Children’s book author Mark Sommerset.
Mark Sommerset is the author of the hugely popular Baa Baa Smart Sheep series – illustrated by Rowan Sommerset – whose the first two books sold 100,000 copies in New Zealand alone. After self-publishing these books, 10 years later, Sommerset has a new children’s book: Bedtime Blast-off! (Dreamboat books, RRP $29.99.)
It’s been almost 10 years since you last posted – what happened during the hiatus and what brought you back?
In a way, I never really disappeared. It’s just that I stopped writing new material after I Love Lemonade was released. Being self-published, the success of Baa Baa Smart Sheep and Two Little Bugs required a lot more promotion and management on the publishing side of me and my writing suffered.
I thought this was just a phase and my creative flow would return, so I focused more on existing material with trips to book fairs in Frankfurt, Taiwan and Bologna to sell international rights and tours in Australia and Japan.
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It was worth it with Baa Baa and Lemonade now published in 16 countries in 13 languages, but suddenly it had been almost eight years since I had written my last book! I finally realized that I needed to change my whole approach to life, and for much of the last three years I have lived and traveled abroad, in part to rekindle my creativity. Take off at bedtime! is largely thanks to this decision, as are the poetry, music, and several other book ideas I’m currently working on.
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Tell us a bit about self-publishing.
It’s a very personal choice I think whether you do DIY or entrust your work to an established publisher. I wanted the creative freedom to publish what I wanted the way I wanted. I also wanted to make writing my full-time profession, and it seemed that very few writers achieved that through traditional channels.
I was lucky to have a very talented illustrator and designer in Rowan who also shared the dream of creating picture books, which gave me the confidence to give it a shot. Our second title, Cork and the Bottle (the sequel to Cork on the Ocean) was published by Random House and it was a great experience. They handled all of the production, marketing, distribution, rights, etc., leaving me freer to focus on creating new work.
As for Baa Baa Smart Sheep, they weren’t so sure, so we went back to the self-publishing model. I would say the biggest question to answer is how long do you have? It is a true commitment to self-publishing and you must be prepared to assume all financial risk of publication.
The Baa Baa Smart Sheep series pulls in some very impressive children’s book numbers – what do you attribute its popularity to?
I think kids and adults really identify with the antics of Little Baa Baa and Quirky Turkey. They’re a little goofy and there’s a lot of mischief as each tries to outsmart the other. The humor is off the hook (as an 8-year-old student once told me) and, since the dialogue is written almost entirely in first person, it’s really fun to share and read aloud.
As far as success goes, I’m really happy that the books have entertained and brought so much joy to readers around the world – while also giving me enough income to save me having a second job.