One of the most daunting aspects of my quest to make Soren’s children’s book a reality, was navigating the vast sea that is publishing. The options seemed endless, the terminology foreign to me and the differences between the various options was unclear at best, overwhelming at worst.
Once upon a time, authors wrote books, publishers published them, marketed them, distributed them and paid authors a royalty (portion of the profits from sales) for books sold. But in today’s world, that traditional publishing arrangement is only one way to publish a book.
“Vanity Publishing,” as it is called, is at the other end of the spectrum. Basically this is publishing for a fee. You pay, and they will produce your book. They don’t have to like it or think it worthy of publishing or that it will sell. Since you are making the investment, and you assume all the risk, how the book does once it is published is your concern.
Then there are a million options in between. Assisted self-publishing options abound. Some lean more toward vanity publishing, others do review the book, provide input on the quality and likelihood to succeed, and only accept books they feel have a shot at success. You do pay them for services, which can include design of the interior, cover design, editing, illustrations, marketing, etc. Some include distribution, warehousing, a webpage from which you can sell books directly. Often these services are a la carte, though many offer bundles. For example, if you are publishing a children’s book, they may offer a package that includes features and services typically associated with that genre (illustrations, hardcover binding on heavier paper stock, etc.). Some providers allow you to retain full ownership of the book and any royalties, and others take a portion of the royalties.
There are self-publishing options like Amazon’s CreateSpace, that will allow you to upload your file in one of their templates, and publish it for free, or at a very low cost. You get an author’s page on Amazon, can select from various distribution models, and can purchase a la carte services from them as well for editing, cover design, etc. as needed.
I am certainly not an expert on publishing options, nor do I play one on TV. If you are interested in publishing a book (children’s or otherwise), there is a great deal of information out there from experienced sources. What I will do is just share a few of my own observations I made as I sorted through the options for my own book, in case they are helpful.
First observation … Buyer Beware! There are some very reputable providers out there. But there are also many who are ready, willing and able to milk all they can from passionate-but-naïve would-be authors. You can easily end up spending a fortune to produce a book that, unless you are savvy about marketing and have a top quality product, may never come close to recovering your initial investment.
If you want to take a stab at publishing a book yourself without a huge upfront investment, options like CreateSpace (and there are others like Barnes & Noble’s similar offer) aren’t a bad choice. CreateSpace is perhaps not ideal for children’s books because they only offer softcover at this time and the paper quality is not as substantial as some children’s books. But it is quick, doesn’t require much upfront investment, and since it is print on demand (the book is printed only when someone orders it), you don’t have to invest in or store a supply of books to fulfill orders. I thought it was a great option to "get your feet wet" without going into hock to give being an author a shot.
CreateSpace is also a great option if you want to create a book for a limited audience. For example, a friend told me of a book she wrote for her grandkids about their own family. I adore this idea, and CreateSpace is an easy and affordable way to make that happen. What a wonderful gift to give your grandchildren!
If you can’t invest money upfront, don’t want to own the responsibility for marketing and distribution and you have the patience to go through what can be a slow process, traditional publishing can be the best route. What I discovered is that many larger publishers will not accept submissions directly from authors. You need an agent, and getting an agent seems to me to be almost as tricky as getting a publisher. If you like to network, joining writing groups and associations can help create contacts.
There are some traditional publishers that do accept direct submissions from authors. Most have very specific guidelines for those submissions that you must follow exactly if you want to be considered. And the majority indicate that it can take up to six months to respond. Materials are usually not returned to you (for snail mail submissions), and many state that if they are not interested, they will not respond at all. So it can be a waiting game, particularly if you want to submit to publishers who require that your submission to them is exclusive (as in you submit the manuscript only to them and not to any other publisher). If your book falls into a specific niche, finding a publisher that specializes in that niche can certainly increase your chance for success. They not only may be more likely to be interested in your manuscript, but they also have expertise in that market that can help sell books for you in the end.
Assisted self-publishing choices can be great if you can find the right package of services for you, but be prepared to weed through lots of options, and it can be tough to determine what services are essential, vs. nice to have, vs. a waste of money. Do you want to have your book available in bookstores, online bookstores, on an author website? Do you want hardcover or paperback or both? Do you want an ebook version? For children's books I learned that hardcover with heavier stock paper is preferred for little (sometimes grimy and not so gentle) hands to hold, and that ebook format is not the best for that genre.
You will also need to carefully weigh the money you will need to invest against what the potential sales might be. Once you subtract the cost to produce the book and the portion of the profits that goes to the sales/distribution channel, you need to sell a lot of books to recover a substantial investment. That means you have to put in a lot of effort marketing, or pay still more money for someone else to do it for you.
Another route you can go is to find your own providers for individual services, and then use a company that offers printing and distribution services to publish the book yourself under your own imprint. You find an editor you like, an illustrator and/or cover designer you like, etc., produce the ready-to-print product, and then hire a printing service to produce the book. Many also offer distribution services including warehousing inventory, fulfillment services, etc.
One thing you might consider if you are serious about publishing a book for the first time, is investing in professional advice. It can save you a great deal of money in the long run. Krista Hill, of L Talbott Publishing Consulting and Editorial Services, has been a great resource for me. Krista provided frank and constructive input on my manuscript, several levels of editing, from developing the story to detailed copy editing, and also provided insights and guidance on my publishing options. She not only was instrumental in making my manuscript the best it could be, but helped give me the confidence to move forward and make the choices I needed to make to do so.
For me, this was the most challenging part of the process, because my lack of experience made it tough to evaluate the options open to me. In the end, I was very fortunate to find a wonderful publisher with an interest in my subject matter and an appreciation for my story. It was a great fit and lifted much of the burden of navigating this aspect alone.
If you are passionate about your manuscript and motivated to get it out there, my best advice is this: Yes, this part is difficult, and it can be tempting to throw up your hands and say I give up. Just take it one step at a time, with your realistic goals for your book in mind. Get professional help where you need it, to understand your options and make your manuscript the best it can be. Having a strong, professionally-edited, cohesive manuscript will serve you well and open doors for you, regardless of which path you take. Ask questions, do research, be persistent, and you will find the path that is right for you and your book.