Welcome to our latest Author Success Story! This month we're featuring Christian children's book author, Courtney B. Dunlap.
Courtney inspires children all over the world to tell their story! She and her husband, Curtis, are raising four children in New Jersey. She is also entering her 10th year as a homeschooler and is an avid Twizzlers fanatic!
AHA: Hi Courtney! Every author has an origin story. Tell us yours!
Courtney: When my husband and I became parents and as our children grew, we decided
to homeschool our kids. When our oldest daughter was in kindergarten, I felt very
strongly that I wanted all my children to read books with characters that looked like our family. We are an African American family and we are Christians, and we didn’t know of or see a bunch of books featuring Black, Christian families. So, I wrote my first children’s book in 2014. However, it wasn’t until 2020 that I finally become a published author.
AHA: Did you have any experience in writing before you started?
Courtney: I’ve always loved to write. From a very young age, I kept diaries, journals, passed notes to my friends in school and scribbled. I even preferred writing papers in school to any other kind of school work or tests. My degrees are in Psychology and Christian Counseling, so I also had plenty of writing assignments through these programs as well. In the last five or six years, I’ve been a content writer and as-needed editor for various curricula and projects with Lifeway Christian Resources. Lastly, I have blogged about my family’s homeschooling journey since 2016.
AHA: Deciding whether to self-publish or pursue traditional publishing is often one of the first big decisions a new author faces. How did you make that decision?
Courtney: When I wrote The Rumble Hunters, I initially wanted to go the traditional publishing route. I lost track of how many queries I submitted to all those publishing houses! This went on for two years. As I shopped my book, I continued to learn about the publishing industry. I later decided I should try to obtain an agent. I queried agents for another year and a half. Needless to say, I grew tired of waiting for someone else’s permission to pursue my dreams. It was then that I finally decided to turn my publishing dreams into reality on my own terms through self-publishing.
AHA: Doing things on your own terms is such an empowering feeling! Unfortunately, it also means doing things "on your own dime!" How did you fund your first project?
Courtney: I funded my first project with my family’s own funds and resources. As a homeschooling family on one main income, it was most definitely a sacrifice and an investment!
AHA: Well, it seems like it's been a good one! How long did it take to publish your first book?
Courtney: Once I chose to go the self-publishing route, the process of publishing my book took about a year and a half. My kids were still pretty young at the time and I was a little unsure about how to do it on my own. Because of this, I felt more comfortable with using a vanity press. Now I know that in the world of indie books, vanity and hybrid publishers are a huge “No-no”. Many times, this is for good reason. There are tons of scams and people have really been burned. At
the time, though, I was completely oblivious to all this. I’m truly grateful to God because I know He protected me from what could have been yet another story about an author getting scammed out of their hard-earned investment.
Even though my experience with a vanity publisher was not terrible, I will never use one ever again. I also don’t promote using them since I now know that if you want to publish your book on your own terms, you can! I gained the confidence I needed then to publish my own books now. In fact, I’ve gone on to publish two more books and am in the process of finishing two others that will be available in the near future!
AHA: It sounds like you've experienced everything from querying traditionally, to vanity presses, to self-publishing. Overall, has publishing a book been easier or harder than you expected?
Courtney: I wouldn’t necessarily say the publishing process has been easier or harder, but
more so unexpected. I think the world of possibilities when you publish your own books has really been opened to me. I’ve learned that self-publishing is NOT for the faint of heart. There is a ton of work involved with this “author life” if you want to see any measure of success. You have to constantly market yourself and figure out new and creative ways to say, “Buy my book!” Lol! However, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I’ve seen firsthand that what may seem hard can be
learned and/or outsourced. For that, I am thankful.
AHA: Speaking of not reinventing the wheel...many of our readers are just starting out on their publishing journey. Is there something you wish you would have known when you were just starting out?
Courtney: I wish I would have known that there are a bunch of capable and successful indie
authors who are willing to share their knowledge with indie newbies. I’ve learned a great deal from my fellow indie author community, including you ladies right here at At Home Author! There are so many helpful groups and resources that are available so you can do it right. At the time when I was publishing my first book, I simply didn’t know this. I’m sure I made a bunch of avoidable mistakes and there might be times in which I think, “If only I had known better.” But you live and you learn, right? These experiences are all a part of my story and I am grateful for this journey.
AHA: When you first started, how did you measure success? Has that benchmark
Courtney: Plain and simple, I would have said success was selling my book. When I wrote
The Rumble Hunters, I knew I loved the story. I literally laughed out loud a few times as I was writing it. I felt like it was good, but prior to publishing it, I always wondered whether or not others would think so, too. The first day it went “live”, I distinctly recall shedding literal tears and saying to my husband, “People are buying my book!” I was shocked and so happy! I was thrilled and felt beyond humbled that people would want to read a story I had poured my heart and soul into.
Two years later, I think success looks like balancing my author aspirations and taking every win and even some of my losses in stride. Success looks like not putting all my eggs in one basket or feeling like a failure, simply because something I was hopeful for didn’t work out. More and more, success looks like being faithful with what I’ve been given.
AHA: Let's talk marketing! What marketing strategies have been most successful for you?
Courtney: Hustle, hustle, hustle to win! (Lol I’m joking. I also was a cheerleader in high school.) But in all seriousness, I’ve utilized direct outreach via emails and phone calls with various organizations and schools. I have been featured in the media on numerous occasions. I was even on Good Morning America several weeks ago! I timed my launch with various podcasts and print/online interviews to ensure the highest amount of fanfare. My book came out right before the pandemic, so I did an in-person launch party and had a local news station’s TV crew cover it. I have also heavily marketed my books on social media. At launch, I wrote handwritten thank-you notes asking every customer to post pictures with my book and tag me. I was always sure to repost these and tag the person back with a shout out. I now include a postcard with a coupon code asking customers to post pics, tag me, share, etc. or to leave an Amazon review. I haven’t done it in a while, but at one point, I took advantage of the KDP free book promotion days on a regular basis. I most recently have started utilizing Instagram Reels.
AHA: So many great ideas! Okay, last question. If you could give one piece of advice to someone hoping to self-publish, what would it be?
Courtney: I would absolutely say, “Stay in your lane and ride it until the wheels fall off!” That’s something I’ve tried to live by. When I forget this and start to look at the successes or journeys of others, I always come back to it. Comparison is the great setup. In our social media world, we can watch what others are doing and get down on ourselves, or we can watch others and feel a push to go harder. For those who are watching someone else and feeling like you’re inadequate or your
time hasn’t come or never will, I would say, “Mind your own journey and just be faithful.” Your efforts to perfect what you have already done will eventually pay off!
The Rumble Hunters
February 4, 2020
POD or offset print run?
Ingram Books, Amazon
softcover, hardcover, ebook
Total Investment: (All amounts are rough estimates provided by the author and should not be considered 100% accurate or used as estimates for your own project. Do your own research!)
Initial Investment for 2020 Book launch:
Original print run of 750 books - $3,300
Cover design - $195
Illustrations - $2,500
Distribution & warehousing services - $95
Mascot marketing Plus plan - $1,495
Total Number of Books Sold To Date:
Inspired by Courtney's story?
Ready to start your own publishing journey?
At Home Author is run by three veteran teachers-turned-authors who are here to help! Click the button below to book a FREE 15-minute consultation and we'll answer any questions you might have.
Not feeling chatty? We get it! ;) Click HERE to register for a FREE webinar.