“It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be”, is what my best-selling author friend told me about being traditionally published. All of her many books have been published by big traditional publishing houses. Yet, she was the first person to encourage me to self-publish my first children’s book.
So I did.
Well, I learned that that “ain’t all it’s cracked up to be” either.
It is my firm belief that being a SELF-published author means you are responsible for all other self-published author’s. If you produce a piece of crap, you tarnish the reputation of every independent author out there. You must produce something good. Actually, you must produce something great, and it needs to be flawless too.
How do you know if it’s good enough? Well, you don’t ask your family to read it because unless you have a really mean family, they’re probably not going to tell you it sucks, even if it does. You need to ask a stranger to read it. Many strangers actually! And if they LOVE it, then you still need to hire an editor to be sure it’s also flawless.
Yep, us indie author’s have to work extra hard to be taken seriously, but it’s like that for any independent artist. And let’s face it, everyone starts out as an “independent”. Until you get noticed, until you have a powerful person or entity behind you, you’re an independent artist hoping to succeed. Adele did ok. JK Rowlings did ok. Mark Zuckerberg did ok in the end.
SELF-publishing means you do everything yourself, and that is no small task. I learned more about publishing a book than I ever wanted to know. I had to! I was the only one who really cared about my book. I used Createspace originally, so I didn’t actually do everything myself, but by the end of the process I felt like I had! Honestly, I think they would have flipped the images upside down if that’s what I’d wanted, and I had to practically beg them to fancy up the text. But in the end, I did receive a beautiful paperback.
A little known fact is that getting your first book out there requires more than just “the book”. If you are really serious about succeeding you need to create an on-line presence for yourself, and then a buzz for your book. That might mean building a website, maintaining a blog, building a fan-base (mostly through social media and guest blogging on high traffic websites). It definitely helps to have someone help market your book and build credibility for you, but even with that, you’ll always need to be willing to put yourself out there and sell yourself. Basically, you need to take yourself seriously. Be a professional, or at least pretend to be one (like I do). Even traditional publishers expect a newbie author to have a platform.
None of this is easy and I made more mistakes building my platform than you can imagine. Because I didn’t know what I was doing, I spent a TON of money on bad web designers, bad PR people and bad social media promotions. And then, one day, I found all the right people and started to “get it”.
My first book actually sold, thankfully, and still is over 2 years later. This was due in part to my highly searchable title WHAT DOES THE TOOTH FAIRY DO WITH OUR TEETH? (you can research the most searchable keywords on google), the wonderful PR person I finally found (Natalie Obando of Do Good PR), and my awesome social media friends (you know who you are). But it was in paperback, and stores like Barnes and Noble won’t even stock a picture book without a spine! So, it sold mostly on Amazon, although I was lucky enough to get noticed by the on-line Barnes and Noble store too, as well as Books-a-million, which I guess is really rare. But most of my sales, and the biggest profits I made came from the local elementary schools. Not only was it lucrative to visit the schools, it was super fun reading and interacting with a classroom full of kids!
Within the year I was ready to publish my second book, SOAP ON A ROPE. But to be honest, the idea of it was daunting. So much so, I contemplated trying to get it traditionally published. I already had some interest in this book from two publishers, but I was concerned; even though I wouldn’t have to create the book myself, or pay for any of those services, I knew I’d lose all rights to it, and if I were lucky I’d make $1.00 per book sold, including the ones from my sales at schools. Of course, the benefit would be that I would sell more books.
What to do? What to do?
I asked Natalie and she introduced me to a hybrid publishing company called Mascot Books. I know, I know, what’s a hybrid publishing company, right? Well, it means they’re part traditional publishing, part self publishing (not equal parts). What does that mean exactly? It means they do all the work to create your book (in hardcover), even editing it, yet you maintain all the rights to it. It means they pay for everything except illustrations if you need them, but you pay for printing the books. It means they take a percentage of each book they sell, but….drum roll please….they put your book in front of buyer’s you, as a self-published author, don’t have access to. So, you’re still an indie author, but you don’t have to do everything yourself. You get help, and the opportunity for doors to open. Keep in mind, doors opening are not guaranteed, and if your books don’t sell you are stuck with them, unlike print-on-demand.
I liked the idea of this so I first had them create a second edition of WHAT DOES THE TOOTH FAIRY DO WITH OUR TEETH?. I did this for the distribution, because I knew this book could be a big hit if it got in front of the right audience. Plus, I wanted to compare their book to my book. I have to say, I thought my book looked good before, but it’s beautiful now (there’s nothing like a hardcover), and Barnes and Noble, Ingram and Baker & Taylor and Amazon have bought copies, and still are over a year later.
Before you get too excited though SOAP ON A ROPE has been out for a year now and, even though it’s super good (if I say so myself) it is not getting that same kind of attention. I am guessing it’s because it isn’t such a highly searchable title. No one knows what makes a best seller a best seller and publishing a book is the same as any business; there are going to be risks involved.
I’m not going to tell you how to go about getting your book out there. This is your dream after all, but I will tell you this; do your research, read all the fine print, and be prepared to be your own best marketer (and sometimes your only marketer).
The most important lesson I learned to this day was that every experience I had was useful to me, even the upsetting ones. And, even though it’s very “in” right now to be an indie author, I’m not opposed to getting one of my future books traditionally published one day either.
I wish you the best of luck in creating your own experiences! If you have one you’d like to share, please do! If you have any questions feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or here on my website. After all, we are all in this thing called LIFE together.
PS… You’re never too little to dream big, nor too big to dream!
Denise Barry is the author of the children’s picture book What Does the Tooth Fairy Do with Our Teeth? , Soap On A Rope and the up ‘n coming Sweeney Mack and the Slurp and Burp Competition. She is also the author of Raisin’ Kids, a parenting blog about raising kids to become adults, not adult children.