I chatted with Amazon Best-Selling author, illustrator, and Writing Academy graduate, Jeremy Ross, about the release of his third picture book in the Mustard Series: Mustard Thinks Twice! (available from Amazon).
Ketchup is up to his sneaky tricks again, and Mustard is faced with a difficult decision. Will Mustard join Ketchup and Ranch for the worst prank ever, or will he make a tougher choice to save his friendship?
Kids of all ages will love Mustard Thinks Twice!, an exciting story about true friendship and the power of pause.Read Mustard Thinks Twice today!
Jeremy has already generously shared advice with the Writing Academy community about why he chose self-publishing and how he achieved unexpected success and what lessons writing and publishing the second volume taught him.
This time, I was very excited to chat with him about his “behind the scenes” experiences.
Hi Jeremy! It’s great to have you back on the blog. My first question is when someone asks what you do now, how do you introduce yourself?
By day, I work in the engineering and construction industry building unique projects for a better future; by night, I work on children’s picture books, also for a better future. Fortunately, I love my career in engineering and grateful that I’m able to pursue my passion of writing and illustrating for kids without the pressure of making it my full-time vocation.
Has your definition of “success” changed from when your first book, Nobody Loves Mustard, was just a twinkle in your eye to today, as you launch your third book? If so, how has it evolved?
Oh boy, that’s a tough one! Success… Okay, I’ll try to articulate what success means to me and how it has evolved with each book.
When Nobody Loves Mustard made its way into the world, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Simply put, I just wanted my readers to feel emotion and connected to Mustard as he searched for love. When the reviews started pouring in, I was touched to see how many people loved the story and enjoyed reading it to their children and grandchildren. The overwhelmingly positive reception made me feel successful.
With Breathe, Mustard, Breathe!, it was time for kids to harness the power of their breath to activate their nervous system and conquer fear for good! I felt success after I finished the book and released into the wild. Finishing my second book was all the success I needed, but I truly enjoy reading all the positive reviews, especially when parents say their kiddos breathe along with the characters!
With Mustard Thinks Twice!, I realized that success comes much sooner than reviews or just finishing the book; rather, it is always present. You see, when I sit to write and draw, I feel success! Finding time for creative work in and of itself is success. After a long day, we are all faced with the evil force of resistance, so doing the work and enjoying every step of the journey is the secret to success.
In the end, I write and draw because I love doing it, and bringing stories to life. To me, that feels successful.
A little bird told me you’ve recently exceeded 10,000 downloads and sales (free and paid) of your first two books. Congratulations! That’s an accomplishment I know doesn’t come without some skilled marketing efforts and I definitely have questions for you about that. First of all, did you have any experience in marketing before launching Nobody Loves Mustard? If not, can you describe the feelings or thoughts that went through your head when you first realized how much marketing was involved in being an author?
Thank you for your kind words! I’m still shocked that over 10,000 people have read my books! When Nobody Loves Mustard was published, I wrote down several challenging goals in my journal, one of which being 10,000 books sold. Amazingly, this goal was achieved this past March while I was finishing my third book, Mustard Thinks Twice!
More specifically, the 10,000 books sold includes both paid (Kindle Edition and Paperback) and free e-book promotional period downloads (Kindle Edition). Being able to offer my books for free during short promotional periods allowed me to have a larger audience and reach more kids, which in turn helped me achieve 10,000 books delivered in just over two years. In order to take advantage of free book promotions, you will need to enroll in Amazon’s KDP Select Program, which grants Amazon exclusivity of your Kindle Edition books, which wasn’t a deal breaker for me personally.
Equally important, I utilized the broad reach of marketing companies like “Fussy Librarian” and “Freebooksy” to help promote my books. Without their readers, there’s no way I could ever reach so many potential customers.
Additionally, I learned as much as possible from Dave Chesson’s website, Kindlepreneur (no affiliation). His insight on marketing is invaluable and really help me understanding advertising, keywords, categories, competition and much more! It’s a lot of work and research, but well worth the investment in time. If you think writing and illustrating the book is difficult, just wait until you start the marketing side!
I’m still learning, but my new goal is to reach 100,000 readers! How’s that for dreaming big?
What have you learned over the course of launching two books that’s influenced how you’re launching the third volume?
Perhaps the biggest lesson learned over the course of launching two books is having more patience with myself. With a full-time career in engineering & construction, and being a family man, I often found myself being stretched too thin and not balancing my work/life balance. However, with Mustard Thinks Twice!, I took my time with each stage of the book and removed my original commitment to finish it in 2020. While I think it’s important to establish a baseline schedule and meet interim milestones along the way, I think it’s even more important not to push yourself too hard when balancing a full-time career and being present for your family.
I believe patience and striking a balance in work/life are the biggest lessons learned.
You’ve achieved great success without social media. What’s the secret to your success?
Yes, it’s true! Contrary to popular advice, and certainly inconsistent with today’s standards, I have absolutely zero social media platforms. It’s not that I don’t see the value in social media platforms for exposure and discovery; I just feel they are more of a distraction than helpful. You see, the system is based on algorithms and interactions, which requires considerable investment time, which I don’t have.
When I do have free time (other than spending it with my family), I rather spend it working on my craft rather than trying to outsmart the algorithm to chase likes and followers. Admittedly, I’ve never had any social media for personal use either, which was a decision I made before starting my journey into Picturebooks.
If you want to know the secret, it’s quite simple – really. Just do good work and keep improving. I realize it’s easier said than done – but getting better at your craft should be the most important element. Rather than competing against other authors and illustrators, I’m competing against myself and trying to improve incrementally with each book. Author and Professor Cal Newport wrote a great book about this topic, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, which he claims skills and craft having the highest priority in pursuing personal goals. He also wrote another book, Deep Work, where he explains the perils of distraction related to social media and how focus and attention are becoming a lost, yet most important, commodity.
What general strategies do you recommend? What advice do you have for aspiring self-published authors?
I’m a strong believer in time-blocking creative time. If you wait for motivation, you may find yourself waiting forever. It’s better to schedule your time in advance and be flexible with yourself when disruptions to your schedule occur, which will always happen if you have a family. If you have a full-time job unrelated to your literary goals, time-blocking is even more important for you to reach your goals. Just remember, taking steps forward, even incrementally, is the right path.
Also, I think it’s important to do some self-reflection and understand your “why”. What is the reason you are writing and/or illustrating a book? Write down your “why” and begin to dig deeper into your personal reasons for pursuing your writing goals. Once you peel the onion and understand fully the reasons “why” you are writing, you will have found your literary purpose.
Next step is to write your goals and dreams. The science is clear on this topic, simply writing down your goals increases the chances of success by over 40%. I suggest you use the S.M.A.R.T. model, which is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. This is an excellent roadmap for goal-defining, both personal and professionally.
Finally, if you’re an aspiring author and/or illustrator, my advice is to go for it! Just remember, the joy is in doing the work, not in finishing it and winning something. Write because you enjoy writing.
Do you identify as an “authorpreneur”?
I believe it’s a new term, yes? I do consider myself both an author and entrepreneur; therefore, I can certainly identify as an “authorpreneur”. In order to sell books, I strongly recommend establishing a business entity and separating all finances accordingly. Whether you will be operating as a Sole-Proprietorship, LLC, or possibly Corporation, the point is to start your business and treat it seriously. Your business may not be the only revenue stream, but you should always treat your writing as a business.
Writing and business are two sides of the same coin, requiring equal focus and attention. If you treat your business with the same level of dedication as your writing, you will find it well worth the effort. Having the mindset of running a business will help you immensely with your writing goals and projects.
Thanks for stopping by, Jeremy!
Thank you! I hope all your students enjoy Mustard Thinks Twice!, and would love to read everyone’s honest review on Amazon.
Jeremy Ross is the author and illustrator of the hilarious read-aloud children’s picture book, Nobody Loves Mustard, a delightful tale that combines humor with a powerful message of love and belonging.
As a child, Jeremy Ross loved to draw and create stories – but it wasn’t until Jeremy had a child of his own that his passion for drawing and creating stories was reignited. As a first-time children’s book author, Jeremy strives to continue creating children’s books for young readers for years to come!