Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Author Choices: Traditional, Self-Publishing, or Hybrid

As Chris Eboch, I’ve been publishing children’s books since 1999, when my first novel, The Well of Sacrifice was released. Two years ago, I started writing romantic suspense for adults under the name Kris Bock. For various reasons, I decide to self-publish those books. (I won’t explain why here, but I’ve blogged about it before.)

While self-publishing seemed like a good choice for Kris Bock, romantic suspense writer, things aren’t quite so simple for Chris Eboch, children’s book writer. Young adult novels – aimed at teenagers with crossover potential for adult readership – have had indie success (Amanda Hocking sound familiar?). However, I haven’t heard of any breakout books for authors writing for middle grade kids.

For one thing, print is still king for kids. Younger kids are less likely to have their own e-readers, though that is changing as parents get the latest version and give their hand-me-downs to the kids. Some schools are also transitioning toward giving upper elementary and middle school children laptops or e-readers for classroom use. As more children get access to e-readers and get into the habit of using them, electronic book sales will grow. (And as color readers get cheaper, even younger children who primarily read illustrated books will join the trend.)

Jeremy Greenfield of Digital Book World has written about e-books for children a lot; find some links to his post here: The Future of Children’s Books.

Another challenge for indie writers is reaching children. Children’s book publishing has long depended largely on school and library sales. Librarians and teachers often read review journals for guidance. Plus, schools are limited in how they can order books for the classroom. (Although some teachers use their own money for classroom books.)

Illustrated books face additional challenges. Hiring a talented illustrator is expensive. Print on demand costs skyrocket for books with color interior illustrations. Even with novels, children’s books are more likely to need illustrated covers rather than cheaper covers using stock photography.

That’s not to say children’s book writers aren’t interested in indie publishing. I’ve heard a lot of curiosity, and some authors are diving in. After all, it’s better to be ahead of the wave than behind it.
 Teachers Say Yes, Publishers Say No

I had a middle grade mystery set in ancient Egypt. The story had gotten great feedback from publishers, along with either “Historical fiction isn’t selling well” or “We already have an Egypt book.” And yet several teachers told me they wished I’d get the book published, so they could use in the classroom.

I sensed a market that publishers weren’t recognizing. And I had a manuscript I loved that wasn’t doing anything but sitting on my computer.

I traded a manuscript critique for professional proofreading and another critique for fully illustrated cover art and design from artist Lois Bradley. I know enough about design to do the interior layout for print on demand myself. Within two months of making the decision, I brought out The Eyes of Pharaoh in POD and e-book versions.

The Well of Sacrifice, an adventure set in ninth-century Mayan Guatemala, is used in many schools when they teach the Maya in fourth grade. I’ve done school visits or had other contact with some of those teachers, so I let them know about the new book. One e-mailed back that she’d ordered six copies for her lit circles. Most teachers still want print books for the classroom. That may be one reason why print on demand has sold substantially better than the e-book for The Eyes of Pharaoh (330 print copies versus 67 e-books in 2012).

If teachers find that The Eyes of Pharaoh works well in the classroom, they’ll tell others, so this book could gain popularity slowly, by word of mouth. Plus, many kids love ancient Egypt. If they go looking for books on the subject, they might find mine. There are a few other Egypt novels out there (though not as many as publishers imply), but the niche isn’t as crowded as, say, fantasy novels. It would probably be harder to gain attention for a self-published book that had more competition, from an unknown author.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back with a discussion of bringing books back in print, what the future holds, who should – and probably shouldn’t – self-publish, plus resources.

Haunted: The Ghost Miner’s Treasure ebook is discounted to 99 cents today through Friday at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

Jon and Tania are traveling with the ghost hunter TV show again, this time to the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, where the ghost of an old miner is still looking for his lost mine. The siblings want to help him move on—but to help him resolve the problem keeping him here, they’ll have to find the mine. And even then, the old ghost may be having too much fun to leave! It’s a good thing Tania can see and talk to him, because the kids will need his help to survive the rigors of a mule train through the desert, a flash flood, and a suspicious treasure hunter who wants the gold mine for himself.


  1. Chris, this is all very interesting. Do you have any sense of how teachers are finding The Eyes of Pharahoh? I would imagine you are getting some sales just by people searching for kids' fiction on ancient Egypt. I would have read anything set then when I was younger. It's fascinating for so many.

    1. Wouldn't it be great if we could track how word-of-mouth and other social networking led to sales? I only have two specifics – one teacher I e-mailed wrote back that she had just ordered six copies for her lit circle. I had done a school visit with her when I was living in Washington state. And another teacher told me that she was trying to get The Eyes of Pharaoh into the school curriculum, to replace The Egypt Game (not because that isn't a great book, but because most of the kids had read it the previous year). It had "passed" her review and one by a student, and had to go through another student and an administrator. I didn't hear the final outcome on that one, and I'm not sure how I originally connected with that teacher. I know she followed my blog and did a guest post there once.
      My guess is that those teachers, or others I contacted, may have mentioned it to their coworkers. And some certainly may have found it simply by browsing. That is the advantage of having a niche book. I just did a quick Amazon search, and I didn't find my book quickly looking for "children's fiction ancient civilizations Egypt," but a lot of the ones that came up on the first couple of pages were actually nonfiction or modern stories.

  2. Chris, wow. These books look extremely professional for self published works. What an awesome post! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks, Matthew. I hope they are professional looking for any kind of book, self published or otherwise! Many people think that self-publishing is easier than traditional publishing. It's not, if you do it right. Some of the challenges are different, but the end result should be a well written, well designed, attractive book.

  4. With the new Nook I got for my 50th last week, you made me an offer I couldn't refuse--zip, just gone and bought Haunted: The Ghost Miner's Treasure e-book. Can't wait to read my first Chris Eboch novel!

  5. Yay! I hope you enjoy it. Ghost Miner is the 4th in the series, but should be fine read on its own. I don't have control over the pricing of the first three, which is why Ghost Miner got the discount.

  6. I hear what Chris is saying. I prefer print but will read on a kindle when I have to. Living in a place where we have a rough time getting books, sometimes we have no choice. i do know that, in classrooms abroad, international schools are starting to use e-readers and get books to kids via computers. Most schools don't have the dosh to offer electronic readers for every kid. I bet "The Eyes of the Pharaoh" would do well here!

  7. Chris,

    Thanks for the insight. As a classroom teacher I would agree that we are always willing to read a fresh voice but the hoops we must jump through to obtain a class set with admin or school money can be mind numbing.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!