I had originally batted around the idea of searching for the right publisher for Sheridan Starswimmer. This is an idea I try to visit each time I am ready to send a book out into the world. There are pros and cons to both the independent publishing and the traditional publishing roads. There are strong advocates for both paths who will tell you that one far outweighs the other. My personal belief is that neither will be the perfect match for every project. You have to know yourself as a writer, know the project as its own entity, understand the general mood and timing of your book release options as they apply to your marketing plan and sales goals, and (most of all) know what is important to you as a "book parent". I thought I would share a little of my rather teetering, waffling, obsessing process with you. If you are a fellow writer, maybe you have something similar (or better, maybe this will save you some anguish!). If you are a reader, you can have a peek at one writer's reasons for their publishing decisions along with a glimpse behind the curtain of where your favorite books come from and how they get to your hands.
Know your piece as its own entity: I've had the manuscript for this book done for a while now. It is the story of a little girl who is having a hard time getting to sleep. That little girl happens to be based on and named for my beautiful niece. The story introduces the reader to my personal favorite way to sooth myself to sleep on nights when my own eyes are far too wide awake (and my brain is too busy). In other words, it is a rather personal book on many levels.
Know yourself as a writer/illustrator/person: I know that I, as a writer, am going to be far less open to content editing on this piece. I know that I, as an artist, wanted my own brush involved in the project. In the world of self-publishing these things are no problem at all. Traditional publishing works differently. Unknown authors' manuscripts are often paired with more established illustrators just as they often match up-and-coming illustrators to better known authors. The book stands a much better chance of selling this way. There was a good chance that I would not be the illustrator of this piece if a publisher chose to pick it up. Next, any good traditional publisher is going to offer solid editing advice and require changes where they believe they are needed. I am getting pretty good at taking constructive criticism in my writing and illustrating and applying it to make a better piece but because this project is more personal I feel that outside content editing is something I would like to avoid. (Side note: ALWAYS find a reputable proofreader for your grammar and punctuation. I have recently switched mine due to a rather embarrassing and repeated issue in the Queen Calla's Heroes book that I NEED to go remedy. No, I'm not going to point out what the mistake is but I will say that fixing it will be next on my list and remind you to be careful about double checking your work even after you think it's done. Ultimately any mistakes in your book belong squarely on your shoulders and are your responsibility.)
Understand the general mood and timing of your book release, your marketing plan, and your sales goals: Ah, marketing: my arch nemesis... *sigh*. I can only fake "extrovert" for so long and then my "introvert" wants major down time in the quiet away from people.
The goal in any published book, no matter how it comes to be published, is to generate enough sales to make a decent profit. Children's picture books are rather expensive to create if they are in color. For example: Fiddlebug has 52 pages and costs me roughly twice more to purchase than Clyde the Undead Dust Bunny which has 70 pages. For me as an unknown author (no matter how I publish), I have to convince my audience that my book is not only worthy of their money but is also necessary to their bookshelf. The laws of supply and demand are not in any author's favor in the current market. There are so many books to choose from that authors need to either establish their writing as essential or be very good at impulse sales.
The current statistics for "success" in any venture state that you need 1,000 True Fans (people who will actively purchase and promote your work/business without prompting). Publishing from any side is a gamble. The publisher is gambling on the book to draw people in and make them stick around eagerly awaiting the next book. For a traditional press, a new author is a big risk. For an independent author, a new book is a big risk. Both have to invest time and money into the venture. For a traditional press there are many works to choose from and they will pick the one(s) that fits best with their catalog while showing the most promise for profit. Independents like myself simply need to manage how much time and money we are willing to lose in the hopes of investing in ourselves and our writing careers.
Traditional publishers generally take from 1 to 2 years after accepting a piece to actual publication. Independents can bring the book to fruition much quicker (say, like if you want to make sure your niece has it in time for Christmas...).
While traditional presses may have a small marketing budget, most of the marketing expenses are going to come out of the author's pocket just as they do if an author decides to self-publish.
As we are already on the touchy topic of money we might as well discuss profits. My sales goal this time is the same one I have each time. I want to break even and make enough to buy myself a latte. Do you think I'm setting the bar too low? Well, you might want to consider the fact that I have 4 books out at the moment (see my perpetual planner - meant for those 18 and up here) and have still not escaped the costs of choosing the wrong publishing option for my first book. I don't have exact numbers at the moment, but it will be a while before I get that latte at my current rate of sales. When you, as a reader, purchase a book, you have a set amount in mind that you will pay for that book. When a book is published, there is a set amount that it will cost to print that book. The difference between these two numbers is the profit that book can generate. Out of this profit come a LOT of expenses. In the traditional publishing option, part of this money might go to an agent who represents the author to the publisher and helps them get the best deal possible both for the printed book, overseas editions, possible movie rights, etc.. Then the publisher gets their part. Then the author gets their part. Advertising and marketing costs come out of the publisher and the author profits. When marketing a book, there is an expectation for author visits and book signings. Costs often include travel, venue rental or table fees for festivals/events, food, and possibly lodging. If you are a lucky author some of those costs may be absorbed by groups that have invited you to their venue. More well known authors get better perks and may even get paid to make an appearance. From experience, we itty-bitty guys don't see that often. I tend to get excited when I'm offered a free bottle of water *laughing but not lying*.
By the way, I'm not fussing or whining. Just stating the realities.
So, if you are still with me at this point, thank you! I promise I'm almost done. BUT, please remember some of what I just said the next time you buy a book. At the end of the day after all the expenses are paid, authors typically only see an actual profit of a few cents per book. Most books take a couple of years to create. Very few writers ever get to quit their day job although I do know a few who support themselves with their words in one form or another. If you have a favorite author (big or small), give them good reviews and suggest their book to others. Word of mouth is the best (and most cost effective) advertising an author/artist can ask for.
Know what is important to you as a "book parent": In the end, I found (as I always have in the past) that with my children's writing it is more important to me to maintain creative control. Will I sell a ton? Gosh, I hope so! I really do. Not just for the money either. All authors want their words read. It's why we write them and put them into books instead of drawers. All artists want their work admired. Do I know I will have an uphill struggle with getting my name out and introducing this book to the world? Yes, that's okay with me. I know this road and have loved (and hated) walking it before. I will give this "book baby" a fighting chance but I will not expect it to be the inspirational poster child that drives other children's authors to their next book. Mostly, I just want my spectacular niece to love it and to read it to her own children one day many years from now and maybe for her children to do the same when they become parents. I would also like other parents and their children to curl up with this book and enjoy the story, the pictures, and their time together. That sounds like a worthy goal to me. That is what I will label as "successful".
It will still be a few weeks until Sheridan Starswimmer is "born". I feel like I'm in the "nesting" stage that expectant mothers go through nearing the end of a pregnancy. I'm trying to create an environment where I can focus completely on the project and its introduction to you. Just a little more patience... from me as well as you. Until then, I have a contest for a piece of original art that is about to go up on my Facebook page. Go see. Get excited! Share the idea and get others involved!
Being a homeschooling parent for 13 years and an independent author/illustrator makes a person learn quite a bit about a lot of things. Now it's time to pass it on!