Sunday, July 28, 2013

Interview with Author and Self-Publisher Donna Blaber.

I'd like to introduce you to another kiwi author and self-publisher - Donna Blaber. Donna has been writing and publishing travel books, particularly NZ travel books. Over the past decade she has been writing for publishers based in NZ, Australia and the UK. Thank you Donna for letting us interview you today.

Can you please tell us a little about your travel writing and what it was like to work with publishers?

I believe I began travel writing as an eight-year-old when I produced
Our Caravan Logbook which came complete with sketched maps, long-winded sentences about our activities, topped off with stickers from packets of Mum’s PG Tips (a tea brand of all things!). I freelanced for years as a 20-something on my OE (backpacking around the world), then finally formally trained as a journalist. My first real job in publishing was working as the road trip editor for a popular New Zealand car magazine. Later on, I became the chief editor of a New Zealand motorhome mag. When you build a vast body of work on a particular subject, books are the natural next step. I was asked to write my first book in 2004, and since then I’ve gone on to write more than 30 titles. A few are self-published so I am now a ‘hybrid author’, a writer published through both traditional and modern means. At this point I plan to continue doing both, mostly as I’ve always enjoyed an excellent working relationship with my various publishers. A couple I’ve been working with for a number of years, and now that I’ve published and marketed a few of my own titles, I have a greater appreciation of the work they do.

We have a number of newbies who would love to get into travel writing. Do you have any tips of the trade for them please? 
Travel writing is an extremely competitive field so my advice to a newbie is to start small and remain focussed. I began travel writing by freelancing, writing travel pieces and submitting them to a variety of publications to build up a body of work. Some rejection is guaranteed, so just try to stay focussed and keep writing. It’s also important to finely hone your skills through travel writing workshops and/or Uni papers. I chose to study journalism extramurally through Massey (while working full-time). It was hard yakker at times, it was worth it in the end.

You set up a small production house called Lighthouse Media Group. Did you do this so you could publish your own range of children's books? 
We set up Lighthouse Media Group to handle the business end of book publishing. Initially it was to publish the Kiwi Critters series, a collection of children’s titles over which we wanted total control. This was mostly due to the fact that we had a very specific plan for the books. Since then, we’ve also published the Visions of New Zealand, a series of ebooks about New Zealand. An example of this is Visions of the North Island, which contains 30 road trips highlighting the North Island's places, people, lifestyle and food. It’s an ideal background read for internationals before they leave home. Lighthouse Media Group has a number of further titles in both series in production, as well as a new children’s chapter book.

What was it like self-publishing your own books?

Self publishing is hard work and involves long hours so you need to be prepared to work extremely hard. In saying that, if writing is your chosen path in life, it’s an enjoyable process. As an ex-mag editor I relish having total control over the production process – so for me it was a natural life progression. I’ve found the skill sets from editor to self-publisher are easily transferable and complementary. Overall I would say that the experiences gained as a magazine editor have served me extremely well. However, as a previously multi-published author, I have found some of the attitudes I’ve come across towards those who choose to self-publish quite amusing!

How have you found marketing and promoting your own books? How have you gone about doing this?

Publishing houses have excellent distribution networks and the good ones are also highly skilled at marketing/public relations. While these skills can be learned over time, most self-publishers will find it is extremely helpful to either have some background experience or upskill in these areas if they’re planning to do it themselves. I have some experience – again fairly transferable – which has been really useful. In saying that, I still have more to learn. What’s more, marketing and promotion takes a lot of work. At times it is exhausting and you need to be prepared to give it everything you’ve got and to take a long term view. It’s important to become visible (Facebook, Twitter, etc), to attend events, and take advantage of every opportunity to push your brand (author name, series name, book title, etc). A website is imperative, and it’s even better if you can set up a shopping cart so visitors can buy direct. Beyond your own website and Amazon, there’s a multitude of sites to sell online. Remember that everything you do to market your book/s adds up over time. This interview, kindly hosted Joy Findlay, is a good example of what I mean. I hope that after reading this article, you will want to take the next step and connect with me on Facebook! I hope to see you there!

For more information about what Donna and Lighthouse Media Group have to offer, please visit her pages here:
Author Page:
Publishing Page:
Thank you for your time, Donna. Your experiences and advice is invaluable. 
~ Joy Findlay

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