Traditional or Indie Publishing? One writer’s adventure

It came down to a conversation with my brother, a talented musician who quit his job two years ago to start his own record label, then opened a record store in spite of the challenges of 2020.

I had spent almost thirty years developing my literary taste by reading thousands of picture books, writing and revising stories, attending writing classes, learning the ins and outs of quality writing and submitting picture book manuscripts to editors, frustrated that my efforts were never enough. Why were there so many books on the shelves that I could hardly stand to read once, let alone spend money on or check them out for three weeks? What would it take to convince an editor to give my work a chance?

 Talking with my brother helped me to realize that if my passion and commitment was enough to stand behind my work, I didn’t need the validation of an editor to be a real author. I certainly needed help, but the idea of choosing a quality illustrator and making the final decisions was liberating. When the pandemic cleared the calendar of baseball and social commitments, and my husband expressed willingness to invest the finances, I changed the course of my publishing research from “manuscript submission requirements” to “how to self-publish a picture book.”

First, let me share what I already had in my hand (Exodus 4:2a):

I praise the Lord for laying the groundwork before I made this decision!

In case you are wondering about pursuing your own indie picture book publishing adventure, here is the route I took.

Choose a name.

Several of my advisors liked Honeycomb Books, but there were too many variations on that already, so I decided on Literaritea Press (“literara-tea”). Although I often feel obligated to provide spelling or explanation, I like the word. I invented it years ago, and it reflects two things I love: books and tea. 

On April 30 I filed for a sole proprietorship business license from the SCC office. This minor investment provides greater authenticity to the endeavor, no matter how few or many titles I publish. (This was a major step, because I am NOT a businesswoman! But I’m willing to learn.)

Set up a local bank account and order checks.

It helps to have a personal banker because I will have a lot of questions. Keeping business and personal finances separate will help my sweet husband at tax time.

Brainstorm a business plan.

How much is this going to cost? How do I plan to recoup the investment? What printing options are the best? Where am I going to market it? Who do I know who can spread the word? When do I plan to launch the finished product?

Take a Reedsy.com course or two on picture books and self-publishing.

These are free and short, a good overview of what I need to look for. (Note: there are more courses on topics that are more relevant later in the process! I intend to keep taking them.)

Start investing in the project.

Ryan Flanders, a friend in our church, has a gift for applying fine art to Scripture. I am thrilled that he accepted the job of illustrating the book and had his own ideas of elaborating on the text with visual details. The dream is becoming reality!

Edit, revise, and fine-tune.

I re-worked and refined a few lines to improve the imagery and meter. All those years of reading poetry to my 13yo son paid off when he wouldn’t let me settle for close enough and really helped perfect a few sticky spots of meter or syntax I was ready to ignore. I hired a line editor for a fresh pair of eyes. She checked my meter throughout and offered several helpful suggestions. (I refused to change the rhyme of “forth” with “earth” because if it’s good enough for Browning, Yeats, and Kipling, I’m satisfied.)

Join ALLi.

This organization that helps independent publishers find resources and avoid scams.

Research printers and request quotes.

I assumed I would use IngramSpark because my book would be available to libraries and bookstores. (More on that in the sequel to this post.) I also requested quotes from a few other digital and offset printers so I could complete the business plan my husband requested.

Set up a website and Facebook page.

I used WordPress because I already had experience using it, but there was still a lot to learn about customizing themes and designing layout.

Spread the word!

Set up a MailChimp account. I was delighted that I figured out how to import my email address list…then accidentally deleted everyone and had to invite them to add themselves to my mailing list. At least I didn’t feel as much like I was presuming and imposing, just asking. I took one of Mailchimp’s online classes to get acquainted with the program. Another learning curve!

Canva has been a GREAT resource for visuals. When Ryan has the illustrations ready, I plan to join Canva for a trial period to use the premium benefits. Then I can hope to create a crowdfunding video to build audience anticipation, finalize the logo, and create any other resources that inspire me.

All that was preliminary.

Stage 1. It was far more involvement and busy-ness than has ever been required of me when I was simply submitting queries to publishers, but at least it kept me active in the process, and I have been delighted with the results.

Moving into stage 2. Interested in learning more about the process? Here are the next steps I’m taking so far.

Want to know when the book is nearly ready? Be sure to subscribe to the blog and newsletter!

Published by Megan E. Saben

Megan lives in Virginia with her beloved husband and five sons. She holds M.A. degrees in children's literature and library science, writes for Redeemedreader.com, and is the founder of Literariteapress.com. She enjoys recommending really good books to anyone who will listen, and knitting while she listens to anyone else read aloud.

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