One Writer’s Journey

August 2, 2019

Self or Independent Publishing: There Is a Cost to Do It Right

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:30 am
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Far too often, when an author tells me that they plan to self-publish the reason is so that they can keep all the money.   I’m not saying that money shouldn’t be a factor, but it shouldn’t be the only factor.  Would I like to make more money on the books I write for the school library market?  Sure.  But could I get my work into school libraries without the publisher?  No.

Writers who are considering self-publishing also need to realize that in addition to getting all of the income they will be incurring all of the cost.  For whatever reason, a lot of new writers seem to think that they have to pay a fee to get various retailers, including Amazon, to carry their work.  While that’s not the case there are several others expenses the independently published author faces.

First is editing.  Even if your critique group is amazing, you are going to want to pay for editing.  A top notch editor will help you identify the places that need more work but they can also help you find inconsistencies or repetitive points in the story.  I suggest the latter because I just finished listening to a book by a big name author.  There were several sections that repeated earlier text word-for-word.

Second is editing.  Seriously, you can’t emphasize this enough.  In addition to what I consider “big picture” editing, the things I discussed in the preceding paragraph, a good copy editor will catch spelling and punctuation errors.

Third is design.  Very few people should design their own books.  Me?  Nope.  I shouldn’t do it.  When I do try to do design work, I can tell it is off but now why or what to do to fix it.  Being able to point to a vague problem isn’t enough.  Someone needs to lay out the interior of the book and also do the cover.

Fourth is design.  Do I seem to be repeating myself? Like editing (listen to your editors!), good design is vital.  When I reviewed books for our local paper, I could sort four cases of books into two piles – traditionally published and self-published. Every once in a while, I would put a poorly designed traditionally published book in the wrong pile.  But I never misidentified a self-published book.  Again, I could never put my finger on why I could tell, but I could.  It is a lot like trying to pass of carob as chocolate.  Thanks but no.  I can tell.

The tools needed for individuals to design their own books have come a long way.  My friend Marella Sands does the design work for Word Posse.  I would let her design my book in a heartbeat. She may be self-taught but she is that good.  Me?  I still shouldn’t do it for myself.  See my note above about being able to tell something looks bad but now how to fix it.

Nathan Bransford recently published a post where he went into the specifics costs of self-publishing.  In addition to my own pet peeves discussed above, he discusses marketing and publishing.  Read his post here.


February 4, 2019

Self Publishing: Do You Have What It Takes

I suspect most of us have considered it – self publishing and selling our own work.  With dozens of articles ripe for reprinting, it would be very do-able for me to publish several volumes on horses and how-to books for writers.  I’ve got the material.  I’d just have to put together the actual books.  But would it be worth my while?

Last week, Sneed Collard III authored a guest post on Melissa Stewart’s blog, Celebrate Science.  In his post, Sneed confirmed many things I have long suspected about self-publishing.

To sell, you have to get a glowing review in a big name publication.  Sneed has noted that to sell well, a volume has to be reviewed.  And not just any review will do. It has to come from a big name journal. What does Sneed mean when he says big name? School Library JournalBooklist, or Publisher’s Weekly. Can you get these kinds of reviews?  If not, self-publishing may not be a money-maker for you. Me? My work has been reviewed but not in these journals.

Name recognition.  To get these kinds of reviews, you need name recognition.  Sneed has that at least when it comes to science and nature.  When he branches out and publishes fiction, the book doesn’t sell as well.   He’s self-published four novels.  Only two earned modest profits.  When Children’s Writer was a thriving newsletter, I had name recognition as a how-to writer.  But the newsletters been gone for a while now.

Invest in a team.  To earn money self-publishing, you have to be willing to spend money.  Many self-published books look self-published.  The designs are clunky and amateurish.  And that isn’t just Sneed’s opinion.  Hand me a stack of books and I can generally tell you which are published by traditional publishers and which are self-published.  Book design is tough! Sneed hires not only editors but also a book designer.  His self-published books come in a professional package.

So would self-publishing work for me?  Collard started self-publishing during a recession when book contracts were few and far between. As it is, I make a living writing.  I turn out a book.  I get a check.  If this was to change, it might become more appealing.  Until then, I’ll most likely keep my focus where it is, on educational nonfiction published through established publishers.


August 29, 2016

Self-Publishing: When Does It Make Sense?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:53 am

book-829939_1920I’ve been noodling over the idea of diving into the realm of self-publishing.  Nothing huge, but I’d like to get some of my work back out there. Because of this, I’ve been considering what I write that would make sense to self-publish.

My educational books for young readers?  Nope.  Those make their way into the schools and school libraries because they are sold through reputable educational publishers such as Abdo.  School librarians know that they can trust Abdo’s books.  Any material I self-publish, even if I pay someone to fact check it, will not have that “seal of quality.”  To reach the same readers I currently reach, I have to go through a traditional publisher.

But I retain the rights to the how-tos that I’ve written for other writers.  These pieces have appeared in Children’s Book Insider, Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Market, The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Children’s Writer Newsletter, and several other publications.  Taking a quick look at my vitae, I count some 130 such articles.

I’m wondering how much work it would take to rework some of this material into an e-book format.  I don’t know that I’d want to simply copy and paste the files as is.  I would want to update some of the older material.  After all, I’m sure that some of the editors and agents I interviewed are no longer in publishing. I could offer this material for sale on my web site but also when I speak at various writer’s conferences and workshops.

The biggest problem that I see is in book design.  I’m a total pill when it comes to this particular topic.  I don’t entirely see the point of e-books that don’t take advantage of the fact that they are . . . in fact . . . ebooks.  What’s the point of straight text without links or other electronic possibilities?  But I also dislike ebooks with super busy designs — I can work in mutliple fonts and colors, images, sidebars, videos and more.

I suspect it may be time to educate myself.



March 20, 2015

Self publishing: No right or wrong answer

Self publishingLast week, I read with interest that Cheryl Klein’s writing how-to, Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, will be published by W.W. Norton.  What does this have to do with whether or not you should self-publish?  The book, which Klein self-published, is now in its fourth printing.

That’s right.  Klein, executive editor at Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, originally self published the book.  It made sense when she did it because she had already written the talks.  Believe me, if you’ve ever heard her speak, her talks are detailed and contained a wealth of very specific information.  Instead of taking notes, she asked us to listen and she would send us the text of her talks.  To create the book, she compiled these talks.  Given that she already had the talks and that she has ready access to a well-defined market, it made sense.

But now she wants to update and expand the book. There will be a lot of new content.  It will be more comprehensive.  Klein has a good idea what she wants to do, but this time around she sought out an editor and a publisher.  Why?

As she explains on her blog: “. . . I was (and am) at a different place in my life than I was when I put Second Sight together, and I could really use the support, structure, challenge, and deadlines provided by a traditional publisher.

What I wanted to emphasize is what this new approach by Klein made clear to me.  There is no right or wrong answer in the self-publishing vs traditional publishing debate.  It is all a matter of what you need/want.

Traditional publishing offers:  design and editing; an editor that you have to listen to at least to some extent; external deadlines; and a host of people who will add their ideas to the project.

Self-publishing offers:  speed; a greater level of control; and more of the profits.

The path that you choose will depend both on what you need and what you want, but also where you are on life’s journey.  The decisions that you make today may not be the ones you would make in five years, but that’s okay.  Klein is making it crystal clear — you don’t have to choose self publishing or traditional publishing.  You can make a career out of doing both.





April 8, 2014

The hybrid author: Combining Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing

HybridNot long ago, I was reading agent Jenny Bent’s blog and came across a new term, the Hybrid Author.  I don’t remember if it was her term or if she borrowed it from someone else, but I like it.  It describes an author who didn’t choose traditional publishing vs self or independent publishing.  A hybrid author chooses both.

And, truthfully, it makes sense.  Why should we have to choose one path or another?  Some books have a large audience and are something that a traditional publisher can easily get behind.  It makes sense to bring these out traditionally so that you have the marketing edge and editing and design talents of a major house at your back.

Other books appeal to a smaller niche or require greater flexibility in terms of marketing.  That’s when self or independent publishing makes the most sense.

At this point, all of my work is traditionally published but I can see the appeal of independent publishing.  I also see the pitfalls (having to get behind the editing, design and marketing).  I’m not ready to take this step yet but I also know better than to say never.

What about you?  Are you a traditionally published author?  An independently published author?  Or a hybrid?


March 6, 2014

Independent Publishing: Part 2 of an Interview with author/publisher Darcy Pattison

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:32 am
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Yestereday, I featured Part 1 of this interview with author/publisher Darcy Pattison.  Today, we finish this interview discussing first her houses list for Spring 2014.  With no further ado, here we go…

SueBE: What are Mim House’s Spring 2014 titles?  

Darcy Pattison:

Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma: The True Story of an Orphaned Cub (March, 2014) is another collaboration with illustrator Kitty Harvill. Her genius is to do almost museum-quality portraits of a specific individual animal. Nothing is generic in her work. This is another touching story from the wild to add to Wisdom’s story.

The Girl, the Gypsy & the Gargoyle (March, 2014) started when I read Michelangelo’s statement, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of a sculptor to discover it.” Perversely, I wondered if someone could be trapped in stone just for the purpose of being sculpted.

Saucy and Bubba: A Hansel and Gretel Tale (April, 2014 release) is about a step-family dealing with alcoholism and a brother/sister who run away from home.

Vagabonds is my American fantasy (May, 2014).  For decades, the southern states have witnessed the relentless migration of vagabonds from Mexico. They are now found as far north as the Ozarks of southern Missouri. No one knows why they keep traveling north, ever northward. Until now. In the tradition of Charlotte’s Web or The Underneath comes the American fantasy, VAGABONDS, the saga of El Garro’s armadillo colony, the scouts and pioneers who have always been at the forefront of the migration.

SueBE:  What do you have to say to writers who see independent publishing as a short cut?

Darcy Pattison: 

Publishing independently means you are a small business. In the U.S., most small businesses take a minimum of three years to turn a profit and during that time, the business-person works hard. Very hard. Why would you think being an independent publisher is any different? You must write, produce and market stories that someone will want to read. You must develop or hire out skills to edit and produce the story. You must find audiences who want to read what you write and find ways to get the word out to them on a consistent basis that a new story is available. Indie publishing is hard work, with no guarantees that it will succeed.

My long experience in traditional publishing grounded me in the need for the highest quality work. You must learn that somewhere and the marketplace is a harsh place to learn it. There are no shortcuts for learning to write well. It’s a profession with a long apprenticeship. Only after you’ve mastered writing skills should you attempt this.

SueBE:  What have you been able to do as an independent author that you were unable to do when you were publishing traditionally?

Darcy Pattison:

Publish books that I believe in. Market flexibility to put the right book in the hands of the right reader.

Both are curses and blessings, depending on the day you ask me.

SueBE:  Would you ever consider traditionally publishing again?  If so, under what circumstances?  If not, why not?

Darcy Pattison:

Maybe. If my health declined and I wanted an easy buck. If I was offered a large enough advance and had input into marketing. Never say, “Never.” But for now, I am Indie. (Hear me roar!)

SueBE:  What have you learned that you wished you knew when you started publishing on your own?

Darcy Pattison:

Marketing. I wish I had worked twenty years somewhere in marketing, because while the Internet sounds perfect for this, it’s not easy. I have had to learn so many concepts and principles that are foreign to my basic skills of plotting, characterization, pacing and so on. Writing, I can do. Marketing is always a struggle.

Check back with me in three years and I’ll tell you if this small business has made it or not!

SueBE:  What’s next for Mims House?

Darcy Pattison: We have a full publishing schedule for the next few years ( And we are moving into audio books. By summer, all our spring novels listed above will be available on Audible/Amazon in an audio format. Come and read an Indie! Sign up for our newsletter at


SueBE:  Special thanks to Darcy for taking the time to answer my questions.  If you have any questions for Darcy, be sure to ask them below.


March 5, 2014

Independent Publishing: Part 1 of an Interview with author/publisher Darcy Pattison

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:23 am
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Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy PattisonI’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?   

Darcy Pattison:  

2008: First lesson: POD Publishing can be successful even without blockbuster sales.

I started teaching a Novel Revision Retreat ( 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?

Darcy Pattison:

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?  

Darcy Pattison:

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!

September 30, 2013

New Award for Self-Published Book

The Sparks Award.

This from the official SCBWI announcement:

“. . . The award is open to current writer and/or illustrator SCBWI members who have independently-published a board book, picture book, chapter book, middle grade, or young adult novel through an established self- publishing enterprise  or individually self-published.  Submissions must be submitted in traditionally bound form, contain an ISBN number, and provide evidence of Copyright registration. 

Entries may not have been previously published in any print or digital form prior to the self-published form and SCBWI reserves the right to disqualify books published by enterprises that we believe, in our discretion, operate in a predatory or unprofessional manner.

One winner and one honor book will be chosen by a panel of industry professionals and will focus on quality of writing and concept, quality of illustrations (if applicable), professional presentation, and editing and design.”  You can read the full announcement here.

Wowza.  What an honor!  

What I love most about this award is that it not only recognizes this important element of publishing (self-publishing) but all entries must clearly be geared to compete commercially with traditionally published titles.  If you chose to make your living self-publishing your work, that’s fine, but it has to be geared to compete in every way with the work put out by Harcourt, HarperCollins and other traditional publishers.

What say, you?  Does this encourage you to self-publish?  


June 19, 2012

A slick take on e-publishing

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
Tags: , ,

I have to admit it — I am one of the many people who has an issue with e-books.  Yes, there are many of us.  Those of you charging around with your Nooks and your Kindles may be in denial, but we are here.

It isn’t that we are all techno-phobic.  I’m working on a computer.  I have a wireless keyboard and soon will be able to work on the TV in the living room as well as a screen in the basement (where the treadmill is).  I love technology.

But I don’t love e-books as a whole.  I’ve sampled a good number of them and except for the ones put out by traditional publishers, I usually find them wanting.  As loathe was we are to admit it, if a publisher won’t take a manuscript, there is often a very good reason.

Fortunately, there is an e-book publisher out there who wants to turn this image around.  Argo Navis is an e-publishing service “designed for professional authors acting as publishers, who control the e-book rights to their reverted or not-in-print works.”

But not just any author can be included on the Argo Navis lists because author’s cannot sign up their own works.  This has to be done by their agents.

Doesn’t seem fair?

I’m okay with it and, I have to say, I would definitely consider an Argo Navis e-book.  Their policy may seem exclusionary, but when that means that I don’t have to sift through the dreak that couldn’t make it out of the slushpile, I’m cool with that.

Special thanks to Lee Wind who brought this service to my attention via the SCBWI blog.



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