08 Feb How to Self-Publish? Get a Plan!
A talented children’s book author in his early thirties attended one of our self-publishing planning retreats at the end of January, and I am so pleased that he did. Not only was it a very enjoyable couple of days talking about books and publishing, but I also felt pleased to have helped this author get on the right track with his self-publishing. That’s what these self-publishing planning retreats are designed to do, and it’s satisfying to see it happen!
This author had been working hard in isolation to create a series of stories about a flying fox. As a wildlife carer in his day job, he knows his stuff and has a lovely way of telling a story from the animals’ point of view. A good story is a great starting point. But it’s just that – a starting point – when it comes to self-publishing.
I like to help authors make sound decisions, both creatively and commercially, so when I first sat down with this author we talked over coffee about the type of book he had in mind. A picture book was what he had in mind. But this immediately triggered alarm bells for me. Why? A few reasons:
The stories were too long and would require extensive re-writing. Text for a picture book should ideally be anything from 100-500 words and no more than that.
A picture book requires significant investment in an illustrator, and the ability to take on that person as a co-creator (unless you are blessed with the skills to do that job yourself).
Printing. Yes, printing. It’s 4-colour. It’s expensive. To get any kind of decent unit price, it’s generally done in China, which means you need to factor in shipping and customs and GST and things like that.
Overall, a picture book will cost more than a black and white book for content creation and printing. Cost won’t always be the key issue, but for this author it was important.
To help work through this, we visited the three local bookshops in our little town (Poet, https://www.facebook.com/poetstore/, Music & Books https://www.facebook.com/Bangalow-Music-Books-311595582384539/ and the local newsagents, Bookworms and Papermites). We are a small town blessed with booklovers. Looking at comparison books, holding them in your hands and getting a feel for size, weight and retail price is a great way to start cementing the vision for your book. It also helps to know your competition!
When we got back to the office, we whipped up a couple of quick costings – one for a picture book and the other for a chapter book. Doing this simple modeling provided the final piece of information that the author needed to decide on the best format for his book.
It’s not impossible to self-publish a picture book. Actually, we’ve just done one ourselves, but it’s got to be one of the hardest types of book to publish independently. Managing costs is possible, but a certain amount of investment is necessary to create a book that is on par with the many other children’s picture books out there. It’s a crowded market and you need to have a tip top product. The real challenge with self-publishing a picture book, however, is marketing – knowing who your audience is and how to reach them with your message and your book is critical.
Happily for this author, a black and white chapter book approach was the perfect solution for the type of stories he’d written and the audience they were aimed at. Happily too, this approach means he can easily publish an ebook and a print-on-demand book, so he won’t need to make any upfront investment in the physical book (beyond the editorial and design components required to create the book files, that is).
By the way, if you’re reading this and wondering what the difference is between a picture book and a chapter book, this post provides a good overview and some thoughtful observations.
This author’s day job as a wildlife carer provided plenty of inspiration for how to promote, market and distribute the book and by the end of the retreat we had pulled together a great list of target organisations to approach. Print-on-demand book in hand, the author can start to target these organisations and build up interest, support and distribution channels for his book. In the meantime, he can start working on his website and social media.
Sounds like a good plan to me.