The Story Behind Our Story

I’m a previously published non-fiction author, so why self-publish The Groovy Granny? Why, when there’s so little money in it, and such a small audience? Here’s why

by Heather Grace Stewart

Update: You can now preview and buy The Groovy Granny, first published in 2011, on Amazon! The young illustrator went on to illustrate the chapter dividers for my 2020 novel, Lauren from Last Night.

There are some things in life you don’t need to question. The times I haven’t hesitated in my life because my gut was telling me ‘yay!’ not ‘nay!’ —like marrying the man I love, deciding where to live and build a home, and deciding to start my own business in 1999—have all been fantastic successes, and have led to even more joy in my life.

Sometimes, you just know. After our daughter kept drawing illustration after illustration for my poems—of her own free will, because the poems inspired her to draw—I just knew that self-publishing this children’s book was the right path to take. It had already been a very, very long path with this project, but in early 2011, I felt a bend in the road that I knew was an important one to take.

The Groovy Granny is a project over 10-years in the making. I began writing the poems on my weekends in 1998 and 1999 while working as an editor at a children’s magazine, Wild! The children I met through my work and my young nieces inspired me with the silly things they said and did. But I was a busy associate editor at four sister-magazines at the time, so I only had time to send out the manuscript a couple times.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for that manuscript to get noticed. Bubble Mud and Other Poems was published as an ebook by Electric E-Book Publishing in 2000, and illustrated by an Australian graphic designer. I always call it a book ahead of its time. ‘What’s an ebook?” almost everyone asked. Most of my readers bought the PDF on a CD-rom, just so they’d have something tangible to show the kids before popping it in the CDrom drive. Remember, there were no e-readers at the time!

The book was nominated for an International E Book Award (EPPIE) but failed to get any other attention¬ from the media or critics – partly because the small Canadian company went under. But I did receive numerous emails from children readers, telling me how much they’d loved reading my poems. ‘The Groovy Granny’ was the poem most readers mentioned as being a favourite. I grinned, and mentally filed that away.

After the birth of our daughter in 2005, I felt inspired to rework some of the poems—and to write many, many more. Then began the long task of searching through Writers Market and Poet’s Market and Children’s Writer’s Market for the right publisher.

I’ve spent the last five years looking for a publisher. The book has gone through many revisions, and there have been both cuts and additions. There are several more poems in the original manuscript, like ‘Lunch with a Llama,’ that I didn’t publish in The Groovy Granny, because I soon discovered a kids’ book that long would have been too expensive to illustrate and print in colour. I’ve sent it out to agents here and in the U.S. and publishers both big and small, in Canada, the U.S., and the UK.

As a traditionally-published kids’ book author (I had two non-fiction books about our PM’s published with Jackfruit Press in 2006 and 2008), I thought I’d have a slightly higher chance at finding a traditional publisher. Most of the time, at least, I got personalized letters back, with handwriting, and everything! Many, in their rejection letters, wrote me that it was a ‘high quality’ manuscript and they ‘wished they didn’t have to turn it away,’ but this book ‘did not suit their list at this time.’ A few said they’d held onto it longer than usual in hopes of being able to publish it, but in the end, couldn’t afford to print a full-colour book of poems.

I soon realized lesson 101 in business: it all comes down to money. I reached one agent on the phone after she’d carefully looked over my work, and said she was only looking to represent illustrators at that time, but “wished she could represent me,” adding, “It’s so good, you can sell this book to publishers yourself!”

That’s when I finally stopped questioning the quality of my work—so I’m grateful for that stage of my journey. I decided to forget about the agent for a while, and started looking for a richer publisher. However, when I did that, it proved even harder to get anyone’s attention.

For example, Scholastic took a year with my letter to them. A year. To answer just a query letter. I did call to follow up, but never got any phone calls back. When they finally wrote back, they said ‘we have returned your material to you.’ One problem: I hadn’t sent them material. I had only sent them a query asking if I could.

I threw darts at that letter.

I’m kidding. I circled parts and pinned it up on my wall beside my desk to remind me I’m often dealing with ridiculousness, and I can’t take life—or rejections—too seriously. Life’s too short for that.

When my daughter came to me with her first drawing for the book (it was a girl hanging from a clothesline by her feet, and it cracked me up) I decided I wanted to be in control of this project. I wanted to choose the cover, to set the royalties (much higher for me without a traditional publisher), and above all, I wanted Kayla to be the illustrator (something that likely wouldn’t happen with a big traditional publisher—at least that’s what the CEO’s of a couple publishing firms told me).

So, now I have my own publishing company, Graceful Publications. with a publisher prefix number and my own block of ISBN numbers waiting to be placed on The Groovy Granny, and perhaps even my next poetry collection for adults (2012).

Making and selling books won’t pay off our mortgage—but I’m not doing it for that reason. I’ll continue to sell my magazine articles and poems to textbook companies, and to read my poems at schools and libraries for a living. But I’m fascinated by both online and print publishing and social media, and constantly think about how social media and new technologies are affecting how we read and share books. I like being a part of this rapidly changing field. There’s always something new to learn, and to me, that’s exciting.

You can now preview and buy The Groovy Granny on Amazon!

First night reading our book, photo by Bill Stewart.

16 responses to “The Story Behind Our Story”

  1. Congratulations Heather on being true to you and not taking the rejections so personally. I will be sending Mason in your direction to learn from a seasoned optimist! The Groovy Granny is such an amazing accomplishment and something you & your daughter will share forever!! You are inspiring!!

    1. As a kid, I had wonderful, goofy, imaginative friends -namely, YOU -who let me be me and
      I believe that always stayed with me. So thank you dear old friend -hope to see you in person soon xox

  2. so cool and so proud of u H. awesome job!!!

  3. So many people are going that way now.
    It is clear that the industry no longer caters for a wide audience.
    Best of luck with the book but then, i think you will do rather well anyway.

  4. I got my copy yesterday. I love it. Here is my review:

    This book is a delight. Heather brings a quirkiness to this book which has echos of Dr Seuss but the humour is pure Heather. Kayla’s illustrations show a remarkable grasp on the world around her. The opening poem, “Gadget Snow Pants”, is pure genius. The young ones will love it. Us big kids will feel like kids again.

    1. Best. First. Review. EVER!
      Thank you Larry – I am thrilled it brought you joy and hope it will bring you and yours
      smiles and laughter for many years to come.

  5. I have tried 3 times to comment on this.
    I read it days before now.
    I was so happy to see a nice long post about something so personal.
    love the book.
    bit steep with shipping…

    1. Hi! Thanks so much for commenting and saying you love the book! Yes, it isn’t a cheap book. It’s really good
      paper and cover quality. I will try to get it into ebook one day (Ipad in colour) and that should be cheaper for people.
      I’ve sold 30 in 7 days though and not just to family -some online to complete strangers actually – so I’m ecstatic!

  6. Correction – I’d be buying your BOOKS.

    Okay, ’nuff, gotta go. ..

    1. Well. Steve. This completely made my day. Thanks for you notes and support. We poets gotta stick together 😉

  7. First off, congrats. Secondly, self-publishing gets a bad rap sometimes, but the heck with the nay-sayers, these days it’s a solid way to go – provided you promote the heck out of it, on FB, email, in person (or go to poetry readings, then have books on hand for sale); also LinkedIn is a good way to promote it, as well. Sending copies to reviewers is supposed to be a good way to go, but I haven’t done that so I can’t speak to that.

    The fact that you included your daughter in this endeavor makes it even more wonderful. I’m broke right now, otherwise I’d be buying your book – I can’t even buy copies of my own books (at a base cost, of course) to sell beyond the Net (lol).

    I’ll answer the email you sent me about a month back, in about two weeks. I need to check some things out before I respond to you.

    I am SO happy for you.

  8. Great story Heather. I just love the photo of you two. K looks so proud of herself. Did Bill take the photo? How about photo credit?

    1. Yes, indeed he did, but that’s my guy – he didn’t want credit. He doesn’t care about credit. He’s the
      biggest story behind our story 😉 because he keeps letting me do this darn thing I’m doing, this thing
      that’s not really bringing in any money, without ever questioning it, not once. I’ll go add his name though!

      1. I’m just looking out for a fellow photographer….

  9. Heather, I’m so glad that you followed your heart on this one. You are an artist, and I’m happy that you can let your work evolve over time according to what feels right to you. Even if traditional publishers can’t take the time to fish your little gem out of the sea of other manuscripts they allow to pile up on their desks (and floors, and recycling bins)
    Never stop writing, Heather, and thanks for working so hard to share your writing. 🙂

    1. Alison, that means so much, coming from you, who says you can’t write! Thank you for your beautiful words. They mean
      so much, and will keep me at this a very, very long time. Thank you.

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