Frances O’Roark Dowell and her publisher, Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, were…
Hello everyone, my name is Jacqui (Van der Merwe) Shepherd. I am a children’s author. My goal is to create fun-filled stories that entertain, encourage and empower little lives. I live in sunny South Africa.
3 Little Known or Interesting Things About Me:
1. I consider myself more of a ‘storyteller’ than a writer.
2. Four of my stories were published almost 20 years after they were written.
3. When I self-publish a book, I publish it under ‘Coffee-Bum Publishing’ (part of the Jacqui Shepherd Children’s Author Brand).
Why Coffee-Bum Publishing? The name was inspired by a fond childhood memory. When I was little girl I had a cute, cuddly teddy, my dad picked out a name for him. You guessed it, my teddy was christened with the rather absurd name, Coffee-Bum, but I loved it (the name and the teddy).
My most interesting writing quirk:
I think my most interesting writing quirk is that I write as though I am reading a book, I let the story completely takeover, and by the end I am genuinely surprised by how it turned out.
The first book that made me cry:
Definitely Winne the Pooh. The famous Winne the Pooh quote, “If there ever comes a day we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever,” although beautiful was too much for my young heart to bear.
Does writing energize or exhaust me:
It depends, when I am having a good writing day and the story flows then writing energizes me, but on a ‘nothing is flowing at all’ day it exhausts me.
My writing journey and books:
When I was a child my dad made up outrageous, silly, yet oh so entertaining stories that encouraged me to adopt values and attitudes to help me in my daily life. If I didn’t want to eat my food my dad would tell me a story. The story would have a definite lesson but I never felt like I was being preached to. Every story he told was skilfully engaging. I would be drawn into the delightful story and by the end I needed no convincing to eat my food. The characters in the story were relatable, they weren’t telling me what to do but rather showing me. These quirky characters with the most hilarious names brought my attention to what some unfavourable consequences of not eating my food might be, they highlighted what the benefits of eating my food were and helped me to realize why eating my food was important. By the end of the story it was an easy choice but I got to make it and it made me feel very responsible, clever and of course proud.
I carried on my dad’s ‘stories with morals’ legacy with my own children. To be completely honest with you, I didn’t plan it like that.
All I ever wanted to be was a mom but doctors told me I couldn’t have children. I guess doctors don’t know everything because I had my four amazing children in the short space of three years. The first, my son Danny, was born in 1995; my fraternal twin daughters, Jaclyn and Kristen, were born in 1996; and my younger son, Lance, was born in 1998. To say I had my hands full is a gross understatement!
During this hectic yet wonderful time, I never seemed to have a spare hand to hold a book. So purely for my children’s enjoyment I started making up stories to keep them entertained. At first, I didn’t even realize that I had picked up where my dad left off but eventually I realized I was a chip off the old block. A love of reading, a well-developed imagination and immeasurable love for my children were the makings of something very special. I watched the delight on my children’s faces as my stories entertained them while at the same time teaching them valuable lessons. Sadly, being short pressed for time, I did not write all of those stories down.
However, I did manage to make the time to create a special story for each one of my children which I did write down.
My children grew up much faster than I would have liked. When they left home to pursue their individual dreams and carve their own way in the world I felt well and truly lost. In January 2015 I found out that empty nest syndrome is no myth and no laughing matter. That longing for my children was what motivated me to look for the four stories I wrote for them when they were little. After finding the four stories that started it all, and with a lot more time on my hands, I began writing some more. I had no idea what I was doing. I Googled how to right a submission cover letter, then I Googled for publishers and looked for the ones where I could see my stories fitting in. Then armed with my list of publishers I started sending out submissions. The first response I got was a rejection and boy did that shake my confidence. My second response was far more favourable and led to me signing my first publishing contract. This was when I made the decision to publish all my work under my maiden name, in loving memory of my dad, who I accredit my storytelling talent to. Since then I have had 40 books published through Awareness Publishing.
So which of the 40 titles were the original four, the four that started it all?
1. Eddie gets a fright! written for my son Danny.
2. The rabbit and the fox written for my daughter Jaclyn.
3. Jojo’s journey written for my daughter Kristen.
4. Wally gets a tummy ache! written for my son Lance.
The 40 books I’ve had traditionally published thus far, were produced as 4 series, each series containing 10 books. The 4 book series are:
|Animal Adventures series||Bug stories series|
|Eddie gets a fright!||Aggi the ant|
|The rabbit and the fox||Bongi the beetle|
|Jojo’s journey||Cobus the cockroach|
|Wally gets a tummy ache!||Fatima the fly|
|The proud old owl||Gonzo the grasshopper|
|The little grey horse who loved to run||Lala the ladybug|
|The monkey who wanted to be different||Mindi the moth|
|Pinky breaks the rules||Sam the spider|
|Ruby Right||Solomon the snail|
|The unkind buffalo||Webster the worm|
|Sea stories series||Farm-tastic series|
|Cale the crab||Invisi-bull|
|Dabi the dolphin||Enor-mouse|
|Elroy the eel||Hap-pig-ness|
|Finny the fish||G-lamb-orous|
|Ozzy the octopus||Hope-frog-ly|
|Patti the prawn||Un-hap-puppy|
|Safina the shark||Imag-hen-ation|
|Suzy the seal||Fear-foal|
|Tagu the turtle||For-goat-ten|
|Wadi the whale||Dis-cow-very|
Animal Adventures was my first series. It took close to 2 years for the series to be produced. The contract was signed in April 2015 and the books were printed in November 2016. I had no idea how things worked or how long it would take. I had the absolute privilege of working with a very talented team of people and I learnt so much. The Animal Adventures series hit the South African book market with a bang, the entire first print run of around 1400 sets sold out before the delivery of books arrived. As you can imagine that was a wonderful way to start my career as a children’s author. The bug stories series was printed in December 2017 and started selling in January 2018. Then in 2019 there was an exciting development, my publisher made the 40 books, individually available, internationally (print on demand). Unfortunately the Sea stories and Farm-tastic series have not been printed for sale in South Africa due to economic circumstances. For this reason I was forced to look elsewhere and broaden my horizons in order to continue my children’s author career. I recently published my first book on Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) which I found extremely stressful. Going from traditional publishing to self-publishing was a rude awakening for me. I no longer had an editor, illustrator, layout artist, project manager and proofreader. Since I have no artistic talent or formatting experience I had to look for someone to collaborate with me on the project. That took me 10 months of disappointments until eventually found the perfect person. After that things started moving and finally my first self-published book, written in rhyme, Goo on my shoe, was published and available for sale on Amazon, on the 5th December 2019 (I honestly could not have done it without dedicated and talented illustrator, SKlakina). I was ready to do a victory dance but that was short lived. The unthinkable had happened, I had published my book with a spelling mistake. I checked the book so many times, I had other people check it too, and believe it or not we all overlooked that one dreaded spelling mistake. Personally I think the rhyming rhythm of the book is what caused me to miss it. Regardless, it is definitely the result of not having an editor. So, I had a book with a spelling mistake. Can you think of anything more embarrassing? Thankfully I was able to correct the eBook but the paperback cannot be corrected, I would have to delete the book entirely and publish it again as a second edition (this is because of the ISBN number). With my limited skills where technology is concerned I have no idea how to do it. So for now my paperback still has a spelling mistake. I guess all I can say to anybody wanting to buy the paperback is, “It comes with an added bonus called, ‘find the spelling mistake!’ Have fun. In addition to that I am still trying to figure out the right Amazon categories, pricing and of course how to successfully market my book. Basically what I’m saying is I still have a lot to learn. (Update: The spelling mistake was corrected in the paperback!)
What is the Goo on my shoe book about?
A young boy finds some sort of goo under one of his brand new shoes. So, he gets straight to work to get rid of the goo. Is it a case of ‘mission impossible’ or will he succeed in getting rid of the unwelcome goo? Find out in this wonderfully entertaining, feel-good, story that is filled with funny rhymes and delightful illustrations. The story begs to be read out loud. If you are looking for a book to make you smile or perhaps even giggle, then this is the one. It is a fun story that can be enjoyed by all ages, anywhere, anytime.
You can use the link below to buy the book.
Favourite quote from one of my books:
“You don’t have to be the best, you only have to do your best.” – Fatima’s mother (Fatima the fly).
Book character most like me:
Tilly the hen from my Imag-hen-ation book. Tilly discovers her magnificent imagination and imagining becomes her favourite thing to do. Like Tilly, once I discovered my imagination there was no turning back for me and I can spend many happy hours just imagining. “When you use your imagination, anything is possible!” –Tilly the hen (Imag-hen-ation).
My advice to other authors and aspiring authors:
When you have finished writing your story, step away. Leave it at least for a week then look at it again with fresh perspective. Chisel away at it until you feel good about it. Then put it away for another 2 weeks or even more, in my opinion a moth is ideal. When you read through your manuscript again I guarantee you, you will tweak it a bit here and there. Those seemingly insignificant tweaks could be the difference between and publishing offer and a rejection letter. Don’t miss this step. Even if you are self-publishing you should do this to ensure your book is something you can be proud of.
Whether you are following the traditional publishing or self-publishing route you will need an editor. This is an absolute must. For indie authors I recommended not only paying a qualified editor (with good reviews) but also enlisting the services of a proofreader.
Embrace the editing process. Be flexible. An editor is there to turn your work of art into a masterpiece. I’m not saying you should compromise your vision but rather allow the editor to use their skill and surpass your vision. There will be things you need to stand your ground on but pick your battles, don’t be unnecessarily stubborn. A really good book is a collaboration of talents (author, editor, illustrator, layout artist, proofreader, printers, etc.)Basically what I am saying is allow each member of your team the freedom to fully utilize their skills and talents, you’ll be glad you did.
Take time to find the right illustrator, don’t settle for anything other than a perfect fit for your book. Another very important point is making sure you have a spectacular book cover. Why? Because first impressions last. Without a book cover that attracts attention and peaks interest nobody will even read your book description. Your book description is also extremely important, it is your pitch. It should be intriguing and leave the reader wanting more.
Whether your books are traditionally published or you are an indie author you will still need to market your book and create a following. Use social media. Definitely get a website. Claim author pages on platforms like Goodreads, Amazon etc.
I am very proud of my website which was created for me by Rocket Expansion. They understood my vision and surpassed my expectations. My website is not quite a year old and I already have ideas to add things and make it even better. Rocket Expansion have become a part of my author journey and I highly recommend them.
I don’t believe in pursuing success to the point of compromising the integrity of your writing. Simply put, you should stay true to who you are as a writer, to your individual writing style, and to the message you wish to share. Remember that if you don’t believe in your work, nobody else will either. Last but not least, never give up. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
My heartfelt wish for everyone reading this interview is that they will discover a new level of confidence and meet with every measure success.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about me and my books. I would love for you to visit my website and hope you will continue to be a part of my author journey by following me on social media.
The best way to show author appreciation is to leave a review.
Links to my books and to follow me on social media etc. are as follows: