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.


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 HOWLUCY 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 🙂

Guest Joanna Marple Demystifies The uTales Process

Today I have such a treat for you!  Please join me in welcoming talented new author Joanna Marple whose book Snow Games was released last month from uTales.

If you have not had a chance to view other posts in Joanna’s blog tour, you can see the schedule and links at the end of this post.  Other topics have included reviews of the book, an interview with Joanna, and where she got her inspiration, but today she’s going to explain how uTales works.

Take it away, Joanna! 🙂

I think many of my generation struggle to embrace picture books in electronic format. We know the intimacy of reading a physical book to/with a young child. The sensorial experience it gives to the child in turning the pages, smelling, chewing etc is an important part of their early reading experience (and ours too as caregivers – holding a book and reading to a child is incredibly bonding). I came to PB eBooks with my preconceptions, and have become convinced that this is not an either/or question, but rather that they offer yet another opportunity to keep the reading doors open for our children. I believe e-Picture Books can add to our children’s reading experiences. More books, more easily accessible, in a variety of formats… this is a good thing. This is a lengthy introduction, but I believe to be involved in any eBook platform you should be convinced of their value in our children’s reading lives.
Whatever the publishing platform, the most important thing will always remain the quality of the story. I would not have considered submitting to uTales if I were not convinced of an appropriate level of quality editorial control. Two things convinced me of this. Firstly, an illustrator friend, Hazel Mitchell, whose work I much admire, submitted her beautiful retelling of The Ugly Duckling, and won an iPad for the official launch of uTales last year. Secondly, publishing veteran, Emma D Dryden, whose independent editorial services I use through her company, drydenbks, heads up the uTales editorial quality control panel. I think with any new eBook platform expanding its collection, there will be a great range of storytelling, but I am very happy with the editing and selection that is happening and we have been seeing a real flow of great quality stories being submitted as we grow in numbers of collaborators.
When you first sign up with uTales, you receive two weeks free access to every book in the library; thereafter you always have access to an 8-page preview of every book for free. That first fortnight, I think I read all the books they had, discovering the focus was more for the 2-5 year olds, though not exclusively, and the variety was enormous. I love the fact that we are a thoroughly international group and working towards publishing in several languages (so far English and Swedish, with Spanish soon to be added). Once I had researched the platform and felt convinced about its goals and authenticity, I set out purposely to write a story for uTales.  How I came up with my story you can read about here.
SNOW GAMES went through exactly the same amount of rigorous revision that I would give any manuscript that I wish to submit to an agent or publisher (or self publish). Typically, I sent it off to my crit. partner first. Then it went through my normal online PB crit. group and a rhyming online PB crit. group, which formed out of PiBoIdMo. I sent the revisions back several more times to my crit. partner and my freelance editor also gave me valuable input. I want to underline that one should not seek an illustrator until one is confident about one’s story. Emma Dryden has written an excellent article for uTales about the importance of presentation, punctuation, and precision when it comes to creating successful picture books. – http://blog.utales.com/2011/11/10/to-keep-in-mind-when-creating-utales-picture-books/.
I took a little time finding the right illustrator – I think, in part, due to the complexity of having the four characters, requiring an illustrator who had the time to invest, not a small request for these freelancers. There is an active Facebook group, called uTales Collaborations, where illustrators and authors can find one another. Prior to writing SNOW GAMES, I had been involved in a collaboration project of 30 uTalers, who together produced THE FRIENDSHIP ALPHABET book. Maja Sereda had done an enchanting double-paged spread of “ogling owls” for the “O” page and seemed the perfect fit for my story – happily for me, she agreed. I sent her my paginated manuscript and Maja then took over. We had some fun communication back and forth, between France and South Africa for 2.5 months, as she worked on the illustrations; we have become firm friends. I am enchanted with her artwork for this book. One of the pleasures of working with uTales is the opportunity few have, for such collaboration.
Both illustrator and author are co-creators and have access to the uTales website “create tool” when they finally upload: images, text, sound, animation, caption, dedication pages etc. The uTales website has simple videos explaining each aspect if this process, and there is a technical team happy to respond to any questions. Once complete, you submit online via the uTales website to their Quality Editorial Panel (UQEP). If you count the fact that we live in different time zones to the panel (Maja and I are on the same longitude!), the response was immediate to our submission. For SNOW GAMES, the feedback was to increase the font size for better visibility on iPhones and to remove one preposition for better rhyming flow. I followed up on these suggestions and made the corrections. Our book was published shortly afterwards, with a five star rating.
To summarize:
1.     Write a darn good story, thoroughly revised (nothing new here!)
2.     Familiarize yourself with uTales and join the FB collaboration page.
3.     Find just the right illustrator for your story and enjoy the collaboration process.
4.     Look at the how-to videos on the uTales site.
5.     Upload your images and text, and decide whether it is appropriate to then add any animation and sound.
6.     Submit the complete story to the UQEP and be ready to respond to their helpful feedback. If a lot of editing is required, you may need to submit a couple more times (3 times maximum).
7.     Start planning your promotion before the book is published.
8.     Enjoy – it is a wonderful experience.
Susanna, thank you so much for shooting off an invitation to me to share on your blog, I think within minutes of you seeing SNOW GAMES had been published.

Thank you so much for visiting with us, Joanna!

You can visit Joanna’s Website/Blog and “Like” her on Face Book.

And you can see the other stops on her blog tour at these fabulous blogs:

Wednesday, Mat 16th, Darshana’s Blog, Flowering Minds – Interview
Wednesday, May 23rd – Krista Rausin’s blog, Parenting with a Dash of Inspiration – Multiple Characters in Picture Books
Tuesday, May 29th – Sharon Stanley’s blog, Sharon Stanley Writes – Interview
Tuesday, June 5th – Clarike Bo Jahn, Clarbojahn’s Blog – The Story Behind the Story
Wednesday, June 6th – Diane Tulloch’s blog, The Patient Dreamer – Book Review
Wednesday,  June,13th – Julie Hedlund’s Blog, Why uTales?
Monday, June 18th – Susanna Leonard Hill’s Blog – The Process of Submitting a Story to uTales
Wednesday June 27th – Patricia Hilton’s blog, Children’s Books Heal, Book Review

Before we go, I have a surprise for you!  Remember that mini-series on self-publishing I told you about?  Well, it has expanded to 4 posts!  And all four will include giveaways!  And although Suzanne’s schedule does not allow, the others have graciously and generously offered to be available to answer any questions you may have after reading their posts – a truly priceless opportunity!  Can it possibly get any better? 🙂

Friday June 22 we will learn from Suzanne McGovern, author of a delightful self-published picture book series about Gator And Pete.  Monday June 25 Vivian Kirkfield will share the creation of her wonderful self-published picture book resource Show Me How – a book every parent and teacher should have a copy of!  The following Friday (June 29) we’ll be visited by Patrick Milne, author of the e-book The Adventures of Lucy Snigglefritz (also available in paperback.)  And finally on Monday July 2 we’ll wind up with Rita Borg, author of Meg The Egg.  All of these authors have a wealth of information to share on the process of self-publishing and I hope you will find what they have to say as interesting and enlightening as I do!