Becoming a Children’s Author, Part 4: Nuts and Bolts

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the “roots and inspiration” for becoming a writer.  In Part 2, I described how I developed the storyline and characters of “How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname).”  Part 3 jumps ahead to how my book came to be translated into German.  Now, I’d like to take a step back and tell you what I’ve learned about getting a story published.

It isn’t easy.

I first put the story down on paper over 5 years ago.  I mulled it over, edited, edited again, and finally got it close to its final shape.  That was the easy part.

Traditional or Self-Publishing      I began researching how to get a story published, and read countless accounts of authors who submitted stories to dozens of publishers, waited months to years, only to receive the dreaded rejection letter. I was too impatient to take this slow road.  I researched the pros and cons of getting a literary agent, but since I felt I only had one book in me, I doubted anyone would be interested in taking on my project.  I then did what I thought was a lot of research into self-publishing.  In hindsight, I realize that I still had a lot to learn, but the information I was accumulating seemed to be pointing me in the right direction.

Self-publishing used to be known as “vanity publishing,” and was most often used by people who wanted to share their memoirs, family history, or dabblings in short stories or novels with family and friends, but never intended for large scale distribution.  With the increased availability of desktop publishing software came an increase in options for writers who, for various reasons, aren’t publishing with a major publishing house.  As with nearly everything in life, there are costs and benefits to be weighed as one considers available options.

Without going into a detailed lecture on the options, let me just explain the key issues in my decision to go the self-publishing route:

1.  I bought consultation time with two writing consultants.  Both said that my book, which centered on a child with disabilities, would be considered a “niche” market book that would not appeal to the masses.  Don’t even get me started on my moral indignation over this assumption, but since they both agreed on this, there seemed to be no point in submitting to a major publisher.

2.  I have a very popular website that was closing in on 5 million hits (today, almost 6 million).  If my story would only appeal to a “niche” group, then my website would be the way to reach that niche. Therefore, I didn’t need a big publisher to do the marketing for me. (I have come to find out that even authors who publish with traditional publishers still need to do a lot of marketing work themselves).

3.  Because the story is about a girl with significant disabilities and her use of assistive technology, it was very important to me that I work very closely with an illustrator who could get the nuances and details right.  Traditional publishers assign an artist to you;  while the author has some input, it wouldn’t be the same as the wonderful experience I had working with a friend and neighbor who is a professional artist and who shared my passion for the project and discussed with me every single detail of every illustration of Katie (Should her hands ever be placed anywhere but in her lap? What facial expressions could she use and to what degree?  Why is she always wearing a bandanna around her neck?)  and her AT equipment.  (I will say that the hand painted and inked illustrations are absolutely charming, but they do represent a very big cash investment on my part, which I may never recoup.  I only add this fact to inform would-be authors about one possible reality of using an illustrator who is not hired by the publisher).

4.  A couple of independent publishers I contacted said I could work with my own artist.  They would do the layout (which was fine with me), but I would be required to buy a large number of books on speculation (not fine with me at all!).

A Decision is Made       I finally settled on Trafford Publishing.  They allowed me to use my own illustrator.  For a fee, they did the cover and layout, which I did not feel I was equipped — with software or experience — to do.  They arranged for the book to get the ISBN # and copyright, and for the book to be listed with Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  I could buy as many or as few books as I wanted, could sell them through my website, and retained all the rights to the book — all very important to me.

It’s a Book!!       It took four years from the time I first thought of the story until a printed copy of the book was finally in my hands .  What a thrill!  I was so excited, and figured everyone else would be, too!   I put out a notice about my new book on my Facebook page, on this blog, and in my SOS.com e-newsletter.  And the result of these exciting announcements which reached thousands of SLPs around the world?  A resounding thud.  Oh, I sold some books, but monthly sales could be counted in the tens.  By the time I paid for the book from Trafford,  then paid the postage to ship it, my royalty was about $2.00 per book.  Good grief!  At this rate, I was sure I’ve never make back my investment, let alone a profit!  Fortunately, a profit was never my goal.  This book was truly a labor of love. My main goal was to get the story out there, with the hope that it would lead to increase acceptance and support of children who have significant disabilities. What could I do to make this happen???

Marketing      Thousands of books are published every year.  How to get one book noticed is the Holy Grail of every author.  At this point, my research shifted from publishing to marketing.  I discovered there are lots of “experts” in the field who lure you in with some usable information that is basically a tease to hook you into signing up for webinars and purchasing pricey software or books.  I also discovered some great support that one accesses by joining a group. Two of my favorites are Children’s Book Insider (loads of information on this site!!) and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (great monthly magazine with all kinds of useful articles).

The best source of information I found came from Katie Davis (katiedavis.com), a “writerprenture” who supports children’s book writers through her book, “How to Promote Your Children’s Book,” her Video Idiots Boot Camp course in making book trailers and other author videos,  and her numerous podcasts on YouTube.  I learned a lot from Katie, but mostly I learned that I still had a ton of work to do!  So I did it.  I set up an author web site.  I created a book-related Facebook page.  I made book-related videos forYouTube.  I had my first Guest Author appearance.  I did a book reading at a local bookstore.  I blogged about the book.  I sought reviews from professional book reviewers.  And it helped…..a bit.  Now the book is translated into German, and I’ve been asked about translations in other languages.  Will “How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)” join the ranks of “The Cat and the Hat” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar?”  Not hardly!  But will it help some kids and adults around the world learn about assistive technology, inclusion, and disability etiquette?  I certainly hope so!

Two More Books, Some Changes in Direction       Not long after my Katie book came out, I wrote a second book, “There Was a Speech Teacher Who Swallowed Some Dice.”  Again, I contacted artist friend, Ian Acker, to do the illustrations for this book.  Unlike the four years it took to complete the illustrations for Katie (a much longer book), Ian was able to get these illustrations done in just under a year.  I am in the process of doing the layout and publishing of this book, which will come out in July 2014, just in time for the ASHA Schools Conference and the beginning of the new school year.  So there’s no change in artist on this book, but there will be a change in publisher.

Since starting this series of blog posts, I wrote and published “The Mouth With a Mind of Its Own.” My situation was a little different this time.  Having sunk a fortune into the artwork of the Katie book and having committed another good chunk of money the illustrations for “There Was a Speech Teacher Who Swallowed Some Dice,” I set a much more restricted budget for third book.  I also wanted this book to come out more quickly — my goal was May is Better Hearing and Speech Month.

Because my illustrator was still busy with the “Dice” book, I posted the job on Fiverr.com and Elance.com, two sites where one can hire all kinds of talent:  illustrators, animators, musicians, voice-overs, etc.  Within a few days, more than 40 artists from all over the world bid on the job by giving me a price and showing me their portfolios.  I was amazed!  It was quite an experience, looking at all of the various styles of handdrawn and computer-generated art.  One portfolio jumped right out as being exceptionally colorful and playful, perfect for Matthew’s story, so that’s the artist I selected.  Although we didn’t have any face-to-face contact, we developed a good working relationship by email, and I’m very pleased with the result.

I could have used Trafford Publishing again but I had learned good things about CreateSpace, the publishing division of Amazon, so I decided to give it a try. By eliminating a middleman, the book price could be lower, which was very important to me.  As I said, I’m not out to get rich.  I just want the books to get into the hands of SLPs, teachers, and kids.  A lower price could help with this.  Another plus with CreateSpace is that they have international outlets, perfect for the German translation of Katie.  There’s a learning curve to using CreateSpace, but they have good customer support.  “The Mouth With a Mind of Its Own” and the German version of Katie were both published on CreateSpace, and I’ll be using that for “There Was a Speech Teacher Who Swallowed Some Dice,” too.  As with Trafford, I’ll still retain all rights to my books on CreateSpace, so if Disney contacts me to do a full length feature film of one or all of my books, I can agree.  (Disney, are you listening???)

Final Thoughts       Writing, publishing, marketing — I have learned so much while on this journey.  Lots of work?  Oh, yes!  Expensive?  Yes, to that, too.  Rewarding?  Absolutely!  Would I recommend this journey to others?  As long as you go into this with eyes wide open, have a LOT of time to devote to every aspect of the process, and use the information I’ve shared here as a guide to get you started, I’d say “go for it!”  Just don’t quit your day job. 🙂

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