To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish, That is the Question
Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing
In 2007, while recovering from back surgery, my good friend and future editor suggested that since I was housebound for a month, I should put my character Anastasia Pickering down on paper. Anastasia, aka Pickles, had been swirling around in my head for a few years, but I had never seriously considered putting her on paper. Being the type “A” personality that I am and with nothing else to do, I decided to bring Pickles to life. My guess is, even in her remarkable kindness, Josie, my friend and to be editor, probably wished she had never made the suggestion! I had taken a writing course in college and also had taken a continuing education Creative Writing class, but writing a children’s picture book was totally different than anything I had ever done. With determination, many re-writes and help from Josie, I ended up with five manuscripts of the adventures of Anastasia Pickering and Rufus, her dog!
The hard part came next. Since each book was built on the previous one, I sent my first manuscript and a return self-addressed envelope to any children’s book publisher who accepted unsolicited, simultaneous submissions. Eventually, I received rejections from each one, but quitting was not something I took lightly. Next, I submitted query letters to every agent I could find, who worked with children’s book authors. Eventually, I received each of those rejections as well. What to do? What to do?
It was obvious that either I drop the idea of publishing my book, or I had to self-publish. I chose to read all five of my manuscripts to a third grade class at one of our local elementary schools. Proof that the children enjoyed the books and got the lessons was necessary before I fully committed to the project. After reading the first manuscript to the class, I asked them to draw pictures of what they remembered most from the book. I was thrilled to say the least when they remembered the whole story! As a “thank you” to the class, I put their pictures in the back of my book. That decision ended up being a very positive one, as school children always enjoy seeing the pictures of other students each time I read. With proof that children enjoyed and learned from Anastasia’s “thinking in the rain adventures”, I became fully committed to my project and as the saying goes-“the rest is history”.
There are pros and cons to self-publishing. Even though I did my homework, the reality of self-publishing only became obvious to me after I went through the process. Through our local Arts Center, I found my illustrator and future new friend, Perry. She pulled Anastasia out of my manuscript in unbelievable perfection. We went to work and a year later, my book was ready to go to Author House. The process with them could have initially gone smoother, but once the book was published, it looked great and it was all over the internet quickly. It came out in the spring of 2009.
Since that time, I have learned a lot. Because I chose to self-publish, I am, and always will be, the only person who really pushes my book. I make very little on the book, and it has to sell for more than most paperbacks, as it is a print on demand book. Having a publisher print several thousand for less is not a luxury from which I can benefit. It has been impossible to get my book into Barnes and Noble, even with a buy back policy (a policy that states if the book doesn’t sell, the distributor will but it back). I had to pay several hundred dollars more to buy this insurance. Every publisher gives a buyback offer to the retailers. In order for the book store to even consider my book, I had to do the same. It did no good. I have been able to get it into other local stores and I have even done book fairs at our local Barnes and Noble. I go into schools and read to the children and sign purchased books. I do book readings at some of our local stores and have traveled a bit doing readings at other non-local schools. All in all, I would rather have been picked up by a publisher or found an agent, but even though I am on my own, my book has won recognitions from Mom’s Choice, The Dove Foundation and Writer’s Digest. Competitions are another way of getting attention, I learned.
Recently, I was contacted by a company called Flying Books. They saw that I had been a winner in the Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Competition and offered to put my book on their app for the ipad and eventually the iphone and android. It should be out in February. For a review of their app: http://www.bestappsforkids.org/crafts/kids-books-store-book-apps/ This part is exciting and it is all my call--one of the few advantages of self-publishing. I am also working with someone to put a few short animations of Anastasia and Rufus on You Tube. With social media and digital publishing, it is impossible to project what can happen to a character. I didn’t give up on my little girl and her dog when publishing companies said no, and am very glad I didn’t. I know beyond a doubt that children benefit from my book and the happiness on their faces when we talk about Pickles and Rufus is enough to keep me going!