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As one of the top kidlit writing websites, one that appears first in numerous Google searches, with thousands of followers, thousands of daily hits…

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…I’m here to tell you that this platform doesn’t necessarily yield book sales. It yields emails from writers asking how to self-publish.

(Speaking of my books, I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK was just released and LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD comes out next month. Did you get yours yet?)

Listen, I’m not bashing those who want to be their own children’s publisher. Everyone dreams of being an author, don’t they? There are some projects that are close to people’s hearts. Stories they want to share, to inspire others. And everyone has to start somewhere. A lot of people seem to start with me.

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But why me? I have no experience in self-publishing. Zero. I don’t know the first thing about it and I’d be lost if I tried to do it myself!

Here are my top 5 reasons for choosing NOT to self-publish picture books:

  1. You prefer the professional backing of a traditional publisher, from production to distribution to promotion.
  2. You aren’t an illustrator. You want a publisher who can attract top-notch illustrative talent.
  3. You realize how difficult it is to sell a book to the public, to bookstores, to libraries, to schools…and could not do it alone.
  4. You welcome input from the creative team and find it invaluable for making your book the best it can possibly be.
  5. You prefer advances over expenses.

These are my personal reasons. Your mileage may vary, but I’m guessing that many traditionally-published authors feel similarly.

Here are my top 5 reasons to choose self-publishing:

  1. The story you want to tell—you MUST tell—isn’t commercial enough to secure a traditional publisher, or it is in an experimental or non-standard format.
  2. You prefer artistic autonomy.
  3. You have capital available to invest in quality contractors to help you with the entire process, from production to distribution to promotion.
  4. You have an established platform/audience via which to promote and sell the book.
  5. You enjoy taking risks. You thrive on it!

If you really want the low-down on self-publishing children’s books, Kidlit411 has put together a marvelous resource list. Also read Chuck Wendig (stop calling it “self-publishing” and get your boomcake on). Check out Will Terry and Dar Hosta, two successful independent author-illustrators.

Me, I’m probably the worst source of information on self-publishing. Unless you’re reading this post. Then I’m okay.

And maybe I’m a better source when it comes to giving advice to on-a-whim-don’t-wanna-do-this-for-a-living writers. Here’s a conversation I tend to have once a week:

“You know, I wrote a little story like Goodnight Moon last year. Now I need to find an agent, right?”

“Oh, that’s great, but I’m going to be completely and brutally honest with you here: it’s not something you’ll want to do unless your heart is set on it as a career.”

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“Oh, really?”

“Yes, really. It takes years to land an agent. And then, sometimes, years to find a publisher, if you even find one at all.”

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“Oh, really?”

“Yes, really.”

“Well, I just wanted to have a hard copy for the kids. Maybe I should try Snapfish?”

“Yes, absolutely. Snapfish is wonderful.”

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P.S. I also recommend Storybird, Bueller.

by Jed Alexander

My books were too quiet.

Or that’s what I kept being told. Never mind that Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s lullaby in prose GOODNIGHT MOON, a book about a bunny who stays in bed throughout the entire book, is and continues to be one of the most consistently best-selling books in history…according to publishers, quiet didn’t sell. My agent submitted my books to publisher after publisher and we heard the same words over and over. It’s too quiet. There needs to be more action. I always got great compliments on my art, but as much as they seemed to like the way I drew, nobody was hiring me to illustrate their books.

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So I decided to make a book on my own terms. I would make a book that was everything that publishers said they didn’t want from me. Too quiet? My book was going to have hardly any words at all. Instead of one long narrative, it would be a series of short pieces and vignettes, most of which had no perceivable plot. Even the format was unconventional: rather than typical children’s book dimensions it was a square. Instead of the usual 32 pages, it was 52. It was everything publishers didn’t want but it was the book I wanted to make. And the only way it would see print was if I self-published it.

kickstarterTo raise the money, I decided to use crowdfunding. I spent nearly a year researching everything I could about successful crowdfunding campaigns. I discovered that Kickstarter would be my best option. Though I had no experience in business or marketing, I came up with a marketing plan and budget. Though I had never made a video before, I shot my video on my iPhone and learned how to use the editing software on my Mac.

My goal was $7,000 dollars. Some of my friends told me this was too ambitious. That I was asking for too much. That I should set my sights lower. But this was how much I determined I would need to make the book that I wanted to make, and if I couldn’t make the book I wanted to make, I didn’t see any point in doing it at all. And if I failed, the only thing I stood to lose was the time I invested.

Once the campaign began, I got to work. I used every spare moment I had to promote my book. I spread the word on social media. I arranged an interview on a local radio station. I e-mailed everyone I knew.

My campaign succeeded beyond my expectations. Authors and illustrators I admired posted links to my project on their Facebook pages. My project became a staff pick on Kickstarter and one of their “projects of the day,” which meant that my video was featured on their home page. They even used my project as an example on their phone app. I raised over $10,000, well in excess of my $7,000 goal, and was able to use the extra money to enhance my book with extras like spot lamination and color endpapers.

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While a few of my supporters were friends and family, most of them were people I didn’t know who had come to believe in my project. One of them was a small press publisher who offered to sub-distribute the book once I met my goal. The publisher would put their name on it, and with the legitimacy that a veteran publisher afforded, I could get the book into libraries and bookstores and I could get it reviewed.

I made some mistakes along the way but I’ve had the opportunity to learn from them. The book has opened many doors for me. It’s gotten a number of positive reviews. I’ve held signings and done lectures and taught classes. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people I wouldn’t have otherwise met.

But most important of all, my book is being read. And if you self-publish using crowdfunding you may not be the next J.K. Rowling, but I guarantee you will have readers. Because crowdfunding not only provides you the funds you need to publish, but it builds enthusiasm for your book and an audience that you wouldn’t have otherwise had. That book that everyone rejected, that no one was willing to publish will finally have readers.

And above all else, isn’t that the reason we do this? Because we love books so much we want to make them and share them and have others enjoy them? Because otherwise you’re in the wrong business.

 

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Jed Alexander is the author/illustrator of (MOSTLY) WORDLESS, which he originally self-published with crowdfunding finances and which was then picked up by a small traditional publisher. He is represented by Abigail Samoun of Red Fox Literary. Find out more about Jed at JedAlexander.com.

Jed will also be co-teaching an extraordinary course on How to Self- or Indie- Publish with Crowdfunding starting March 23rd with Mira Reisberg. The course covers print, e-books, crowdfunding, marketing, social media, and much more.

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Mirror Book by Heidi Swapp

Dear Vanity Press,

Your website stinks.

I can find more books on an archeology dig than on your site.

Your home page caters to would-be authors instead of book buyers.

Listen, I know your business model depends on signing authors rather than selling books, but at least give book selling a try. I’m sure you have some talented authors. Unfortunately, you make buying books a bothersome activity.

For instance, why do you distribute a press release without a direct link to the book you’re announcing?

Why is the search on your home page broken? I entered the exact title but got:

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Learn more about self-publishing by requesting a free publishing guide.

Thanks, but I’m interested in buying a book. You know, those papery, bound things you publish?

And when I do finally locate the book’s page, why is the excerpt always blank?

Do you think someone is going to buy a $31.99 children’s picture book without browsing a few pages first?

I’m here to tell you: no. Frankly, I don’t know any parent who would spend $32 on a picture book. Even Robert Sabuda’s gorgeous feats of pop-up acrobatics cost less.

I would like to support self-published authors, really I would. But you’re making it impossible.

Regretfully,
A Book Lover

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As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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