Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The self-publishing stigma: Is it shrinking?

I ran into an old friend today. During our catch-up conversation,  I told her about a children's book dummy that I had written & illustrated a couple of years ago, and how it is now languishing on my shelf and gathering dust. This book had been pitched around to several NYC publishers by my former agent, but in the end, it did not get picked up anywhere. Seems like every time I tell someone about it, I feel sheepish for no reason, and a little wistful about the entire saga. In fact, the whole experience of the creation, development and ultimate "time out" of the dummy itself strikes me as a truly unfairly unfinished story. 

So, I was telling her about it, half-rolling my eyes over it, half-forlorn. Then, out of the blue, she said "Why not self-publish it?" Being schooled in  "How To Be a Respected Children's Illustrator 101", my first knee-jerk reaction: "Well, I can't! I wouldn't! No children's author/illustrator would self-publish their own book, and expect to be taken seriously in this industry." 

Self-published books have been (no secret here) a Dirty Word in respected publishing circles, children's or otherwise, right? But then, I stopped and really thought about it, and I question this old code. It's outdated. These days, businesses and industries and their ideas, and opinions move at the speed of light. Self-publishing is coming into it's own, in a big way. (Children's and otherwise.)

I have a lot of evidence that points to just that: My father and his wife, a very successful illustrator/graphic designer team, have recently self-published their own book. The e-book market is on fire. After some hesitation, I've even purchased a couple of e-books. Guess what? I'm extremely happy with them, and I'm lining up for more. Children's illustrator Dani Jones is currently publishing graphic novels in both hard copy and e-book formats. I have to then wonder, why have I been surrendering the destiny of my own story to the shoulders of a major publisher? I have all of the tools at my disposal with which to publish it, and market it, myself. Sure, my book probably won't see a shelf in Border's or a B&N (though these days, who knows? That could be just around the corner). But plenty of people (most?) shop on-line these days. Self-published books can get ISBN numbers. You can certainly sell your own self-published book through Amazon, as well as other channels.

Probably the biggest 'unknown' is whether self-publishing can hurt our reputations as Children's illustrators. To some in publishing that hold on to older ideas and ideologies, hey, it might. But if so, it's time for them to embrace the present and rethink strategies. In the past few years, I see the sea change in the publishing industry on parallel with what the music industry started going through ten or twelve years ago. Given all this, at the end of the day, I think it's a risk worth taking.Why not?

For artists and writers, I feel the self-publishing stigma is definitely fading away. People are using e-books as marketing tools to help them sell other services, as well as being a potentially lucrative product for them. A successful "how-to" e-book in a niche industry can help put you on the map as a go-to resource or even as an expert in that field. The tables have seemingly turned, and people are using it to their advantage. I think it's a completely realistic idea to use your experience as a self-published children's author/ illustrator to help you gain leverage in children's and other industries. People have been self-publishing children's picture books for years now. I never thought twice about doing it myself. Until now. Things are different now and the road is wide open.

The bottom line is three-fold: the WORK, the MARKETING, and YOU.  If the work is of a very high quality (on par with the quality of books from a publishing house), AND you have a solid base of people who enjoy your work and art and support it by purchasing your work, AND you are using all the marketing tools at your disposal and using them in smart and consistent ways,  I believe our self-published works CAN find their audience, Children's or otherwise.


Laura Zarrin said...

I think you're right about the industry changing, tho my gut reaction to self-publishing is still one of distaste. Your art is amazing and commercially viable! Self-publishing is usually the domain of those who don't know the industry or the market. They don't get that their writing isn't where it needs to be. You've had yours shopped by an agent who believed in it, so again, I'm sure it's commercially viable and of good quality. I think if an author takes the time to get professional critiques, and rewrites it over and over if need be, then the work should be good. The big name publishers can't publish everything they want too. Rejection isn't always about the work, it may just not be in the right publishers hand at the right time.

We're always told as illustrators to create our own jobs, so go for it. Good luck to you and I can't wait to here what you're going to do!

Kathy Weller said...

Thanks Laura. I really appreciate your input here. You have a lot of good points. I have always felt similar about self-pub being the domain of those that are greener or perhaps just don't care about certain aspects of publishing that I do care about. But I have questioned this way of thinking ,lately because I am seeing (and enjoying) a LOT more self publishing going on that is of higher quality. Not children's, per se, but it's got me to thinking, why NOT children's?

Over the past day or so, I have read a lot of interesting points, and some thoughtful rebuttal, to this post. This is actually a new post' which I posted today 10/19/10 to my children's illustrators' blog pbjunkies.blogspot.com. But I decided to psot it here as well because I want to have it in my Posts Of Note archive list in the side bar. (That is why it is dated in the past a little bit.) Check out the 10/18/10 post on pbjunkies.blogspot.com and if you are so inclined reposer your comment there. I hope you do, because your comment is unique and adds a new perspective!! Thanks!! :)

mai s kemble said...

Well, I think your book looks adorable... and I can't help but also think that because of the way the economy is, and because publishers so often have to weed through so many different titles, keeping in mind their budgets, etc. there may be thousands of titles they'd like to see published and simply cannot get to them all. So maybe self-publishing doesn't mean that a book isn't deserving of being published by an actual publisher? I think it never hurts to keep an open mind... I also believe that quality well keep a title from being looked down upon, whether it is self-published or not. Look at Bone! It's one of the best titles out there and it was self-published.
In any case, your book looks awesome... and I LOVE pugs. :)