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Jackie Harding: I just published ‘The Harbour Cat’; here are my tips for becoming an author

(Editor’s note: British expat photographer and travel writer Jackie Harding is an original Dispatches contributor. Jackie has just published her first children’s book, “The Harbour Cat,” which you can order here from Austin Macauley Publishers.)

I’ve always been a lover of books. 

As a child I was – and as an adult, I am – an avid reader. Growing up in the countryside, the happiest of days was when the mobile library truck came to our village. There you’d find me in the corner with a pile of books, so excited I couldn’t wait to start reading. As an adult, I love spending time in bookstores, big or small.

Jackie in Heusden

When we lived in the United States, Barnes and Noble was my and my children’s “happy place” and now, living in the Netherlands, I get my book thrills at Waterstones or The American Book Center in Amsterdam. I love the look of the new unblemished book covers and the smell when you crack open that new book!

I also love “gently loved” books and in the UK will browse the charity shops to find a treasure or yet-to-read story. My own version of spreading the joy is to take a finished book to an airport or park with an attached note saying “Read Me” and leave it on a bench or seat, hopeful somebody will enjoy the book as I did and then pay it forward.

Writing and storytelling is in my genes, apparently.

My maternal grandmother wrote children’s short stories and had a few published in the local paper in the 1930s. My dad used to tuck me in at night as a child with tales of adventure involving my cuddly toys.

I even wrote my younger sister a “book” when I was a teenager, handwritten and self-illustrated. Not a best seller but hopefully enjoyed!

So, when I started dabbling with the writing of children’s stories, it just felt natural. To be honest I didn’t do it to be published – that felt like a doubtful dream – but my family saw something of value and encouraged me to go further. I am not a bold person and for awhile I just smiled at them and thought how lovely it was that my children and husband were so encouraging.

Then the pandemic happened and on one of those lockdown days, I re-read my book idea and thought there is something here. So, thinking, “What do I have to lose?”, I contacted some UK publishers.

What a shock when three offered to publish it! 

Now, two years down the track, my book is finally published! “The Harbour Cat” is inspired by a local cat that shared the harbour I live on in Heusden, Netherlands. He used to wander around seemingly checking everything was in its place and checking in on everybody and the story longed to be written.

Do not think getting a book published is simple or easy! It is a long-winded, confusing and, at times, uneasy journey into a world we know nothing about.

This is my take on the process:

Finding a publisher is not easy. 

Most big names do not need to take on “unknowns,” so look for smaller or lesser-known publishers who are taking submissions. Publishers are swamped with new authors and can be choosy. Austin Macauley Publishers are the publishers I decided to go with as they sell to all the big online and store names.

Finding an illustrator is difficult.

If your book requires illustrations, that is its own problem. I had a family friend who had agreed to illustrate my book but then had to pull out due to personal reasons. So, I ended up using the publisher’s illustration department. They were very accommodating considering I had very definite ideas of how I wanted my book to look.

Be prepared to compromise and trust they know more about the book market than you do.

This is an actual investment.

As I am an “unknown quantity” as an author, I am required to invest financially in the process. This was a surprise to me and luckily, I had savings to use. My hope is that I will see that outlay covered by the sales of the book.

This is a lengthy process.

I started this journey in October 2021. Be patient and prepare for multiple edits and reviews of your manuscript. It is worth it to get it right.

Embrace social media and brush up on your marketing skills.

Be ready to be on Instagram and Facebook as the author. You will also need to open yourself to the public on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads etc. as the author. Just keep all your personal stuff well, personal, and create separate email accounts.

If you want to be successful, it seems you also need to be prepared for book signings, contacting local bookstores and selling your book. Marketing is a world I know nothing about and at times I feel like someone has asked me to suddenly step on the field and play rugby for England! Google has lots of tips from other authors, and the marketing department of your publishers should also provide information and support.

Have supportive family and friends.

I’m sure you will have lots of encouragement from family and friends as I have. Urge them to spread the word and to fill out reviews when they purchase the book. The more online presence you have, the better.

If you are a budding writer I recommend “scratching that itch.” You never know where it will take you.

Good luck!

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My book, “The Harbour Cat,” is a children’s book for ages 3–to–5 and is available from:

Austin Macauley Publishers

Amazon 

Bol.com

Waterstones.com

Barnesandnoble.com

The Book Depository ~ betterworldbooks.com 

Foyles.co.uk 

Dymocks.com.au

WHSmith.co.uk

Wheelers.co.nz

ISBN number: 9781398486850

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Read more from Jackie here in Dispatches’ archives.

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Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here

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