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 🙂

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

(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 🙂

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 🙂

Self-Publishing Mini-Series – Meet Rita Borg

Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to the lovely and talented Rita Borg!  Thank you so much for joining us, Rita!

First, a little background.  Rita says,

I started writing when I was 9 years old. I loved the Waltons and Little House on the Prarie. John boy and Laura set me off writing. But when my 7 year old sister died of cancer, I could not pick up a pen. I was 23 then. But after my third child was born, my husband told me of a writing competition he found on the local newspaper. I entered but I did not win. But the editor called me up and told me how much she enjoyed my essay about the murder of a toddler in England. She asked if would I like to start writing articles for the paper? I said yes and my writing career started.I have been writing and learning about writing ever since.
I was educated at Blessed Sacrament School and St. Jean Baptiste High School in New York and studied children’s writing with the Institute of Children’s and Teen’s Literature in Connecticut. I also read for a diploma in child psychology at the European Institute of Education. I reside on the Mediterranean island of Malta, where I regularly perform storytelling and creative writing workshops in schools across the country. I am also a freelance writer for local magazines and newspapers, a mother of three, and have published four picture books aimed at early readers, as well as an anthology of short stories for older children. My books have received multiple printings as well as peer-acclaim and recognition at the Malta National Annual Literary Awards. My last book, Don’t Cross the Road, Holly!, was chosen as the best 2009 Children’s Book in English. I am a member of the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators of the USA, as well as its chapter in the British Isles.

Now then, onto the interview and all those helpful tidbits you guys are eagerly awaiting 🙂

SLH: Did you try the traditional publishing route?  What was your experience?
RB: I have been studying the craft of writing for the past 12 years. Lately, I got in contact with an editor. She helped me out with several picture book manuscripts. I chose the best one and sent it off to 20 publishers and some agents in England. Most of the publishers I contacted wrote back saying how charming the book was, or it is a great story, or it would be great illustrated. Yet, no one wanted to take a chance of publishing it. Is it because I live so far away in Malta? So I decided to do it myself.

SLH:What made you decide to pursue self-publishing?
RB: I already have two published books but they are in the Maltese language. The publishers here in Malta obviously want to promote their language. However I grew up in New York City, my first language is English. So, I self-published three bilingual Maltese English picture books. But they could only be distributed in Malta which has a population of only half a million people. So I started thinking about self publishing outside the country with a company like CreateSpace.
Rita’s office

SLH: How did you go about self-publishing? (specific details about how you researched and located the company you went with would be great)
RB: I didn’t do that much research to be honest. I heard about CreateSpace; many authors were using it, so I decided for my first book it would be good to go with the experts.

SLH: Did you hire an editor?
RB: Hiring an editor is a must. I had one during the writing of the story and hired another one through the company and was part of the publishing package.

SLH: How did you choose your illustrator?  How did you work out paying the illustrator and did you have a contract?  Did you have a lot of back and forth discussions with your illustrator about the art?
RB: The illustrations are again part of the package if you so wish. CreateSpace sent me four names of illustrators and I chose the one that I saw best fitted the theme of my book. I chose two that I really liked. My first choice was available to work and in six weeks she drew all the illustrations. There was one or two which I changed some aspects of the pictures. But I was lucky, I had little to change and I loved the simple, colourful illustrations at the start.

SLH: Did you hire a cover designer or did your illustrator design the cover?
RB: I hired both. The cover designer was again part of the package which I purchased. The cover designer sent me 3 different types of covers. I especially liked one and then the illustrator drew it. I just added more hay in the nest under the egg for comfort’s sake 🙂

SLH: What formats is your book available in?  Hardcover?  Paperback?  E-book?  Print-on-demand?
RB: So far, my book is only as a Print-On-Demand paperback picture book. I first want to see how well the book sells before I turn it into an e-book. Self-publishing can be quite expensive if you are not careful with your money.

SLH: How have you gone about marketing your book?  What has been most successful?
RB: Along with advertising on Facebook, being interviewed here is my first attempt at marketing. I still have lots of work to do! I need to contact reviewers, give giveaways, and do more interviews. It’s going to be fun. Also, if I had been traditionally published, I still would need to market myself. So I am learning a great deal from all of this.

SLH: Do you do school/library visits or library/bookstore readings/signings?  How did you go about getting them?  How have sales been in relation to those visits?
RB: I visit libraries and schools all the time in Malta. I am a storyteller by trade. This is the best way to sell books. It is the personal touch rather then a book on the shelf. I plan to do a lot of visits to bookshops, libraries and schools for my book Meg the Egg, too.

SLH: What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self-publishing?
RB: JUST DO IT! Don’t let the people at the gateways of publishing ruin your dreams.

SLH: Any particular pitfalls to avoid?
RB: Check and check everything you do. Don’t be flippant; be diligent. No one cares about your book more than you do.

SLH: Anything else you’d like to say? 🙂
RB: This was an adventure, a scary, intrepid adventure but if my book sells and the children love reading it, it is very worth it when you have given up on traditional publishing.

Thank you so much, Rita!

If you’d like to find Rita online, you can visit her Website and like her on Face Book.

And, as if all that information weren’t enough, Rita has kindly offered to be available to answer any questions you might have so fire away, AND she is giving away a copy of Meg The Egg (which is very cute – I have read it!) to one lucky winner!

All you have to do is leave a comment saying why you’d like the book.  And if you want to be nice and “like” Rita on Face Book while you’re here, that would be lovely but we are not twisting any arms 🙂

And that, my friends, concludes our mini-series on self-publishing.  I know some of the posts were long – our authors were so very generous with their knowledge and expertise!  I hope you all learned a lot, and that those of you who were previously hesitant about self-publishing now feel more confident and prepared to take it on!