Yesterday I discussed self-publishing as it applies to children’s books, sharing my experiences as both a traditionally- and self-published author, and mentioning some of the challenges and benefits to self-publishing for middle grade readers. Let’s continue the analysis.
Back in Print
Self-publishing can be especially appealing to authors with out-of-print books. Even if sales are low, you have the satisfaction of knowing the books are still available, and you can bring copies to sell at school visits. In addition, if you have 10 backlist books each earning $500 a year, that adds up. You may have to have the book scanned or re-typed, though, if you don’t have the final digital version. New art and book design also add costs, unless you can get permission to use the originals.
I also know several authors who are interested in continuing series dropped by their publishers. Fantasy novelist Joni Sensel published the third book in her Farwalker’s Quest trilogy, The Skeleton’s Knife. She cared less about sales numbers than about making the book available to her fans and finishing the story she started to tell. Still, she recently reported that sales had significantly exceeded her (low) expectations. She is still pursuing traditional publication, but also considering self-publishing new works that may not be high concept enough to interest a publisher.
I recently published the fourth book in my Haunted series, about a brother and sister traveling with a ghost hunter TV show. I had written The Ghost Miner’s Treasure before there was a changeover at the publisher and they dropped the series. In the week before I released it, I had e-mails from a librarian, a teacher, and a kid, all asking where book 4 was. Having the first three books traditionally published is like free advertising for the fourth.
As a side note, my best indie moneymaker so far is Advanced Plotting. Since I have some reputation among children’s book writers as a workshop leader and critiquer, I drew on those contacts for sales and publicity. Although the book hasn’t sold as many copies as The Eyes of Pharaoh (209 e-books and 102 POD in 2012), it’s priced higher and thus has a higher profit margin. People are used to paying more for a writing guide than for a paperback novel, so at $10 print, $5 e-book, this seems like a bargain.
Good questions to ask yourself if you are considering self-publishing are: Who is my audience and how will I reach them? What’s the competition and will readers want my book instead of/in addition to others available? How will I price this book, given production costs and perceived market value?
What the Future Holds…
I don’t think the choice between traditional and indie publishing is clear right now. A good contract with a publisher definitely has its advantages, if they can get your book into schools and libraries. However, I expect the balance to shift in the next few years, as self-publishing becomes more accepted; review journals and blogs help people find the best books; and e-readers become more common for all ages (the latter is important because e-books can be priced much lower than print, encouraging readers to take a chance on an unknown author, and hopefully increasing book sales overall).
So what to do? People who successfully self-publish may wind up earning more money per book in the long run, because of higher royalties. They may also be able to release more books more quickly, avoiding publishers’ two- to five-year lead times, and publish books that publishers may not believe are marketable. (You can find plenty of examples of publishers being wrong about this.)
On the other hand, self-publishing requires an enormous amount of time, and the learning curve can be steep, especially for those who are not technically adept. (You can download my Indie Publishing Worksheet from my website, for an overview of what is involved.) Many authors do not want to handle the production and marketing side of publishing; they want to be writers rather than businesspeople (although every author who hopes for publication should really be both).
Self-publishing can be expensive, especially if you do it right, which typically means hiring a professional editor, proofreader, cover artist and book designer. Publishing books that are not yet ready for prime time can damage your reputation and waste your money.
Plus, self published authors have the most success when they have multiple books out – like more than five – because each book advertises the others. If you only have one or two polished manuscripts, it may be better to submit them traditionally while you produce new work. You could hold onto your manuscript and plan to release them in the future, but keeping your rights has to be balanced against starting to build a fan base now (and maybe getting some advance money so you can afford the time to write more books).
These are tough questions, and no one path is right for everyone. The typical author of the future may be a hybrid – releasing some books traditionally and others independently. Though indie publishing may not be the best answer for everyone (especially with children’s books), it’s opening new avenues. That’s good for authors, so long as we study the possibilities and make smart decisions.
Who Should Self Publish:
• Traditionally published authors who want to make out-of-print titles available again.
• Published authors who wish to release books in a series that a publisher has dropped.
• Professional writers who have a book that doesn’t suit the current market, but may still find a modest audience.
• People who have a marketing platform for distributing their books, e.g. they do a lot of speaking on a professional topic and can sell books at their talks (best for nonfiction).
• Amateur writers who want to make a title available in print form for their family, such as memoirs or family genealogy, or a child’s favorite story.
• First-time authors who have studied writing for several years and gotten professional feedback on their manuscript, who also:
• want complete control of the publishing process
• prefer the work of self-publishing to the work of researching and querying publishers
• enjoy marketing and have experience with it
• and/or feel they don’t have time to wait on the traditional publishing industry
- You retain all rights to your work. You can earn more per copy sold.
- You get to make decisions about cover art, pricing, content—basically everything.
- If the book does extremely well, you may interest a traditional publisher.
- You get to see your book in print in a few months, instead of several years if ever.
- You get no advance. You may sell few copies and make hardly any money—ever.
- You have to make all the decisions about cover art, pricing, content—basically everything.
- A poorly written/edited/designed book can hurt your reputation as an author.
- To produce a professional-quality book, you will have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars and dozens or hundreds of hours of time. You have no marketing support from a publisher.
- Your book will not be available in bookstores. Self published books don’t count toward membership in most professional organizations. Many conferences won’t let you sell them in the bookstore.
Helpful blogs on self-publishing:
Susan Kaye Quinn has posts on the indie publishing business, with a focus on writing for young people
The Writers Guide to E-Publishing has many resources and tips
David Gaughran has an article on Self-Publishing Basics, with links to other articles and information
Top Ten Self-Publishing Blogs of 2012, from The Future of Ink.
ebookery:101, downloadable from Booknook.biz, is user-friendly with lots of images, showing what ebooks look like, how they function, etc.
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.