Welcome to our latest Author Success Story!
Meet Markita Staples:
Markita is an author and illustrator who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Markita has a background in business, having worked for companies like Ford, United Airlines, Adobe, and more. She started Curly Crew Books in 2019.
AHA: Hi Markita! Tell us about the start of your author journey. What inspired you to write your first book?
Markita: I was inspired to become an author when my daughter was 1 year old and started to express an interest in specific books. She always gravitated toward books with little Black girls on the cover because they looked like her. At the same time, she was a busy little one-year-old with a pretty limited attention span, a preference for bright colors and simple images, and pretty short books. I recognized this gap in the children’s book market for books featuring characters of color that were written for babies and pre-readers, and I thought I would try to write one of my own. I played around with a drawing app that I happened to have on my iPad and decided that I also wanted to illustrate the book. Before I knew it, I had a series.
AHA: An author AND illustrator! How exciting! Was there a particular reason you chose to self-publish instead of pursuing traditional publishing?
Markita: I can be a pretty impatient person! Once I found out that traditional publishers can take several months and even years to publish a book, and that it would also take some time for me to find a publisher that might pick up my book, self-publishing was a no-brainer. I love the level of control that I have over publishing my books and the flexibility I have over releasing them when I’m ready.
AHA: Traditional publishing definitely moves SUPER slowly. Speaking of which...how long did it take you to publish your first book?
Markita: It took about a year. I had the initial idea at the beginning of 2019. I also had my second daughter in April of that year, so between a toddler, being pregnant, and having a full-time job, I didn’t have a lot of extra time. Once I had my 2nd daughter, I started to make a lot more progress. The book also turned out to be the perfect project to keep me balanced during maternity leave. The illustrations took the longest by far. In fact, I “pre-published” a version of the book that was about half complete simply because I felt like I needed to have some version of a finished product at the end of 2019. I finished the rest of the illustrations and released the final version of the book in January 2020.
AHA: Did you have any background or experience in writing?
Markita: I don’t have any formal writing experience after high school. My last English class may have been a business writing class, since I have a background in business. So if emails and slide presentations count, that’s my background!
AHA: Ha! They definitely count! Has the publishing process been easier or harder than you expected? In what ways?
Markita: It was challenging at first, as there are so many little steps and I found myself getting stuck on things like formatting errors when publishing to Amazon or figuring out the barcode vs. the ISBN. It has gotten easier and easier with each book, and now that I’ve published a number of books the process is pretty straightforward for me. Marketing, however, is so much harder than I expected. The children's book market is so unique and has so many nuances so it takes a lot of time to put that all in perspective and do what you need to do to find your target customers and figure out the types of marketing efforts that are effective.
AHA: So true. Marketing is a lot of trial and error! For those who are just starting out, and aren't sure what to try, which marketing strategies have you found to be the most effective?
Markita: Amazon ads are my #1 form of marketing. I like how it doesn’t require too much of my time - I just optimize on a weekly basis and I always break even or make a profit. I have also been having a lot of fun with TikTok lately, and I have gotten a lot of sales and leads that way. There are also some IG accounts in my niche that are very cost-effective and where I’ve gotten some really good results.
AHA: When you first started, how did you measure success? Has that benchmark changed?
Markita: When I first started, success was finishing the book. That’s it! So yes, it has changed significantly. Book #3, “I Love Being Me”, has been my most successful book in terms of sales, and has now become the benchmark for how I measure the success of all of my other books. I don’t always reach the same milestones, but it’s a good indicator for how well I’m doing. My top measures of success are sales, profitability, and how well I’m keeping on track with publishing new books. Now that self-publishing and e-commerce is something that I am doing to generate income, I have to be more diligent in focusing on the numbers, as opposed to when it was just a fun project.
AHA: Speaking of that shift from hobby to business - What is one thing you wish you would have known when you started?
Markita: I wish I would have known to think about my target customer while writing the book, and to keep them in mind prior to publishing. This was a lesson that I did not comprehend until I released my second book, “I Am Not Sleepy!”. That second book sold a lot better than the first, and I think it is because customers can easily recognize the problem that the book is addressing and might find it in their keywords, like “bedtime book for little girls”. I now know a lot more about Amazon keywords and the importance of making sure that your book fits into the niche of your customer. It doesn’t mean you have to change what the book is about, but you might tweak your title or change the cover design. Those small changes can make a huge difference in your book sales later.
AHA: SUCH a great tip! Okay, let's talk dollars and cents! How did you fund your first project?
Markita: My costs were extremely low so it was easy to self-fund. Since I did my own illustrations that saved a ton of money. I also published through Amazon KDP so I didn’t need the upfront investment on a print run. All in, my costs were around $500 for a graphic designer, ISBN, and some book and illustration coaching.
AHA: Amazing! Alright, last question. If you could give ONE piece of advice to someone just starting the self-publishing journey, what would it be?
Markita: Do as much testing as you can before making any major investments. I am a big believer in Amazon KDP as it allows you to write a book and print according to demand. You may find, like I did, that your first book isn’t your best one, so you may just want to get that one done and move to the next one. You may also find that you don’t love the book business, so it’s easier to move to the next thing if you don’t have a ton of books that you have to sell or a loan you have to pay back. Another component of testing is getting feedback. Start with friends and family, then maybe build a circle of potential customers that can give you feedback as you create your book. That way, you can make changes before you go too far down the road of creating your book.
“I Am Not Sleepy” (this is an updated version that features a boy character)
March 20, 2022
POD or offset print run?
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!)
Illustration support: $300
Total Number of Books Sold To Date:
Around 100 – modest but I’ve recouped my costs in a couple of months so it’s profit from here on out!
Inspired by Markita'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.