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SPS-339: Back to School: Selling Children’s Books – with Daniel Jude Miller

Author and illustrator Daniel Jude Miller has traded a Manhattan office for school classrooms and he’s loving it. He talks to James about being thrown in at the deep end with his first school visit and how his love for the visits has grown from there, especially as they help him sell books.

Show Notes

  • On the investment of doing a huge print run 
  • Learning what school visits are and why they matter for children’s authors
  • How selling books to children works
  • Average sales numbers for a school visit
  • How engagement changes as children age
  • Getting the story tone right for children

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

MERCH: Check out our new 2022 hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

SPS-339: Back to School: Selling Children’s Books - with Daniel Jude Miller
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.

Daniel Jude Miller: Luckily, I was fooling around, I guess, with all of these stories. So I figured, you know what, let's take a shot at this. Assuming like most people that it would be real easy to get real famous making books. I was really wrong.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing no more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?

Join indie bestseller, Mark Dawson. And first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It is the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: Here we are again, Mark. We're doing a little bit of batch recording this week, and I did mention at the end of last week's episode, that we are planning to open Ads for Authors in August now that the live show is out of the way. So if you have thought about Ads for Authors, we'll give you a little bit more information over the next few weeks in order for you to make a good decision for you and your career.

Now, we have an interview today with somebody who sells books in a slightly different way. We've had a few of these actually, I've done a lot of interviews recently.

I did an interview this week with a spicy romance author, who basically sells by subscription via Patreon, a big part of her income, how she started. This author is something we have heard before people like Karen Ingalls who's a children's author in the UK, but Daniel Jude Miller is somebody who sells the majority of his books via school visits. And this is not just a little bit extra on top of his book sales, this is how he drives book sales. He's very organised about it. He says there's an entire ecosystem for authors to plug into once they understand how it works. It's a really interesting interview, particularly if you're a children's author, Mark, I know you are a children's author now.

Mark Dawson: Yes, I am. I have my second book in the After-School Detective Club series published yesterday as we record this, as this goes out, a couple weeks ago. I have done school visits and Alan Burrows who I work on this series with also has done more school visits than me, but I just know from my own experience, World Book Day did a couple of schools, my daughters, and a school of a teacher, her child is in my daughter's class. And I think in those two sessions probably sold 60 books. So you can definitely do it. So if the maths have to add up and you are going to make more money, if you are selling your own books probably then these are from our publishers, so it's a little bit different in terms of how the economics work out, but you definitely can sell a lot of books to kids at those events, especially if you sign them afterwards, which is what I did. It's a good tactic.

James Blatch: Yeah. Let's listen to the detail of how that works, particularly in the US. This is in the greater New York area. Let's listen to Daniel Jude Miller.

Daniel Jude Miller, very formal announcement. Welcome to the Self Publishing Show. If you're watching the YouTube feed, I can see straight away a man of many baseball caps.

Daniel Jude Miller: Yes. Too many, as my wife would say.

James Blatch: 300 odd, you say you've collected.

Daniel Jude Miller: 323 major league baseball hats, never been worn actually, only one of them has ever been worn, the first one I bought when I was in the fourth grade, all of the rest, brand new.

James Blatch: And how complete... Sorry, this is a sideline, but I'm fascinated. How complete is that collection? Have you got every cap every franchise has released?

Daniel Jude Miller: No, not every single one because also they release new ones every year so they make you keep buying. I'm probably around 40 shy of a complete collection.

James Blatch: So I guess someone somewhere, maybe it's you, keeps a list. A publicly available list of every cap, a central repository of information.

Daniel Jude Miller: Well, you'd be surprised, there's actually a whole community of people who have it. There are people with bigger collections than mine. You can find that easily online people that have a whole bunch of lists of all the different hats and again, you can never complete it because every year they come out with 10 or 12 more so you're always chasing it.

James Blatch: I've got one Mets cap, I think somewhere. All right, well let's move on from caps. So it's fascinating. It's a great shot by the way on YouTube. So thank you. We are going to be talking about children's books, illustrating in particular. I know children's books is such an interesting area and we get lots and lots of questions about the methodology, the marketing, the process for children's books, which is quite different from fiction and nonfiction books.

Let's start with you, Jude. I think you began as an illustrator, is that right?

Daniel Jude Miller: I actually began as a kid who liked to draw because it goes all the way back to that. I was the kid in school that was always drawing and I had one singular goal, which was to become an artist. I never had any inkling of doing books, that was never my plan. I wanted to be an animator when I was younger. And then I realised back in the day, animation was really difficult. It's not as computer friendly as it is now. It was a lot of drawings. So I bailed on animation and I decided to just go into editorial illustration. And that was the plan. When I was 30 years old, I still had no interest in books whatsoever. I didn't want to illustrate other people's stories. And I definitely didn't want to write my own. I was totally fine just doing editorial magazine, boring illustration.

James Blatch: When you talk about editorial illustration, can you give me an example of what that is?

Daniel Jude Miller: That's basically magazines, newspapers, advertisements. I was a cartoonist at a PR firm and I would just do literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of these really boring cartoons about insurance or about medicine. And it was actually for the best, because it was so boring that after 12 years of it, I just needed something else and that's how I accidentally fell into writing.

James Blatch: Obviously you had the ability to illustrate a children's book and you just thought, well, I'm going to learn how to write it. Was that the process?

Daniel Jude Miller: It's funny because there was no formal process. At that time when I had that boring job, I guess I was like a writer on the inside, but I never thought it was real. I would always just kind of write stories. And since I did the illustrations myself, I would do all the work. I would sketch it out. I would do all these dummies, but I never planned on officially sending it to anyone or making it.

It was almost like I had a hobby as a writer and a children's illustrator, but I had a job as an editorial illustrator. And then one day that job just went away and you find yourself looking in the mirror and going, "What am I going to do?" I said maybe I'll try to actually publish these things. Because there was a lot of them, I had actually written about six or seven books with no plan on ever publishing them. And I thought, well, I might as well take a shot at it now.

James Blatch: And how complete were they? You'd written them, illustrated them, put them together in a kind of formatted sense or were these just rough notes you had?

Daniel Jude Miller: They were pretty complete. They were fully written and they had even gone through the process of the family and friend editing. So they were pretty complete and at least as far as the drawings go, they were up to the sketched out dummy stage. So they needed to be finished, which is the hardest part, but they were pretty far along. The moment that I decided I was going to do this business, I was able to produce three books within a year because I had done all the preliminary work and it was just sitting on my computer. I actually remember once going into, just for myself, I went into Staples and I had them print out my dummies so that I could see it in a book form. And I remember the guy saying to me "Are you a writer?" And I said, no. I said, this is just for me. I had no plan on ever sending it to anyone. And two years later it was officially published.

James Blatch:x And how did that happen?

Daniel Jude Miller: What happened was that job, thankfully, went away and like I said, I needed to do something. There weren't a lot of choices because where I was living at the time, the editorial job I had was in New York city, and so at some point they let me take my job home and work remote. This is before everybody worked remote. And so I moved to the country.

The problem is when that job went away, there weren't a lot of art jobs where I now live. So I had to figure something out on my own. Luckily I was fooling around, I guess, with all of these stories, so I figured, you know what, let's take a shot at this. Assuming like most people that it would be real easy to get real famous making books. I was really wrong.

James Blatch: As a lot of us find out there's a grind involved in that, but you've obviously gone down that route.

How have you produced? Are you using print on demand services?

Daniel Jude Miller: No, I decided I was going to go all in and I was going to invest a lot of money in it. And so I actually right off the bat, I know now... Let's put this into context. This was about five or six years ago when I started. At that time, the print on demand wasn't as good as it is now. It's gotten better, but I wanted to do go all out. I wanted to do hard cover. Most print on demand is soft cover. I know now they do do hard cover. I wanted dust jackets. I wanted all the bells and whistles that you would see in a bookstore.

At the time, the only way to really do that was to go all in. So I just invested a tonne of money, which probably wasn't brilliant at the time because I had no job, but I invested a whole bunch of money and we ordered thousands and thousands of units of multiple books, because since I was able to finish a few at the same time I had to order all of them so I was heavily invested on day one.

James Blatch:x And then what did you do then in terms of distribution?

Daniel Jude Miller: That's where it gets interesting. I assumed, like everyone does in the beginning, that I was going to just put them up on Amazon and be famous by the end of the month. And that is totally not true. It's not even close actually. I think I sold a handful of books and I was really in a spot because now I had invested literally upwards of almost $20,000 and I had no sales and no plan apparently. So my wife had actually said she found a book show. It wasn't too far from our house. And she said, "Let's do this book show and see what happens." At the book show, there was only four authors there. It was more like a children's festival. And there was four authors. One of them was a guy named Gary VanRiper.

I had done some research on him and found out that he had, at the time, sold 150,000 books self-published. So I made it a point that I needed to talk to him to figure out how he was doing it. I went up to the show, I sold a grand total of 10 books that day, it not a raving success, but I did talk to him and he took a liking to me and he said, "How do you plan on selling your books?" And I said, "Probably on Amazon." He said, "No." He said, "You have to do school visits. That's what you should be doing."

I had no idea what that was. I never even heard of it. And he said, "Come with me. I have one next week, you can shadow me and I'll show you how we do it." I went there and I just fell in love with the idea of not only making children's books, but actually getting up in front of the audience and explaining how I do it and why I do it and all that stuff. So the best part of the job for me is actually that part.

James Blatch: Yeah. So that's obviously part of your strategy now.

And your books are aimed at what grade level, what age?

Daniel Jude Miller: Well, luckily mine are spread out. I have two books that are for nursery school through about second grade. Then I have a couple of books that are for second grade to like fourth or fifth. And then now over the summer I have a middle grade novel coming out. So that'll span all the way up to about seventh or eighth grade. That's what helps me in schools too, is that my work spans all the way from kindergarten, all the way up to their oldest students. So I have a lot of things I can talk about.

James Blatch: So you go and do the school visits, first of all, how do you get school visits? How do you get on that rota?

Daniel Jude Miller: The real story is when I shadowed him at that school visit, I watched him do it and in my head I was thinking, there's no chance that I can do this. It was a room full of 300 kids. That's not me. And right at the moment, when I'm thinking that, I hear him say, "I brought a friend with me today" and I'm thinking, who else did he bring? Not thinking it's me. And so he brings me up and he asked me one simple art question, and I don't remember what it was, because my hand was shaking because I had never thought that this was going to happen and I got in the car and I said to my wife, I called her up. I said, "Forget it, I said, this school thing, ain't going to work. It's not going to happen."

She said "It better happen because we have a basement filled with books. So you better figure this out." And so actually what happens, I took the whole summer. It was luck that it was June at the time and school year was ending. So I had spent the whole summer building a curriculum now of what I want to talk about and how I can inspire these kids. I had a few months to do it. And then in September I just started calling and emailing, wherever I could find. And it works, most schools annually host an author. I just reached out to a lot of different people. And then the funny part is my first author visit, I was nervous on the drive over there, but then they handed me the microphone and I have never been nervous ever since.

James Blatch: Did you practise your presentation in the summer? So the mirror? To your wife?

Daniel Jude Miller: I tried. I had actually written it out as a script and I had written line by line and I was trying to memorise the script, but what I found was that once you're in the room, people always ask me, they go "Do you get nervous getting up in front of these big crowds?" And I said no. And they're like, "What if you make a mistake?" I'm like you can't because it's my life and there's nothing I can make a mistake about. I'm not going to forget where I went to school or where I got an idea from. So I tried to memorise it, but it turned out I didn't have to, once I was in front of the room, you can do it because it's just your life. So you know how to tell that story.

James Blatch: And so you are now doing this, is that the primary way you're selling your books?

Daniel Jude Miller: Yeah, it's probably about 95%. You know what it is? It's so time consuming between the marketing. You have to pick where you put your time. If you're going to sell online, then you got to focus on that. But between the marketing for schools, between the travelling for schools, between... I have to deal with projects and after school things and all that goes around it and updating the programme and physically doing the... I mean yesterday was a presentation day for me virtually, I was on the computer for four hours doing four presentations. That doesn't leave a whole lot of time to focus in another area like online sales. So luckily my sales through schools are perfectly fine, exactly what I want and so I kind of just focused on that area.

James Blatch: How do the sales come about it there? Because children don't generally carry 10 bucks with them to school, is it? It's not there and then, or is it in the days afterwards or-

Daniel Jude Miller: So I do it different than most other authors do it. Most other authors do their sales that day. So they basically pre-sell them. So they'll have the students sending their money in advance and then they'll sign books that day and they'll sell them that day. I don't like to do that for a few reasons. Number one, out of respect for the parents. I like the students to meet me first, before I sell them anything. It's also good for me because if they've met me that makes them want it more, as opposed to them not knowing who I am and then they don't know if they want it.

Also, if I sell it after my event, then it frees up time during the day that I don't have to sign books, I can ship them. So it gives me more time during the day to eat lunch with the kids or answer questions. So basically that day when I come to the school, I'll bring order forms with me and they go home after the event, they return them back to the teachers at some point about a week later. And then the teachers collect it all, send it to me and I ship out the books that way.

James Blatch: We all work on conversion percentages when we work online. Numbers are big, a hundred thousand here, 5% conversion, when you've got a room of a hundred kids, what's a good conversion rate for you for orders afterwards?

Daniel Jude Miller: Now it'll go all over the place. I've tried and tried to figure it out. You could go to a really small rural school and expect sales to be not good and they can be amazing. You can go to schools in really good neighbourhoods where you expect sales to be great, and they're not good because you're dealing with a lot of factors of how the teachers are promoting it, how engaged the parent body is. But in general, the number that I go by, that I can kind of predict is I can convert probably 20% of the room. So now the average school that I go to is roughly around 400 students, is the average. So I can easily move 80 to a hundred books in an afternoon. Now it's possible I could do more.

I forgot what my record is. I think it's like 175. There's other times that you'll do not very many. Now another point is I'm also getting paid to be there, which is like... So the minute I walk in the door, I've already made money and they paid relatively well. So even if I sold zero books, it's not even close to a loss. If I sell books, I always look at it this way, the person, that Gary VanRiper who trained me, he said, "Don't really focus on the book sales because they're going to be up and down and you'll drive yourself crazy. Just come up with a system, follow that system and focus on the presentations" because my primary function is to educate these kids and inspire them. I almost look at the books as the souvenir that they get to buy on their way out.

James Blatch: And is this something that works for younger children with children's books or could adult fiction authors go in as a thriller author and talk to older...

Is this a tried and tested thing in the States for older age level?

Daniel Jude Miller: For elementary level, which here is from kindergarten to about six, that is elementary here. Probably 70% of the schools in America do this every single year. So they have to find someone. Usually the 30% they're not doing it is just a budget issues that they want to do it, but they can't find the funding. So there are a lot of authors and this is a totally possible way to make a living. I'm doing it.

Once you pass the sixth grade, it gets a little more difficult. Because the students change. They use this example, when I go into a classroom of first graders and I ask, "How many of you like to draw?" Literally every single hands will go up. If I do that in fifth grade, 50% of the hands will go up.

If I do that in eighth grade, I'll get three real shy hands that don't even want to admit that they like to draw. So that's the problem. It gets harder to do the schools. For me, I can do some of the older kids, because I have a different presentation more about motivation and them finding what their dreams are even if it's not writing and drawing. But once you get to high school is where it starts to break down. So it would be tough for someone that's not somewhat student... The work isn't student geared. If you get to adult type books, then it gets real hard especially once you get up to those teenagers.

James Blatch: Now I think you're in the New York area. I can tell from your accent. I think you must be.

Daniel Jude Miller: Do I have a little bit of an accent?

James Blatch: A little bit of an accent. It sounds like I'm watching a drama on Netflix. Great accent actually from New York. I guess you're in the metropolitan scenario there somewhere.

How much do you travel? I guess New York has a gazillion schools, that's good for a start and the pupils change every year, but at some point, do you travel elsewhere? Is it worth your while doing that?

Daniel Jude Miller: I grew up in New York city. I spent my whole life there. I worked in the Empire State Building. Then when I wanted to have a family, I left. So actually, I live in New York State still, but I'm about three hours away from the city. Now that doesn't mean anything because I'm back and forth all the time. So my range is the three states that are around me. Put it in mileage is that 300 miles is about as far as I'll go driving. Now, usually I try to stack events. If I'm going to go real far, then you try to put two or three days worth of events together. That's usually not too hard to do. Because districts usually have more than one building. So you can kind of book out a few days, but anything within that 300 miles.

I try to shy away from trips that involve flying for a couple reasons. Number one, it takes up more time because there's more travelling time that's eaten up. And second of all, it makes it really expensive for the school. And I would actually rather they find someone that's closer to them to save them... There's plenty of authors out there. I'll do it if they insist, but it doesn't seem... To me, it's very cost effective. And like you said, I'm in New York State and Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, there's a lot of people here. There's a lot of schools. I'll never be able to do them all. So I don't need to go to California if I don't have to.

James Blatch: I suppose you could do a tour, but it would be very hard work for you where you do three talks a day. If you could coordinate it, fly into LA and do three talks a day for 10 days and then split the airfare around. But yeah, anyway, you don't need to because there's all these schools there and you're not running out of schools. And like I say, by the time you've got to the last school, all the pupils sort of changed at the first school.

Obviously it sounds to me like you find it pretty easy to get booked?

Daniel Jude Miller: It's work. It's like everything else. It's a constant marketing system and to your point, you said about the students rotating. I can usually go back in three years, so I don't have to wait for the entire school to change over because as long as they've moved up, like I said, my books are in different age ranges and also I'm coming out with new work, so then usually within about three years I have a completely different presentation. So then I can go back. The other invention is that I actually didn't want to do, but I kind of shied away from virtual visits. I just assumed kids are on the computer enough. And the thing of meeting an author is more valuable than seeing them on a screen.

And then this thing happened and kind of wrecked the world, and the next thing I know, I wasn't allowed into school buildings anymore. There was no alternative. I was doing tonnes and tonnes of virtuals. So I technically do do schools in California and Texas and all over the country. But those are done virtually because it's less expensive. If they really want to have me, then we could do it that way. And if you want me to be in person then usually I try to stay within that three or four hour drive range. But what it is, there's so many schools and I can only do so many in a year. I try to stay to around 50 in person and about 20 virtuals because that's 70 days worth of work. And that doesn't sound like a busy schedule, but I also have to write, I have to draw, I have to do my own website. I have all these other jobs, if I'm on the road all the time, then there would be no new books.

James Blatch: I guess that's one of the side effects of the pandemic is that we have a generation of kids who are quite happy or quite used to sitting in front of a screen and having an online lesson. Would've been slightly odd for our generation.

Let's talk about the illustrating and the writing. Do you have a particular illustrating style that's unique to you that you developed as a kid that maybe got a bit... I don't know what the word is, but when you're working in the corporate world got a bit... Suppressed is the word I'm looking for, but is there something that is your brand?

Daniel Jude Miller: It's kind of funny, it's the opposite of what you're saying. I started out like most kids, I liked drawing cartoons and superheroes and things that normal kids like to draw, but I was really good at drawing. So when you're good at it, they start pushing you to do more realistic things. And so when I went to art school, which was my goal and I went to art school in Manhattan, in New York city. I was super intent on being the most realistic artist there ever was. I was pretty good at it. Painting and live drawing and all that stuff. And then I was just talking about this at a school, they asked me, "Why do I draw the way I do now?" Because I draw cartoons now. So they're like, "How did you get there?"

I said, well, I was in art school, very good at drawing. And then I had a girlfriend and she dumped me and it broke my heart. So for a month I didn't draw it all. And when I came out of that sadness, I ditched all the realistic drawings. So she was responsible for completely shifting my style back to what it was when I was a kid. I went back to drawing cartoons and more fun things. And then I got really good at that.

Then I got that editorial job and what happened was they needed cartoons, but they needed sort of corporatey cartoons. So what happened is they messed up my style and it was still cartoonish, but it wasn't good. So then finally when that job went away, when I started doing books, it took a little while to find a visual voice again. But yes, I started with cartoons and I ended up with cartoons or I should say a cartoonish style. It's not really cartoons. People think newspaper cartoons then, but it's more like an animated movie type style, but in the middle it was very serious.

James Blatch: So the opposite of a muse, your girlfriend, she left and then that inspired you to finish something. And how does that story about your girlfriend dumping you go down with young children?

Daniel Jude Miller: What's funny. I have all this material that I use. I pull from my own experiences, things that I see at the schools. That never came up. But remember we were just talking about the older kids, and it was only about a month ago. And the teacher asked me, she said, the same question you asked, "How did you end up with the style you have?" And I said, "You don't really want to know" because it was mostly seventh and eighth graders. And they were like, "No, tell us for real." So I was like all right, I'll try it. So I told the true story and they loved it because they were older kids. Then the teacher made me tell that story literally like eight times throughout the rest of the day. So I don't use that one when I'm talking to second graders, but if they're older, they kind of understand.

James Blatch: They're just be going "Uh girls, boyfriend"

Daniel Jude Miller: You're right.

James Blatch: Now, your stars... I'm looking at one or two of the frames now and they're very distinctive. In fact it reminds me in the UK, people know what I'm talking about, there was a cartoon illustrator called Giles who did these very busy family scenes, very unique. He died a few years ago, but quite famous in the UK. And you are reminiscent of that.

Although the big eyes also remind me, almost an anime influence maybe?

Daniel Jude Miller: I get asked this a lot. I don't really know where the big eyes came from, but I'll have to look up the Giles because I'm curious.

James Blatch: If I can find some stuff, I'll send you some links. I think you'd appreciate seeing them. Anyone from the UK about my age will know exactly what I'm talking about. Very distinctive. So I can see kids being drawn to this because they're incredibly infectious illustrations. There's so much to look at, so much character in the drawings. And I guess you use shade and light, I think, very well to keep the eyes focused on the main parts of the story. But in the background, there's a whole set of stuff that you could examine.

So each frame must take you... I don't know, how long does a frame take you?

Daniel Jude Miller: Well, each page takes about, I would say it... Once I know what I'm going to do okay... So the whole sketching process who knows, because it could go through multiple variations, you can get it on the first try. Once I know what's going on this page, just the process of doing that final drawing and colouring it is about a week and a half it'll take. And it's funny you point that to backgrounds because that's my least favourite thing to do. I love drawing characters and I'm sure most illustrators do, but they have to exist in an environment and so I'm forced to do backgrounds and I'm glad everyone likes them, but that is my least favourite part to do.

James Blatch: It's funny because I think your backgrounds are really great. For the YouTube version, we'll put one or two of these up as we're talking about them, in terms of the themes, I often wonder about children's... Because teachers go through teacher training college, right? They do a degree. Then they have a couple of intensives years learning about the psychology of children, how to talk to them, what's appropriate. Child writers come from none of that training background. And I doubt you have that background and you sit there and suddenly you're creating material for children.

How do you get the pitch right? How do you get the language right?

Daniel Jude Miller: Again, that's an excellent question. I actually wish I had an excellent answer because the truth is I don't think about it. I really don't. I was meeting with students yesterday and somebody asked me, they ask in a child way, they said, "Do you ever get criticised? How do you deal with criticism? And I said I don't think about it. I write the books I want to write.

Some of my books, the vocabulary is probably at a higher level than the who I'm aiming for, but I consider that a good thing. I want them to be challenged. As far as subject matter goes, I don't think too much about it. I write the story I want to write. I go through a small focus group of students that I know. I'll feel them out.

It's funny, you said about the boyfriend and girlfriend thing, because there's a book I'm working on and I show it in process at the presentations and in the one drawing, the woman gets married. And so there's a drawing of them kissing at the wedding. And every time I show it, they're grossed out like second and third graders. So by doing that process, a lot of times I'll show the work I'm doing at schools so I can kind of gauge what they like and they don't like, so that drawing will not make the final book because I'm getting feedback that they don't like that.

But ultimately I have no training on any of that stuff. It's awesome because I get paid to go to schools. They allow me to sell books. They're also giving me a focus group, so that I'm allowed to test ideas on the students. And then also I get treated like a rock star. So at the end of the day, you couldn't have asked for anything better.

James Blatch: That does sound great.

Do you deal with themes? Do you write a book and think I'm going to deal with bullying in here or drugs or whatever you... It might be a bit young for your audience. Do you decide to do something semi educational like that?

Daniel Jude Miller: No. In fact, I try to get far away from that stuff as possible because there is a general movement, now that most people who are doing children's books, it's focusing a lot on these things. It's focusing a lot on encouraging children to be unique and encouraging them to make good choices. And that is a big market.

The truth is that first of all, it's a saturated market so I don't want to compete in there. And second of all, I think sometimes people forget that kids, they just want to read a story sometimes. There doesn't need to be a moral necessarily. I literally am working on a book called the Boy Made Of Boogers. There is no moral to this story, he's just made of boogers and they can't figure out why. And he's different than everyone, but there won't be a moral and it's just meant to be funny and fun because they're kids, right? Sometimes they need a break from all the adult sort of pushing sensibilities on them.

James Blatch: Yeah. Well that sounds great. I think it's a perfect way of doing it. Now, I guess the downside of you... It sounds like a brilliant way of selling books because you seem to enjoy it. And I can imagine you're great in school for the kids, memorable days for them. And you're selling your books through that. The downside, I suppose, is your online presence means that you don't see rank for any of those books that you sell. You don't get the visibility, the old Amazon algorithm doesn't notice that you are selling those books because it's all happening offline.

But that's, like you say, time for you. You only got so many hours in the day.

Daniel Jude Miller: Right. None of that is anything associated with me. Now if I do want to go in that direction and I do, right, obviously I need an online presence also, I need staff. Right now we're launching, I say "we" but it's just me and my wife, but we're launching a whole YouTube channel because that's where kids are. Social media. They're not on Facebook. They're not on Twitter. They're not on any of these things, but they are on YouTube. Okay. And so now we're launching a whole series of how you make books.

Basically my presentation, but in a chopped up form so that they can watch it on their own. That's a lot of work, filming all of these. I do all my own editing. So for now I want to have a bigger presence there. And then eventually I'm going to need to hire someone to handle all the online stuff because the truth is I've spent so much time learning the ins and outs of the schools and how they get funding and how they do the equipment that you need to do, the presentations that I do. I know very little about Amazon advertising and algorithms because I just haven't spent any time on it.

James Blatch: Do you think that at some point you might animate your books?

Daniel Jude Miller: I don't know. The thing is, like I said, when I was in college actually, I wanted to be an animator. But back then you had to do everything drawing. It was more drawing, drawing, drawing. It was a lot of drawing to animate. So I kind of soured on it. Now animation is way easier with the programmes that they have. Maybe one day, kids always ask me will I ever turn anything into a movie? I don't know about a movie, but the thing is that I would love to learn how to do is just enough animation to use it for these videos and enhance the things that I already have.

But again, it always really comes down to time. My website is enormous because I want it to be a playground for kids. And so, my website has over 90 pages on it and it's all sorts of projects and games and things for them to look at and read. That's all me. I manage my own website, I'm designing it. I'm building out a whole new section now. So I have a lot of different jobs between the writing, the drawing, the school visits, the videos you have to film. I would love to do animation, but it's probably going to have to wait a little while.

James Blatch: Sounds like you've got all the tools there to do it, but I can see it's a time... That would be a massive time constraint. Just on the schools thing, I know there'll be people listening, just thinking actually this sounds like a really good idea. Here in the UK as well, I know quite a few children's authors, I've spoken who do do children's visits, but to get into this, what advice would you give?

First of all, I'm wondering if there's background checks or bureaucracy involved in this, do you have to jump through a lot of hoops before you start visiting schools?

Daniel Jude Miller: You would think so, right? But the answer is no.

James Blatch: Okay.

Daniel Jude Miller: No, there is literally nothing. In fact when schools started opening here again, well they've been opened, but when they started letting me come and have visitors again, it was back in about March, and I assumed that there was going to be a lot of COVID proof that you would need. I have never shown a card or anything, they've never asked. So the only thing I need is a licence. I've never needed to get a background check or anything.

James Blatch: What licence?

Daniel Jude Miller: Oh my driver's license's. Just ID. That's it.

James Blatch: And in terms of the schools, you say they're kind of basically expecting to hear from all of this. So you just put something together that says... I knew you put a presentation together, I guess.

Do they need to know much about you to book you?

Daniel Jude Miller: Surprisingly no, because when I started, I didn't have a whole lot of books. I obviously didn't have a reputation. So what I started with was whoever was the nearest to me, obviously, it's the no-brainer. I went to the schools that I knew that maybe I knew people at, obviously in a lot of professions like this, the first couple I ended up doing for free because I needed to learn too. And I just also wanted to sell some books. But basically when I was in the beginning, I always focused on having a pretty good website because I knew that was important, that's how they would take me serious.

I made sure I put a lot of time to the website, obviously the presentations they couldn't know until they actually see me so that I was working on, but that wouldn't help me get work. So the main thing was I was just emailing and phone calls and even... What's funny, I haven't done any international virtual author visits, but even like you're saying for authors in the UK, they can easily do virtual ones. I know the time difference can be a headache at times, but there's no limit now. Okay, if you contact schools in America and you say, "This is what I do," and you have a website and there's nothing that's stopping them from hiring you from here.

James Blatch: What's your plan in the future? The school visits are incredible and a key part of your marketing at the moment, but they time suck as well. What do you do in the next two years?

Daniel Jude Miller: The truth is honestly, I want to do this. I told my wife if I have the choice, if I could sell a thousand books in a month at a school or 10,000 online I'd honestly take the thousand at the school because I love the interaction. I love being around them. It's boring to me to sell books online because you never see the kid that read your book, they don't give you a compliment. Also, I didn't mention, if I was selling online, I'd make a lot less money because you'd have to sell more books to compensate for all the costs that are involved with the cut that goes to all the people you're selling through. When I sell out of school, it's all for me and there is no cut. Right?

So if I sold through Amazon, they're going to take a portion, so basically I'd have to sell three books for every one book I can sell in a school anyway. So my two year plan is to get back to what I had because everything was going great until this thing went down and then for two years I was doing all these virtual things and the money wasn't good anymore. And only in the last four or five months, we started to get rolling again.

My goal is to first get back to what I was doing and getting back to established and doing fine, which should happen, because it's things are getting better here. And then after that, the truth is there are a lot of people that do this forever. I really do feel like when I did this, I found my calling and I always tell students that JK Rowling, I saw in an interview, she said the one thing she misses was all the visits and kids because she can't do it anymore because she's way too famous. And I always tell them that I hope I never get to that point where I give up on this. I want to do this my whole life, talking to kids and inspiring them.

James Blatch: That's great. If people want to have a look at your books, the version that's available on Amazon, is that a print on demand version or is that fulfilled from your stock that you have printed?

Daniel Jude Miller: That's fulfilled from my stock. The best way to look at it, because internationally, the best way on Amazon is to use the eBooks, because they're way easier to download, they're exactly the same as the other books because they get expensive when it goes international and you can find everything on my website. You can go through there. It's my initials, djmbooks.com and there's tonnes of fun stuff there, if you want to just check out, there's videos and games and projects and all sorts of great things for other authors to learn how I do it and also obviously for kids.

James Blatch: Yeah. That's great. Well, Daniel, you've obviously found... Like you say, you found your calling. I can feel the enthusiasm for it. And I think it's great and it's a lovely way to sell books.

Daniel Jude Miller: You know what it is, it's like I write kids books, it's a no-brainer to me to go meet kids and sell them books and talk about books. It seems like so obvious to me that's where I would want to be.

James Blatch: I hope some children's authors have been inspired to do the same. So thank you very much indeed, for spending your time with us and people will visit that and I'll take a look at your books and I'll send you some Giles cartoons when I find them afterwards.

Daniel Jude Miller: Absolutely. That sounds true, it's been my pleasure.

James Blatch: There you go. Really liked talking to Daniel, I mean a very impressive collection of baseball hats first thing to say, I think he has over 300 of them. Of course the teams, release a new hat every year or so, so the fans buy them. But I think he said he's about 40 short of a complete collection and there aren't many complete collections and they're all unworn apart from one. The first one he bought, he wore briefly.

Mark Dawson: Ah, very good.

James Blatch: But that wasn't really what we talked about. We talked about his enthusiasm for school visits and how he's made that work for him. Very well organised. I thought it was a really interesting practical takeaway interview for people particularly publishing children's books in the States. I think you will be motivated by that to go down that route.

So your children's book, which you mentioned just before the interview, Mark, your second one that is published, is it? I didn't realise that. I thought you were self publishing it.

Mark Dawson: No, that's another joint venture I do with Welbeck. Alan and I produced the books, Welbeck publishes them and that's gone quite well. I know that all the orders on the second book to the first one that we've sold in more books to the second. First one sold quite strongly, which is good. We think we'll do six and then we'll see where we are, but it's been fun, completely different way of looking at things, obviously illustrations of the book is you kind of... Its whole up to screen. Now, you have you illustrations throughout the book so it's very different from the other books that I do and also lovely to get fan mail from young readers, the same age as my kids, which is really nice.

And around World Book Day, had some people dressing up as the characters and all that it's quite fulfilling and doing school visits, I mean, that was fun. I don't have the time to do too many of them, but it's really nice to kind of leave kids with a message that this is... Not just talking about the book itself and how it was written and how it was put together, but to leave them inspired that they could write themselves. And it's a legitimate career choice now in a way that it wasn't when I was at school. So yeah, good all around really.

James Blatch: Yeah. Good. Okay. Well, when we we record the episode, looking back at the show, after the show, I'll also talk about the launch of my second book, which I'm in the middle of at the moment, but it doesn't actually launch on Kindle until, funny enough, the first day of the show on Tuesday, the 28th. But I can tell you, I've had my first orange tag for hitting number one in a category in America and then quickly followed the next day by my second, both in the States. And I'll talk a little bit about how specifically I drove those sales because I think they came from one source, which I think might be of interest to people.

We'll go through that as part of the look back at the show as it's sort of tied in time wise to that. Good. I think that's it, Mark. We can take a little breather now. Lots going on, obviously a very busy week ahead for us, because again, we're recording this just before the show, but next time you hear from us, it will be after and we'll probably stop banging on about it. We'll be banging on about the show in 2023 by then. So that's it for me. Okay. You can go back to your sneezing. All the remains for me to say, is this a goodbye from him.

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

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