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Author Interview Series (16): Josephine Coker & Sue Dockstader

Today's Author Interview is a two-in-one combo of a mother-daughter duo! Sue connected with me on Instagram and I found out she used to live in Hong Kong. How cool is that! You're in for a treat with this double interview special!


Hello! I'm so glad to have you both for this interview. Can you introduce yourselves?

Jo: I am an 86-year-old grandmother who loves gardening! I am a retired florist and always hoped my children and grandchildren would share my love of the English countryside. When I am not searching the local garden centres for a new plant, I’m happy to relax with a good book and a hot cup of tea. I’m lucky to live in a very active village and together with a team of other local knitters, I keep busy making toys and blankets for local charities. I’ve just started knitting some cute little mice to accompany my books!

Sue: I am a “recovering” British and Hong Kong lawyer who left the UK on an adventure in 1986 and haven’t lived there since! I now live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest of the US and work with nonprofits to resolve their communications struggles. Over the years, I’ve worked on a variety of book projects with several different authors and always hoped to realise my bucket list wish of publishing Mum’s stories.

What an adventure! And I love that you are helping your mum to publish her stories!

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

Jo: When my grandchildren moved to Hong Kong, I worried they would forget about the English countryside once they were living in a 14th floor flat. Then one day I saw my chubby Jack Russell Terrier barking furiously at something lurking under our garden shed and I wondered what could be making him so agitated. After much thought and a few false starts I decided it could be a curious mouse living under there, and perhaps I could imagine a few countryside adventures for him to share with my grandchildren! The decision to publish came much later when my daughter produced a printed copy as a birthday present when I was 80 and friends who saw it encouraged me to publish.

Sue: Mum started writing the stories in 1998. I never throw anything away and always promised myself I’d make them into a book one day. After much procrastination, and several more relocations, I found a wonderful illustrator who brought Mum’s stories to life, and I presented her with a finished book (as a surprise!) in 2017. Once we added the illustrations the stories extended to two books, and when I suggested we create a trilogy, Mum started writing again in her eighties.

What a lovely surprise for your mum!

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

Jo: As we published physical books, it has been challenging persuading bookshops to carry the books. Luckily we have some wonderful local businesses in Northleach who were happy to carry the books in the Post Office, the Pharmacy and the coffee shop to get us started in retail!

Sue: Basically, I had no idea what I was doing and started the whole project as a bit of a lark, to create a permanent record of the stories for our family. Knowing very little about the publishing process and zero about book marketing has meant a very steep learning curve! We worked on the third book during the pandemic lockdown. With more time on my hands, I built a website, researched book marketing and am now trying to navigate social media. I have attended endless online webinars and joined a very supportive and informative online author group which has been a huge help to our nascent marketing efforts. Of course with me being in the US and Mum in England has meant some added logistical challenges!

Yes! I did wonder how you manage to work together from different locations!

What are some of your proudest moments since publishing your book?

Jo: One of the most exciting moments was opening the box when the first batch of books arrived from the printer. I think my proudest moment so far was when the local radio station asked me to read the stories for their new Storytime programme.

Sue: The fun Mum and I have had learning about this process is priceless and hearing her read her stories so beautifully over the radio was definitely a proud moment! Also–involving my daughter in the process as she patiently helps me conquer social media! It’s now a three-generation project!

That is incredible! What a wonderful thing to do together!

What is something you wish someone had told you about self-publishing before you started? / What is the most valuable lesson you have learned from self-publishing?

Jo: Writing the book is the easy part – finding a market for them is much harder.

Sue: I wish I had known how the system with Amazon works and that we had created an ebook and print on demand version of the books from the beginning. Instead, we have a pile of physical books in Mum’s garage which makes selling a bit more challenging–especially during lockdown with all the shops closed and everyone stuck at home.

Yes, book marketing is still a mystery to me. And I have the same problem with piles of physical books at home!

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?

Jo: The process has been very exciting and exhausting but encouraging comments from friends and family have kept us going. Persuading shops to stock the books was difficult as many only deal with wholesalers and do not buy direct from authors. On reflection I think it would have been easier to have sold them through Amazon!

Sue: We would have chosen a different format that could be easily sold online as well as through local bookshops. We do have an Etsy shop now–so that is helping with online sales.

Yes, Amazon does make it a lot easier. But having your own printed books to sell is a good option for local markets and school visits.

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

Sue: Despite my painstaking editing and proofreading there was a mix up with the versions that went to the printer with the first book which resulted in a repeated line in one chapter. I was horrified and so disappointed as I thought it made us look amateurish (which of course we are – ha ha!)

Oh no! That happened with me as well with a grammatical error that went to print. But that happens even with traditional publishers, so I feel a lot better!

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

Jo: Give it a go – just don’t expect it to be easy and don’t expect to make a fortune.

Sue: Find out everything you can about book marketing before you launch your book and start building a “following” as soon as you start writing.

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

Jo: We’ve been lucky to have the support of loca