The Power of People Supporting Each Other

Some of you may or may not be aware but my recent book Adorable Cakes for all Occasions was completely funded and published by myself.

First stack of books at the printer!
First stack of books at the printer!

I’m writing this post to give you guys an insight into that journey and to also explain what it really means.

One of the most common questions people ask me is how long it took to put the book together. The book took about a year to plan, photograph, write, edit and print. But the idea of the book was in my head for so much longer than that. For the last couple of years, my new year’s resolution at the beginning of each year was that I was going to write a book and get it published. To be honest, I’d start the year all excited about the book and start sketching designs but then life and business gets in the way and the poor book gets pushed to the bottom of my list.

Then last year, as I started travelling and teaching more, many of my students kept asking if I have or will have a book. Really, I think that is when I finally got my act together to start the whole project (this was in August 2013).

As I was creating the skeleton of the book I was faced with two options: find and pitch to a publisher or self-publish this thing. I weighed up the pros and cons of both options. If I were to go with a publisher it meant that I had to actually go and find one and then convince them that my work was going to be good enough for them to invest in above all others. I would have to send them drafts, call them, meet with them, let them have a say in my work, and so on. On the other hand, I may get paid upfront and they would be able to distribute my book far and wide and make it globally available.

Proofing the artwork before it goes on press.
Proofing the artwork before it goes on press.

If I did it myself, I would have full and total control over every aspect of the book but that also means not getting paid while I was working on it and fronting out a big chunk of money to print it. At the end of the day, it boiled down to: if I could not invest in myself and believe in my ability to do this, how could I ask a publisher to do the same?

I had my doubts. What if I could not do it? What if it turned out crap and looked like a two-bit operation put it together? What if it ended up on the Cake Wrecks of published books? What if the designs were too simple? What if people didn’t like it or did not want to pay for it (after all, books on Amazon and Book Depository are much cheaper)?

At pre-press, checking the colours...
At pre-press, checking the colours…

At this stage (in October 2013) I was still umming and ahhing about how to go about this whole thing. The moment of clarity happened when one of my wonderful students (hey Vivian!) took me out to dinner while I was teaching in Melbourne. We discussed the book in passing and I clearly remember her saying to me, “Don’t bother with a publisher. You can do it yourself and will have so many people waiting to buy your book”. Now, I’m not sure if she was just being super nice, but I choose to believe there was some truth in her comment. I didn’t really know her but she seemed to have confidence in me. So I thought, you know what? I’m going to try this whole writing a book thing. Self publishing has come a long way and I am sure I can find a way to make this whole thing work.

So I brainstormed and researched and researched some more. I discovered the following:

  • Self-publishing websites and print on demand options are really only suitable for novels. The reason those companies can do what they do is because they standardise their book sizing and paper stock. Going with this option meant that while the upfront costs were less risky, the quality of my product will not be as good. Plus the profit margins were very minimal.
  • Going to a publisher means that I would only get a tiny portion of sales from the book and it may take up to a year or two to get published.
  • Distributing to Amazon was an option but shipping to their distribution centre would be at my cost and on top of that, they wanted an extremely large percentage of the sale price. This option would leave me with nothing if not a loss. And if that was going to happen, I’d much rather just pass that on to my customers, what’s the point of giving all the profits to a giant company. At this point neither I nor my customers will gain from this option.
  • Distributing to other big bookstores was not really an option. No one wants to hear from you if you are not a proper distributor. And honestly, I didn’t have the time or resources to chase down this channel.
  • Shipping around the world from Australia is going to kill me (and everyone else).

So where did this leave me? It was now January 2014 and all the content was pretty much done. My graphic designer was gradually starting to put everything together and I have my heart set on getting this book done.

By this time I made the decision to really do it all on my own. My plan was to try and sell as many books through pre-orders as I could and to reach out to all my contacts around the world to see if they would help me stock the books. I started a Kickstarter campaign to generate some funds to offset some of the printing and shipping costs. My plan was just to get a little bit of funding but what I was not expecting was the enthusiastic response from everyone in the industry. Even those who I knew truly did not need the book, rallied around to help me out. It truly helped to ease any of the self doubt I was having.

The Kickstarter campaign.
The Kickstarter campaign.

I hit my target by over 500% percent and it made me so excited and nervous to think that people out there were just as interested in my book as I was.

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Nick and I spent most of March and April 2014 editing the book and trying to meet the May print deadline. I really did not want to let anyone down but at the same time I didn’t want to rush the production of the book and produce something subpar.

In May this year the book was finally at the printer and I started reaching out to some of my contacts around the world and some new cake shops too. It was a challenging road. Some didn’t respond, while others told me that it was too expensive and that they don’t really make money off books since they can’t compete with Amazon or Book Depository. Which in a way made me a little sad, because I know that in the quest for getting the best deal, us as consumers are hurting and putting the pressure on our local small businesses.

Pallet of books to sign for all the Kickstarter backers.
Pallet of books to sign for all the Kickstarter backers.

The pressure came full circle because it was then on me to make the book cheap. To produce it cheap and to supply it cheap. Like how custom cakes can not compete with grocery store cakes, I (the one woman band) can’t compete in price with the international publishing houses who print thousands and thousands of books from China and own global distribution networks. It was a hard decision for me. Do I compromise on what I thought the book was worth just so I could make it more available and compete with the big companies? Do I compromise on the print quality? Or do I write off the whole thing and work for free in order for everyone else to enjoy the book at a cheaper price? The whole book was a year in the making. A year where I spent all my extra time (nights, weekends, and more) on creating a book without any instant return.

It was a tough decision, one which Nick and I discussed until no end. But at the end of the day, we came to the conclusion that although the book may have been a labour of love in the making, we are ultimately a business. As a business who has invested a year and substantial amount of money into producing the book, if I sold it for anything less than it was worth, I was not being fair to myself or the business.

I owed it to my students, friends, and followers to produce a quality book at a reasonable price and not to cut corners in order to please the general public. I know those who follow, believe, encourage and know me will understand. And it’s those who I dedicate and owe the book to.

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I believe I have created a book that is in line with my brand and provides excellent value for money. There is also a support website with a calculator for recipes, ganache and buttercream. Plus the templates are all on there in full size ready for you to print and use. My aim is to make the whole process as simple and stress free as possible. And if that means that the book is on the higher end of the market, then so be it. Because I know what is inside is well worth it. Cake decorating is supposed to be fun!

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I’ve had wonderful feedback from people who purchased the book and have already started to see a handful of projects made or inspired from the book. Please keep sending them in because I love seeing them all! I really hope to have made a difference in your decorating life.

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Today I have been lucky enough to have a select few retailers around the world who believe in me and my book enough to stock it and recommend it to their customers. Now, almost 3 months since the book was printed, we’re ready do a second print run and I owe it all to you guys and especially to the retailers who took a chance on me. Who not only stocked my book but also hosted me for signings and demonstrations.

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So I encourage you to support your local retailers. In this day and age where price is king and we are constantly looking for a cheaper option (myself included), let’s not forget the one man bands around us. We are all small businesses ourselves and I’m sure we know at one point or another what it feels like to be ditched for the big guys with more cost effective options. But when you can, spare a thought and pay it forward to the smaller guys who are just like you – trying to make it work in a big mass produced world.

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who supported the book from the beginning to everyone supporting it now. Thank you for making that girl’s dream, the one who tried a local community collage course and started her business on her kitchen table, possible. Thank you for allowing me to do what I love everyday.

P.S. I’m in the process of putting together a journey video too. It’s coming soon 🙂

2 thoughts on “The Power of People Supporting Each Other

  1. Sharon, you should be soooo proud of yourself, it definitely wasn’t an easy journey,we always doubt ourselves with lots of ahs, oos and what if it doesn’t go well? Nothing will happen unless we dream first!! you are definitively my inspiration 🙂

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