This week on the Writer’s Way podcast, we talk about indie vs traditional publishing! Guest Amba Brown shares how she started in self-publishing, took a detour into traditional publishing with HarperCollins, and decided to get back into self-publishing on a regular basis, all while moving from Australia to the USA!
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Jay Maletsky’s Independent Author’s Publishing Collective
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Laurie: Hello everybody, welcome back to the Writer’s Way podcast. Today I’m talking to the amazing Amba Brown. Thank you for coming on here with me.
Amba: Thank you so much for having me Laurie. Excited to be here.
Laurie: You do things that speak really closely to my heart and things that I wish I could do. I taught kindergarten for 10 years.
And four year olds are my people and teenagers are not my people. They do not find me funny. They don’t like my jokes. But so I’m really impressed that you can target all those ages. So I won’t blather on. How about you? Share with us a bit about you and your bio and who you are and where you are. What you do?
How Amba Became a Writer
Amba: Yeah. Sure, so I became a writer like a lot of writers say, ‘I’ve always been a writer’. I didn’t become one. I’ve just loved riding since I was a kid and when I was finishing High School, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I felt really stressed and anxious about that transition and I felt that there was no book out there that I wanted to pick up and read to support me through that change.
So essentially I wrote the book that I wanted on the bookshelf at the time and once I saw that come into the world then the series unraveled from there. So I’m the eldest of six and yeah when you said about communicating to different ages, I think. It can feel hard to connect and make sure that the words that you use are the most appropriate, most engaging that age group.
I was lucky my youngest brother was 14, so he was making that transition to high school. I could work with him and his friends and they could point me in the right direction and be like no that doesn’t make sense. So I found it really helpful having my own little guinea pigs that could steer me…
Amba: and make sure I was on point with that.
Laurie: I talk about my kids as my test subjects lots. That’s nice that you have a lot of siblings.
Amba: Yeah. It’s a lot of siblings. But yeah, we’re all really close and they’re all the first ones to provide very honest feedback if they do or don’t like something which I appreciate. So yeah, that’s me, I guess today I’ve got the series the book The Kids Finishing School, Starting High School and then Starting School. And since I’ve published two extra books.
One a biography of Dr. Seuss and then latest one is a kids meditation book. So that’s what I have in the world book ways for people to collect but besides that my background in Psychology, my passion is supporting youth. I experienced pretty severe anxiety as a kid, so I’m very passionate about empathizing with others going through that and providing tools to support kids to overcome it.
Laurie: I love that which is the part that speaks to me greatly. So thank you for the work that you’re doing. We need more and more and more of it
Share Your Experience with Being Traditionally Published
Laurie: Can you share with us? Because you shared with me your first book, I think you said was actually published by HarperCollins, which everybody thinks is like the be all and end all, one of the top five. They’re gonna discover me. I’m going to be rich. I’m going to sail around the world. So can you share with us was that your experience or maybe not quite?
Amba: No, I think when I was writing a book, I thought that would be the end that I would then walk away.
And that was it, I’d written a book. That would be fulfilling enough and I’m not sure if this is characteristic of me as a person or all writers’ experience. I’d love to hear your feedback on this, but I feel like that was just when that happened when the book got taken over by HarperCollins that was like the first of so many million more steps. And there’s just this whole marketing world and its ongoing project of spreading awareness.
And even if you’re a self-publisher, if you have a small press, medium press or one of the big five, I think today it is very common that as an author they want you on the ground sharing your message and it doesn’t just end there, doesn’t mean that they’re just going to take it over. Obviously people with a big name, there’s different levels of support but I was very fortunate in that my book was picked up by HarperCollins. So they contacted me to obtain the right. So that was not your usual…
How Did HarperCollins Find You?
Laurie: Oh, yeah. Stop there? How did they find you?
Amba: So I when I first, I guess to wind back.
Amba: I finished the book and then I thought I would just send it out. And of course that a publisher take it on and that would be it right? There that sounds so easy. Six months passed and I didn’t hear anything back.
I heard a couple of nos. I contacted a hundred agents. You’re lucky to get a few nos and then I contacted all the publishers, lots of nos again, but I really did believe in the need for this book to be on the shelf. So I decided that after that period of time that I would continue and self-publish which I’d then did.
Which was an amazing experience in itself because self publishers you get to know all the different parts of the process: editing, publishing, paper, marketing, but the whole spectrum which I think is a really helpful thing for an author to really understand and get that that depth of knowledge about. Which if your experience is just handing it straight to a publisher perhaps you don’t get it all of that. So grateful for that experience and my book that was then picked up by a couple of bookstores and it was a scout from HarperCollins that saw my book sitting on a shelf in a bookstore that then contacted me to ask to obtain the rights.
What was the Process Like with HarperCollins?
Laurie: Oh, so you had published it yourself. Are we talking about the Guide to Life and Happiness after school?
Amba: School, correct? The Finishing School yes.
Laurie: Okay. And so you publish it yourself and then what’s that process? Like what do you have to do? Because it’s already published. So what do you have to do?
Laurie: To let them have it.
Amba: So they request to obtain the rights and then at that point, I did speak to a couple of other publishers because once you have one of the big five involved then you have a little bit more, I guess room to still offer to other publishers.
And then so I spoke to Penguin and a couple of others to kind of see what offers people might put on the table. So that started a whole you conversation. We have the ability at that point to decide on one: do you want to give it to them? You own the rights, once you’ve self-published and two: looking over a contract, I engaged a literary agent to help me through that process because I didn’t understand a lot of the contract.
Amba: Then at the end of the day, it was, it has been an honor for HarperCollins to print their logo on my book and to help distribute it so I went with them and they then put it through their own editing process and relaunch it.
Amba: So we launched in Australia in 2017. And it just this month it’s being relaunched in by HarperCollins U.S.
Laurie: Oh. Okay. Nice.
Amba: Now things move a lot slower with big houses, than they do self publishing. But yeah, and I also have my own small press. So I publish books through my own Marla publishing as well and have a factory and in China who I’ve been and with. And yes, I’m still doing both both means of publishing.
Laurie: And do you publish for other people or just yourself?
Amba: Just for myself at the moment still. Yeah.
Laurie: Okay, so oops sorry.
Amba: No that’s ok I was going to say I’ve been contacted by people have asked me to but I don’t have the it’s just me.
I’m outsourcing everything. So I’m outsourcing editing and so forth, so I don’t have in-house staff.
Amba: So the moment just my own.
Laurie: Big undertaking yes. So HarperCollins still has that first one and then you chose after that to do it yourself.
Amba: Correct. Yes.
Why Choose Self Publishing?
Laurie: But why?
Laurie: Why? I was going to say why, why did you make that choice?
Amba: Yeah, so last year I my husband and I decided to drive around Australia and we launched because I’m from Sydney Australia. I’ve just moved to New York start of year.
Laurie: Oh that’s a big change.
Amba: From New York now. Yeah the last year my husband and I drive drove around Australia and decided because we noticed that the first book was getting most traction from schools.
So we defined the target market was schools, education systems and decided to go and drive around and visit schools. Visiting about 12 schools a day. So we visited yeah, like over 300 schools and we’re just going straight in and selling the books to these schools offering it. And yeah, we had a great success. The Starting High School book did the most sold the most copies. We sold out last year.
And yeah, we’re selling more copies this year to the same schools are purchasing it in bulk for their students.
Laurie: Oh nice.
Amba: At the end of the day the decision was really a money decision. Was based on yeah how much I get per book. I think lots of the publishing houses, obviously, they have their own costs, which you understand.
Launching a Book in the USA
Amba: Yeah being able to manage the distribution in Australia. I decided that I would continue and do that directly but having moved to the US. I’m now kind of in conversations with how I’ll launch it here the other two books. So it’s a bit bigger the US market.
Laurie: Yes. So you have a warehouse I’m assuming and you ship books to Australia and keep them there and then you just…
Amba: Correct. Yeah.
Laurie: Yeah. And so now you have to decide if you want to do the same in the US.
Amba: Yeah, exactly. Yeah in the U.S. I’ve been having some exciting conversations with the Department of Education and they’re quite interested in the book.
So and talking with a distributor. So this is all just being me being proactive reaching out and a lot of but a lot of authors have to do but it’s a lot of work.
Laurie: A lot of work. I do know somebody I don’t know if you know Jay Maletsky and his company. So he has a deal with a Chinese printer, but he also his company also warehouses the books. So if you need another name to reach out and get some quotes from, sorry this little bit off-topic everybody, but maybe I’ll just throw his company in the show notes.
And anybody who’s interested. Yeah. He’s setting up some really cool stuff through his company that gives back to certain communities as well. So anyway, I won’t go on about it. But…
Amba: That sounds interesting.
Amba: Distribution is such a big part of getting the books into people’s hands. So it’s something that I’m kind of learning it on the ground here in the states.
It changes country to country. But when I first started writing a book it wasn’t about the money at all. I didn’t I was first self-publishing through blurb. I wasn’t making anything, but I just wanted to make a book out there and I recently spoke to a new author who just published a book and I felt that I was so talking about money and you know, if you do it this way you get this much. She’s like “I don’t care about the money” and I’m like, but after so many years and so much effort I kind of do, now. Like it’s my …
Laurie: You kind of do!
Amba: You know.
Writing as a Business
Laurie: Yeah and it takes up so much time and so much effort that part of it just wants to get your books out and help people, but also when you start looking at the bottom line, well, I could make two dollars per book or I could make $5 per book and it’s the same amount of effort and work. So why wouldn’t you?
Amba: Exactly. A business decision. I never want to sound like that author who’s chasing a coin, but it is now my full-time job and it’s my livelihood. I want to produce more books and start a new series. In order to do that, I need to fund it.
Laurie: You are a business. A lot of people go into it and it’s a hobby and it’s that creative outlet. They have this idea so they pursue it, but if you continue, you’re right, it’s a business. And you have to put your business hat on. All those different hats right?
Amba: Yeah, exactly.
Amba’s New Series
Laurie: That’s exciting. You’re doing a new series. Is it still the same sort of anxiety focus and helping kids or is it?
Amba: So the new series that I’m doing I can’t disclose too much because it’s not out yet but it is based on positive psychology principles for young kids.
So the goal will be to get these skills into the hands of kids. That you would appreciate I’ll share with you as soon as they’re…
Laurie: Okay, yeah.
Amba: It’s a collaboration with a professor from from a university here. So it’s very exciting and I look forward to sharing that in the near future.
Maybe we can do a follow-up interview.
Laurie: Yes, absolutely six months. Send me an email and we’ll get you back on to talk about it. Congratulations! Lots on your plate.
Amba: Yes, lots of projects in the air. I think it’s a matter of now like all of this will relate to putting time aside and getting things done and not getting too overwhelmed by all the different things up in the air like actually because that can just take up so much time in itself kind of thing making your lists and thinking about all you have to do.
How Do You Keep Organized?
Laurie: So, how do you keep how to keep it organized how to keep it from taking over? I have been a victim to that for sure.
Amba: Yeah, so here in New York I started attending attending sorry writers meetings, which I find a really helpful space to put aside usually they’re two-hour, three-hour blocks and I’ll find that I’m most productive and I attend these meetings they’re called have you heard of Shut Up and Write, write?
Laurie: I think I have.
Amba: A not for profit international organization and I host a couple of those meetings. But I just find it so helpful to sit with other writers,, get their energy bounce off it, hold yourself accountable start of the meeting today. I’ll be doing this and really then following through doing that for that period of time and then.
Yeah, that’s one way that I found to be really helpful.
Laurie: So you declare what you’re going to work on and then everybody like opens up their laptops and works?
Amba: Exactly. Yep.
Laurie: Oh I love it.
Amba: And then write and then the end.
Laurie: I love it.
Amba: It’s really it’s been really helpful and then I have an office at home as well. So I’ll write out a couple of days a week right at home.
So for me changing environment as well really helps with compartmentalizing.
Finding the Time for Writing
Laurie: I’ve heard that. Writing is what I have the least amount of time for these days. You can’t outsource the writing. I need to be better at outsourcing other stuff, I guess.
Amba: Yeah, and for me sometimes, you know a couple of days will pass when I haven’t done anything and I had a friend in a writer’s meeting this week who said I’ve made the commitment to myself that I write every single day. Even if it’s just for one minute just one minute a day. I was like wow. I know that’s a low bar.
Amba: But some days I’m not even doing the one minute. So I decided also to do that and if it’s just one minute the usually find you get in the flow when you write a bit more than that.
Laurie: Yeah, of course, you can’t just. You can’t just do that’s great advice. I tell a lot of new authors just butt in chair, write, get it out, but then I don’t always follow that advice myself because there’s so much out there. So I love that.
The Artist’s Way
Laurie: Do you have? You have some another piece of advice that you shared with me. Can you share with other new authors? It was like what everybody says because we’ve all been through and it’s keep going, don’t give up.
Amba: I’m so sorry. I think when I first…
Laurie: I think it’s been a while. That’s okay. It strikes me. It’s interesting because I ask everybody this and it’s almost always a version of the same thing, which is don’t give up.
Amba: Yes, keep going and don’t give up and I think there’s a lot of fear in writing and putting your work out there and I’ve just actually picked up yesterday The Artist’s Way. Have you heard you’ve heard of the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? It’s a 10-step activities to increase your creativity and heard lots of good things. I know Elizabeth Gilbert speaks highly of her as well.
It’s like Big Magic and that idea that creativity is outside of ourselves to some extent as well. I guess tying back to that don’t give up. If you’re feeling really worried that what you’re putting out there is not good enough or shouldn’t be shared, I think remembering the reason you’re doing it, something outside of you I found for me it was focusing on helping kids. And that kept me going on like it’s not about me and my ego and people like me or my work. This is improving for them. And that was something that kept me going.
Laurie: I love that. Yes, I love Big Magic. I refer to it often.
Amba: Yeah, well then you will love the Artist’s Way as well.
Laurie: I’ll have to I’ll have to look that one up.
Where Amba Can Be Found
Laurie: Okay, can you share with people where they can find you. There’s a lot of places but it looks like it’s almost of the same name.
Amba: Definitely. You can find me on any of your preferred social media channels Twitter Instagram Facebook. I am this year I’ve been trying to stay on social media once a week because that’s also something that was making me not very productive. So I’m most available via email. Just my website you can click through my email there. So my websites findingyourpathbooks.com. And yeah, you can find all the relevant sites through that website.
Laurie: Well perfect thank you. And I love that. I was having fun on your website. It’s really neat. Findingyourpathbooks.com. Thank you so much Amba for coming on with me and I would love to talk to get a six months or whenever you launch the new series and you can share with us how that goes.
Amba: Sounds great. Thank you so much for your time to talk. It’s always nice to be able to yeah, share my journey. Anyone else would like to check further?
Laurie: Okay. Awesome. Thank you so much.