One author loved animals so much that she wrote and self published a children’s book about a cat that thinks its a dog. She’ll tell you that writing the story was the easy part. Everything that came afterwards took careful planning and finding out all about self publishing. Although she hasn’t figured it all out, she’s off to a great start which I decided made her a great prospect for my next interview in my Q&A Interview series of women-owned, pet friendly businesses. My hope for you is that this series will inspire you to follow your own dreams, to develop your own plan doing something you feel passionate about. The woman you’re about to meet has a similar story to mine. Most of you already know my story. I can’t wait for you to hear hers.
Let’s get started!
Healing Rescue Dogs Interviews Self-Published Author and Cat Lover Heidi L. Schlatter
The publishing world is the new wild frontier as more and more wanna be authors discover how easy publishing books can be given the ease of software that lets anyone assemble a book and upload it to the various online selling platforms. If you’re someone who follows this trend, you know that one of the buzz words that’s worked its way into mainstream writerspeak is “self-publishing.” It’s a phrase that means different things depending on who you are speaking to. When it’s done badly, every aspiring writer suffers. When it’s done well, it’s deserving of attention and celebration. As a relative newcomer to self-publishing myself, I’ve taken a front row seat in this arena. What I’m finding out is that, like every other field, self-publishing has its share of excellence and its share of trash.
During my own journey as a self-published author, I’ve become friends with some wonderfully talented writers who took the same self-publishing path I chose. What fascinates me is that there is no one way to do this; each successful book comes with its own back story that provides insights into one person’s creativity and perseverance in birthing a book. All of that said, as the second in my interview series of women who morphed their passion for
dogs animals into a pet-friendly business, it’s a pleasure to introduce you to Heidi L. Schlatter.
Heidi grew up surrounded by animals. Her passion has always been to make a positive difference in the lives of animals and children. Like many of us, she has a soft spot for animal rescue. These days, she volunteers at Mary’s Kitty Korner Adoption Center in Granby, Connecticut. Is it any wonder that her first self-published book, Merlin, The Cat Who Thought He Wasn’t, will ear mark some of its sales towards supporting not-for-profit animal rescue groups?
HRD: I know from my own writing experience that there can be quite a long time between the book idea to the end product which is the published book. How long did you think about Merlin’s story before you actually wrote it down?
Heidi: One day at work, out of nowhere, I started to think of Merlin and how he amused me. I refer to this book as “my God-Given book” as the words just came to me in rhymes that I thought were kind of cute and I wrote them down. (I never write things down but was compelled to with these words.) As it turns out, once I put the book together, I had written down approximately 8 of the book pages of rhymes that day within ten minutes. I read the lines to a friend of mine and when she asked with it was for, I told her I’d thought about making it into a book!
HRD: Why did you want to tell Merlin’s story?
Heidi: Merlin was a very different kitty, a misfit of sorts. I felt very sorry for him in some ways because he clearly had been through some hard times, yet he was a very loving, sweet kitty (who acted like a dog). At first, I viewed my creation as a rather cute or comical account but then the purpose started to become clear to me. I started to think of ways to make Merlin be the “poster-child kitty” for rescued animals. That idea grew into my developing the Rescued Animal Tails series. I decided to tell as many stories about rescued animals as I possibly could to help bring awareness to people about how huge the problem is regarding neglected, abused and homeless animals. Then, in turn, the stories could be read by adult readers to children to help children understand how important it is to treat animals properly.
HRD: How long did you spend writing the story?
Heidi: The throw-together of all the pages of the story took approximately three days. Then, on and off, with my friend, Sherrill, as my sounding board, I edited, counted syllables, and changed words here and there for a couple of months.
HRD: How did you go about finding an illustrator?
Heidi: I know a phenomenal artist who actually did a couple of illustrations for me. He said he would try to help me get the book together but, it might take a long time because he was so busy. I thought perhaps that’s how I would have to progress to get the book done eventually. But then, the unexpected happened.
HRD: And, I’m assuming that the “unexpected thing that happened” was Heidi V. Patten who, I’m just noticing, shares your first name! Could that have been a clue that the two of you were meant to work together on Merlin’s book?
Heidi: Heidi and I had not really been in touch for a couple of years which wasn’t all that unusual throughout our 40+ year friendship. At that particular time, she was off living her own life which included going through back surgery. Out of the blue, she emailed me just to catch up. After a few back-and-forth emails, I wrote: “Heidi, you can draw! Would you be interested in tackling a children’s book with me?” Thankfully, she said, ‘Yes!”
HRD: Once she agreed to do the illustrations, how long did it take before she finished?
Heidi: Though Heidi is very good at drawing horses and dogs, she didn’t do drawings of kitties and I don’t think she’s ever had any as pets. Her first few drawings were based on her perceptions of cats – all claws and teeth! I had to laugh at that. Then I told her I needed “warm and fuzzy,” “in your face” big drawings, so back to the drawing board she went. The results were just as I envisioned! From agreement to the finished product took seven months.
HRD: What happened next?
Heidi: I figured I’d better look into publishing options, as I knew nothing about this. I took an online course that was offered through the local community college. This all pertained to going through a standard publishing company and I learned a lot. I recommend courses like this to anyone who’s thinking about writing and publishing a book.
HRD: You self-published your book. Can you talk about that?
Heidi: The key points from the class that influenced my decision to self-publish were: if you were lucky enough to be picked up by a book agent and/or publishing company, 1) You might not see your book in print for a good three years 2) You might realize 50 cents a book for royalties and 3) they didn’t want you to have your own illustrator. 4) The dollar amount per book paid to me would make it impossible for me to donate $1.00 per book to the rescue organization that saved Merlin. That is something important to me.
I did a search on Amazon for books about self-publishing and chose one in particular because it categorized the self-publishing companies all in one book. I had already queried a couple of the big self-publishing companies. Oddly enough, that book ranked two at the bottom of their list. Again, because I had a need to have more control and ownership of my book(s), I chose Self Publishing and through them was hooked up with a coach. This experience was phenomenal. Never did my coach pressure me to “sign on the dotted line.” He gave me endless amounts of information for how to get the job done.
HRD: What did you have to do as a publisher that’s different from your role as a writer?
Heidi: As a writer, the basic story is a creative process. Writing a picture book, there were some guidelines to follow so that the book stayed within the formate of a children’s book with illustrations. Publishing is all about the set up of a book which wasn’t difficult as my coach instructed me step-by-step. You have to follow particular steps in producing your document – you have to step outside of yourself to describe your book as if you are looking at it through someone else’s eyes. As the author, you keep it close and personal but, as a publisher, you have to look more objectively. Because this is a self-publishing company has no ownership or control over your book, they suggest you establish yourself as a publishing company business – which is what I did with Freddie Boy Press.
HRD: The physical book itself is beautifully constructed! I love the colors you used for the illustrations, the rich purple color of the accent pages and the quality of the paper – it’s glossy – how did you decide on that?
Heidi: Thank you! When everything fell into place, the way it did, my vision of what I wanted the book to look like pretty much presented itself to me. I just knew what was right. I think my “mind’s eye” has 20-20 vision!
HRD: Well, I’d say your vision paid off. Your book looks exactly like a “traditionally published” book. By that I mean that it doesn’t look “amateurish.” It has the look and feel of a book that I’d find in any children’s section of a retail book store. What are some of the other challenges of being self-published?
Heidi: And again, thank you! I was pleasantly surprised by the finished product myself. Heidi and I are quite proud of our creation. I’m glad I chose the path that I did. As I mentioned previously, I have retained control over my books from every angle. I just wouldn’t have been able to make all of the decisions or choices I did if I had published traditionally.
HRD: Looking back on how you created this book, is there anything you learned that you feel would benefit my readers who are thinking about writing and publishing a book?
Heidi: Within the manner that this book presented itself to me, I would have to say to trust your instincts. We all have different reasons for wanting to be published authors. I do think that any book that anyone wants to write needs to come from the heart and soul of each of us. Ideas can come from the head but, the passion of a story needs to come from your “gut.”
HRD: What were some of the challenges you had to work through before your book was published?
Heidi: It was a bit of a challenge for me as it was uncharted territory to embark on as far as the “how to,” “where,” and “who” questions. My biggest concern was with regard to what I was willing to spend and the “what ifs” about it not selling. You order more books, you pay less per book. However, you order more books and you have to get them sold somehow!”
Confidence was also an issue to work through when thinking of actually producing a book. Who was I that anyone might want to read my books? I had to realize that I believed I had produced a great book with a great intent behind it – and that being shy and full of doubt would only prevent the book’s potential to make a difference in a matter – animal rescue – that’s very important to me.
HRD: Once your book became available – once people could actually buy it – what was your next step? Where can we find your book?
Heidi: I started out taking baby steps locally. Of course, my friends and family – all those who wanted copies – Bless their hearts – bought copies. I started to get feedback about how the kids wanted my book read to them every night – that some were taking it everywhere with them. Again, confidence levels came into play and I approached local businesses associated with animals or rescued animals and nearly all bought copies. The next step was to see if I could find small, local businesses to sell my books for me. Surprisingly, many of them did! Book signings within those businesses appealed to these store owners as it was a way to promote me and their business. The local market was very good for sales. (And, my book did make it into a local Borders bookstore but, unfortunately, that store was one of the first Borders to go out of business just a few months later.)
The next must – probably before a book is in print is to set up a web presence and start promoting your book and message. I waited until I actually had the book in hand but, I can see where being pro-active online before your book is published can be really beneficial.
My own website Freddie Boy Press is set up through PayPal for ordering books. I’ve reduced the price and offer autographed and inscribed books. (I ship them myself through my web site.) People can order them on Amazon. I wanted to make it easy for readers to order my book regardless of whatever “reading device” they use so Nook users can order from Barnes And Noble. Wherever they choose to buy can be based on their desire to have a signed copy or not and I made that option attractive by offering my book at a slightly lower price if ordered through my own website.
HRD: Not that I want to be accused of favoritism, but I’m so glad that I have the hard copy version of your book! It’s just exquisitely done and part of the appeal (and this is only my opinion) of your book is the pleasure of holding it in your hands – the illustrations just “pop” the story with their “in your face” big size – which is a part of that almost visceral reading experience. So, to my readers? You won’t be sorry when you order the hard back version of Heidi’s book! LOL
Let’s move on to another feature of you book – it’s more than “just” Merlin’s story. I love that you want to raise awareness in young readers about animals that are rescued. Can you elaborate on this?
Heidi: I hope that adult readers will have conversations with children about the fact that there are too many animals not being properly cared for in our world and that they deserve kind and respectul treatment from us. If enough parents teach their children to have compassion for animals and treat them kindly and responsibly, I’m hopeful that when they become adults, they will bring about the necessary changes so that society no longer needs rescue organizations. And, the few rescue organizations that might still operate wouldn’t deem it necessary to end the lives of unfortunate animals.
I also want people to see how early influences in our lives, just as with animals, can produce self-perceptions of what we are capable of – which can often be very limiting. Merlin was lucky to have Pudge. Each child should be lucky enough to have a mentor to show them their potential so that they can let go of labels theyve been tagged with by others.
HRD: Tell us about your involvment with Mary’s Kitty Korner Adoption Center.
Heidi: I adopted Pudge and Merlin through Mary’s Kitty Korner having found them through Petfinder.com when I was searching for a kitty. When they moved closer to where I live, I started to volunteer for them. I mostly did fund-raising but, it was on such a small scale that when I wrote Merlin’s story, I decided what I wanted to do with regard to helping them, hopefully on a much larger scale. I made a commitment to myself that I would donate $1.00 per book sold to their organization to help them in a bigger way. Then the idea hit me to expand this idea to other organizations by writing a series of “Rescued Animal Tails” and telling stories about animals from all across the country. (I’ve donated $500.00 thus far.)
HRD: Have you always been a cat lover? What was your first experience with animal rescue.
Heidi: I can’t remember not having cats (or dogs for that matter) in my life. How can people not love cats? My parents, and then myself as an adult, generally adopted animals from shelters to try to save a life or two. Years ago, there were only “kill shelters” and it was so sad and difficult to choose what animal(s) to save. I wanted them all.
HRD: Tell us about the real Pudge and Merlin. I think it’s time they claimed center stage in this interview.
Heidi: Merlin and Pudge are both dominate male personalities so they each want to be the “big guy” in the house. It took awhile to blend them and I honestly can’t say they’re best buddies but, some of that surrounds their possesiveness of me. I notice when I come home sometimes, that they are sharing a space in the house, even if it’s a paw’s length from each other. I just love these two kitties.
Pudge is all cat and he loves to play, play, play. Merlin has a playful side to him but, it really does have more of a rough and tumble (I usually say “clunky”) quality of playing, very similar to how a dog plays. Pudge knows what he’s doing as a kitty. Merlin is a true copycat of everything Pudge does. They’ve both come a long way since joining my household – overcoming many of the issues they brought with them but, you have to allow them that bit of who they are from their past – that’s part of adopting a rescued animal.
HRD: What’s next for you as a writer and publisher?
Heidi: Well, I had written the Pudge book right after the rough draft of the Merlin story. I’ve just been waiting for Merlin to pay his bills (through sales of his book) to then get book number two in the series published. Pudge’s story is about how he has perceived life with Merlin. It also reflects on how human children see the addition of a new child into their home. And, of course, Pudge’s book sales will also donate $1.00 per book sold to Mary’s Kitty Korner. There are many animal stories to be told. In time, I hope they are all generating funds for the organizations responsible for saving them.
Oh, I did recently publish Cat Massage For Kids: Simple Massage Anyone Can Use to Bond With Their Cat. I wrote this book to teach children how to show kindness to kitties using gentle touch.
HRD: What an inspirational story, Heidi! Your books are wonderful teaching gifts to the world. I know that Merlin’s book is already finding its audience and with some help from my readers, we can help get the word out about your cat massage book too. Promise to come back when Pudge’s book is done so that we can help you to celebrate that. For everyone who wants to follow the further adventures of Freddie Boy Press, you can easily connect with Heidi on her Facebook fan page.
And, for my readers, if you’re just discovering my blog, my first interview is with a California Dreamer who has a flair for baking. Coming up as number three in the series (available in early April), is a wonderful story about a woman who has been an entrepreneur for more than 20 years. Like many of us, she’s passionate about animals. What unique creative talent has kept her going for so long? You’ll have to wait and see.