Part 1 – Time and Money – I started writing in 2007. It didn’t cost me anything, but time. The time it took to write that first story. It’s still sitting in my computer. It was never published. I took it to a Highlights Conference and discovered there were a few good things about it. But there were lots of things wrong – things that needed work, if I wanted to see it published.
Highlights was my first writing business expense back in 2009, but it was the first of many. Have you ever heard, that to make money, you have to spend it? It’s true in writing, and in every single business I know.
Starting in 2009 I invested in education. I joined SCBWI – the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They were my go-to resource to find teachers, and classes, and conferences. Class by class, year by year, I grew as a writer.
It was slow-going because I couldn’t put the time into it. Writing wasn’t my career. Teaching was. My kids ranged from high school to college. Writing was what I did, when I could find the time, on weekends.
I retired in May of 2015. From that day on I could invest both time and money into my writing. It worked!
In May of 2018 I found a story about Neil Armstrong that I wanted to tell. In June I got my first R & R from an agent. That stands for revise and resend, and it means you’re getting closer to getting published the traditional way. I pushed harder with both time and money.
Part 2 – The Cost of Self-Publishing – The photo came from the Armstrong Air and Space Museum. It gave me the idea for my 1st book, Neil Armstrong’s Wind Tunnel Dream.
The idea didn’t cost time or money, but turning it into a book took both. Self-publishing was the only way I could make it happen in time for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. That meant I took on all the jobs a regular publisher would do, without any experience. It was the most difficult, and most satisfying journey I’ve ever taken!
I went from the idea to a book in one short year. That’s super-fast in publishing! In that time, I wrote the book, found an illustrator, and worked from first sketch to final copy with him.
I set up things I never imagined. As a publisher I got my own EIN number (Employer Identification Number). That took care of the IRS, but I had to do the same thing in Ohio
I also found a template. It’s the computer program I used to enter my words and illustrations. It selects the font and font size for everything from regular pages to chapter headings to copyright. Each part of a book has its own setting. My job – to apply them all correctly.
The final step was to download the template to the printer. If you didn’t enter it correctly, they send it back to you with a code. My job was to figure out what it meant, and how to correct it. I was lucky . . . I had friends who could help me figure out each and every error message.
As a publisher, I had a list of things I paid for. My biggest expense was my illustrator. It was HUGE!
I also paid for the template, but I can use it over and over again. I bought my ISBN numbers. Retailers like Amazon use them to order books. Neil had three different numbers – one for the paperback edition, one for the hardback, and an eBook number. I have seven left to use, whenever I decide to self-publish again.
In Ohio I bought a license to sell my book. It connects me to the business gateway and helps me pay my taxes. I also joined the Wapakoneta Chamber of Commerce. They help me advertise book appearances to the local market.
Part 3 – The Cost of Hybrid & Traditional Publishing
I published Zoe’s Scavenger Hunt Fun with BiblioKid Publishing. It’s a hybrid, and we did it in 7 months. Some things were like self-publishing, but some things were different.
Working with BiblioKid Publishing was way easier than doing it all by myself! I took my manuscript from Lake Fun for You and Me, and with the help of my editor, I converted it from a picture book into short chapters. It took about 7 weeks from start to finish.
I didn’t have control over the illustrations, but I got to comment on them. We made two passes through the template. I looked at the text and illustrations on each page. My editor took some of my suggestions, but some were left as is . . . because it wasn’t cost effective to make the changes.
BiblioKid gave me a marketing plan. It was a timeline to help our team advertise Zoe before, during, and after our publishing date. We used it to guide our posts on social media. Before Zoe’s book birthday, we focused on preorders. Since then, I’ve worked to put out posts to remind you why it’s a great book to add to your collection!
Hybrid-publishing was a lot easier, but it was more expensive. I bought 200 copies of Zoe’s Scavenger Hunt Fun. That paid for the books, plus all the services BiblioKid provided, and they did a lot for me! BiblioKid supplied the template and sent it into the printer. They figured out and corrected all those tricky error messages. Not me!
BiblioKid gave me an ISBN number. Did you know that whoever owns that number, owns the rights to the book? So Zoe belongs to BiblioKid, not me. I gave up ownership, but in return I got an editor to help me convert my manuscript into a chapter book. Then we worked to polish every page, every chapter. I also had an art director work to make the images our very best. Finally, BiblioKids gave me that marketing plan, and this launch was my best EVER!
Traditional Publishing – I’ve never signed a traditional contract, but it’s the Holy Grail of writing. I’ve read about it, heard about it since 2007. Someday! I hope I earn one of those contracts!
The 1st two images are from stories I’ve worked on for years. They both need a traditional publisher. It’s where they have the best chance of reaching an audience. If you can’t do that, there’s no point in publishing. Except for what you learn from doing it, and the pride you feel when you hold your book. It’s amazing!.
With traditional publishing, I GET PAID up front for writing the manuscript. I won’t earn another dime until the publisher earns their money back from book sales. But, I have ONE JOB – writing the manuscript. The publishing house will do everything else, and they’ll pay for it too.
I WON’T get any input on the illustrations. I’ll have to trust the publisher to pick the right illustrator for my words. They’ll also invest their time and money into marketing me and my book, but, I’ll also work hard to sell it too. That’s the way to reach more readers, and, to earn more money!
Part 4 – My Conclusions
I’ve learned a lot about publishing since Neil came out in 2019, but the biggest thing I’ve learned is that publishing is a business. To survive, the business must make money, whether it’s a grocery store or a dance studio. If it doesn’t, it closes.
My best chance of making money is with traditional or self-publishing, but they both offer challenges to me and to my writing business.
If I work towards a traditional publisher, I have to write stories that have a wide appeal, to kids across the country. The publisher must believe they can sell that story, and make money. If they don’t, they’re out of business. That’s why it’s so hard to get into traditional publishing. I’ve been working at it since 2007.
If I go with self-publishing, I have total control over the book, but I pay for everything. If I can’t make my money back, I have nothing to invest in the next one.
I found success with Neil in 2019 because I found the perfect market. Lake Fun and Zoe didn’t do as well. I didn’t find that perfect place to sell them, yet. But I’m glad I tried. I learned a lot, and that will help me with the next project.
As for the future . . . I’m agent ready! That means I’m sending my manuscripts off soon. The answer will tell me what’s next. Yes means they’ll shop my manuscript around for a publisher. No means I’ll continue on with my search. Either way I’ll also start on a few new stories. Something that’s traditional, and something for self-publishing. I’d like to keep my options open!
When I write, I can only have one voice in my head, mine. A little noise is fine. But too much, or worse yet, WORDS, and I must change rooms or pull out headphones. Then I can write on!