Why I Self-Publish

One of the difficulties of writing for children is that if you want to be published, you have to write for adults--the editors who select books to publish, the librarians who select books for the library shelves, and the adult who select books for kids to read. Left to their own devices, I'm not sure kids would have picked a lot of the books that are out there today. Thankfully, we have writers like the late and beloved Madeline L'Engle and J.K. Rowling who, despite enormous amounts of rejection letters, were finally able to convince some adult that kids would enjoy their books. And enjoy, they do and have and will. For a long time to come.

It's good to be published by a traditional house. They pay you money and produce (mostly) a product to be proud of. If they don't do a lot to promote it, well, that's business these days. It's even become common for the author to be required to come up with a marketing plan for his/her book. So, if you've decided to commune with the self-publishing muse, you might also look up SCORE, an organization that helps small businesses get noticed.

When I first had the idea for The Secret in The West Woods, I sensed right away that it would just be an exercise in futility for me to peddle it to the big houses. It was regional, and I hadn't even had much luck with things that were more general. But because I love books that are set in areas I know (Les Roberts' mysteries set in Cleveland, for some) and because The West Woods park was just beginning to be developed, I felt there would be a match. Turned out I was right. The Park District is one of my staunchest supporters and carries the book in their nature center.

Wanting to keep the price competitive, I elected to publish the book myself, rather than going with a print-on-demand house. My science fiction novel, Me Two, republished by iUniverse, costs $14.95--a little steep, I thought, for a paperback. So, with a little nest egg I'd inherited from my mother, I jumped. Not completely knowing what I was doing, I might add.

But I learned. I learned about ISBNs and bar codes and paper and type face and typesetting and bindings and finding an illustrator (a very hard and expensive lesson). I found a class of fourth graders and had them read the manuscript. Their teacher was extremely helpful. While the class read the book and made their own notes, she made notes on their reactions. As a result, I lopped off about ten pages of the first forty. The kids' letters made my day. They were overall positive (one said he liked it better than Harry Potter!), but they also didn't mince words if they didn't understand something or thought a passage dragged. I owe them a large Thank You!

So, the book finally arrived--forty-some cartons of it, which we moved (where else?) to the basement. Over the years, I've managed to break even and then some. Through school visits and sales, I saved up enough to print a second book, The Christmas Dragon. I did a much, much better job finding an illustrator, but of course, you always fall down in some other area. No harm done. Well, some, but I'll know better next time.

Is my writing the stuff of legends? Of course not. But I like to think they're reasonably good stories that kids will like. I've gotten lots of nice feedback on both books. (Not that I'm likely to hear the other side, given that it's tough for the self-published to get reviewed.) And I'm probably going to do it again this year.