Traditional or Indie Publishing? Keeping the ball rolling

Originally I assumed that I would use IngramSpark as a printer so that the book would be available to bookstores and libraries. But I had two concerns. First, I wanted better quality than POD (print on demand). Second, it seems that quarantine has provided opportunity for many others to stay home, make sourdough bread, and write the book they’ve always imagined. The delays were increasing. I realized that the cost of having a limited print run would leave very little margin for expenses, so I began to explore other options.

I recently interviewed Jill Morgan at Purple House Press on Redeemed Reader. She takes vintage and out-of-print children’s books and has them reprinted in high-quality resolution and binding, so I asked her advice. She referred me to a printer in South Korea and provided a contact here in the States. It  took very little consideration to make the decision.

Ryan is in high demand as a carpenter, but he spent the month of August focusing on the illustrations. I tried to be patient and not bother him too much, though I did request a bookmark design. Whenever I tell someone about the project, it helps to have something tangible to hand out, nicer than a business card–something they would want to keep and actually use, and maybe give extras to a friend. I am thrilled that Ryan is elaborating on the story in the illustrations, bringing it to life with characters who look like real individuals with real emotion, and also through the resurrection symbol of a lily. The bookmarks are printed and trickling their way into the world!

Right now I am waiting. I have been exploring crowdfunding, primarily to build up anticipation and collect pre-sales of the book. When the illustrations are ready, I plan to create a video and a crowdfunding page to promote the book while Ryan designs the layout. It is SO much easier to talk about it in person…social media is honestly a challenge, but I’m slowly learning from others.

My goal is not to find the One Right Way For Selling An Indie Published Picture Book. I don’t think I have to discover The Secret to determine a successful publishing endeavor. Something Better Coming is entirely in the Lord’s hands, and I trust Him to do good things with it. I have been SO encouraged by the inquiries of friends who ask about the book, and there is simply a lot of waiting involved. After the final layout is submitted to the printer and the proofs are approved, it will take 3-4 months for the copies to arrive. And then we celebrate!!! Lord willing, the book will be will be ready to hold in your hands in the spring. His timing is perfect, and He knows when the time is right.

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 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!

Truth, Story, and Open Space

My husband pulled up to the window at Joe Beans and placed our usual order. While waiting for the barista to finish making our drinks, I set down my knitting and picked up my phone.

“Look at this.” I showed him a Facebook post in a children’s book self-publishing group that compared two very different types of artwork. A well-meaning individual had offered both as evidence that you can find bright, colorful illustrations for a bargain, instead of paying top dollar for a seemingly simple drawing with minimal color.

The first was of a child in an upper story apartment. She was musing over a bee that had found her window box of flowers. Even without text, the story was implied. The second illustration depicted a large group of animals that needed a narrative to explain why they were there.

“You see what I see?” I asked. “The second picture has no open space.” I scrolled down to show him other similar, intensely-colored examples. Some picture book writers were pretty enthusiastic about them.

“They remind me of video games,” he said.

“Exactly. Video game art is fine for games, but not for Stories. There’s no place to rest your eyes. No balance and arrangement of ideas.” I tried to sip my frozen latte slowly. It’s hard to make it last long enough. “Are we going to stop by Wal-Mart?”

“Let’s skip it,” he said. “I don’t feel like getting peanut butter today.”

I agreed. I didn’t need the overstimulation of a store that felt full, but not of purpose.

We took a detour going home, driving past houses and trees and an unusual cactus. Even in a rural area, there is plenty to see on the ground, but when your eyes are tired, look up. The blue open space is ruffled with clouds just above the treeline, uplifting after five dreary days of rain. God knows our eyes need frequent opportunities to rest.

I thought about our picture books and easy readers at home. The boys love Richard Scarry and I Spy books which are full of purposeful content, but they are also partial to the highly expressive and humorous Elephant and Piggie easy readers. Mo Willems never uses backgrounds, and rarely props or costumes, leaving plenty of white space for the reader to mentally fill in the Story.

I don’t object to full-page, colorful illustrations, but there is definitely an art to choosing both what to include and what to omit. Strunk’s admonition to “Omit needless words” applies to details in text and in art.

How the scene is arranged on the page makes a difference, too. This is why Literaritea Press looks for quality illustrators who know that balance, perspective, and color should harmonize with the text and improve upon it.

Above my desk is an open space, still waiting for artwork. We’ve lived in this house for two-and-a-half years, and the wall is plain blue, like the sky. I haven’t decided what painting to hang there for inspiration, but I will know when I see it.

To either side are windows full of skies, grass, and trees, provided by my wise and loving Creator. He knows I need open space.