good book or day dream for hours, days and weeks. haha. As a child, I was always attracted to fantasy and fairy tales story books and theater. I loved the costumes, the lighting, the music, the story.... much like I still do today.  

Did you have any further training when you left school to hone your creative skills?
Since graduating from college, I have taken several courses over the years to brush up on skills and learn new ones. But honestly, nothing really replaces just getting in there and submersing yourself in a creative project where you have to learn on the spot. I think that is what I favor the most as I have never been a "read the directions first" kind of gal. New camera? Just take it out and start shooting. I rarely read instruction manuals on anything, haha. I just want to DO (said in my best YODA voice, lol) and get going already with it all! So nothing to me beats being able to constructively and in a positive moving forward type manner learn, figure out, and grow in various capacities necessary in creating whatever project I am currently involved in... for now this is conceptual fairy tale photography and digital art. 

Did you always know which area you wanted to work in or did you discover that as you went along your artistic journey?

I discovered it in the VERY beginning. I adored photography, storytelling, fantasy and theater. And then I lost it completely for a good 15 years. How wild is that. Different career  moves, what jobs I thought I had to be involved in, and personal choices led me away from the very things that I so loved to do creatively. It was not until I had children that I had a significant wake up call and complete turn around heading back to my first love. I just needed to figure out how to combine my love for visual storytelling, fantasy, photography and theatre arts. It was all there in the beginning, I just was too young and immature to fully grasp what direction I could take and be capable of career wise. But hey, all roads lead to where we are suppose to be. I could not be more happier then where I am creatively at this point in my life and the direction I hope to continue to explore, learn and take with my art career. I hope for this journey to keep going strong as it will be so amazing to see where I am at say 10 years from now. 

Can you run through your creative process with us.
My creative process always starts with storyboards.. well, actually, in my head. I saw the funniest profile blurb on someone's twitter last week something along the lines of "I think it in my head and draw it. Yep, that's about it." haha. how great is that.  

Either way, if I am working for a client or just doing something for fun and my portfolio, I always start with storyboard sketches. I am not by any means skilled at hand drawing (one of my goals is to take lessons as I believe this would greatly enhance my skill level in all my other art work,) so the storyboards are rough but important to set the start of the project and concept in place. 

From there I pick up my camera and plan, organize and execute the necessary photo shoots with models, costumes, specialized props, and / or on location or in my studio. This is one of my favorite parts of course of the whole process. I adore taking the pictures that I will be using in my art. I also enjoy finding or having created original costumes, specialty props and finding the models. 

After the photo shoot, I spend quite a bit of time editing all the images to select out my top ones that will be used in the feature art piece. 

Next, I go to my computer and the digital art process begins. I first arrange and place out all the main images, taking a look at which of those I will be utilizing and if there is anything that I will need to digitally paint or illustrate myself to complete the art. I spend quite a bit of time cutting out my models from backgrounds, or cutting out scenics, props or animals to use in the art piece. I am SUPER picky about how my imagery is cut out and applied, nothing is worse then seeing a bad Photoshop cut out job. ugh. So I probably spend more time then necessary in this step alone to insure that my art is going to blend WELL and consistently throughout the whole art piece. 

In all honesty, I do not care much for sitting long hours at my computer, but I can get totally lost in creating a new art piece! This can take a few days or a long week as my pieces usually involve MANY layers and details by adding textures, light, color enhancements, DOF, and all the other little tweaks here and there. It's all about the light, color, textures, details, more details, and making sure the piece just looks completely polished and put together. I check my lighting to make sure it is consistent all through the piece (nothing is a dead giveaway that a piece has been "pasted together" then 1. bad cut outs as I mentioned above of the models and other picture elements and 2. when the lighting is NOT consistent... yes this is fantasy and fairy tales, but the image STILL has to have some things "real" and consistent in order for it to BLEND WELL together. I am a little obsessed about blending, can you tell. I can look back at some of my earlier pieces and pick out immediately parts that I feel were not blended well with my incorrect cut outs, lighting or color balance. Makes me crazy. haha. Even on art pieces that I recently finish, I will go back with a critical eye and see things I should have done better. All part of the learning and growing process as an artist. 

     Do you use all of your own photos to create your imaginary worlds?

I would say I use 95%.. I really make a HUGE effort to use my own imagery and I am constantly taking pictures where ever I travel to build up my personal stock library. Even so, I might stumble upon something that I need as a main component in a fantasy art piece that I can not myself photography or digitally draw. A prime example of this is my recent Jurassic park children's art with a little explorer. He is surrounded by dinosaurs and looking at a fossil egg he holds in his hands. The fossil egg was designed and created by my good friend Robert de la Pena, dlpStudios who creates all my speciality props. His work is amazing! As for the dinosaur art that is featured in the piece, I can not draw or photograph dinosaurs! haha  I knew the style and look that I wanted for the dinosaurs, so I went to one of my favorite online stock agencies and legally purchased the dinosaur art. I am always SUPER careful about copyright laws, due to my journalism background. If I think I am going to sell my art, I purchase the correct applicable rights and licensing of any stock imagery. If I am not going to sell the art or I am not working for a client, then I seek out basic royalty free images that can be used on personal work. I have a number of stock agencies I have purchased art from over the years as well as other favorite sites such as from which I obtain images that I can not create or photograph myself. Again, I am always super careful on to make sure I am using someone's else art or image with the correct rights and legal permissions.  

You are diverse with your subjects, which images and worlds do you like creating the most?
I hope when I look back on my portfolio that I will see a evolving style and experience level as well as a diverse imagery gallery.  I get restless easily so I hope I am always moving forward and that my gallery will one day reflect this in terms of subjects and stories. My favorite worlds to create right now are the children's fantasy storybook and fairy tale imagery. I also have a growing to do list of more realistic imagery that I hope to find time to tackle one day. 

 Where do you get your inspiration from?
My children. Books. Music. Art. :) 

My children as their whole world of storybooks and games are so entirely and passionately driven by fantasy, stories, light and color, love it! 

Fantasy books I have read as both a child and as an adult ~ I have always been an avid book reader.  I dream about the stories and form images in my mind that are ever changing and evolving about the characters and the story line. For example, I will read a favorite fantasy book and for months afterwards day dream about the characters and evolve their storylines further in my mind while thinking of imagery to go along with each scene. 

Music. I love music. Soundtracks. Lots and lots of soundtracks. 80's. some classical. even some opera. Unless I am doing something super difficult and challenging in Photoshop where I have to really concentrate,  I have to have music. It is just the gel to my soul while I am working creatively. Art comes together in response to what music I am playing as it sets the tone and mood in my mind so to speak when I have my favorite music playing that "matches" the direction, energy and feel I want my work to take.

Art. Specifically, as this may surprise you because it is not current fantasy or fairy tales per say, haha, the Renaissance Art sculptures and painters ... those deep beautiful realistic rich oil paintings by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Sandro Botticelli.. basically all the Italian Renaissance painters as well as Dutch "Golden Age"and Flemish, French, and Spanish Baroque. I can stare all day long. :)  Jump to modern day and I find so many exceptional talents via the creative fantasy / fairy tale communities on Flickr and Deviantart. Too many to name... but the talent is jaw dropping inspiring and overwhelming. I will be doing a good job if I can create something even with half the creativity and talent of those whose work I admire in these communities. 

I am constantly amazed at how much you do in the background. Not only do you create these amazing pieces of art you are also an active blogger and do a lot of online marketing. On top of this you are a busy mum who also has a day job lurking in the background… how on earth do you fit this all in? 

I don't. I am constantly dropping all the balls I seem to try to juggle in the air ~ like hot air balloons I will feel for a moment like I have everything together and then slips a handful as they vanish off into the sky. haha

As a mother, my children and family always comes first. As an artist and professional creative I have to "balance" (I say that almost jokingly bc I never feel like I have anything balanced) the time for creative art and the time for marketing, social media and the blogs I love running which feature interviews with other creative colleagues.  I adore doing the interviews partly because of my journalism background, but also partly because I spent a lot of time inside my home office or busy with my children. Honestly, gone are the days when I would have time to get out and socialize at venues or events with other like minded creatives. So doing the interviews feeds the part of myself that still wants to connect with other artists on a regular basis. I feel like I also grow in my work in one way or another by these connections. They help motivate, support and provide enormous inspiration and goals for my own work just by taking a peek into their creative world.  I have learned the value and wonderful importance of being involved in a creative community. 

Unless an artist has an agent or money to throw at resources to help with marketing and social media strategy and content management on a weekly if not daily basis, everything has to be done ourselves.  I feel often as much as I try to organize this properly, I am running sloppy at the end of the day and exhausted. So, I constantly have to sit back, prioritize, accept what I will get to do and what I will not and just be ok with it all. 

I have put time and energy this year into taking specific social media marketing courses with the intend to run things all around better and more professionally  (which is actually not like me.. but see, that is not my favorite thing to do, so therefore, I just want to learn the quickest and easiest way possible rather then how I usually am about figuring things out and experimenting myself in photography and digital art)  So that time in doing all that marking and social media work took precious time away from what time I have for my art. I see a huge dip in my portfolio when I am throwing a great deal of my time at the marketing management but you can't have one without the other these days. Sooooo at the end of the day, I am not much help in detailing out how this balancing act can be done more successfully.  Spread too thin... that is what I always feel like in this regard. One aspect of this whole way of life for now that I find difficult is my desire to be able to sit down a JUST work solidly on a creative piece until it is done. Now I have to go in spurts either in an established time frame set by a client to meet a deadline or if it is just personal, starting something that I know I may not even get a chance to finish a year later it seems. I am sure this is the case for many creatives that balance many different jobs and or freelance work. I have to work in time slots throughout the day, get done what has to be done, and let go of the craziness of all the rest. Tomorrow is always another day! 

Can you give us a brief outline of what your typical day comprises of

oh my, this is difficult because every day seems to go at a different pace and all... I kinda like it though to be honest. I have always struggled with too much organized same ol same ol days... don't fence me in!! haha  Having children has forced me to be much more organized that is my go with the flow nature.

I try to get up a little early before the children are up... nice to have a little quite time to just get emails done and social media started. Mornings are a mix of taking kiddos to school, checking in with my mom to see if she needs help with anything, and more time spent on social media and looking for work. Even if I am in the middle of freelance work I am always thinking ahead to the next months and trying to set something up work wise. One of my goals this year was to try to manage a bit more exercise for a healthier lifestyle so I try to fit in that several times a week about mid morning. Then there are errands and household management. Afternoons are spent working in some capacity either on one of my "day" jobs, freelance or other client work. After kiddos are done with school I am focusing on personal family time. After they are in bed I go back to work. Again, more social media time or mostly work on freelance and my art.  Of course all that I just said gets flipped around like pancakes and every which way as life happens. I never have a "set schedule" but I enjoy that as it fits more my personality and nature. I just have to be free! 

As a working mother, I do everything revolving around my children and family, finding the spaces for work as I can and working at night. Just writing this is confusing, isn't it? lol On one hand I have to be scheduled and organized (yikes!) and on the other hand I have to be very "go with the flow" (yah!)  Honestly, no one will understand this unless they themselves are "in" it similar themselves. I know I sure never imagined all that I would be doing as a working full time artist and mother!

What would you say are your top tips out there for other creatives just starting out?

You know I often ask this similar question to other creatives I interview, just wondering if others are working smarter and on a better path to finding how to make a livable and working career as an artist. And what I find for both myself and with others is that NO ONE seems to have any good tips or suggestions that is per say hugely applicable to where I am at because everyone's goals, life circumstances are different! Keep at it. Learn as much as you can and work as hard as you can to find your creative "voice" and style, what you are passionate about expressing whether it is children's literature art, painting street art murals or sculpting! Yes, we all know this. Being a successful artist is all about having a huge desire for creating and getting better at what you create, hard work and determination, and ... good fortune. I have seen some amazingly talented artists get passed over and ignored and some others that I consider to be a little less experienced or professional get picked up for amazing jobs. go figure... we all have seen these things happen. In a professional art world where connections are just as important if not more as talent, I would say to other creatives just starting out that getting into a community of talented artists that you can learn from and also gain creative and technical support is crucial to paving the road to having a decent art career.  

I think as artists, a lot of us start out very independent and working solely "in" our art. I knew the importance of connecting with other artists but it took me a long time to truly "get it", make time for it, and realize how vital this was to moving forward in my career. See, there it revolves back to all those hours in social media and networking. And of course not just networking to make connections that are based on quantity over quality. I am talking make real quality connections ... establishing a sound group of supportive and networking artists that you actually DO get to know well and that care in return about you as an artist and your work. I had no idea of the importance of this when I was younger, or if I had an inkling I didn't actually "get it" until much later when I realized that 500+ connections on LINKEDIN do not matter in the least unless you actually really KNOW and connect with them. So if you are anything like me when I first started out, you will read this and go, oh, ok, totally get it (but don't really) and go right back to what you were doing which is creating your art and in a hurry, trying to make the "important key" connections of Art Directors and Publishers in the industry, but sadly ending up with a bunch of empty followers and quite a bit less work then desired.  Yes, been there, done that. :()

What is the best resource / tool you have found for gaining more exposure with your work?

Again, goes back to the connections. Getting involved in mastermind and like minded community groups on FB, IG, Flickr, and Twitter that help support and pass around art. It's all about making those quality connections with other artists that are not competitive but genuinely wanting to be involved with colleagues in their group in a supportive way. Just look at this... I became friends with you on Twitter and FB. We now have a friendship based on similar interest, life experience and work endeavors. You asked me to do this cool interview which in turn gets passed around YOUR group of colleagues and artist creative friends. How amazing is that and THAT is exactly how it works. It does not come from having a 1,000 followers on Twitter that have no idea who I am and what I do. It comes from making those real friendships and connections, so that if say something DOES come up that you hear about fitting for my work you pass my name along and vice versa.

What is your dream, where would you like to see yourself in say five years time?
ahhhh. this is a hard question for me right now. I am at a turning point ... Do I get a "day" job in photography / graphic design and work for a publisher, putting my fairy tales and storybook children's book art dreams on the back burner as more of a hobby for now (but still enjoying my day job) ... doing it only when I find the time but not as a main career? Or do I continue to try to make my photography and digital art my career while juggling all kinds of crazy part time freelance work? I am all over the place. There are certainly pros and cons to each scenario. Ask me again in about a year's time and I will see what happened. :) 

Wowsers! Thank you Sondra…Well I thoroughly enjoyed reading that and it was so nice to learn more about you. I thank the lucky stars that our paths crossed and I look forward to seeing where our odd little paths take us and being part of your creative journey. Thank you for everything you do Sondra and for giving us such an insightful interview.

To connect with Sondra you can find her on any of the following social media platforms:

Well that’s me done for 2015. Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and may all of you have much love, luck and happiness in 2016. What a year!

Friday, 27 November 2015

A school visit to remember - Tips on how to have a successful school author visit

A month ago I had my first school visit for Animania at my children’s school. We had a whirlwind afternoon of visiting all of the key stage 1 children in the space of 2 hours. For my American friends that covers all years within the 4 to 8 age range, which is the perfect age for learning the alphabet

The visit was a huge success and I owe a lot of that to Critterish Alllsorts who Animania sponsors. You can read more about the organization in my earlier post Animania Sponsors Critterish Alsorts Dale from Critterish Allsorts kindly offered to come down for my first school visit so that we could read the book and introduce the children to some of the critters. I didn’t tell the children about Dales visit, it was all kept hush hush. So a couple of weeks before, I gave the school a load of posters and leaflets to pop into the kids school bags to tell them about the author visit. I mentioned Critterish Allsorts and said that all percentage of the sales will go to them. I said that it would be an author visit with a twist, but that was as much as I gave away.... I do like a tease.

We only had 20 minutes in each classroom which was a bit tight, so I decided the best thing to do was for me to go in and read some of the book to the children. After this I mentioned that Animania was sponsoring Critterish Allsorts and that I had a surprise for them. That’s when Dale came in with one of his critters. We had Stoosh the skunk, Connie the boa constrictor and Shiver the Blue Skink. Well, you can imagine the excitement that caused! The looks on their little faces was absolutely priceless!  Dale was amazing with the kids and told them all about what the organization is about and then gave a little talk about the animal he had bought in. The children then had a chance to handle the animals briefly before we rushed off to the next room.

The whole experience was so much fun! The children’s excitement was infectious and I felt like a big kid again. It was so rewarding to finally share my work with children and I was blown away with their enthusiasm and interest. Sadly due to distance issues this combined author visit will be the only one of it’s kind as we live quite a distance away from each other. Such a shame as we made such a good double act and the interest was definitely there for both the book and the organisation.

My plan with future visits is to use my artistic abilities to add the extra factor. Animania is about completely made up animals so I thought at the end of the session the children can help me create their very own Animania character which I can draw out for them. We could have a lot of fun creating a new character and discussing what their characteristics would be, what we should call them, what they will look like etc…hey you never know, it could well trigger a new book concept he he.

Another success was introducing the colouring book. At the end of Animania I included a couple of colouring sheets and some blank sheets for kids to create their own Animania character with. So when I finished reading the book, they saw the colouring page and there was alot of excitement over that. So when I heard the “oooo a colouring sheet” response it was the perfect opportunity to show them the colouring book which I had recently published. The colouring book is basically the entire book republished in line art so that the children can colour in their own version of Animania. The colouring book did very well and I took many orders that day so another little tip, colouring sheets go down very very well!

So how can you have a successful author visit?

Find something that stands out from the norm

I can’t thank Dale enough for helping me with the first visit. The combined double act really added a little something special to the visit and made it a more memorable experience for the children. Try and think outside of the box a bit. Have a think about what your book is about, is there anything you could utilise that would be a fun little twist on the visit? There could be organizations or people out there that could help out. So for example, say your book includes a magician… get a magician in to do a couple of tricks. If it’s about an animal and you know someone who owns said animal then ask if they could come in with you. You might want to dress up or have some friends that are happy to dress up for you, you might even have some budding actor friends who would like to act some of the scenes out.  The possibilities really are endless, you can be as crazy and whacky as you like, that’s the beauty of children, you really can’t put a foot wrong. They will enjoy whatever you do but giving them something that leaves a lasting impression will make the occasion more memorable.

Another fellow author Rosie Russell shared with me what she does with her school visits to make them tailor made for her.....

I go and do a reading of my Maggie, Millie, and Merrie's Magical Adventure" book. There is an art project in the back so the art teacher I know invites me to do this with her 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. The students really love this project. I give them each a bookmark and they all enter a chance to win a box of school supplies. (The supplies are in the story.) I also talk to them about how they can become authors and illustrators.
Twitter @RosieRrbjj /  Facebook

Interact with the children

Kids love interacting with you so ask lots of questions throughout the reading and get them involved with the story.  Ask them if they can guess what happens next, or if any of them can relate to a scene in the book. You will find this happens naturally anyway, kids will certainly put their two pennies worth in.

Another indie author AJ Cosmo has recently had a school visit and I wanted to share one of his pictures with you.  I loved how AJ actually sat down on the floor with the kids, making himself at their level so that he in essence was just a big kid there inspiring them.  I thought it was a great idea for AJ to actually get on the floor with the kids, I am going to have to pinch that idea he he.  So  let your inner child out and be one of the kids for the day.

AJ also gave some invaluable advice on self publishing in a past blog post 

Twitter:  @AJCosmokids /

Dress to impress

You could go the whole hog and go for the full fancy dress costume, you will certainly get noticed that way and guaranteed to make quite an impact. If like me though you are a little more introverted than that, then choose an outfit that stands out. I am a bit of a girly girl hippy chick anyway so my style is a bit in your face at times. I chose one of my favourite long skirts, a bright purple layered number and the little girls loved it, they made me feel like a princess. I was sitting there reading and these little fingers kept playing with the ruffles on the bottom of my skirt, it was very cute. So go for something bright and cheery and if you are brave enough to go for a costume then go for it, they will love it!

Set some tasks so that the memory of your visit lives on

You want your visit to leave a lasting impression so set some tasks for the children so that they are still talking about the visit days after. For our one Dale came up with the idea that each of the classes were to create an Animania character based on the facts they had learned for each of the animals. They could draw the character or come up with a verse for it and then they could share it on the board outside of the classroom so that other classes could see each others ideas.

This will encourage the children to carry on discussing the book and characters after the visit too. Again be inventive and think of a task that specifically relates to your book.

Everyone loves a Freebie

You can’t go wrong with freebies. I went for colouring sheets with mine, they are the most affordable option and kids love them! I have supplied a few sheets to other authors I have worked with in the past by using the preliminary line drawings as a basis for a colouring sheet . From an illustrators point of view creating colouring sheets are super easy to do. So have a chat with your illustrator and see if they can do some bespoke sheets for you. Or like Rosie Russel did for her recent book launch reach out to people to ask if they are happy to donate some colouring sheets.

There is a fantastic group on face book called Colouring in with Colour. This group is packed full of amazing creatives and are always offering free colouring sheets. I gave Rosie some of mine and so did Karen Emma Hall founder of the colouring group and the fabulous Kid Literature Authors group. I am sure there will be people on there happy to donate some of their colouring sheets, I am more than happy to share mine too.

Other inexpensive ideas are stickers, bookmarks, badges etc.  You could even bake something , again chose something that relates to your book.

Have you any other tips you would like to share with fellow authors on what particularly works well with your school visit? If so then please do leave a comment below.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Taking the leap of faith - Will it ever be the right time?

Warning, I am being a moaning minny so apologies for the doom and gloom, but I feel this is an important topic to cover. I am sure that I am not the only one out there who is going, or have gone through these struggles.

So good news first (yes there is some lol), I have officially been given another book to work on… yay! So that is two I am working on for the rest of the year. Now the bad news… it might well kill me ha ha. Well ok, maybe that’s a tad on the dramatic side,  but it is safe to say that I am going to be a teeny bit busy up until Christmas. For the first time ever I have had to tell people that I cannot physically do any more work until 2016. 

I am so grateful that I am fortunate enough to have job offers coming in but I  am also a little wary. I haven’t had a break since February now so I won’t lie…. as much as I am really looking forward to working on the new books I am also a little concerned that I will have yet another burn out spell. Generally I try not to do more than 2 books a year as they are quite time consuming. Juggling commissions around the day job, children and general day to day stuff is really quite tricky. I vowed when I was working on Animania and Animal Stories For The Young 4 earlier this year that I wouldn’t put myself in that situation again….. famous last words!

This year I have worked on 4 books plus my Animania colouring book. This is on top of a very complicated house move and a family health scare… just in case I get bored. It has been a year that has been quite ridiculous, at one point I really thought someone up there was having  a laugh.  As a result I have been run down with insomnia spells, woman flu, and what I can only describe as a panic attack, that was a horrible feeling! I have been more snappy and not listening to what others are saying, literally floating about in my own little bubble. It is not all doom and gloom some great things happened this year which I am so grateful for, I moved into a lovely home and will have my own little studio next year. I published my first book and finally seeing results with my work so there is a lot of good going on too.

However, here comes the moan….It has got to the point now that I am struggling to do this and my day job. My typical day comprises of getting up, doing the school run, go to work, school run, cook dinner, general housey and mumsy stuff then by about 8ish I can start painting/sketching. I occasionally have a day off but more often than not it doesn’t happen. In fact it has got to the point now that when I do actually watch something on telly I feel really guilty, it just feels so naughty sitting there and relaxing.... this isn't a healthy way to live your life.

Before I go off on a rant and play the “poor me” card I do want to stress that I love what I do and I am so so grateful that I have commissions coming in, but it’s getting to the point where I am having to seriously think about the future. There have been a few comments now that have hit home, the children have commented on the fact that I am art obsessed and working too much, my husband has said he wants his old wife back… can you imagine how heart breaking this is to hear. I hate that I am changing and I try so so hard to not get stressed or snappy but it just get’s too much at times. My biggest fear is that the children will grow up thinking that their Mum is some work obsessed mentalist who didn’t have time for them.

So last week I had to sit down and have “the chat” about the possibility of leaving the day job and doing this full time. Well it went down like a lead balloon and the whole thing was rather depressing. It really kicked me in the stomach, all I have been working towards is to do this full time and now I am beginning to think it will never happen and I am destined to either a) give it all up or b) just do it as a hobby or c) carry on working like a nutter and turn into some kind of crazy scary woman in the process, that everyone will come to resent. I stumbled across this quote and it sums up exactly how I feel right now  “It’s hard to wait around for something that may never happen; but it’s even harder to give up when you think it’s everything you want”  

You see my job works perfectly around the school hours and is quite well paid so at the end of the day, could I earn as much through what I am doing? The answer is, I really don’t know, it is such a risky choice to make. I was convinced I could make a go of this, but now I am feeling incredibly insecure about it all, what if it does all go pear shaped? At what point do I take the leap? Right now is not the right time but at what point is it the right time? Do I really have  to run myself to the ground to find out? So many questions have filled my head the last week.

I have seen many people make the transition but the majority is because they have been forced into the situation, the timing was right for them. They have no regrets though and even though there is that worry of an unsteady income the overall vibe I have received is that it was the best thing they ever did, they are living their dreams. But then there are some that are really struggling to find the jobs to pay for their rent. It is such a tough choice to make and something you cannot take lightly when you have little mouths to feed.

I am in limbo with the whole thing now. I have started contacting agents again, if I had an agent on my side then that would give me a security blanket but so far we are 7 rejections in and as much as I am trying to stay positive I am not so sure anymore. So where does this leave me? Well I will carry on as I am, get these two books finished and then assess the situation again. If any more jobs come in next year then something needs to change,  because I refuse to go through another year like that again. It is so so hard balancing family life, work life and pursuing a different career path but my family will always come first. The last week has been a real wake up call and it is time I start to prioritize things differently. I am going to have to be much quieter on social media for a start so apologies now for being distant.

I am normally a very positive person and always try to make others happy so I hate writing posts like this, but it is important to show that life isn’t always a bunch of roses. We all struggle and the black spells happen to everyone. I think that is why I always try to make people laugh or put on this positive happy, happy front, it’s because I know what  it’s like to feel worthless, insecure and inadequate…. Strong words I know, but this is genuinely how I feel at times, more so this year. It is a horrible feeling, but luckily these spells do pass and the majority of the time I am all about the lols. My heart goes out to people who suffer from depression because it must be awful when you can’t talk yourself out of it. When I have a bad spell I try really hard to focus on all the good, that helps me a lot. I also remind myself of the bigger things going on in the world and how my silly little meltdowns are really irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, there are people out there who are really suffering and do not have the things that I do. I have my health, my children, a loving husband, amazing family and friends and a roof over my head... there is a lot to smile about.

Anyway the remainder of my posts will all be happy, happy now for the rest of the year, even if I do age 20 years ha ha. I have taken my frown and turned it upside down.

Have you taken the leap of faith and left all that was comfortable to live your dreams? I could really do with some input on this one so please do leave a comment below.

Friday, 2 October 2015

To self publish or not self publish - A J Cosmo's success story

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As you might be aware I recently self published my first children’s book Animania.
It was not a decision I took lightly, I off course wanted to try to get a traditional publisher on board. However after  a year of rejections from both agents and publishers I decided enough was enough, it was time to do this on my own.

In this day and age it is so simple to self-publish a book. I never thought I would say this but the actual production of the book is the easy part. How to market yourself and your work is a whole new ball game and one that I am still struggling to get my head around.

I have learned a lot the past year with the self publishing versus traditional publishing routes and I am continuing to learn each day. I think it will be a good couple of years until I have established myself as a children’s author. I have had a great start with it, but it is going to take more time and alot more writing/illustrating before I start seeing the results I am working towards.

One of the main ways I have taught myself about the wonderful world of publishing is by connecting with fellow creatives and swapping stories/ideas. I am always fascinated with everyone’s stories about how they have got to where they are today, it inspires me and keeps me motivated to keep going. I thought I would interview a few people that I look up to in the hope that their success stories will inspire me and other hopefuls out there. I will try and do this once a month as a new feature.

A J Cosmo is the first person I have chosen to quiz. This super lovely chap is a creative machine when it comes to writing and illustrating books. Over 40 self published books to date, and his first book was published only 4 years ago… see what I mean about a creative machine! When I first came across A J Cosmo earlier this year I remember going through his website and thinking wow, this is exactly how I would like to see myself a few years down the line. You can’t help but admire the level of success he has achieved all by himself. It just goes to show that self publishing can work providing that you have the passion and commitment to see it through. So here we have a few questions that I wanted to ask the man himself…


You are an illustrator and an author; did you have any training in either field? 
I have always taken art and writing classes, my best subjects, and have an undergrad in fine art and a master in film with a minor in painting. I have also worked as an airbrush artist for many years, which gave me my speed, and written screenplays in my spare time to try to break into film.  

When did you realize this was your path in life? 
Children's books were one of many spokes I had in the fire when I found myself unemployed. People responded after the third piece and I have been creating children's book sever since. 

When did you publish your first title and how did it feel? 
My first children's book for Kindle came out in December of 2011. It was called Gordon's Gravy and has since been discontinued. It felt like a naked relief. I never expected fame or fortune, still don’t, but I was happy to simply have something out there. So much of my artistic life has revolved around asking permission; so simply publishing something, anything, was a breakthrough. 

The self-publishing industry has a huge learning curve. Did you find it easy to publish your first book? 
Publishing is easy. You can find hundreds of tutorials and services to get a book on Amazon. Publishing professionally, creating something of value people want, that's hard. Self-publishing has a bad reputation because so many people forget that our audience has been fed filet mignon for years. They have high expectations and want indie writers to match or exceed the professionalism of traditional publishers.  

Did you invest much financially in your first book? 
No. Doing almost everything myself, I invest very little in each of my books. Doing things this cheaply means that I spend a huge amount of time on each project. Luckily I am quick. It also means that I have had to acquire every skill that a book needs to be created. The past four years have been one long education. I do not recommend people break the bank with each book. Rather, spend thriftily and where it matters (cover and content) and expect that your investment will never show returns.  

You have self published all of your titles, did you ever try to go down the traditional publishing route and how did you find it? 
I have tried half-heartedly and still think of trying to this day. Traditional publishers frustrate me because everything is on their terms and they are painfully slow. It's also bizarre to talk to traditionally published authors who brag about their one book and be looked down upon myself for having sold twenty times their numbers. 

What made you decide to go down the self-publishing route? 
Fear of rejection from traditional publishers and ease of entry combined with the newness of the technology. It became a job as soon as I started treating it like one and it definitely gives back in proportion to what I put in. 

What are your top 3 dos and don'ts for self-publishing? 


1) Be professional. 
2) Pay attention to your market. 
3) Be humble, expect nothing. 


1) Carelessly throw anything out there. 
2) Assume that you cannot be better. 
3) Rely on magical thinking, easy solutions, or other people.  

At what point in your career did you feel like you were on the right track and started to see significant results? 
There's an assumption that once you do well you will always do well. Make no mistake, I struggle same as everyone else. I have had mind-blowing months and heartbreaking months. You cannot have success without failure and often they are mixed together. I'm just now coming out of a personal recession, so to speak, and I'm still not entirely sure whose fault the whole ordeal was. Regardless, if this is something you want, expect to keep working even after you do well. That's why it's so important to value the craft over the rewards. 

I have found marketing to be the hardest part about self-publishing. Did you have any help with this or was it a case of picking things up as you go along? 
I have asked many questions of people who call themselves marketers. I have read many books on marketing, taken many online courses, read articles, and watched countless videos, but the most useful advice I ever found was that you need to be of use to other people. No one cares that you wrote a book; they care if you can help them make their life easier. If your book can stop a child from crying at night, you will sell a billion copies. Realizing that the customer, the reader, is the most important person in the world is the first step in effective marketing and is what I stress when teaching marketing to others.  

Have you ever paid for help with marketing and if so was it beneficial? 
Yes I have and I encourage everyone to try whatever he or she can at least once. What works for one person may not work for another. As for me, the most useful paid advertisement has been with the email blaster services such as BookBub and FreeBooksy. Those both require either substantial discounts or for you to offer books free, so to take full advantage of them you need to have an email subscription shell around their promotion. 

I was researching awards recently but was quite shocked with the fees for entering. What is your view on awards and paying for reviews, in your opinion is it worth the investment?
Awards can be a cash cow to the creators of the awards (same with contests) so you would do well to research the notoriety of the award before entering. You want an award that is hard to get and that people care about. Unfortunately, so many authors have slapped award seals on their books that I'm afraid it has lost a lot of meaning (same as palm fronds with films) so the value of the award might be in the recognition that the award gives to its audience, not on what you can stick on your book. 

I have found the journey so far to be a rollercoaster of emotions, a mix of extreme highs and lows. Did you go through similar feelings when you were starting out? 
Always have and always will. Fear is a sibling of creativity. Depression is the shadow of joy. Even the simplest walk has a vast variety of surfaces on the path. It's best to make peace with your emotions and use all that as a fuel to power you. I believe in feeling emotions fully, cherishing them, and then releasing them. It can be very good to be afraid. 

What plans do you have for your future writing and illustrating?
I plan on continuing to create, market, and help in whatever ways I can. I just want to be able to continue to do what I'm doing because it feels right. Sure, other things may come up, but I plan on producing at least one book a month until something stops me. There are a huge variety of projects on the slate from new middle-grade novels, to sequels, to multimedia iBooks, as well. I want to create something for everyone. 

What would be the biggest bit of advice that you would give people like me that have only just dipped their toes in the huge self-publishing ocean? 

Three steps: 

1) Decide if this is really what you want. Some people may only wish to publish one book and be done, that's perfectly fine. 

2) Be honest with yourself. Look at your work like others would. See the faults and the strengths. Look at your work like a stranger would look at you, not someone who is invested in you. 

3) Never stop learning. This industry changes quickly. Learn everything you can about business, marketing, art, graphic design, publishing, everything, and teach whenever you can (the best way to learn.) Knowledge will give you confidence and confidence will give you endurance. 

Thank you Corrina for this opportunity to speak. It was a pleasure. 
If any readers have a question for me I'm always available through email at 

You can contact AJ at:

Thank you so much for the fantastic interview AJ, you are a true inspiration… keep up the fantastic work!. AJ has always been so helpful when I have had any questions, so do get in touch with him if there is anything I haven’t covered here.

I still have a lot to learn but the biggest thing that came as a shock to me was the harsh realization that selling books is HARD work!. Please don’t be disheartened if you don’t sell many copies. I had a huge amount of support when I published Animania but the actual sales of the book was incredibly disappointing, to the point where I had a bit of a grey spell over it. I soon found out though that this is quite normal and even AJ himself said that the average sales of your first book is 20 copies! Well that made me feel a load better and I have been plugging away ever since. Sales are beginning to trickle in now and I am sure there will be more once I start getting myself out there in person. There is only so much you can do online, it is time to now see how sales go through things like author visits, Christmas fairs etc.

As they say “Rome wasn’t built in a day” so even if initial sales are disappointing you mustn’t give up, keep plugging, get yourself out there and start writing and producing more books. It will take time but with strength and determination you can get there. I won’t lie deciding to go solo is scary, there is a lot to get your head around but the actual process of getting the product together is really very simple and very affordable. I encourage anyone to give it a go, you really can’t lose with it. The hard bit is the work after, but if you like a challenge and have the passion then anything is possible, AJ is a prime example of this.

Have you self published a book? Do you have any tips on what helped you with your journey? If so please do leave a comment. If you have any questions at all then do feel free to ask me, I may not know an awful lot right now but I know a lot of people who do ;)

Happy writing xx