My Experience as a self-published children’s book author
In September of 2011 after teaching for eleven years I did not go back to the classroom. I decided to take a leave of absence to try my hand at writing children’s books. As a former primary teacher I have found that writing the stories has not been the difficult part, it is everything else that has pushed me to my limits and then some. If you are thinking about self-publishing a children’s book here is what I have learned. Hopefully the mistakes I have made and knowledge about this process I have learned will help you in your venture.
After I had my story completed I started looking for a publisher. I was not able to figure out a way to get a traditional publisher to pick me up. What I found was to get picked up by a traditional publisher I needed an agent and to get an agent it helped if you had already published something, plus agents are terribly expensive, and I did not have those kinds of funds. Finally on October 31, 2011 I found Friesen Press, a publishing company who also does print-on-demand. Print-on-demand seemed like the best economic choice for me because I did not have to have thousands of books printed and then hope to sell them. My husband and I drove up to Canada to meet them in person, which in hindsight was a total waste of time but I was so excited to meet the publisher! They did not even look at my story, not even the title and agreed to print my book…and take my money! That day we paid them $3,272.00.
My experience with Friesen Press was not a positive one. I am a very understanding person and someone who likes to have things done in a timely manner. Unfortunately, I did not like nor understand their policy that did not allow their designers to talk to the author and the constant miscommunication and lack of knowledge from their staff. After 8 months of frustrating conversations and not a single proof, I decided I had to find a different company. Of the $3,272.00, they reimbursed us $766.00. Expensive mistake.
In June of 2012, I found Lightning Source. It is a printing company, not a publisher. They do not offer the coaching aspects that Friesen Press did, but they do do print-on-demand through Amazon, so my book is available on Amazon. Lightning Source was a wonderful company to work with and they were able to print my book in about 8 weeks! I ordered 250 books at $7.72 per book to print. I needed to sell each book for $18.99 so I could make some profit when I sold them to bookstores. The other problem was Lightning Sources, as with Friesen Press, was not able to print on the spine of the book. Bookstores will not sell books that do not have the title on the spine. So all of my books are over priced, and I have to put a homemade sticker on the spine with the title and my name. Needless to say, these books are not doing too well.
In November of 2012, I met a published children’s book author at Costco! We ended up having coffee, and she informed me that $7.72 a book was WAY too high. She gave me the name of Leo Printing. Their headquarters happens to be only 15 minutes from my house, so I went right away to meet with them and fell in love with the company and the quality of their books. The only problem with Leo is you have to order a minimum of 5000 books. Unfortunately, I do not have the space for 5000 books or the funds to pay that stiff bill. Hopefully someday I will be able to do business with Leo Printing.
Not being able to work with Leo was unfortunate but on the positive side, it did light a fire in me to find a cheaper printer. I had already self-published three board books through Spectrum Print Group and decided to see if they would be able to find a printer to print my hardback book. My contact got a quote from Golden Cup for 2000 hardback books for only $2.39 per book, plus they print on the spine!!! Done.
Now selling the books has been no picnic. Learning new things and doing things out of your comfort zone can be a scary thing. I have had to become a salesperson, an accountant, a web-designer, and a social media and marketing guru…I have no knowledge about any of these professions and to sell books I have come to believe I have to be awesome at all of them. I have gone store-to-store, sent flyers to elementary schools, have asked all my teacher friends to let me read my story to their students, have had Wine & Sign events at friends restaurants, and I have given my books away for free. I still have a lot to learn, and I’m sure a lot of mistakes to be made, but one thing I do know for sure…this has been an awesome experience. I continue to reach for my dream of becoming a famous children’s book author. It is an uphill climb, but I know when I get to the top the view is going to blow my mind.
Here are some important things that I have learned:
- Doing print-on-demand can be cheaper than paying for thousands of books to be printed, however, the per-book cost is higher which makes your retail book price go up.
- Just because multiple people whom you believe know or should know what they are talking about tell you something does not mean it is true. I have learned that if you do not get the answer you want, keep looking until you do.
- Bookstores will not buy books that do not have the title on the spine. They also do not like books that have a homemade sticker with the title on the spine!!!
- Do lots of research before you make crucial decisions.
- When the quote comes in at $1.82 a book keep in mind that you have to add on proofs, shipping and handling, and any tests that might have to be done. All of these can add up to over a dollar a book!
- When you sell your book to a bookstore the most they will pay is 50% of the retail price.
- Finding an illustrator…my first illustrator is a friend of mine, not sure if I would suggest doing this. Working with friends can be tricky. I found Shane on Craigslist. I had gone through three illustrators before I found Shane. It was easier for me to tell someone that their drawing was not a fit for what I was looking for over the computer than telling a friend!
Here is the breakdown of costs for my latest book How Much Do You Love Me? illustrated by Shane Burke. Golden Cup is printing 1500 books.
Graphic Designer $400.00
Golden Cup (1500 books) $4755.00