I’ve got a special treat for everyone today. I interviewed my long-time writing friend Darcy Pattison about her decision to publish independently (what, until now, I’ve called self-publishing. Her journey involved Print-on-Demand and electronic sales and so much more. In fact, she had so much to say on the topic that we will be discussing it for two days. With no further ado, here we go…
SueBE: When and why did you start independently publishing?
2008: First lesson: POD Publishing can be successful even without blockbuster sales.
I started teaching a Novel Revision Retreat (darcypattison.com/speaking) around the U.S. in 1999, and by 2008, the workbook for the retreat was substantial enough that retreat coordinators didn’t want to print it off. After investigating, I decided to publish the workbook, NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: UNCOMMON WAYS TO REVISE, using print-on-demand (POD) technology. The workbook has been a steady seller because I had a built-in audience from my retreats.
It just made sense to publish this one myself. Think about it: if 10,000 people decide to write a novel, perhaps 1000 finish. Of those 1000, perhaps 100 will actually do a revision. That means the audience for beginning writers is 10,000, while the audience for the advanced writer who revises is only 100. Big companies like Writer’s Digest can’t make enough money to support a book about revision. But publishing it myself meant that I didn’t have to have thousands of sales to make money; it was successful for me with fewer sales because I had cut out the middle-man, the publisher.
SueBE: This workbook is my favorite revision tool and I know you are doing other books for writers, like How to Write a Children’s Picture Book and The Book Trailer Manual. But how did you move into publishing children’s books?
2011: Second lesson: It’s an easy step from nonfiction, how-to-write books to full color children’s picture books.
For three years, I learned many skills to produce a great book in POD or ebook. But I didn’t want to move into children’s picture books because of the color issues and the marketing issues. Then, I won a contest.
To promote the movie for “The Help,” a children’s story contest was announced. I took a story that had been rejected, but I still loved and submitted. I won. It’s the only contest I ever entered and the only one I ever won.
The prize was professional illustrations. Now I ask you: what are you supposed to do with color illustrations? The answer was obvious: produce a full-color children’s picture book. I created 11 Ways to Ruin a Photograph . It’s the story of a girl whose military father must go overseas for a year. She decides that while he’s away, it is NOT a family photo album and she ruins every family photo until he gets back. The skills I had learned in producing nonfiction how-to-write books transferred easily to children’s picture books. I am proud of this book, but I did little promotion for it and it has had modest sales.
2012: Third lesson: I can produce quality books.
Still I was just dabbling in indie publishing and I wasn’t whole-heartedly committed. Here’s the question: what do you do with a story that you believe in, but can’t get an editor interested in publishing?
In March, 2011, news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami devastated the world. I searched for and found an amazing story of survival. The oldest bird in the world, banded since December 10, 1956, is Wisdom, a Laysan albatross on Midway Island. She survived the tsunami. Within six weeks of the disaster, I had contacted biologist on Midway, researched her life and written a story. But I could not find a buyer. An illustrator friend, Kitty Harvill — who had several highly recognized picture books to her credit—read the story and we agreed to publish the book together.
WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and other Disaster for over 60 Years won the Writer’s Digest Self-Published award for children’s picture books, a Next-Gen Honor award for children’s nonfiction picture books and a Starred Review in Publisher’s Weekly.
It was the Starred Review that floored me. My traditionally published books have received starred reviews from Kirkus and BCCB, but I’d never gotten a PW star.
Publishing a quality picture book that found acclaim in the traditional marketplace was amazing. And it sold, even matching or outselling some of my other picture books. And because there’s no middle man of a publisher, I receive a larger percentage of the profits to split with the illustrator.
SueBE: A lot of writers see independent publishing as a way to maintain complete control over their books. What is your take on this?
Indie publishing isn’t about “creative control,” at least not in the way many people understand that term. It’s not about making sure a character has a white hat on page twelve. Rather, it’s about choosing what books to take to market. It’s not about putting books “out there.” Instead, it’s about putting the right books in the hands of the right readers.
I took time to look over the stories I had written, evaluating them as a traditional publisher would. I don’t write blockbuster stories; instead, I write odd and quirky stories. Independent publishing was right for me because I had an independent, slightly rebellious slant on stories. An independent voice needs an indie way to publish, I decided.
SueBE again: Stay tuned tomorrow for more from Darcy including her list of spring, 2014 titles!