We’re so thrilled to see Aulexic feature on the front page of our local Examiner newspaper this week but I wanted to share the rest of the interview I had with the wonderful Juanita Shepherd because a newspaper can only cover a tiny snippet of the great conversation we had. I love talking about Aulexic, the books we’re creating, and our hopes for the future and would love to respond to reader questions so if you have any you’d like to ask, please share them in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Can you please tell me about Aulexic? When was it founded? What inspired to set it up? What are its main aims and goals?
Aulexic is a small publishing house specialising in books for children with language and literacy difficulties such as those associated with dyslexia, autism, and specific language impairment. We launched on May 23, 2015 with the first three books in the P.I. Penguin series.
We’re still finding our feet as a small business but are committed to building a strong foundation, quality resources, and the kind of books that can change lives. So many children who experience difficulties learning to read go on to have poor outcomes through school which affect emotional resilience and self esteem. That in turn affects success in later life which then impacts the next generation. We want to help foster a love of reading in children, particularly for those at risk of ongoing illiteracy or poor literacy skills, and break the cycle of illiteracy.
Strangely, I hadn’t really imagined myself as a children’s book publisher. Aulexic grew out of the desperate need my own son had for books that could inspire him to want to read. He experienced incredible difficulties in school and by grade three had come to hate books. The idea of reading, even just seeing words, tended to put him into such a state of anxiety that he couldn’t process the letters or speak the sounds. Emotionally he was distraught and, conscious of his failure, he felt hopeless. We later learned he had been suicidal at eight years of age, which is terrifying, but a reality that is not as uncommon as it should be among children who are struggling with early literacy.
When I started homeschooling my son I knew I needed to find a way to transform his experience of books and language. We did some fairly radical things in the beginning (like my instigating the rule that he never had to read anything and that we would always read to him / for him if he asked). In time he began to embrace stories but he wasn’t creating them. As a professional writer and book lover it broke my heart that he didn’t intuitively gravitate toward the joy in storytelling as his sister and I both did. So, inspired by his fascination for penguins, I started a homeschool project to write a book together as a family. P.I. Penguin was born.
Originally it was just going to be something I self-published for our own family but Josh was so thrilled with the book when he held it in his hands that he hoped other kids like him would love it too. That simple idea launched Aulexic, because of course, kids like him NEED books they can love and that are a joy for dyslexics to read. There aren’t many publishers in the world that really consider how a book can be made to reduce some of the challenges dyslexic readers face and make reading easier and more enjoyable for all. As a dyslexic myself, and the daughter of a dyslexic, we had learned a lot about what works for us and I have done (and continue to do) a lot of research into what works for others and what the research indicates in regard to outcomes and learning difficulties. We apply that in the production of every book that Aulexic publishes.
2. Can you please tell me about Jenna’s Truth? Why did you decide to publish it? What are some of the themes explored and what is the main purpose of the story?
Jenna’s Truth took me by surprise. I hadn’t been looking for teen fiction yet, because I was predominantly focused on filling our list with middle grade and early reader content. I was focused on books for children who are just learning to read and finding reading difficult. I didn’t expect to be adding Y.A. to our catalogue at this point. Although I knew from feedback from parents and teachers that there was high demand for dyslexia-friendly books for teens, it wasn’t part of my second year business plan. Plans change.
I connected with Nadia on LinkedIn and she talked about having an interest in writing for children. I thought, “I’ll check out what she has and see if I think she’s got the writing chops to pull off a middle grade book.” What I found was Jenna’s Truth, and a story so deeply compelling, that touched on the raw pain of my own teenage years and told a story so real, I could see it being transformative for teenagers. I knew the story needed to reach a wider market in schools and libraries. I knew Aulexic had the foundation to be able to help it gain that reach, and that by producing the book by our standards it would be accessible to all young adults. And I knew the book would particularly speak to those with language and literacy difficulties who are at high risk of facing bullying. Bullying, including cyber bullying, and the challenge of friendship and relationship dynamics between teenagers is the core theme of the story. It’s the kind of story that could save lives and I wanted to help Nadia get it into the world in the way it deserved.
The story is actually relatively short, only 6,000 words, which in broader traditional publishing terms would never find book form for that age group. That’s actually where Aulexic’s unique stance in producing for language and literacy difficulties gives stories like this a different spin in the market. Dyslexics tend to find reading exhausting, so a 60,000 word book is laborious, especially for a teen whose reading skills aren’t as well developed as they’ll become as they mature. The short length of the story makes it accessible for more emergent readers, and it also makes it ideal for use in high school classrooms. We added resources to the back of the book so that teachers and parents could make the book more than just a story, but rather a tool to open communication and discussion about these challenging topics.
3. Can you please tell me about the process involved in publishing?
The process is complexly detailed. There are a lot of stages involved. In fact I have a whole blog post on the Aulexic website that details the acquisition process on it’s own. But I’ll try to run down how things work, particularly with Aulexic, as briefly as I can manage.
The publishing process starts with acquisition. Sometimes books come to us through our open submission and our submission guidelines. Other times, as in the case with Jenna’s Truth, the author and publisher make a connection and discover the project together. Unsolicited manuscripts go into the slush pile and my daughter and I read those and respond to each. A lot of manuscripts aren’t a right fit for our vision with Aulexic, need more work before we can commit to them, or would cost more to produce then we can afford to invest, so unfortunately we do have to reject a lot of what comes in. When we find something we can accept we offer the author a contract and give the author an opportunity to discuss it with legal representation and negotiate terms. We don’t accept a manuscript until it is in very good shape and won’t need much more editing but we do work with some prospective authors to develop their manuscript before we sign them. I’ve worked to make our contract very fair to authors because as an author myself I honour and respect the creator’s rights. I want my authors to be rewarded and to feel like their book is in hands that truly care about it.
Once contracts are signed we start production. That involves commissioning cover art and illustrations, editing the manuscript, doing layouts and formatting for both digital and print editions of the book, writing marketing copy, press releases, etc. We have to plan a release date and backwards plan from that date to make sure that the book goes out to advance reviewers and editorial review and gets to the desks of our distributors in time because some want them six months ahead of release date. I have a big long list of all the steps in the production process; there are more than seventy steps and those don’t include pre-production, preparing for the launch, establishing author branding, post-production, or the ongoing marketing that begins before the book comes out and will continue for years afterward.
Preparing for launch requires booking a venue, organising catering, etc. All that needs to be confirmed before we design event promotional materials such as fliers and press releases. As the release date approaches we start pushing hard in promotions so that people can come to hear about the book and the launch event. This involves approaching media, doing interviews for news, radio, blogs, etc. We also send personal invitations to influential people. With Jenna’s Truth we’ve been reaching out to people in education, mental health, teen help services, and anti-bullying associations as well as the dyslexia and learning difficulty community.
Finally, launch day arrives and it’s an exhausting but exhilarating event. We hopefully sell enough books to cover the event costs which doesn’t always happen but we hope that word is spreading and that people are coming to hear about the book and the author. Then it’s the long tail of ongoing marketing, sales, and distribution. I line up author events for the author and also present events myself as a publisher. We do book signings, author talks, workshops, and presentations. We continue to grow distribution so that we can get into more schools, libraries, bookstores, and retail outlets. We do direct sales from our eCommerce store and fulfil those ourselves. (I love trips to the post office because it means we’re selling books!) And, in small publishing this remains ongoing for years for each book.
I’m sure there are parts of the process I’ve not mentioned because it is such a detailed and comprehensive venture. As a small publishing house, I’m not quite a one-woman show but a lot of all of these stages fall into my hands. I get some help from my family and I have a couple of freelancers on our team that work by consignment but a lot of what has to get done gets done by me. I’m hoping we’ll be able to get more help in the future for some of these stages because there is a lot to do and it’s hard to try to do so much myself.
Meanwhile, through all of this, the author is already hard at work on the next book. Which is exciting! Because that first book I was going to approach Nadia about, the one for middle graders, she’s working on it right now and we’re hoping that will be the next book we publish for Nadia some time next year.
4. How do you feel about Jenna’s Truth? Excited? Happy? Nervous? Etc…
I’m very excited about Jenna’s Truth. Yes, there is a degree of trepidation too because it’s a risky book to publish. It’s non-standard and it’s polarising. There will be people who hate the book. The Tina’s of the world will rise up against it. (Tina is the name of the primary bully in the book.) And teen fiction of short length in book form might not find traction in the market. I’m doing something innovative and there is sure to be backlash from traditional circles who have long defined what books should be.
In all that, there is significant risk. My publishing house has invested a lot in making the book a reality. As a single mother who homeschools two children, one of whom is disabled and with a disability myself (bipolar), the funds to run this publishing house are incredible tight. Every dime to date is my own money or borrowed from family. We’re still so young as a business that I use every dollar of our savings (and sometimes the loose change that would normally pay for a cup of tea) to fund what we’re doing. It matters that much to me and to my children and mother who all contribute to running the business, that we need to make it work and we take a risk on every book we publish.
But ultimately, I’m thrilled to be a part of the journey. I believe in the power of this book and the impact it can have on readers lives. The feedback and reviews we already have show that there are others who feel like I do about the book. I honestly believe it has incredible potential and I’m committed to doing everything in my power to ensure the book finds its place in the world.
5. Anything else you would like to add please feel free to do so.
I’m absolutely certain you’ve got more than you can possibly fit in your article so I’ll leave it there except to say, we’re very much looking forward to the launch party for the book and want to extend an invitation to anyone who might be interested in attending. RSVPs are essential and readers can find out more at https://www.aulexic.com.au/jennalaunch The book is available for pre-order in paperback and ebook from our online store and most ebook platforms. Oh, and incase it’s important in context as you write, my son, Joshua, is now twelve and my daughter, Kaylie, is sixteen.
Thank you so much for this opportunity to share our exciting new release and our small publishing house, Juanita. I look forward to seeing your article.
We’re so excited about Jenna’s Truth and it’s upcoming launch. Join us to celebrate, and to raise awareness about the challenges teens are facing with bullying and cyberbully, on Monday, October 10th 2016 at Antz HQ, Victoria Park. Reserve your place!