This post originally appeared on the wonderful writing blog Operation Awesome on September 3, 2015 as a guest post
Writers write. Illustrators illustrate. Publishers publish. Right? Sure. Unless you’re like me and choose “D, all of the above.” I’m all over the place, and I love it.
The first book with my name on it was written by someone else who commissioned me to illustrate. The second was a story my son and I came up with at bedtime, and I couldn’t help but illustrate it and put it all together for him. The third was inspired by niece of mine. It rhymes, teaches a moral, and comes as a package deal with the illustrations (I know, so many faux pas). And the fourth doesn’t even have any words yet, just one full-page illustration and a few ideas wafting around it.
While a writer of children’s or picture books may have at least a rough vision for their story’s illustrations, an author/illustrator may very well be composing paintings in her head while writing. Sometimes the illustrations come before the words are even penned.
Our processes may differ, but I think author/illustrators can agree on a couple constants. First, we couldn’t bear to have the stories of our hearts illustrated by some stranger who will probably get everything wrong. Even if that stranger is a better artist than we are, it would feel as if he were taking the brain out of our baby and putting it into the perfectly polished body of someone else’s baby. It would still be half ours, kind of, and it may be beautiful, but all we really want is our own baby, the way we made her. The other constant among us is that we all want our books to be successful. We want people to read them, and love them. We want to be published.
Unfortunately for author/illustrators, publication means that we need to find an agent and/or a publisher who not only loves our story, but loves our illustration style as well. And if they love both of those, they also have to love them together. Every step of the way, our chances of being traditionally published diminish.
So hold out your hopes for traditional publishing, if that’s your end goal, but I suggest considering self-publishing for the following reasons:
You get to finish your book.
Self-publishing means that you get to see your entire project through on your own terms, on your own timeline, and with your own creative touch on every single aspect. You cut out any kind of middleman and get full rights and total control. I do suggest reaching out and gathering all the feedback you can possibly get, but in the end, all the final decisions are yours alone. Cover art, illustrations, revisions–all of it will be exactly how you envisioned it because you’re in charge. Of everything. Which leads me to the next reason to self-publish.
You get to learn about marketing your book.
Cutting out the middleman does mean more work for you. Even if you are traditionally published at some point, no one will ever care about your book as much you do, and even the biggest publishers will expect you to do your part in marketing. So why not learn what you can now, and get a head start?
Establish a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and your own blog or website, and start to make friends and build up your networks. Research and experiment and find out what sells for you and what doesn’t. One of my favorite things to do to increase my readership and create publicity for my books is to attend craft fairs and art shows. I sell my art and jewelry and I hold a book signing at the booth for my books. In every event, I sell more copies of my books than anything else.
Contact libraries, bookstores, toy stores and gift shops to set up readings and book signings. You get to negotiate your own terms and percentages. With every meeting and event, marketing and selling yourself and your book will become easier and more efficient. If you ever land a book deal, you’ll have an advantage, and if you don’t, then at the very least you’re already doing something about getting your book out there yourself.
Self-publishing is totes legit.
There was a time when “self-publishing” was used interchangeably with “vanity publishing.” That time is trying to hang on and occasionally puts up a fuss, but it’s on its way out. Saying that you’re self-published is no longer followed up by that look of “Oh… so not very good, huh.” In this DIY, crowd funded, entrepreneurial, start-up world, people respect those who go it alone, put their best work out there, and let the people judge for themselves. My first book signing was at the Stanford Children’s Hospital gift shop, and even in such an upscale area, people were impressed, and not disappointed, by my being self-published.
When people ask who I publish through and my answer is myself, their curiosity is actually piqued and they want to know more about the process. They then read through the book and almost always buy it. Who cares how it’s published if it’s good? I’ve had a few people buy my books just so they can say, “I knew you when….” Be confident and don’t make excuses for being self-published, but if it helps boost your confidence, use phrases like “cutting out the bureaucracy/red tape” and say “indie author” or “independently published” instead of “self-published.”
If you are interested in traditional publishing someday, be sure to check that your target publishers will accept self-published manuscripts, as there are some who will not. But if they do, and if you’re up for a little adventure, self-publish. You’ll learn a lot about every step of the process, and whether or not a publisher ever picks up your book, you’ll still get it out into the world.