Being a small, family-run business ourselves we appreciate the fresh shoots of creativity from someone striving out on their own and none more so than Mark Lemon who is a book lover after our own heart. He had a vision for his own series of picture books and he took the bull by the horns and self-published under the name Lemon Drop Books, He has just released his third book, Otis Lemon and the Magic Scooter. To celebrate their arrival on Smallprint and support Mark in his quest for success we invited him for interview and he kindly said yes. Here is the result and it makes very interesting reading! Congratulations Mark!
What do you think makes a good children's story?
I personally think that a good children’s story needs have a great storyline with fun characters for the children to relate to. Great illustrations are very important, as it’s the visual impact which keeps the children interested and engaged at an early age.
What does your family think of your books?
Thankfully, the family love the books! When I first started writing the stories in blog form, I use to trial them with Otis at bedtime. Professor Poopy always got a laugh, which made me want to continue to write for the kids.
I was extremely lucky to find Maia Walczak through an old school friend. It started by sending over a couple of stories to Maia and some images of ideas for how I wanted the characters to look. Everything she sent back was amazing and we clicked from the off. Her style is different to anything else out there and this also attracted me to working with her. I have been very lucky, but as an author you need to be satisfied that the illustrator will represent your stories how you envisage them in your mind.
Can you explain the role of self-publishing?
Self-publishing is essentially doing all the things that a major publishing house has to do, but on a much smaller scale. You do need to self-fund or have some form of investment in the business. Initially I started like all authors out there, sending out text and story lines to agents to then hopefully receive a glowing ‘yes we love your work and would love to take you on’, but understandably due to the amount of manuscripts the top agents receive they can only take on a small amount of writers.
Due to being impatient I decided to set up my own label, ‘Lemon Drop Books’ and self publish my stories. The biggest challenge for any self-publishers is getting your books out to a wider audience. I have been very lucky to work with Cat and Gayle at Hustle + Fox PR who have really helped me reach a wider audience. You have to be very dedicated on social media channels promoting your product. It’s all about plugging away and truly believing in your product!
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
For me personally it’s trying to find that inspirational ‘groove’ as I call it. Once I have an idea I need to get it out of my head. I usually struggle when I try to force stories.
My biggest work challenge to date would have to be the process of producing my first book, Otis Lemon and the Spectacular Submarine. As a new author to the scene I needed to quickly understand what goes into self-publishing your own book. It’s funny how you quickly realise how much work goes into producing children’s books. The rewards of holding the first printed copy in your hand is fantastic, especially when reading it to Otis at bedtime for the first time.
I think the only thing which I have found surprising is how amazing it is reading your own books to children and watching the enjoyment on their faces. When I read to schools I use a projector placing the stories onto a large screen; the reaction from 400 children in a school assembly is incredible and makes me realise why I do this for a living!
Hmmmm…I think the biggest compliment I have had so far would have to be when I was shopping with the family in a well known supermarket. I was approached by two children in the frozen food aisle. It took me by surprise at first but they both smiled and said, “We love your books!” and then ran back to their parents. Amazing feeling!Describe your ideal workspace... Describe your actual workplace...
My ideal workspace would have to be an office overlooking the Caribbean sea in Jamaica, but my actual workspace is at home on the kitchen table in organized mess! As I type I’m actually in a local Bristol library. The office can vary from a number of coffee shops to anywhere quiet enough to come up with new stories!
Music or silence?
Getting Otis to school on time in the morning! And trying to find time in-between this to get everything else done. Time goes surprisingly quickly….What were your favourite books as a child?
My favourite books would have to be the Roald Dahl books – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Danny Champion of the World, James and the Giant Peach (I’m secretly very excited about the new BFG film coming out this summer). I have tried to bring some elements of Roald Dahl magic into all of my stories, with fun and interesting characters.
My books remind me that life is there to be enjoyed and every little minute spent with your children is extremely precious. Part of why I wrote the books in the first place was for my children to enjoy, not just when they are old enough, but also to enjoy with their own children. Books are there to open your mind and remind you that dreams can happen; we all need this in today’s world!
How do you juggle childcare and working as a family?
So far it’s working well. I do the school run with Otis on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Simone will take him Thursdays and Fridays. Thea goes to a child-minder for the first half of the week. I guess it’s all about balance and a bit of juggling, but it’s fun and I love spending time with Otis in the mornings, great bit of dad-and-son time.
What do you like to do when you are not working?
When I’m not working it’s all about spending time with the family. Bristol has a great scene and there is always something going on. We try to squeeze in a date night here and there where at all possible with two small people!
Can you offer any advice to anyone looking to publish their own work?
Make sure that you are happy with your work before sending it out to agents and publishers. Test run it with your friends’ children; they are the true critics and will quickly tell you if something is good or not. Believe in what you are doing and the story you are writing, who is your target market etc?. The Writers and Artist Year Book 2016 is a great introduction to publishers, agents and all useful information. Have thick skin and keep going, JK Rowling has famously had many knock backs but look where she is now!
I have had three proudest moments. Marrying my wife Simone and the birth of my two children. I’m now waiting for that best selling book, which would also be up there!
Tell us something about yourself that not many people know...
I worked at Claridges Hotel in London as a silver service waiter. At the end of a shift I was taking dirty plates and cutlery down to the basement. I was waiting for the service lift when a lady wearing sunglasses and a very large minder came out of the lift. It was Mariah Carey and her bodyguard. “Good evening.” she said. I think I mumbled something like, “Yes it is.” Fun times!
Highs are that you are able to have autonomy over how you manage your time and importantly being able to spend more quality time with the kids. Lows would be all of the un-fun business stuff like remembering to keep all of your receipts!
Thank you very much Mark! If you like the sound of the books then you can snap them up online - Otis Lemon and the Spectacular Submarine, Thea Lemon and Her Super Sweet Fairy Godmother and Otis Lemon and the Magic Scooter. All £6.99.