Many of you have been coming to me with book dreams in hand, wanting to know my tips for how to get published.
I’ve posted quite a few resources here, but if you truly want to create a physical book that you can hold in your hands, here’s the one question you need to answer first:
Do you want to traditionally publish or self publish?
I spent years weighing the pros and cons of both, finally choosing self publishing. Does that mean I recommend self publishing to everyone? Hardly.
Here are my crib notes from years of research and my own experience. If you’ve published your own book and want to weigh in, by all means, add your nuggets of knowledge in the comments below.
Here are my top 8 reasons to self publish (and 3 reasons not to).
Please note that these tips are specific to publishing a children’s picture book. If you’re looking to self publish something else (say a paperback book without pictures, for instance) the financial considerations are considerably less, but some of the other points will still apply.
8 REASONS TO SELF PUBLISH
1. You want to maintain complete creative control of your product.
You can see it in your mind’s eye. It’s unique. It’s inspired. It fills a need on library shelves. And you don’t want anyone who doesn’t “get it” to elbow in and alter the concept, format, or style.
The flip side is that your complete creative control might not produce the quality that an experienced team at a publisher could do for you. As a matter of fact, 9 times out of 10 it won’t, and that’s being generous.
So how can you make sure you’re a part of that quality 10%…?
2. You have a lot of helpful, supportive, talented people in your corner.
It takes a village to make a quality book. I did not make The Denim Jungle on my own. My writer friends reviewed countless versions of the text and provided exceptional feedback. My illustrator went above and beyond to meticulously craft the book’s imagery and help market it on social media. My editing friends gave me deals on proofreading it, so I could perfect the text and stay on budget. A designer friend sat down with me and walked me through how to use InDesign so I could create the files needed to print it, error free.
At the very least, make sure you have a team of reviewers you trust, who aren’t afraid to give you constructive criticism. If you want to produce something of quality, constructive criticism is a must.
3. You don’t have time (or want to waste time) pursuing a traditional publishing deal that you might not ever get.
Before I ended up going the self publishing route, I spent nearly two years researching and pursuing traditional publishing. For each publisher who seemed to be a good fit for my book, I would customize a query letter and the 20-page book proposal they wanted, outlining my concept, story, marketing plan, competitive set, illustration vision, etc.
I was putting in so much time and effort… and getting nowhere. Eventually, I came to the realization that I’d rather have a book in hand at the end of the day than some unknowable stamp of yes or no.
Sure, it could be argued that only good books get published. Therefore, if your book isn’t chosen by the publishing gods, it must not be meant to be, right? Um, have you perused the library shelves lately? There are plenty of mediocre or just plain terrible books that get published all the time. And what about the fact that the first Harry Potter book was rejected 12 times or that Dr. Suess’s first book was rejected 27 times or that Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times? Shall I go on? It’s obviously not a mistake-proof process.
4. You want to continue selling your book for a long time.
With traditional publishing, if your book doesn’t sell a certain amount of copies within a certain amount of time, it’s common practice for publishers to “pulp” it and direct their efforts to the next book coming down the pipe.
Imagine all of your book babies (not to mention your hopes and dreams) getting mulched according to whether or not you hit a sales quota on someone’s Excel spreadsheet. Now imagine self publishing and being able to get your book to the readers who want it, any time between now and forever. Personally, I liked the latter version of that dual reality.
5. You can afford it.
Now, that could mean a lot of things. You could afford it because you have both the writing and art skills, so you don’t have to pay someone else for either of those big chunks. (I spent more than half of my budget on the illustrations, for instance.) You could afford it because you have some talented people in your corner who are willing to chip in free work. You could afford it because you have a bunch of money laying around and nothing to do with it. (Ha! Don’t we all wish.)
Or, like me, you could afford it because you have a certain amount of money you’re willing and able to invest in your personal goals and are confident you can stick to that “dream fund” amount.
I calculated a budget (including every possible foreseeable expense, down to business cards), put the amount I needed in a separate business checking account, and paid everything book-related out of that account. The month of my launch party, it got all the way down to $1.20. But the good news is, all of my book-related earnings (from sales to speaking engagements) went right back into that checking account, too. So now I’m back up to about 20% of the funds I originally set aside.
If that account fills back up to my original investment, my plan is to publish my next book. I have another idea in the wings, so that helps motivate me to keep marketing and selling my current book. Which brings me to…
6. You want a thoughtful, personalized marketing plan that will take priority.
I’ve talked to countless authors who’ve traditionally published, and they all tell me the same thing. Publishers barely help with the marketing. Most of that work is up to you these days. So if you’re going to be doing the leg work anyway, why let some people in an office far far away keep skimming something off the top?
Case in point, I knew I wanted to pursue author events, for the dual benefit of marketing the book and bringing in revenue. I also knew that, if people were going to take me seriously, I had to attract attention and convey my book’s presence well beyond its 8″ x 8″ cover. That’s how I ended up constructing this banner out of Goodwill jeans, felt, and fabric glue. A LOT of fabric glue. (I can’t sew worth a darn, mind you.) It took two weeks.
Do you think a book rep at a publisher would ever lovingly handcraft such a statement piece for me? Not likely. And if I did have a publisher, and I came up with this on my own? I’m sure they’d be thrilled… and happy to benefit from it.
7. You have the time, energy, and persistence to be a one-person team.
Marketing takes a lot of time. Trying to get your book in stores takes a lot of time. Following up with book sellers to deliver your books, pick up checks, and pick up books before they get tossed takes a lot of time. Arranging events takes time. Doing the events takes time. Doing the taxes takes time. And the list goes on… and on…
Are there days when I don’t want to do it any more? All the time! But I’ve birthed this entity, and now it’s my responsibility. Its probability of success and very existence really comes down to one person: me. If I take time off, there’s no one else to sustain it. If I want it to stay alive, I need to keep caring for it.
8. You’re willing and ready to be the biggest advocate for your product.
Honestly, this has been the hardest one for me. Even though I’m a well-established marketing writer, when it comes to marketing for myself, I cringe.
Many of us are naturally inclined to help others before ourselves… and when you become a parent? Forget about it. Plus, I’m a Gen X’er. We’re driven to create, but we often second guess our product and why anyone should care.
If you’re going to self publish, you are the head of your marketing team. Period. If you want this creation to get out there in the world–this creation that you’re putting so much time and money and effort into making–then YOU need to be its biggest advocate. That means social media. That means press releases. That means store visits and school visits and conference visits. That means networking and talking about your book until you’re sick of talking about it, frankly…. And then still talking about it. If you take a break, your whole marketing and sales team takes a break. It will only be as successful as the work you put in. Even then it may not be successful.
And that’s perfectly okay. If you have something you really really believe in, your sincerity will shine through, and you’ll reach the people you need to. As I would tell my marketing clients, yelling may attract attention, but sincerity keeps it.
Do you sincerely believe you have a product that people will need and want? A book that you can believe in through thick and thin? A book that you’re willing to commit a lot of work to, and that others are willing to help with, too? Then self publishing may be for you.
3 REASONS *NOT* TO SELF PUBLISH
1. You want to make money.
Ha! Good one. Book making is not a money-making endeavor. It’s a dream-making one. Actually this point goes for either type of publishing, but it’s particularly true of self publishing.
If you’re in it for the money, save yourself the time, effort, headaches, and frustration. Get a nice cushy office job and cash that predictable bimonthly paycheck. There’s no shame in that. If you want money, there are many better ways to go about it than publishing.
2. You want to be famous.
Do people still want that? I’m 40, so I’ve long since been able to see through the rose-tinted illusion of that fantasy. But maybe that’s your thing. And maybe you think a book could do that for you. You’ve seen it happen to the Harry Potter author (who, remember, was rejected many times before she made it big), so hey, it could happen to anyone, right?
You could also win the lottery. Or be the first civilian to live on Mars. Either of which I would bet on before betting my book would make me famous.
If you want to be famous, start interviewing for the endless number of reality shows out there. Train for the next Olympics. Start a band. Any of those would probably get you there faster than publishing a book.
3. You think self publishing is easy and anyone can do it.
Have you not read any of this article?! Or maybe you’re the type who skips to the end of an article like some people skip to the last page of the book. (Savages!) If so, please go back and read this article from the beginning.
Self publishing is not for the lazy. It’s a fulltime job (and then some) usually fit around other fulltime responsibilities, like a paying job and being a parent. Only self publish if you’ve read this whole article and are still committed to making your dream come true.
Then… go for it! I believe in you! I’ve been there and back and am here to report it can be done. And if there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.