When American writer Dallas Clayton decided to write a book for his young son, he knew the book’s theme would be on dreaming big. Penning the text in 10 minutes and taking 6 months to complete the illustrations, Clayton may have chosen a big dreams theme for his story, but he surely never dreamed how big his book would become.
Truly one of the most inspiring literacy stories of the past decade, Clayton self-published An Awesome Book a little over a year ago, and began selling it from his website for US$15 a pop. Currently, his sales tally has eclipsed a mind-boggling 35,000 copies – from his website alone, and the book is still going strong.
But the most awesome thing about Clayton’s awesome journey is not his extraordinary foray into successful self-publishing. It is the generosity, the complete lack of self-affectedness and the totally loving way he has shared his material success – namely, with children and the literacy need that still has such a stranglehold on the world’s youth – an issue that is also dear to my own heart, and that of many parents.
Dallas Clayton grew up in North Carolina – in a nice place – “small and not yet tampered with”. At the age of 18, he absconded and now lives in Los Angeles.
“It’s a lot like you’ve seen in the movies here,” Clayton tells Australian Women Online, with his characteristic humour, “Mostly people in bathing suits riding around on roller skates.”
A writer by trade and clearly an LA native at heart, Clayton started writing zines about teenage ideals and selling them to crowds of people gathered to see music and art. Eventually people started liking what he did and hired him to ‘write things’. But what inspired him to write a children’s book for his young son?
“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.”
Although Clayton never planned on illustrating An Awesome Book, he couldn’t find anybody else to do it, so he gave it a shot. Now he says it’s opened up a whole new side to his career – a career clearly centered in an extraordinary imagination.
Once An Awesome Book was finished, Clayton approached several publishers in the hope of publication, but found the journey lengthy and discouraging.
“I approached publishers like anyone would and they all said similar things – ‘this is great’, ‘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’s the marketing going to look like… things of that nature. After a few months of back and forth, waiting, waiting, waiting, 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!)”
As for the self-publishing journey, Clayton took the process in his characteristic stride, admitting it’s not necessarily easy, but “once you do all the hard stuff, you will be so happy that you did”.
Once An Awesome Book was published, Clayton set up a website and the rest is history. The author feels the internet is an amazing place. He’s never actually had to do PR for the book – he just put it up on my website and things spread like wildfire from there.
“It was kind of magical in that respect,” he admits, “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.”
Following the almost immediate success of An Awesome World, Clayton began touring local schools, talking with kids about their dreams and encouraging them to believe in themselves. It was during this time, the author knew he wanted to expand upon the philosophies behind his book’s success, and to give something back to the world.
“I’d been 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, and I just sort of thought ‘I made the book, I just want to give it away’.”
After going to schools locally and giving out books, Clayton set up a tour across the country – reading to schools, hospitals, camps, shops and organizations. His experiences on tour were so touching, he realised he needed to be giving away books on a more permanent basis, so he set up the Awesome World Foundation.
“The Foundation’s mission is simple,” Clayton tells AWO, “For every book sold, we give one away. I hit the road, read to kids and give them books. I talk to them about their dreams and try to encourage them to dream as big as possible.”
A dynamic presenter and a child at heart who can totally relate to kids from all walks of life, Clayton says he hopes, above all else, that his book makes kids 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 them it was crazy. I hope it makes them want to dream wild, wonderful dreams.”
The impassioned way Clayton delivers his Dream Big message is indeed inspiring kids all over the US and overseas to not only read, but to see the world in a more loving, open way.
“Any time I get a letter from a child that says I’ve made an impact on them, 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!’
It’s impossible to chat with Dallas Clayton and not smile from your toes to the top of your head. His infectious nature, his love of people, his hope for a better world are clearly bursting from every pore, and what better way to spread that message, and simultaneously promote literacy, than with a book that was so clearly created from the heart.
Clayton’s son, Audio, is now six years old and is ‘really happy’ with all the hoo-ha surrounding An Awesome Book.
“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,” laughs the author.
But beyond dedicating this book to his son, Clayton feels driven by the message his book imparts to people everywhere.
“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 focus on how much fun it will be to make it.”
Clayton has finished three more books since penning An Awesome Book, and he will be releasing these as soon as his touring schedule allows. From there, he plans to make as much as he can and share it with as many people as he can. He also wants to translate An Awesome Book into multiple languages, and his greatest philanthropic goal is to figure out new and better ways to work with other charities in other countries – and to keep on giving his book to kids.
So, what is Dallas Clayton’s idea of the most awesome world possible? “This one minus the bad, plus more hugging,” says the author, simply. And if this doesn’t give you an idea of the intense purity and selflessness driving this extraordinary author, then perhaps this will…
What five words best sum you up? “Stoked x five.”
Learn more about An Awesome Book and the Awesome World Foundation at veryawesomeworld.com.
WIN! AN EXCLUSIVE, SIGNED COPY OF AN AWESOME BOOK! (Awesome!)
With thanks to Dallas Clayton, this is your opportunity to win an exclusive, signed copy of his best selling book.
To be in the running for this fabulous prize…
In 25 words or less tell us your idea of an ‘awesome world’. Dallas Clayton himself will choose the winner.
Simply write your answer to this question in the ‘comments’ section below and you could be the lucky winner!
Entry to this competition is free and is open to all Australian residents over the age of 18. Entries open at 12:01am (AEDT) on 10 March 2009 and close at 11:59pm (AEDT) on 31 March 2010.
Australian Women Online’s standard Terms & Conditions apply to this competition.