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Author Interview Series (13): Jemima Neal

June had been a busy month so I pushed this one to July. Here is our 13th interview, which is with Jemima Neal, author of Delilah is a Tiger. Jemima is a talented writer who has published three children's books with more books on the way - in multiple genres! Hope you enjoy reading this interview and learning more about Jemima!

Hi Jemima! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

J: Hi! I am Jemima Neal and I am a mom, adoptive mom, and stepmom. All in all, I have 6 kids! I have two dogs who are mightily spoiled and recently I became a snake mom! My fish, Robert Downey Fish, Jr., went to the great ocean in the sky so I got a new writing companion, Nagini the corn snake. My 10-year-old step-daughter named him after a Harry Potter character. I have been writing stories since I was in the first grade and studied in college to be a journalist. I ended up with a career in management and higher education in the health care field. From this experience, I was lucky enough to work with the Head Start program as a Health Services Manager. I learned so much working for Head Start about Early Childhood Education. Encouraging parents to read to children is a passion of mine.

What inspired and motivated you to write your first book and how long did it take from the initial idea to publishing?

J: One of my friends who knew I had a background in writing and communication encouraged me to write my first book. Delilah is a Tiger was the first book I wrote, but the third I have released. It was inspired by my daughter, who was a spirited child with a warm and loving heart. I wrote this before “The Tiger King” came out, and now there seem to be tiger references everywhere! As someone who loves animals, I have mixed feelings about zoos. I believe this story raises the questions about whether animals should be in zoos but leaves the answer ambiguous. It took three years from conception to publishing. I have written three Delilah books so far, and she is the favorite character of my beta readers, especially my daughter who seems to delight in reminiscing about her own childhood antics. I am motivated to write children’s books because I believe that creative books are an excellent way to introduce all sorts of concepts to children. Also, the bonding that happens when a parent reads to a child is priceless.

That's wonderful! I love that your stories were inspired by your daughter.

What are some of the challenges you have encountered on your author and self-publishing journey? How did you overcome them?

J: I would say the biggest challenge I have had was finding the time to create quality products. Luckily, I have a wonderful husband who says, “you are a writer; you need to be writing.” Another challenge was finding the right illustrators, the right editor, and the right formatter. This took some trial and error. I am incredibly picky, and not easy to work with if one does not strive for excellence in a finished product. The illustrators I have worked with are amazingly talented, but also reliable and give a lot of value to the creative process. I find that in a lot of ways I am more of a project manager than a writer. Writing is the easy part. I feel that I have assembled a great team of professionals who equally invested in the process.

That's great you were able to assemble a good team together!

What has been the most rewarding experience since publishing your first book?

J: There is no doubt that seeing a child enjoy one of my books is the most rewarding part of publishing. I am moved to tears every time someone sends me a picture of a child with one of the books! It is a little surreal when people ask me to sign them. Like, why on earth would anyone want my signature? I have donated books to children in pre-school classes every time there is a new book launch. This is what I am most proud of, because at the end of the day what is important to me is children having books in their homes.

I agree that is definitely most rewarding.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned from self-publishing?

J: That it is very hard and very easy. Anyone can self-publish a book, but there is quite a learning curve and time commitment to do it right. The most valuable lesson I have learned is to work with the best people. It is the same principle in the business world, or anywhere else. Those who you surround yourself with are the ones who make or break your project.

What was it like launching your first book? What did you learn from the experience? If you could do it again, what would you do differently?

J: The first book was a holiday (Easter) book, so launching before Easter helped to make that successful in that timeframe. The books without a holiday tie in are a little harder to market. I do things a little differently each time to try and determine what will work for me and what won’t. One thing I have done is to work on building my social media following. I am hoping this helps extend my reach.

Yes, building a social media following is important but it's a lot of hard work as well.

Have you had any negative experiences or disappointing moments throughout your publishing journey? How did you handle them?

Oh, sure. That comes with trying anything. There is always inherent risk and disappointment. The friends and family who have supported me were exactly who I thought would. I have had generally good reviews, which I am thankful for. I tend to analyze any review way too critically. I need to lighten up and stay open to learning. Of course, the amount of work and time it took to get to the point of publicly sharing the books is probably not on the radar of the average reader – they are just letting me know if they enjoyed them or not. So far, I have had positive feedback. My illustrators, formatter and editor are exceptional professionals. I have had some printing issues and am still trying to work through the best way to do hardback printing. There are so many ways to do every little thing that it is a real journey for me to find the way that is best for me to do things, like printing, but I won’t give up until I do.

That's the best attitude - to not give up.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers or authors?

J: Find a good editor. I am a trained writer and I need one, as you never see the mistakes in your own work. I have seen a lot of self-published work with grammatical mistakes and spelling mistakes which are cringeworthy. Also, determine what your end goal is. Do you want to just have a published work? Do you want to sell books? Do you want to make money? Each of these paths would have a little different approach. Then, just do it. What are you waiting for?

That's great advice. I absolutely agree about finding a good editor. I do editing for others but I still need an editor myself!

How do you go about marketing? Do you have any tips for first time authors?

J: This is such a difficult part of self-publishing. People are constantly trying to sell you something. It seems there are a lot of unscrupulous parties who seek to take advantage of new authors and self-published authors. I was lucky the first time because it was a holiday book and that helped to propel it to sales. It was also my first one, so I didn’t have buyer fatigue from my family and friends. I have been working on building my social media presence, which I hope will pay off in sales. I have really enjoyed “meeting” people from all over the world who are in the book community. I have experimented with Amazon ads and Facebook ads with some success. There is a finesse to those things that I am still learning.

There is always something new to learn as they're always changing.

Would you consider traditional publishing? Have you tried reaching out to or pitching to agents and publishers?

J: I think about this all of the time. I would say yes, I would consider it for sure. I would also say that I would hate losing control of my illustrations. I have tried reaching out a bit, but not much yet.

Ok, let's play a little game. Finish the following statements:

If I had never published my book(s), I would... be wishing I had taken the time to publish a book.

If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, it would be… The Shadow Castle, by Marian Cockrell. I read this book as a child and loved it. I lost my copy in a move. I then spent most of my life trying to remember the name of it and find it again. When I finally did, I loved it every bit as much as I remembered.

I would love it if ... could read my book. Dave Grohl - I am such a fangirl.

If I could only write one more book, it would be called / about… It would be about dogs. Or snakes.

How many books do you plan on writing or publishing? Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

J: I have several children’s books I have already writte