Today I'm so happy to have Andrew Barton of Heyward the Horse series to talk about his writing journey, the business of self-publishing, and what sustains him. I met him through SCBWI when we started our picture book critique group in Dec. 2018. He brought his first book and I was immediately struck by how bright and engaging it was. How FUN! The Heyward books are in rhyme and this is the hardest to write well, but Andrew delivers. The books are beautiful and I hear that little kids ask for it over and over. And these books aren't just for kids. They make wonderful gifts for grown-ups who love Charleston. Over these past four years, it's been a joy and delight for me to get to know Andrew better. He's never without a sketchpad and a pencil and is always doodling something and I'm always impressed with how much he captures with a few deft strokes. And it's been great to see how he develops a book from scratch. So without further ado, you can hear it all from the horse's mouth yourself.
tell us the path you took to get that first book published, the
challenges and obstacles you faced, and how you overcame them.
– thank you so much, Vijaya, for the opportunity! I want everyone
to know that you are a wonderful person, an admirable writer and a
fantastic critique partner. One of the most frequent compliments I
receive about my second book was an idea that came from you. You
suggested that I call my backmatter “hoofnotes” instead of
“footnotes” (the main character is a horse) and it has made a lot
of readers chuckle. Thank you!
[Vijaya curtsies] My pleasure, Andrew. I’m
delighted about hoofnotes.
your question, a very successful serial entrepreneur once told me
that he would never ever
try and make money in publishing. He said something like, “It’s
almost impossible to make it in that industry”. He was two years
too late! I was already heavily invested in changing the world with
my first children’s book, Heyward
the Horse Loves Charleston, Of Course.
two years earlier – my first child, Lucy, was just learning to
walk. My wife and I were acquiring (and reading) children’s books
to her at a rate that would surely set her on a path to straight A’s
and a guaranteed full ride at an ivy league school. To the
upper-class, and beyond!
as I read, I quickly realized that all children’s books are not
equal and would occasionally say to myself, “I could make this”.
About that same time, I began looking for ways to increase my income
to pay for that ivy league education just in case Plan A fell
through. I’m a self-employed
and the thought of hiring employees to grow a big company sounded
horrid. I’m an artist – not a manager! With a little
encouragement from some mentor types, I decided to take a stab at
producing my own intellectual property.
hear you. As much as I love the idea of having a team of people at
Bodach Books, I don’t really want to manage it all. I can barely
manage myself, lol. Last year I got two books that really resonated with me since we've been pondering the beauty of the small family business, whether it's growing bok-choy, baking bread, or making books, and I think you’d
enjoy them too. Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing
for Business by Paul Jarvis. And small is still beautiful: economics
as if families mattered by Joseph Pearce.
reached out to a successful local author, Jonathan
and he gave me a great piece of advice. Before you start your book,
write a business plan. So I did. As I wrote my first book, I was
laser-focused on who would read it and how it would get into their
hands. Two years later – about the time I received that
great advice from the entrepreneur – my book was selling in a dozen
local stores. It was a start.
don’t mean to make it sound easy. It wasn’t. Could I write?
Barely. Rhyme? Kinda. Draw? Yes. But I was not overly confident in
any of these skills. I had no notion that such a thing as a
professional critique group existed. I tend to be a
learn-or-fail-on-the-job type of person so I worked intuitively while
heavily relying on feedback from family and friends. The feedback, to
my great delight, was overwhelmingly positive.
It's how I've learned most things too, Andrew. And how wonderful it is to finally find your tribe.
a children’s picture book requires a zillion little decisions and I
stuck to my mantra – Keep It Simple Stupid. My other mantra –
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel – pulled its weight too. In fact,
without my friend Jonathan’s advice (and contacts), I might still
be working on that first book.
biggest mental obstacle for me was financially investing in my own
business plan. Sweat equity is all well and good, but eventually, you
have to pay someone cold hard cash to print your book. That was way
out of my comfort zone. I bit the bullet, got a loan, and ordered
1500 copies. To get me through that decision, I relied on the
positive feedback I’d received, encouragement from my wife, and a
little bit of desperation.
good advice. And it’s great that you trusted yourself in publishing
Heyward. I see that you've sold over 3,000 copies! That's fantastic! I love that you are NOT a starving artist. You make a living
through your art.
a graphic designer, my job is to create stuff that promotes my
client’s message. My goal with Heyward was to make stuff to promote
MY message for a change. Equally important, Heyward needed to be
profitable. And after an astonishingly short amount of research, it
became apparent that self-publishing would be the path of least
resistance – particularly for a hyper-local subject like
said, I’d love to work with my “soul-publisher” one day if the
opportunity presents itself. The opportunity should present itself to
my email address here.
I still feel like a newbie when it comes to self-publishing and marketing has been my nemesis. I admire
how you've cultivated relationships with local vendors who sell your
books. What advice do you have for those who'd like to do what you
is the big behemoth for nearly all of us, isn’t it? The truth is,
I’m no expert marketer. As a graphic designer, I am well equipped
to create all the visual assets and content. I created my website,
email newsletters, social media posts, flyers, and business cards. I
am particularly proud of the book
I made with my daughter’s help for my most recent book.
I’m blessed to have the advantage of creating marketing fodder, but
knowing how and when to use those assets to drive sales is the tricky
part. That’s where the expert marketer shines. I’m still figuring
that out and I ask for help when I need it. For example, I hired a PR
to help me with press releases, copywriting, and strategy.
Heyward, marketing is only part of the story. My main focus has been
Wholesale Distribution. From the beginning, I’ve tried to get my
books into local shops. It can be intimidating to walk into a store
and ask for “the buyer”, but it works! Stores are always seeking
new and exclusive items to stock the shelves. In that sense, the
retailer and author are working together in a partnership to make the
end consumer happy.
are a few drawbacks though. For one, I have to be able to sell my
books at a low enough price for the retailer to make a profit. The
margins are much slimmer than selling a book directly from my
website. Volume is key.
- marketing (and distribution) is hard work. There’s no way around
Andrew. It's so great to see your kids involved in the creative process. You have a young family. Can you give us a glimpse into a
beds, dress kids, scramble eggs, brush teeth.
beds, dress kids, scramble eggs, brush teeth.
beds, dress kids, scramble eggs, brush teeth.
was the question again? Sorry, I’m exhausted.
my wife and I, the typical day starts between 4:30 - 6:30 AM. Several
times a week we take turns getting up early to work out. Then begins
the Whirlwind of Monotony to get the kids off to school. Then begins
the workday followed by another Whirlwind getting the children fed
and in bed. The sameness of every day can be excruciating.
the plus side, I believe there is no duty on earth that can surpass
the beauty and gravity of raising children. The rewards of parenthood
are beyond words and reach deep into the heart. Parenthood requires a
near-complete sacrifice of self and it is terrible and worth it. In
full transparency, as I type these high-sounding words my kids are
banging on the other side of a locked door demanding my attention.
I’m doing my best to ignore them.
with young kids is a short season and I’m very grateful for it. My
wife, Erin, is a wonderful mother and partner. She’s also very
supportive of my children’s book business. The days aren’t easy,
but I feel very blessed.
Blessings upon blessings, indeed. And what a beautiful family picture--we don't often get snow so it's lovely to play in it. You bring back both the sweet and sour memories. I love everything you said, especially the essence of parenting. Your life itself is a work of art. Please give
us some advice on how to create and maintain an artful life.
my life is a work of art, it must be an abstract impressionist piece
composed of dirty diapers, existential anxiety, sleep deprivation,
coffee, and Disney+. I like abstract artwork so I’m cool with it.
your question, here are three things that have made a real difference
in my life:
In my twenties, God became a reality in my life primarily through
earnestly seeking answers at church and in the Bible. The God that
met me there was, to my great surprise and relief, a Loving Father.
Ever since I have continued seeking Him and praying for wisdom in my
decisions. Prayer is not typically a quick fix from my experience,
but as I look back, I see God’s guidance at work. I love Proverbs
all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
For Erin and me, routine is paramount. We’ve been married
nearly 14 years and have learned, though we possess very different
personality types, to work well as a team. We communicate frequently
about all the wants and needs in our house. We even have a recurring
Monday night meeting where we go over the business of the week. A
routine does not come naturally to me, but it has contributed
immeasurably to our lives.
I highly recommend journaling with the aim of goal tracking. In 2019
I listened to an audiobook that changed my life. In a way, it’s
just another goal-setting self-help book. But for some reason, Your
Best Year Ever
by Michael Hyatt spoke clearly to me and, more than that, it felt
achievable. Goal setting can be extremely overwhelming, but Hyatt’s
approach and writing style inspired me. I’ve been journaling and
tracking my goals ever since. At this point, I can’t live without
it. I wrote a blog
about this topic if you’d like to know more.
is amazing: these are three of my favorite things too, though I came to the faith much, much later in life (13 years this Easter Vigil). Michael and I often wonder what it would’ve
been like had we had this beautiful faith God has given us in our
20s (we're pushing 60). But thank God He never stopped chasing us. And thank God for
bringing you into our lives.
you, Vijaya for the opportunity to speak with you. You are one of the
most interesting and enjoyable people I’ve encountered on my
Thank YOU for taking the time, my friend, to share so generously. I've enjoyed it very much and maybe one day, the right story will present itself to us to make together. Here we are in our matching tees and your books! I think children's book creators have the best time ever.
Readers, over to you. If you have questions or comments, I'm sure Andrew will be happy to respond.