A new interview in my Double Act series of interviews with author/publishers, this time with Kathy Creamer, who with her husband Peter has just launched into the creation of their second publishing house, but first in Australia, Little Pink Dog Books. Some years earlier, while living in Singapore, Kathy and Peter had started their first publishing house, Creative Characters Partnership, and continued with that later in the UK, before coming to Australia. It’s a fascinating story Kathy has to tell. Read on!
How did you get into publishing?
My first venture into publishing came about in 1998, when I was working as an illustrator and writer for Oxford University Press and Reed International in Singapore. At that time, I had become concerned about the massive fires in Indonesia, and the destruction of the rainforest to make way for palm oil crops. Together with Singapore Zoological Gardens and sponsorship from HSBC, I produced a picture book about orangutans and their diminishing habitat. It sold over thirty thousand copies and raised funds for orangutan conservation. Unfortunately, the star of the book, the zoo’s much-loved Ah Meng, died a few years later at the grand old age of forty-eight. A good innings for an orangutan!
Shortly after the success of the book, My Cousin, Ah Meng, I set up Creative Characters Partnership with my husband, Peter. It began as a children’s book publishing business to help raise awareness, and funding for animal conservation projects. We enjoyed the whole end to end creative process and felt that it was something we could both work on as a team as follows:
*Peter: upfront Marketing, Research, Negotiation and contract management.
*Kathy: all the creative elements of concept, storyboards, layout, words and illustration.
*Peter: preparing all materials for production, sourcing and negotiating with printers, proofing copy with Kathy, taking delivery of stock, and final delivery of the stock to the client.
We published over twenty children’s picture book titles for zoos, nature reserves, country clubs and historic houses, to hopefully interest children in conservation, heritage and history.
Parrots, Pythons and Pots of Paint for Longleat House, was our first picture book in England, and meeting Lord Bath, who is such an interesting and charmingly eccentric character, was quite the highlight of this project.
Have your aims and strategies as a publisher changed from the beginning? How?
We have always concentrated on high quality, small to medium volume book production. As a two person business we feel that we need to bring more resources to help deliver the products, and with people who are comfortable working within the business model – as there are no royalties, just a flat fee payment for work done. With Little Pink Dog Books, however, we hope to eventually to be able to pay royalties some day.
Has working as a publisher impacted on your own career as an author and illustrator-whether that be positive or negative?
Working as a publisher did, unfortunately, have a negative impact on my career as a children’s illustrator and author, as running the end-to-end production process, with just two people, there wasn’t much time to be innovative, especially with the artwork. Once you have your working model it was too tempting to continue with the same, rather than experiment. My artwork and writing suffered, so we decided to close Creative Characters Partnership in order to refresh my work by studying for a Masters in children’s illustration, together with a BA degree, and some other courses in literature and creative writing at university.
Little Pink Dog Books came into being when we moved to Armidale from Melbourne. We had been meaning to restart our children’s publishing business for some time, as we both enjoyed the challenge. It will be a different model than before, in that we are not looking to publish for clients or any organizations, but will be self funded. We also want to help new writers and illustrators to get their work published and will be actively looking for new picture book manuscripts and illustration.
We have three picture book titles on our list for 2016; a refresh of Mr Ming and the Mooncake Dragon, one of my first ever picture books; a new fairy story, and a rather naughty rhyming tale from a very talented emerging writer.
The new website for Little Pink Dog Books (www.littlepinkdogbooks.com) will be up shortly.
How do you market your books-do you sell direct to booksellers and readers, or do you have a distributor?
The marketing component for Creative Characters Partnership was about finding someone or some organisation where our concept worked for the client and fulfilled their need.
This concept is based around niche market publication and holding zero stock i.e. the client commits to take all stock and pays in full upfront.
We may now change the model for Little Pink Dog Books, and go to direct marketing, but keeping full end-to-end production under our direct control.
What are the challenges and pleasures of small-press publishing, in your experience so far? Any memorable anecdotes?
The challenges have been mainly financial ones, in that the cost of colour printing and other production costs require careful management to ensure you end up with a surplus to re-invest in the business. In the beginning we learned the hard way, but soon made adjustments to our own pricing and then eventually we began to make a profit.
Contracts for books did not come on a regular basis or cycle – the client wants the product when they want the product, and hence there can be very high workload pressure when multiple contracts arrive simultaneously, with only two people in the partnership.
Any advice for aspiring author-publishers?
Start small; build a reputation for online delivery and a high quality product. Ensure all contracts are tight and don’t be afraid to resort to legal means to protect your work and enforce any contracts.
Recognize that there are many types of skills in the whole end-to-end book production process and an individual is unlikely to be good at all of them.
Some skills are creative, some technical, some legal, and always work with partners who look after their part of the workload and are committed to work to the deadlines required by the clients.
Ensure that it remains fun and enjoyable and does not become over burdening.
Be brave and just do it! Whether you choose to publish hard copy or ebook, it’s all about editing, attention to detail, an eye for design, clever marketing, working all hours, but having fun and enjoying what you do. Learn by your mistakes, but most of all, believe in yourself.
As a toddler, I first started drawing pictures as soon as I could hold a crayon, and I quickly learned that bedroom walls were much more fun to draw on than paper.
I’ve always been interested in conservation and decided that I would try writing and illustrating books for children about conservation issues related to animals and historical buildings.
My first four children’s books were published by Oxford University Press in Singapore, and I went on to illustrate over 70 books for OUP and a few written by Joy Cowley, for Reed International.
Since that time I have written and illustrated over 20 books for a variety of clients and have published these via our own company – Creative Characters Partnership, now known as Little Pink Dog Books.
I work mostly in watercolor, colour pencil and ink.
I was trained as a mechanical engineer in aerospace and admit that until I met Kathy I had never even thought about children’s books, let alone running a publishing business.
As Kathy began her work in Children’s book creation, I found that I had an interest in the production of creating a book from a process point of view.
I have always been interested in computers since my early days and enjoyed learning to use tools such as Pagemaker, Photoshop and InDesign, and I found it natural to help Kathy create books. We then naturally worked in our own areas as a team, and found it both enjoyable and rewarding, but also quite stressful in terms of meeting client demands and having the overall responsibility for the quality of the final product.