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If You Are Considering Self-Publishing...

by Bev Cooke

Editor's note: The author of this article is a published children's book writer. If you are considering self-publishing, she has some points you should consider first.

There is a place for self-published, vanity press, POD publishing, and the like. In large part it depends on what you want -- if you want the status and respect that traditional, trade, royalty publishing can give you, if you do not want to have to shell out a lot of time, effort and money to see your book in print, and if you want wider distribution and advertising than you or any POD or printer can give you, then you don't want to self-publish.

If, on the other hand, all you want is to have your family and friends admire your work and to entertain them, you can go the self-publishing route, or you can learn to juggle. Juggling's a lot cheaper.

But before you do the self-publishing route, consider this: yes, the market is hard to break into, and you're going to garner a lot of rejections, and yes, the picture book market is probably the hardest children’s market to get a foothold in. But give some serious thought to the fact that if 8 out of 8 publishers are rejecting your work, the problem may not be the tightness of the market. It may not be that picture books sales are flat and the niche is saturated right now. It may be (gasp, horrors!) that your work is not yet ready to be published. And if that's the case, then why would you want to publish something that's unpublishable, either through a royalty paying press, or that you pay for yourself?

I'm beginning to believe that every writer (including me) sends their work out long before it's ready to go--long before their skills are really up to a publishable standard. Then we get angry and upset when the editors don't pick up on our work. (I can remember writing really angry tirades on various lists and blogs on this very topic--and never once considered that it might have been because my work was so bad it wasn't worth publishing.) We blame everything but the work itself and our lack of experience when the books aren't snapped up. I can't count the number of writers I know, again including me, who have looked back at their early unpublished efforts, winced and said "Oh wow, that was soooooooo bad! No wonder everybody rejected it!"

It takes a lot of time (I've heard 10 years; it took me 20, but then I'm a slow learner) and a lot of words (I've heard half a million, a million and 1.5 million) to get your skills to a level that equals those authors who are gracing bookstore and library shelves. If you go the self-publishing route, then you're short circuiting that growth and learning process, and you may never become the writer you have the potential to be.

However, if after all that you still want to self-publish, my advice is to do your homework thoroughly - know what you are getting into before you get into it, what the presses offer, what time it's going to take to get it done, how much each press charges and what quality of work they do - and that's extremely important when you're talking colour picture books. Get your work edited by a professional editor. Have the book design done by a professional book designer, and have it laid out by a professional layout artist with experience in picture book layouts. If you're going to do this, do it right and get professionals to do the things you aren't skilled at doing, or your book is going to look like an amateur wrote, designed and laid it out. Learn just how much time you’re going to have to spend marketing your work in order to make back your costs. Decide if you’d rather be a book sales person or a writer because if you don’t do all your own marketing, you're going to take a loss on the books.  Even full-time marketing may only cover your costs.

If all you want to do is entertain family and friends, I respectfully suggest that it's probably easier to take up juggling, or learn magic. Writing is a skill that takes a long time to perfect, and publishing a book is usually done by a team of skilled and talented people with a lot of experience under their belts. I have reservations that an individual with no experience in editing, layout, proofreading or book design can do a job that will equal that of a royalty paying press.

Visit Bev Cooke's website and Bev Cooke's blog.

I look at this question from my point of view as an editor in Self-Publish or Not? Related resources can be found on the Self-Publishing Index page, the Writing Articles Index page, and the Publishing Articles Index page.

Comments? Questions that weren't answered? Contact information. Messages to the author will be forwarded.

This article is copyright © Bev Cooke, 2008 and may not be reproduced without permission. Single copies may be printed out for personal, non-commercial use.

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