At first glance, Shary Williamson’s author story seems simple and even a tad predictable, unfolding as one would expect.
Retired school teacher writes children’s book based on the magical elfin world that she and her husband created in their backyard for their five young grandchildren to enjoy. She finds a great illustrator and self-publishes her book. The author had fun and the book is successful, and so she writes another.
Except, when you start to dig a bit deeper, you discover a little more, and a little more.
Much like one of the young characters in her illustrated children’s books, you come across another gift, perhaps left by an elf, but in reality just another way in which Shary and her partners are making the world a better place, hand-in-hand with The Woodland Elves. Perhaps we should not be surprised; anyone who would build an enchanted forest for their grandchildren to explore during their annual three-week summer vacation with their grandparents is obviously thinking out of the box.
After a while, you start to realize that Shary has taken the advice to “treat self-publishing as a business” more seriously than most, and has moved well beyond to create a captivating, magical business—an “elf ecosystem”— that allows her to fulfill her life’s purpose after retiring from teaching school: to share a message of joy with the Elves as messenger.
Not only are there two books with a third slated for late 2017, but there’s a companion CD for her first book, The Woodland Elves. The CD for her most recent book, The Woodland Elves: The Secret in the Forest, is in the works. She drew upon her forty years of experience as a school teacher to guide and assist Katie Cohen to write the Literacy Adventure Guide for Busy Teachers and Parents, which will be launched in March 2017. There is also a card game called Small Talk. Her book is in fifty-seven countries, and she regularly Skypes with classes in schools around the world. You can explore the world of the elves through the Woodland Elves Trail Adventure (complete with tour guide!). If you go on the website for the Elves, you’ll see video “news reports” of elf sightings, so convincing that someone actually contacted Shary to find out more about this unusual incident!
And Shary is working with a schoolteacher in Guatemala to create an international game dealing with topics of worldwide importance for all ages.
From the outset, we wanted to do something to leave the world a better place than we found it. WE are all one with the world.
Shary says that a team approach is vital for her business success, and not only a team that works well together, but one where each member buys into her vision. She counts her illustrator, Jay Johnston, and musician/composer, Russ Kendall, as her business partners, and worked with them from the beginning to solidify the team’s joint intention. “I knew our intention would ultimately determine the outcome, so as we moved forward we always knew exactly what was empowering us,” explains Shary. “From the outset, we wanted to do something to leave the world a better place than we found it. WE are all one with the world. We must respect each other, care about each other, live in harmony with each other and with nature itself. Our world needs healing.”
Shary’s five grandchildren are the children in the books. The sixth child is her illustrator’s daughter. Shary and her husband had a three-story tree house built for their grandchildren to use during their annual vacation and an adventure trail “carved out through the woods.” Says Shary, “The first summer they came up, they discovered ELVES in the forest. Amazingly enough, those same elves left them notes and a small gift every day.” Shary has kept the notes—ten years’ worth— in albums for the children, complete with photos of their many adventures.
For an entrepreneur like Shary, self-publishing was a natural way to proceed. Shary didn’t want to waste valuable time with rejections, citing the experience of successful children’s author Rhonda Gowler Greene, whose book No Pirates Allowed received 220 rejections before being published. In addition, Shary wanted to use an illustrator and musician of her own choosing, and didn’t think a traditional publisher would allow that.
Shary’s cherished childhood memories of reading books with her mother and grandmother—and her own children and grandchildren—made books the obvious vehicle for the Elves to spread their message of joy. Says Shary, “Grandparents have secrets to share, but our children and their families live a thousand miles away. Writing this book was a way for me to share some of these secrets with not only our own grandchildren but all grandchildren, wherever they might be.”
I felt the combination of the words and illustrations deserved the highest print quality available. It was definitely worth it.
Shary describes The Woodland Elves books as a “hybrid,” unusual in that the books are both picture books and chapter books all rolled into one. The books’ unusual format and concerns about quality were factors in her decision to choose offset printing over print-on-demand. Says Shary, “I have an extraordinary illustrator and I felt the combination of the words and illustrations deserved the highest print quality available. It was definitely worth it.” Shary acknowledges that the cost of ordering a large number of books was a consideration. “Where to store thousands of books was also a concern. My husband simply quietly withdrew into a coma while I figured out the details,” she recalls.
Now working on the third book in the series, Shary plans to continue with offset printing. Of her husband of nearly forty-nine years, Shary says, “I knew he’d stick around while I figured it all out. Hope does spring eternal!”
The Woodland Elves books are sold through her website, local bookstores, the bookstore in the local library, and at many local businesses that support the elves such as florists and gift shops. While the books are sold on Amazon, Shary delights in mailing books to customers. “People call me weekly just asking me to mail them books. I’m a people person and I love to make new friends. When I mail the books out, I personalize them and even gift wrap them if requested, for no fee.” She also makes a point of spreading the joy by packing special gifts in with the books, something that, she says, “Amazon just can’t do.”
Plan your work, then work your plan; an idea can take your imagination by storm but you must have a plan to carry it out.
When it comes to marketing her books and other products, Shary says she lives by the motto, “Plan your work, then work your plan; an idea can take your imagination by storm but you must have a plan to carry it out.” Advises Shary, “No one else can market your book the way you can. Go for it!” Words to live by, Shary has become her own publicist and agent. She’s worked tirelessly to get the word out by speaking at schools, service organizations, libraries, and churches, both locally and around the US and beyond. She is on the radio as often as possible, has had numerous newspaper articles written about the Elves, and has many speaking engagements lined up for 2017. Shary “Skypes” with many of the schools in the fifty-seven countries they are in. “I recently had a two-hour Skype with The Middle East Forum in Iraq, and a two-hour Skype with schools in Lima, Peru and in Guatemala. I flew to Mexico and worked with a school there.”
Shary began the self-publishing process knowing nothing about the publishing industry. “Based on my Internet research, I narrowed down the print-page formatting choices to twelve companies,” says Shary. “I called each of them. My conversation with Michele quickly pushed 1106 Design to the top of my list. Michele was honest, forthright, informative, and had a sense of humor. I was venturing into uncharted territory and I needed someone I could respect, enjoy and trust.” 1106 Design started by providing Shary with page formatting services, but as time went on, took other roles including editing, helping with decisions small and large, designing trifolds, and so much more. Smiles Shary, “Sometimes a simple THANK YOU is not enough. This is one of those times, but thanks anyhow 1106 Design; I could not be doing this without you!”
While just getting started was to Shary the most difficult step of self-publishing, she found that the easiest was, “…opening the front door for Fed Ex to bring the beautiful books inside the house.” Shary laughs as she recalls hugging the FedEx guy and doing a “three-step mambo” before giving him coffee and apple pie. “I guarantee that Fed Ex driver will never forget that day!”
The sky’s the limit on Shary’s imagination, and she doesn’t let the limits of her own skills or knowledge set arbitrary boundaries on what she can accomplish. She finds the team to make it happen. Shary’s advice for authors resonates with any entrepreneur: “When you want to go someplace fast, go by yourself. When you want to go far, take a team with you, and take the best team you can possibly take.” She continues, “It’s a myth that you can write a book alone. It takes a whole party of talented people supporting each other to create a book that will inspire and excite people of all ages.”
Do what YOU do best and then HIRE the rest…but hire the best you can afford.
In addition to her partners, Shary’s team includes her offset printer (Corporate Graphics in North Mankato, MN), a website designer, book trailer creator, lawyer (Shary’s husband), a creator of elfin coins, someone to scan oversized artwork (Photographic Creations), and a Spanish and Arabic translator. Shary also joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to find answers to her questions. She counts 1106 Design as one of her most trusted team members. “I feel like we are more than just business partners. I consider Michele and Ronda part of our ‘elfin’ family.” Shary continues, “Generally I just love inventing my own rules but in the publishing industry that doesn’t work too well. Michele and Ronda provide a counterbalance with lots of common sense.” She advises authors to, “Do what YOU do best and then HIRE the rest…but hire the best you can afford. If you choose quality for your book, you will pay ONE time only. Go less than that, and you’ll pay the entire lifetime of the book.”
There is no greater adventure than regular life being lived full speed ahead.
Throughout everything she shares about her own adventures with the Woodland Elves, Shary’s dedication and passion shine through, and she’s obviously having a ton of fun! “There is no greater adventure than regular life being lived full speed ahead. And that’s what my life is…a delightfully ordinary life celebrating each moment of joy and wonder with all of the enthusiasm of a child.” She believes that everyone is capable of creating a lifetime of magical moments, and that it’s never too late to follow your energy and your dream. “Anything is possible if you believe!” laughs Shary.
Shary acknowledges that self-publishing is a very risky, expensive, and competitive business that requires patience, hard work, and raw exposed enthusiasm. Shary says that self-publishing requires “…the fearless ‘don’t look back’ kind of commitment that demands the passion to see your dream through to completion. And for me, that was not a problem. Remember that it’s not WHAT we do that’s important. It’s WHY we do it, so have your intention clearly in mind before you begin to write.”
“Be a risk taker and follow your heart,” Shary smiles.
The Woodland Elves THE SECRET in THE FOREST
Grandmother’s forest was alive with mystery and wonder and SECRETS hidden deep within. When you dare to hear the voices from the forest, it all becomes clear. Come into this small world where dreams do come true and the magic of childhood can exist forever.
Genre: Children’s fiction
Author website: www.TheWoodlandElves.com