'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 10 March 2010

An Awesome Book from an Awesome Guy

You may be able to tell I'm a little in love with An Awesome Book by American author Dallas Clayton, least of all because he had the courage to self-publish the book (and has sold 35,000+ copies, just quietly), but even more so for what he's done with the book post-publication.

I've already featured Dallas on KBR here, with thanks to Anna Nilsson from Pencil & Pipette. But I wanted more. So I asked Dallas if he would also respond to my own interview questions and he said yes, so here he is - one more time. You're guaranteed a quiet chuckle.


What's the Dallas Clayton story? I grew up in North Carolina, southeast United States of America. It was a nice place, small and not yet tampered with. I spent most of my youth playing in the woods throwing rocks and bottles, climbing on things that weren't supposed to be climbed on, and trying to escape from my town.

I succeeded at age 18 and currently live in Los Angeles, California. It's a lot like you've seen in the movies here - mostly people in bathing suits riding around on roller skates.

One day you decided to write a book for your son about following his dreams. What was the turning point that made you want to do this? Well I always knew I wanted to write something for my son while he was still young enough to appreciate it so I decided one day to write a kids book a day and An Awesome Book was the first one I came up with.

Did you have book writing experience before this project? Yes, I'm a writer by trade. I grew up writing zines about my life and teenage ideals and selling them to strangers out in front of large events where people gathered to see music and art. After moving to Los Angeles, I began doing this every day and eventually people started liking what I did and hiring me to write things.

Did you ever imagine An Awesome Book would take off as it has? No, honestly I just wanted to write something that I thought would be important. All of the success that has come from it has just been an amazing bonus. You know, when you make something, you can't think about what is going to come of it, just how much fun it will be to make it.

Have you always enjoyed drawing? I was never really a drawer. I've grown up with art and creating things but I always drew as more of a fun hobby. This book was the first time I've ever really drawn anything of any real weight. I never planned on drawing it, I just couldn't find anybody else who would, so I figured... "Okay, I'll give it a shot" Thankfully it worked well and now I have a whole new career.

Where do you think your wild imagination comes from? I guess living a life constantly questioning everything around me - why it works, why it doesn't, who's in charge, what's the matter, and how it could all be better. That's just a guess, though.

Did you approach publishers about An Awesome Book before self-publishing? Well, I made some copies like anyone would and I approached publishers like anyone would and they all said similar things "this is great", "I love it", "it's really inspiring" BUT "we can't publish it."

A lot of publishers are so large and they have so many regulations and channels to making things work - how many pages, what size, what's the marketing going to look like... things of that nature.

After a few months of back and forth, waiting, waiting, waiting, and lots of talk back and forth, I finally just decided to make it myself. I figured people had been making books for thousands of years, it couldn't be that hard? (This was a gross underestimation on my part - ha!)

How easy was it to self-publish this book? At the end of the day, publishing a book is like doing anything you've never done before. Like renting a trailer. You have to approach it like that. You've never rented a trailer but you know that there are trailers and they get rented so you go out and ask around.

Eventually you find some places that rent trailers that maybe work for you or maybe don't (based on size, price, etc). After a lot of looking and asking, you will find the right trailer for you and you will be so glad that you went through all the leg work, because next time someone asks you how to do it, you will be able to tell them EXACTLY how it's done.

So no, it's not easy, but once you do all the hard stuff, you will be so happy that you did.

How many books have you sold? Well, the book has been out a little over a year and we are coming up on 35,000 copies.

Has it been a challenge to promote the book on your own? Was there a moment that really progressed the exposure for An Awesome Book? Not so much. It's kind of magical in that respect. The internet is an amazing place. I've yet to actually do PR for the book; I just put it up on my website and things sort of spread from there. People picking it up, sharing it, telling friends. I can't say exactly how it has happened but I'm glad it has.

I guess if you do something you believe in, other people can tell, and hopefully want to support it. That's what I figure, at least.

I believe Spike Jonze became a fan. Tell us about your blog work on Where the Wild Things Are? Yes, Spike was a fan of the book and my writing so he approached me to put together a sort of online magazine for the feature film version of Where The Wild Things Are. It was a really amazing opportunity. So much fun, such a great chance to push the boundaries of the online form and work with so many talented people.

When did you actually start An Awesome Book and how long did it take you to write? It took me about 10 minutes to write and about 6 months to illustrate. That was a little over a year ago.

How old is your son now and what does he think of the book? He is six. His name is Audio. He is really happy with all of it. It's so great to have him be a part of it, to go to schools with me and help me pass out books, to read with me, just watching the whole thing evolve. And hearing him read it- well you can't beat that.

What do his friends think of the book? Most of the parents at his school I think just thought I was some weird teenager or something, but after the book came out and I got to go to his school and read, all the kids in the school loved it so now everyone sort of looks at me like "oh, you're the guy that writes kids books... great job!" It's like a get out of jail free card.

Will there be a sequel? Yes, many. I finished three books already this year and will be putting them out as soon as I can.

Where did your idea for The Awesome World Foundation come from and what is the philosophy behind it? Well, I'd been going to schools and doing readings and I always found it was weird how people wanted to figure out a way that the kids could buy the book from me. Some schools had vouchers, or suggested the kids bring in money from their parents, wonky ideas like this. And I just sort of thought "I made the book, I just want to give it away".

The last thing I ever want is to come to a school to read to kids and then say something like "Okay kids, who has money to buy this..." That sounds horrible to me. So after going to schools locally and giving out books, I decided it was amazing, so I set up a tour and went across the country reading to schools, hospitals, camps, shops, places like that.

After that, I realized I needed to be giving away books all the time, touring all the time. So I set up the Awesome World Foundation. The mission is simple: for every book sold we give one away. I hit the road, read to kids and give them books, talk to them about their dreams and try to encourage them to dream as big as possible.

What do you hope your book brings to people? I hope it makes them happy. I hope it makes them think about all the bad things in the world that they could make good and all the good things in the world that they could make better. I hope it makes them appreciate anyone who has ever tried to accomplish something even though the world told him/her it was crazy. I hope it makes them want to dream wild, wonderful dreams.

You have developed a huge following. What’s the best thing about the feedback you’ve received for the book? Any time I get a letter from a child that says I've made an impact on them, or an adult in some country I've never been to or someone going through some hardship telling me I've inspired them to keep going - are you kidding!? What an amazing treat.

It's like waking up each morning to the best possible hug from the warmest possible human and having them whisper in your ear "good job yesterday, buddy! Let's go out there and do it again today!"

Describe your most awesome day. Me and my son go to space in a rocket with a bunch of friends. Set up an inflatable moon bounce on the moon, have a bounce party, eat pancakes play a game of football, then we return to find we've been given a check for multiple billions of dollars which we break into bundles of hundred dollar bills and spend the rest of the day riding around on bicycles giving it all away to strangers (might take longer than 24 hours) until it is all gone. Then we eat burritos and cuddle up and go to bed.

Describe your most awesome world. This one minus the bad, plus more hugging.

What five words best sum you up? Stoked x five.

What’s next for Dallas Clayton? Just making as much as I can and sharing it with as many people as I can. Translating An Awesome Book into multiple languages, trying to figure out new and better ways to work with other charities in other countries to give the book to kids. Just keeping it all going, having as much fun with each day as possible!

Selling more than 35,000 copies from his website only, Dallas decided to use some of the profits to set up his own foundation. For every copy of the book sold, the Awesome World Foundation gives a book away to a young person to encourage them to pursue their dreams.

You can WIN a copy of An Awesome Book! Just head to the comp at Australian Women Online.