“Giving others what I have” – Meet author Jan Morris
Christian poetry, heaven's journals, and children’s books, complete with her own illustrations—Jan Morris can do it all. Under her Christian names, Janet Elizabeth, this multimedia all-rounder shares her secrets about running a Kickstarter campaign, creating Jan’s Scribbly Videos, and producing an upcoming online video course. The delightful Jan Morris is keen to collaborate and encourage others along the way.
Can you tell us how you started writing and what you have written?
My first book was a collection of prophetic poetry inspired by the Holy Spirit, Heaven is all about Him (InHouse Publishing, 2017). When I became a Christian seven years ago, my good friend Christine Gear suggested I journal and ask God questions, capturing my thoughts. Reading it back, I noticed that a lot of what I’d written, rhymed. I was in a prayer group of close friends, and I shared my poetry with these women. As I re-read my poems, somehow, I knew that many of them were not meant for me. God then showed me who each poem was for. When I gave them their poem, the person would say that it related to something that had happened to them, or it would have some kind of impact on them. I hadn’t heard of that kind of thing happening before. My girlfriends told me to put the poems into a book. I had an awesome book launch and a great publishing experience.
During that time too, I’d written a rhyming version of the Good Samaritan parable. One day at church, a friend asked me to read this story to the children. They acted it out, and she suggested that I put it into a children’s book. I went to an artist friend and asked if she could illustrate it. She told me that she felt very strongly that I was supposed to do it. So, I ended up illustrating it myself. The Good Samaritan was self-published, followed by a companion puzzle and colouring book. I also illustrated The Prodigal Son, my latest children’s book that was launched in May.
What inspires you to write?
Life. The poetry book surprised me. I was surprised that my words impacted people. People kept telling me that I didn’t realise the effect I had on other people, through my voice and the way I put things. I also wanted to give others what I have.
Two years ago, my life took a sudden dogleg into writing. Writing holds many surprises. I suppose I’m not really a writer. At least, that’s how I feel when I’m in a group where people have been writing a book for many years, and they do a lot of research and learning. None of that’s happened for me. My books have come straight from my journal, over seven years of writing. I still get new poems every time I journal.
In what formats have you published your work?
InHouse Publishing has published all of my paperbacks and I found someone through Freelancer to get my books into e-book format. I’ve also produced an audiobook through Simone Feiler of Brisbane Audiobook Production. Vision Christian Media sells the CD of that audiobook, Heaven is all about Him, and my books are available through Amazon as POD paperbacks (overseas) and Kindle e-books.
What is this online course you are writing?
It’s a course in the Christian genre. When I first became a Christian, I wondered, what next? This course takes the stress out of Christianity by discussing who is Jesus, what is faith, and who is the Holy Spirit. It explains all the things that a “baby Christian” wants to know, and provides easy, first steps as a new Christian. I’ve taken the teachings from lessons I was taught along the way and I’ve created twenty-four videos, interspersed with my own style of animated videos. Still a work in progress!
Tell us about your animated videos.
I created Scribbly Videos, which use the software for the whiteboard style. They typically run for only a few minutes. I started by talking about things that are dear to me. Then, friends asked me to do little infomercials, promoting their businesses, and others have then paid me to create ads. People are so fascinated with the hand that writes and draws that they tend to keep watching. I’ve now done 11 Scribbly Videos that underline what I’m talking about within my online Christian teaching course. These fun videos focus people’s attention and distil the main points, giving them something intriguing to think about.
I’ve heard that successful businesses should have five income streams. I believe that these Scribbly Videos were dropped into my lap as a way to fund my books. It’s expensive, being a self-published author. You need to pay for 300-500 books upfront. So, I put away earnings from my videos to pay for my books.
You funded the publishing of one book through a Kickstarter campaign. Can you tell us about that?
There are a few similar platforms out there to source crowdfunding. The reason I chose Kickstarter was because you had to give something back. I wanted to give value in return for people’s hard-earned cash. With Kickstarter, you have to create ‘rewards’, and there are different levels. For example, if someone donated $15, I gave them a downloadable colouring-in book with the signed book that they’d purchased. If they gave $30, I gave them three signed books. If they donated $50, they got their name printed in the book. I’ve printed a scroll at the end of the book that lists who donated to the publishing of the The Prodigal Son.
It was really fun. But you do have to keep the momentum going by continuously asking friends to share your Kickstarter campaign. Then, you have to deliver the rewards that you promised. I asked for $1,500 and received more than my goal. You have to allow 30 days for the campaign. It gives the campaign momentum while also letting people know that they have to do it by a certain date. If you haven’t reached your financial goal, nobody has to pay you. This makes you focus on reaching your target. It’s exciting, especially when people you don’t know get involved. They really encourage you. It’s set up well, so you can thank people for pledging and ask them a little about themselves. I’ve met a few people in person, and collected their email addresses. You can then assume that they like your work and ask if you can contact them again.
They do take a percentage, but it’s not overly large.
Who are your writing influencers?
I don’t have any physical influencers, it’s all the Holy Spirit. If you’re living through the Holy Spirit, you have to be careful what you read. I do read a lot of Christian authors.
What is your next book about?
It’s called Heaven’s Journal. On the pages, it has beautiful wildflowers, light enough to write over. At the bottom of each page, it quotes scriptures from the Bible and, at the top, a few lines from my poems. It provides opportunities to write your own prayers.
Heaven’s Journal will be listed in the catalogue of the Australian online Christian book retailer, Vision Christian Media. I often meet my readers for a coffee in Springwood at the largest Christian bookshop, Koorong. The atmosphere is like a library used to be. It’s a lovely, quiet place. You can sit down and share ideas, with Christian music playing. Two of my books are listed in their online store
What do you consider your greatest achievement as a writer?
Being fearless! I believe that this is what God wants me to do. Obviously, the way that I get ideas is through my journals. When I get ideas, I then decide whether they are God’s ideas or mine, and sometimes they need to be put on the backburner. I also love to connect people to my poems. My drawings are hand-drawn and cannot compete with the many talented graphic artists out there. I have been reminded time and again that it’s not a competitive market that I am in. I have to be myself, so in publishing those, I had to swallow my fear.
How are you building your business and your brand?
Through developing this online video course, which I think will be called Discovering Jesus, I’ve found UDEMY, a platform for video courses. They will manage my course and, in turn, they take 50% of the income. My idea is that this course will run in the background, making me money, while I go on to write new books or develop new courses.
I am available for speaking too. I love to share the Heaven book and show how the words have spoken to people who have read it, especially those who have been impacted by their personal poem which I have given them when they buy a book off me in person. Some of the stories blow my mind, and very often make us both cry.
I have also read at kindergartens and church and am open to doing talks for school and church groups.
How do you distribute your books?
I did have a distributor. That was my plan. What I really wanted was someone who, knowing me, would go into stores with my books and get them on the shelves. I thought I had found the perfect person, they had said all the right things, promised exactly that, taken my money and delivered very little. We do have to be very discerning when we hand over our hard-earned cash. My big lesson was that not everyone out there works with integrity and kindness. I am still looking for someone to do that for me.
I have a Facebook Illustrator/ author page, an author Instagram page, and my own website. I also go into schools to show them the books and, for The Good Samaritan, I gave a copy at many school receptions for their libraries. If they wanted it, they paid for it, if not, I picked it up later.
I’m chatting with colleagues about how to better use social media to sell books. My posts on https://www.facebook.com/janmorrisauthor.illustrator/ are mostly about what I’m doing, rather than what I’m selling.
I manage six Facebook pages, and I use a planner, so that I keep track of my posts. Mostly, I like to drop in things that are encouraging and informative and, occasionally, I mention what people can do to support me, and the prices of my products. Social media is all about connections. I am picking up Scribbly Video clients through there, as well as through in person meetings. On social media, you have to show who you are, through humour, say something about being courageous, and say something encouraging.
What do you want people to know about you?
I believe that my purpose is to do what I’m doing, as an encourager. My number one thing is that I’m a Christian, but that doesn’t “disclude” people who don’t have the same faith as me. I love going into a room and asking, “What’s going on with you?” I have a wonderful son and a lovely husband of over thirty years. I’m happy to help people with things. I’m happy for people to ask about how I handle my social media. I’m very collaborative, and I believe that everyone has their own space.
The only way we are going to get where we want to go is by being a part of the tapestry. On the face of it, a tapestry is beautiful and artistic, but when you turn it over you see where the threads all come together, they cross and knot, others get cut. We writers are in the same space. We should be helping each other, not trying to put each other down. I’m also very fun and a bit cheeky, and I love hugs that last longer than five seconds, because they don’t work otherwise.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I think my advice would be that life is all about making a difference, and to make a difference you have to be leading by example. We’re not here on our own. It’s not about me—it’s about everybody else. By helping others, you automatically get the help you need.
Contact Jan Morris
Contact Jan online at: www.jemorrisbooks.com
or follow her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IamJanMorris/