Oh Susanna – When Is It Time To Give Up And Self-Publish?

Happy Columbus Day!

In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
and thank goodness he did or we’d have work and school today ūüôā

I hope everyone is lounging around in their pajamas after a lovely sleep-in ūüôā

(I’m not. ¬†I get up at 5:30 regardless of Columbus and I’m going to muck out that spotted pony’s stall… but hanging out in a barn is actually my idea of a good time :))

In any case, get comfy because it’s Oh Susanna day, and today’s question, which comes to us from Saba, is one I think a lot of people may be interested in. ¬†She asks, “When is it time to throw in the traditional publishing towel and self-publish?

This question saddens me a little. ¬†The fact that, for many, self-publishing is still seen as the road to take when you’ve given up all hope of “real” publishing is depressing.

I may be in the minority, but I’d like to change that attitude.

It’s true that many self-published books are sub-standard. ¬†They are poorly written on every level from sentence structure to basic story. ¬†They contain formatting and editing errors which make them less pleasurable to read. ¬†The covers are often less attractive. ¬†Their authors have sometimes been more concerned with being published then with taking the time to make sure their work is actually publishable.

But.

I have read plenty of traditionally published books that weren’t very good – even from highly regarded best-selling authors. ¬†And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found tons of typos and editing errors while reading traditionally published books. ¬†Traditional books aren’t perfect. ¬†Although they are generally held to some sort of standard of quality because they are produced by a publishing house, that still doesn’t guarantee you’re going to like them or that they’re going to be what you consider good.

I’m sure when you talk about throwing in the towel and going with self-publishing you don’t intend to produce an inferior piece of work. ¬†I’m sure you would do everything in your power to make it the very best it could be. ¬†It’s a different route to publishing – not necessarily better of worse, and not necessarily a question of giving up.

The face of self-publishing is changing. ¬†Many authors are aware of the need to up the quality of self-published books so that they can compete with traditional books on a more level footing. ¬†And many authors are starting to choose self-publishing. ¬†There is much more creative control. ¬†There is no one with whom you have to share any profit you might make. ¬†There is a wider range of what’s acceptable to publish because you don’t have to fit neatly into where you can be shelved and you’re not as focused on a bottom line.

So instead of thinking of self-publishing as a last resort, I’d say think about the kind of publishing experience you want to have.

If you want to hand your story over to an editor, let her help you rework it the way she feels it will work best/be most salable, let someone else choose an illustrator, jacket copy, cover art because you trust their judgment and prefer to focus on writing new stories while they handle publication, then by all means submit to traditional publishers. ¬†There is also, still, a prestige, or validation, that comes with being accepted by a publishing house, and perhaps that appeals to you. ¬†Certainly, traditional publishing will take care of printing, sending out review copies, and distribution, all of which may be things you don’t feel qualified or able to do. ¬†They also foot the up-front bill. ¬†There are lots of upsides to traditional publishing ūüôā

On the other hand, if you like the idea of maintaining complete creative control, if you want to bring your vision to life exactly as you’ve imagined it, if you’re excited about searching for the perfect illustrator, if you look forward to the challenge of finding a printer etc. and feel like you have the time, energy and know-how (or the motivation to learn), if what you write is a little outside the box of what flies in traditional publishing, and if you don’t want to share profits with anyone, then maybe self-publishing is a good choice for you.

If you’re working with a manuscript that has never been sent out, you have only your judgment (or if you’re lucky, a critique partner’s or group’s opinion) to evaluate the strength of your story.

If you’re working with a manuscript that has made the publishing house rounds, though, you might really want to evaluate your ms with a critical eye before deciding on self-publishing. ¬†Why has it been turned down?

If there are serious problems with basic elements like spelling, grammar, punctuation, or story structure, your manuscript is probably not going to fly well as a self-published book either.  Likewise, if you write in rhyme and the story was turned down because of serious problems with rhyme and meter, you will not be putting your best foot forward.  You will put a lot of time, effort, and money into producing something that was turned down for good reason.  Your efforts might be better spent in learning to improve your craft and writing some new stories.  Remember, your name is going on the cover.

If your story hasn’t sold because the topic is very tired (there are an awful lot of bedtime books out there, for example, so to make one shine you really have to have a new twist) your self-published story may have a hard time garnering attention and standing out from the extensive list of the tried and true.

But if you’ve written a story you love, if it’s written well, if it really works on many levels and has been passed on by publishing houses for no concrete reason other than it “doesn’t suit their needs at this time” or competes with other titles on their current lists, or if you’ve written a book of children’s poetry or something else which is valuable but a very hard sell to traditional publishers, or if your picture book works fantastically at 40 pages, then self-publishing might be a great choice for you.

I hope this will help lots of writers out there to see self-publishing as a positive choice rather than as a last resort. ¬†And I would recommend a look at the mini self-publishing series from June for some real-life stories from authors who chose this path and produced really wonderful, quality books. ¬†(It will also give you an idea of how much is involved with self-publishing – it’s not really a throwing in the towel kind of job! :)) ¬†Please see SNOW GAMES (which kind of falls between traditional and self-publishing because it had to pass editorial review, but it also had to be presented ready to go in finished format with art), GATOR’S GANG, SHOW ME HOW,¬†LUCY SNIGGLEFRITZ¬†and MEG THE EGG.

And I would very much love other writers – traditionally, self- and not-yet-published, to chime in with their thoughts on this question. ¬†Is there a time when you should self-publish because you’ve given up hope of traditional publication? ¬†Does self-publishing mean you’ve thrown in the towel? ¬†What do you see as pros and cons of self-publishing?

Thanks for a very thought-provoking question, Saba.  I hope my answer and whatever gets added in the comment section are helpful to you!

Happy Columbus Day, everyone ūüôā

Self-Publishing Mini-Series – Meet Patrick Milne

Today I’m delighted to introduce you to the third guest in our self-publishing mini-series, Patrick Milne.

By way of introduction, Patrick says, “I always enjoyed writing stories as far back as I can remember, though by the time I hit high school, I’d lost interest. It wasn’t until I took a writing course in university as an elective that I really started taking any creative impulses seriously again¬†and eventually majored in professional writing and communications. It was chiefly short prose that I studied throughout school and it wasn’t until my sister, Stephanie Faye, embraced her animation talents that we decided to try a children’s picture book together.”

SLH:  Did you try the traditional publishing route?  What was your experience?

PM: ¬†We didn’t really even think of the traditional publishing route initially. We just tried to get the story together as much as possible in a 32-page structure, which was difficult because it was the first time we’d done anything so short. It was definitely an exercise in brevity! During the process, it seemed any time we brought up the idea of a publisher and looked around at their respective websites, or researched agents, either they weren’t accepting manuscripts or you had to jump through hoops to get it to them. We continued working away until the story took shape and by then, we both really loved it and couldn’t have fathomed changing anything about it.¬†

SLH:  What made you decide to pursue self-publishing?

PM: ¬†Once we got our hard copy proof copy back from the printer, Stephanie, the book’s artist, took it to a small publisher’s fair in Vancouver. She got interest from several companies but each had their own list of changes they wanted to make. By that point, we’d been working on the book for so long, Stephanie especially with all of the art and coloring, that thinking about incorporating their changes was just too overwhelming. At that point, we officially decided to move ahead on our own.¬†¬†

SLH:  How did you go about self-publishing?

PM:  We found a small printing company in Winnipeg, Manitoba called Art Book Bindery that had a great reputation. We knew we wanted to do at least a small run of print copies so we worked with them. The electronic version was formatted and uploaded to Amazon several months later.

SLH:  Did you hire an editor?

PM: ¬†No, I’ve had several jobs as a copy editor in the past so I was very confident in my own abilities. We also passed it around to some family and friends to make sure everything was coherent and had a nice flow and rhythm to it, but the words, sentences, and grammar I was very possessive about. Outside opinions were really key for us because when you work on the same story and the same sentences, you can miss little things

SLH:  How did you choose your illustrator?  What kind of contract do you have with her?  Did you have a lot of back and forth contact with her as she created the illustrations?

PM: ¬†My illustrator was my sister, Stephanie Faye, who is a graduate of Capilano University in British Columbia and had been working in children’s television and animation for several years previous. We sent the manuscript back and forth over email and had conversations over Skype about it. Once she began the illustrations, she sent her drafts to me through email and we discussed them every few days. It was a very collaborative effort for being so far apart.


SLH:  How did you get your book from conception to e-book format?  Is it also available in hardcover or paperback?  Print on demand?

PM: ¬†We currently sell the print version through our website and at various local craft sales around Christmas time and it does quite well. The ebook version, Stephanie formatted from her finished files and they were formatted in a .mobi file for the Kindle and uploaded to Amazon. We’re working on getting it into different places on the web to broaden Lucy’s availability but as of right now, those are the primary outlets.

SLH:  How have you gone about marketing your book?  What has been most successful?

PM: ¬†Selling the print copies at various fairs has been the most successful approach for the print version. The electronic version has been totally different. There are thousands of ways of going about marketing our book, the only problem is where to start. We currently use Twitter and Facebook and I’ve started a blog called So Much To Be Read to help build a community and get the word out on other children’s authors and illustrators just like me who are self-published. There is so much more to do and I feel like all we have to do is just start!

SLH:  Do you do school/library visits?  How has that worked with an e-book?  How have sales been in relation to the visits?

PM: ¬†We did a seminar with a local grade seven English class that was doing a unit on writing their own picture book and sold many of the print copies there but no e-book versions that I know of. It’s something we’d certainly like to keep doing.

Patrick’s office

SLH:  What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self-publishing?

PM: ¬†I think the single most important thing to understand is that finishing the book is only a small part of what self-publishing is all about. Depending on your hopes for the book and what it might become, all the rest is marketing – thinking about who your audience is and where to find them and how to get the word out about your book without coming across as a desperate spammer! On the one hand, it’s a very frustrating process, but on the other, you’re only as limited as your imagination. Furthermore, there has never been a time in history when reaching people has been as simple as this. We get a lot of motivation and inspiration from keeping that in our mindset.


SLH:  Any particular pitfalls to avoid?

PM: ¬†Trust your instincts and stay true to what your book is all about and why you wanted to write it in the first place. If we had decided to incorporate the changes suggested to us by the various publishers, I don’t think I would feel quite as passionately about Lucy Snigglefritz as I do now, or as proud. If it set us back from getting a publishing contract, so be it. I don’t see any evidence these days that working with a publisher is any less challenging than the self-publishing route.

Thank you so much, Patrick!  It is so interesting to hear from different authors who have chosen this route.  We all have a lot to learn from you.

Folks, please feel free to visit Patrick on his Website, follow him on Twitter @fayemousbooks, or network with him on LinkedIn. ¬†Patrick has kindly offered to be available for questions, so please ask if you have any! ¬†In addition, he is giving away a free e-copy of The Adventures Of Lucy Snigglefritz – I have seen it and it’s very cute even on my black and white Kindle! – so if you’re interested in qualifying, please leave a comment saying why you’d like to have the book!

Thank you all for joining us!  Have a great weekend!