Author or Businesswoman? The Story Behind Girl and Duck

This week at girl and duck, we opened The Scribbles Academy. It’s been super exciting and lots of people have jumped on board.

Thank you!!!! I know you’re going to love your Scribbly experience!

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But how did this all begin?

What’s the real story behind girl and duck?

I wrote about this a couple of years back. But, in those early days, I was more interested in talking about the community. How passionate it was and how it seemed to sprout from nowhere.

More time has passed and now I want to go deeper. I want you, dear reader, to know exactly how I began my online business.

How and why I started it. And who was there to help me.

Ding Ding Ding! Multiple Income Streams!

Back in 2011, it occurred to me that I might NEVER make a liveable income from writing. No matter how many books I had published, how many contracts I signed, how much reader mail I received, my bank accounts were abysmal.

My piggy bank was more like a party balloon. The only things that kept it grounded were hopes, dreams and a handful of gravel.

My accountant was still referring to my career as a ‘hobby’.

My royalties were coming in at about $500pa.

Yes. You read that correctly.

Hold on. I might be exaggerating. I might have OVERSTATED my income.

Either way, despite all my hard work, enthusiasm and talent, I was basically penniless.

And demoralised.

Many children’s authors turn to school visits in order to supplement their income.

But the truth was I HATED school visits. I experienced every visit, every ‘appearance’, as a kind of delicate trauma. I needed IV Rescue Remedy and a good lie down after every session.

Don’t get me wrong. Clearly, I like kids. I’m just not wired to be around them for long periods of time. In a school environment. I don’t enjoy teaching them or being propped up in front of them ad nauseam, trying to entertain them. It’s just not my bag.

My strength is in creative writing. Making up stories. Dreaming up both Nonsense and Literature.

Adults? Now there’s a different story.

I reckoned I could teach adults. I had an inkling I’d be good at that. Back at uni, everyone loved my presentations. I was a total boffin and often dreamed of sitting in the tutor’s chair, holding court…

Ding Ding Ding! Multiple Income Streams. There’s that bell again.

I decided to give teaching a go. I decided to teach creative writing to adults. That might bring in some cashola.

A bit of jingle.

But, I was only prepared to do it on my own terms. Yes, I looked into doing a PhD. Yes, I thought I might try for a spot at RMIT.

But it went against my inner calling. A calling that said people, (women in particular), needed something more.

Something else.

Something that recognised and honoured their innate creativity, their intuition, their need to bond, play, express themselves fully, in a safe environment that had no concern for ‘outcomes’ or ‘performance indicators’ (Whatever the fuck they are.)

And so, Circle of Friends was born.

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I can’t recall our exact copy but, lordy lord, it was something like, ‘Are you tired of sitting on your creative urges?’  The image/logo was lifted from an old Enid Blyton book, The Twins at St Clare’s. I think we might have broken some copyright rules with our branding…

I wrote and compiled a small, four-week-long creative writing course.

I gathered people together and ran the course in odd little places around Melbourne. At first, I hired empty rooms above cafes. Later, I hired Mother Superior’s Chamber at the Abbotsford Convent.

I knew my material was good. I knew I was onto something special. My students loved my classes and in return I loved teaching them. More than anything, I loved seeing them have breakthroughs. Every small win they had, felt like a huge win for me.

But.

Marketing.

It was almost impossible to get the word out.

The biggest class I taught had five students. The smallest class had two (and I was one of them).

With each class, I barely covered my costs.

After about a year of struggling to be seen, I reluctantly shelved Circle of Friends.

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But this desire to teach, inspire and nurture women’s creativity, coupled with my burning desire to create multiple income streams stayed with me.

A few good things followed (which stopped me from giving up writing entirely).

Truly Tan took off.

I got a substantial grant from the Australia Council for the Arts.

Because of Truly Tan’s success, I was flung in front of more people. Bigger crowds. Broader experiences.

I became more savvy.

More worldly.

My income increased.

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But, a few years on, my income was still below the poverty line.

By the age of 50 I’d had enough. I felt scattered, burnt out, resentful and ANGRY.

Multiple Income Streams! By now the bell was a frigging FOG HORN.

Looking back, I can remember the major turning point.

One afternoon a publisher called me for a chat. I asked what she was doing for Christmas. She was going to Scotland, Norway and Tokyo.

I was going to Bendigo.

I hung up the phone and wept. It felt like all I had done, all I had learned, all I had put myself and my family through, all I had sacrificed in order to follow my dreams, had led to nothing.

At the age of fifty my shiny achievements felt like fuck all.

I had never felt more of failure.

And even worse, I was riddled with shame. This ‘successful children’s author’ sitting on a broken Ikea stool in a rented house, felt like a complete fraud.

Jen, what the hell are you doing?

Okay. So I’m a Taurus. Born in the Chinese Year of the Ox.

You want stubborn? I’m your girl.

I set a goal. I’d give it FIVE more years.

But this time I would NAIL this multiple income stream thing.

This time I would get out there and make enough money so that I could keep doing the thing I loved, aka writing, AND hold onto my self esteem.

I’d been following Leonie Dawson for a while and she set my pants on fire. Man, she was an inspiration to me. Her intelligence, her humour, her irreverence. Her gigantic business brain. I hooked my hose into that bowser, quick smart!

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I knew I had ENORMOUS money blocks, too. Holy shizzle, I was married to, devoted to, the starving artist myth. And, I was CHAINED to the nice girls don’t charge/ask for/need/want money, bullshit, too.

I did a course with Denise Duffield-Thomas and started to unpack all my negative beliefs around money. It was a revelation and set me free on multiple levels. To this day it continues to do so.

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AND

not only but also

In 2015, I did a course with Marie Forleo. This was an eight-week, online intensive that covered EVERYTHING about running an online business with intention, clarity and integrity.

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From branding, to positioning and packaging, to creating sales funnels, loving on your customers, understanding your ICA (ideal customer avatar), marketing, finding your people, getting visible, being brave, role modelling positive leadership and on and on…

Marie’s course, B School, took me deep into the machinations of running a biz while at the same time nurturing your clients, your team and your community. This was business for the new paradigm, the New Age (with or without the crystals). This was business as a Calling. It was about empowering women and dismantling the old order.

I found my feet.

Before I knew it, my soul’s purpose (to teach creativity and help people achieve their goals) was fast becoming my sole purpose.

Writing (aka kid lit) was taking a back seat as I discovered that not only did I love business, I was good at it!

From out of the rubble, Girl and Duck was born.

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The beginnings of what would become The Scribbles Pledge.

I love the creativity that goes into running a quirky business. I relish the need to constantly think on my feet, juggle multiple tasks, timetables, scrum-boards and demands.

Holding space for hundreds of people is an enormous privilege—and at times a daunting responsibility.

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I’ve had to juggle (and renegotiate) friendships. Sadly, some have gone pear shaped. There has been heartbreak, misunderstandings and betrayal as my business has grown and gathered pace.

Emotionally, I have often been in over my head. I’ve had to make difficult decisions on the fly, learn to trust my intuition more and more, and to set boundaries whether I’ve wanted to or not.

And all the while I have continued to write and promote my beautiful books.

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My latest, a rhyming picture book for babies, is due out in August 2019. HarperCollins Publishers

My publishers (and peers) have been kind, interested and wholly supportive. They, as much as anyone, know the enormous struggle we authors and illustrators face and I feel blessed to have buddies who have always been there with a friendly ear, a few kind words and a bottle of red.

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The original ‘duckie’ image by Gus Gordon. All the inspiration. Right there. Thank you, Gus, you are a Legend!

This week, as we open The Scribbles Academy, I’m proud to say that girl and duck is taking flight. Our revenue is super healthy and my dreams of running a successful, sustainable and wildly supportive online business are fast becoming a reality.

This blog post, this confessional, is to thank everyone who has come on the journey with me. You have put your trust in me, you have helped me build a stunning community that has literally changed lives and you have also helped me raise the profile of Australian children’s literature and its dedicated, gifted and passionate creators.

Has this been a Hero’s Journey?

Maybe. Maybe not.

My guess is there are plenty of tricksters, shapeshifters, gatekeepers, shadows, tests and ordeals up ahead. I reckon we should just hold hands and walk on regardless. Wait and see what’s around the corner then face it head on.

In the meantime I’m sending you, my fellow travellers, Duckies, Scribblers, creators, misfits, bohos and groovers, oodles of love and gratitude!

Onwards together!

Jen xo


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