Tim Harris knows how to write funny. His wildly popular Exploding Endings series has been nominated by children and shortlisted for the YABBA awards (book 1). Initially self published, his four Exploding Endings are now published by Harbour Press and his new release mid-grade, Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables is published by Penguin Random House. For all this success, Tim’s a nice guy. I’ve run into him in a few places now, and he’s warm, engaging and friendly. He’s got a lot of experiences to draw from to help him along in the kid’s lit scene, including school teaching, song writing, performing and recording music. It’s been a delight interviewing Tim on his writing career and how he got started.
What do you think prompted the desire to write for kids?
The students I taught [as a primary school teacher] were a constant source of inspiration, as well as books by Paul Jennings. Feeling an urge to be creative one evening, I decided to write a short story for the class I was teaching at the time. The students loved Jennings’s stories so much – and I had such a blast reading them aloud – it made sense to start with short stories.
How would you describe your books?
Quirky, humorous, touching at times. Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables is a nice blend of humour and poignancy I think. I’ve had some readers tell me they laughed aloud, and others say they were brought to tears. I like having that balance. Exploding Endings is more a straight out funny series, with lots of short stories and other silly bits, such as excuses for not doing homework.
What things have helped you hone your skills?
I’m a big fan of the podcast ‘So You Want to be a Writer’ with Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo. Listening to the authors they interview discuss writing processes is fascinating, and I like to try out a few of their ideas. I have no doubt that reading aloud to children for fifteen years helped me learn about story arcs. I read fairly heavily in middle-primary – mostly to stay in that mindset, as well as find out what books children are enjoying. When I’m in the guts of drafting, however, I like to break away and read something that’s a bit different to what I’m writing.
Your early stories were ‘discovered’ by someone from the CBCA. Can you tell us how this came about? How important has being linked in to a kids literature community been for you?
I’ll forever be grateful for an email a kindly parent sent me after I read the students my first short story. Her son enjoyed it and she requested a copy so he could read it again. Not knowing her background, I naively sent the unedited manuscript through. She then wrote back to tell me about her involvement with the CBCA and encouraged me to continue working on my writing. I was very humbled by her encouragement, especially when she popped in after school on several occasions to workshop ideas with me. The writing community is extremely supportive.
Your first book was self published. What motivated you to go down this road? What help did you get to make sure your manuscript was ‘ready’ for publication?
The bug was caught after writing that first short story. I suddenly had so many ideas floating around that I couldn’t keep up with them. I decided to start keeping an ideas book and began working on the stories one at a time. Once I had enough short stories – and had tested them on my class – I thought self-publishing an eBook might be a good way to ‘bind’ them together. I initially employed the help of teacher friends to edit, but realising there was more to editing than just finding typos, I sourced a structural editor on the internet. After working with her, I was ready to invest in printing paperbacks. I used www.upwork.com to find my first real editor. It’s a great website – you upload your job and then sift through all the applicants to find the best person for your project.
These books became successful. How did you market and sell them? Apart from being great stories, what do you think was the key to them selling?
Having tested each story with my class, I knew the books had some funny moments. This gave me the confidence to start testing them on a wider audience. I contacted teacher friends and asked them if they’d be willing to have a ‘free’ author visit at their school. I made up my own order forms and sent them to the school in advance. I also began to use social media to let my friends and family know I had a book. Their support was overwhelming.
How important has social media been for selling your books/ getting them known? What have been some of your strategies and how did you come up with the strategies? Are there any particular authors whose media platforms you followed to help guide yours?
Social media has provided some lovely opportunities for me, such as getting to know teacher-librarians, other authors, and of course, the parents of readers. I probably don’t make many direct sales with social media, but I think it certainly helps raise my profile. Jacqueline Harvey, Tristan Bancks and Belinda Murrell are absolutely brilliant at social media. I followed them early in my career, and am still following them now. I’ve tried to replicate the way they work so hard on all fronts – the school visits, the touring, the writing, the editing, the brainstorming etc.
What advice would you have for anyone considering going down the path of self publishing?
First and foremost, find a good editor. It can be hard hearing that things need fixing, but it’s totally worth it. It’s also worth paying someone to design a good cover for you. Having a launch and getting out there to promote the book is also critical.
Next month we’ll look at how Tim’s books were picked up by traditional publishers and how he goes about promoting his books.
In the mean time, I strongly recommend you check out Tim’s website and blog here.
And you can find my website here.