Dr. Jarrad B. Elson | Interview

Currently working as a dentist in South Australia, Dr. Jarrad B. Elson is going against the norm and is self-publishing his first children’s book, ‘Cheetah the Cheater’. Through persistence, hard work, research and hours upon hours of writing, Dr Elson has finished his part in the publishing process.

Now, illustrator Erica Tcogoeva and book designer Bruno Herfst, with Dr Elson’s input, are in the process of creating the final product; ready for publication in several months time. In our interview with Dr Elson, we explore how self-publishing can be a difficult yet rewarding task and how persistence and determination can ultimately pay off.

With any project that creators invest their time in, there will always be mental, physical and emotional barriers that need to be overcome. As for the challenges of writing Cheetah the Cheater, Dr Elson said one of the hardest was getting the first few words written down on paper.

“I actually gave up straight away the first time I sat down to write it, because I couldn’t think what style or rhythm I would use, or even if it was going to rhyme,” Dr Elson said.

But once I started and had an initial rhythm, writing the first – albeit terrible – draft, flowed reasonably easily.”

Erica Tcogoeva's concept illustrations for Cheetah the Cheater
Erica Tcogoeva’s concept illustrations for Cheetah the Cheater

In regards to self publishing, Dr Elson said there has been a “huge step forward” for self publishers with the advent of affordable print-on-demand services such as Lightning Source and Createspace. Dr Elson also said the ‘publishing’ part of self-publishing is easy; it is the marketing and selling that is difficult.

Without a quality product, and without implementing marketing and distribution, you will end up with a pile of books in your house that you cannot even give away,” he said.

“Even if you were able to somehow get your book into stores, your book is up against literally tens of thousands of other books, all produced by professional companies to very high standards.

“So without putting in the time, effort and resources to create a top quality book, you can be sure that it’s not going to be able to compete.

“You have to know how to market yourself; you have to be business savvy, tech-savvy and you have be able to co-ordinate people.

“You have to make connections and essentially, you have to become an ‘authorpreneur’ – and many people are simply not cut out for this.”

Illustration by Erica Tcogoeva.
Illustration by Erica Tcogoeva.

But self-publishing was not the first path idealised by Dr Elson, as originally he set his mind on gaining a publishing contract. However, as he soon learned, gaining a traditional publishing deal as an unknown children’s author is so rare that it is “like winning the lottery.” Furthermore, if Dr Elson had managed to gain a publishing deal, it would have been a double-edged sword.

Although there are positives in publishing with a large publishing house an upfront payment, a professional editing and illustration team, and royalties from future sales – the downfalls seemed to outweigh the positives for Dr Elson. The traditional publishing method requires most authors to sign over the rights to the story to the publishing company, which means that the author is then not allowed any input into the production and sales of the book. Furthermore, the financial rewards for the typical book with average sales are not enticing.

“The royalties that you can expect to get paid on sales is almost next to nothing. Out of every book sold in a bookstore, the author can expect to receive about five percent.”

There are several reasons why a traditional publishing deal for a rhyming children’s book is so difficult to obtain. Publishing houses will take on books that they believe have a high chance of turning a profit, which is much more difficult with picture books. Upfront costs are high, with book design and illustration, and full colour printing costs are high. Furthermore, the market size is generally much smaller, so there will likely be many less sales compared to novels aimed at older audiences.

‘I think it’s always worthwhile submitting your work to traditional publishers on the off-chance that they pick it up,” Dr Elson said.

“But it’s an insanely competitive field out there to get your story published and into bookstores.”

gadgets working

As with any large project, homework, reading or writing a book, there will always be challenges and roadblocks in your path. But Dr Elson said the first thing to do, is “just do it.”

“So many people have ideas in their minds about something they would ‘maybe’ like to do ‘one day’, they never actually take that first step,” he said.

There are so many people that actually do take that first step and write their first page, but then lose interest and forget about it.

“Writing a book is an endurance race.

“It’s going to take some constant, sustained effort to make anything happen.”

Dr Elson says that the support from his friends and family for the project has been generally strong, but there are often times when people question his desire to ‘do something different’.

“Most of my friends are very supportive when I tell them about my ideas, but there are always people that don’t really see it as a good thing when people are doing things that ‘go against the grain’.

“These are the people that think people should go to uni, get a good job, get married, buy a house, have kids, work for forty years and then retire; and anyone who does any different is putting themselves at huge risk of failure.”

Illustration by Erica Tcogoeva.
Illustration by Erica Tcogoeva.

In regards to working as a dentist full time and working on a children’s book concurrently, Dr Elson said he thoroughly enjoys working on something outside of his ‘normal’ career. While some people enjoy hobbies like surfing, golf, or hiking, Dr Elson is all about learning and improving himself as a person.

‘Cheetah the Cheater’ has evolved into something much bigger than he originally thought, and although working and wanting to self-publish the book may be seen as ‘odd’, Dr Elson said that he has an innate desire to strive for more than what is required and expected.

“I’m not satisfied by just being ‘normal’ – I’ve always had the urge to do something different and achieve something ‘special’,” he said.

“I really hope this book could be that something.”

Watching the book grow from an idea into a reality has been a highlight for Dr Elson. The steep learning curve of writing, making connections, managing a team and understanding the intricacies of rhythm and rhyme has been difficult but rewarding. If he had the chance, Dr Elson said he would do it all over again.

“I’ve always enjoyed creative writing, and I found that writing in rhythm and rhyme was incredibly difficult but a lot of good fun. Trying to rearrange the words in each stanza to rhyme, and flow, and fit with each other was almost like a puzzle that I had to solve,” he said.

“I think you have to be the right personality to do it; I enjoy problem solving and I’m damned persistent, so for me it was actually an enjoyable process.

“I’m really hoping that this book is going to be around for a long time, so I guess another exciting aspect is leaving a legacy that will be around for longer than I am!”

If you would like to follow Dr. Elson’s progress and read more about how he developed ‘Cheetah the Cheater’, you can visit his website and social media pages which are linked below.


Dr Jarrad B. Elson on Facebook