June 29, 2012

Self-Publishing Mini-Series - Meet Patrick Milne

Today I'm delighted to introduce you to the third guest in our self-publishing mini-series, Patrick Milne.


By way of introduction, Patrick says, "I always enjoyed writing stories as far back as I can remember, though by the time I hit high school, I'd lost interest. It wasn't until I took a writing course in university as an elective that I really started taking any creative impulses seriously again and eventually majored in professional writing and communications. It was chiefly short prose that I studied throughout school and it wasn't until my sister, Stephanie Faye, embraced her animation talents that we decided to try a children's picture book together."

SLH:  Did you try the traditional publishing route?  What was your experience?

PM:  We didn't really even think of the traditional publishing route initially. We just tried to get the story together as much as possible in a 32-page structure, which was difficult because it was the first time we'd done anything so short. It was definitely an exercise in brevity! During the process, it seemed any time we brought up the idea of a publisher and looked around at their respective websites, or researched agents, either they weren't accepting manuscripts or you had to jump through hoops to get it to them. We continued working away until the story took shape and by then, we both really loved it and couldn't have fathomed changing anything about it. 

SLH:  What made you decide to pursue self-publishing?

PM:  Once we got our hard copy proof copy back from the printer, Stephanie, the book's artist, took it to a small publisher's fair in Vancouver. She got interest from several companies but each had their own list of changes they wanted to make. By that point, we'd been working on the book for so long, Stephanie especially with all of the art and coloring, that thinking about incorporating their changes was just too overwhelming. At that point, we officially decided to move ahead on our own.  

SLH:  How did you go about self-publishing?

PM:  We found a small printing company in Winnipeg, Manitoba called Art Book Bindery that had a great reputation. We knew we wanted to do at least a small run of print copies so we worked with them. The electronic version was formatted and uploaded to Amazon several months later.

SLH:  Did you hire an editor?

PM:  No, I've had several jobs as a copy editor in the past so I was very confident in my own abilities. We also passed it around to some family and friends to make sure everything was coherent and had a nice flow and rhythm to it, but the words, sentences, and grammar I was very possessive about. Outside opinions were really key for us because when you work on the same story and the same sentences, you can miss little things

SLH:  How did you choose your illustrator?  What kind of contract do you have with her?  Did you have a lot of back and forth contact with her as she created the illustrations?

PM:  My illustrator was my sister, Stephanie Faye, who is a graduate of Capilano University in British Columbia and had been working in children's television and animation for several years previous. We sent the manuscript back and forth over email and had conversations over Skype about it. Once she began the illustrations, she sent her drafts to me through email and we discussed them every few days. It was a very collaborative effort for being so far apart.

SLH:  How did you get your book from conception to e-book format?  Is it also available in hardcover or paperback?  Print on demand?

PM:  We currently sell the print version through our website and at various local craft sales around Christmas time and it does quite well. The ebook version, Stephanie formatted from her finished files and they were formatted in a .mobi file for the Kindle and uploaded to Amazon. We're working on getting it into different places on the web to broaden Lucy's availability but as of right now, those are the primary outlets.

SLH:  How have you gone about marketing your book?  What has been most successful?

PM:  Selling the print copies at various fairs has been the most successful approach for the print version. The electronic version has been totally different. There are thousands of ways of going about marketing our book, the only problem is where to start. We currently use Twitter and Facebook and I've started a blog called So Much To Be Read to help build a community and get the word out on other children's authors and illustrators just like me who are self-published. There is so much more to do and I feel like all we have to do is just start!

SLH:  Do you do school/library visits?  How has that worked with an e-book?  How have sales been in relation to the visits?

PM:  We did a seminar with a local grade seven English class that was doing a unit on writing their own picture book and sold many of the print copies there but no e-book versions that I know of. It's something we'd certainly like to keep doing.

Patrick's office
SLH:  What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self-publishing?

PM:  I think the single most important thing to understand is that finishing the book is only a small part of what self-publishing is all about. Depending on your hopes for the book and what it might become, all the rest is marketing - thinking about who your audience is and where to find them and how to get the word out about your book without coming across as a desperate spammer! On the one hand, it's a very frustrating process, but on the other, you're only as limited as your imagination. Furthermore, there has never been a time in history when reaching people has been as simple as this. We get a lot of motivation and inspiration from keeping that in our mindset.

SLH:  Any particular pitfalls to avoid?

PM:  Trust your instincts and stay true to what your book is all about and why you wanted to write it in the first place. If we had decided to incorporate the changes suggested to us by the various publishers, I don't think I would feel quite as passionately about Lucy Snigglefritz as I do now, or as proud. If it set us back from getting a publishing contract, so be it. I don't see any evidence these days that working with a publisher is any less challenging than the self-publishing route.

Thank you so much, Patrick!  It is so interesting to hear from different authors who have chosen this route.  We all have a lot to learn from you.

Folks, please feel free to visit Patrick on his Website, follow him on Twitter @fayemousbooks, or network with him on LinkedIn.  Patrick has kindly offered to be available for questions, so please ask if you have any!  In addition, he is giving away a free e-copy of The Adventures Of Lucy Snigglefritz - I have seen it and it's very cute even on my black and white Kindle! - so if you're interested in qualifying, please leave a comment saying why you'd like to have the book!

Thank you all for joining us!  Have a great weekend!

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June 27, 2012

Would You Read It Wednesday - The 46th Pitch

Boy are you guys going to be happy today!

Want to know why?

Because today's post is SHORT!  You will probably think you're on the wrong blog, it's so short!

This is for two reasons:  first, I know the last 2 posts were LOONNGG! and I appreciate you reading all the way through them.  There was no real way to shorten them except to do them in halves, and I felt they flowed better in one piece.  Also, I would have had to post every day to fit them all in that way!  Second, you may have noticed I've been a little absent.  That's because I'm technically on vacation with my family :)  So there you have it.  Short post :)

Today's pitch comes to us  from Anna who you may remember from April.  Anna has a background in teaching and strives to entertain and teach children about different cultures in her writing.  (I believe this book has been self-published, but Anna is still hoping to strengthen her pitch for marketing purposes.  Very appropriate that it is the pitch that falls in the middle of our self-publishing series! :))

Here is her pitch:

Working Title:  Hug-A-Bug Travels To Europe
Age/Genre:  Picture Book (ages 3-8)
The Pitch:  Fasten your seat belts and prepare for a high-flying trip with Hug-A-Bug to the famous Giza Pyramids. On his visit, he wows the reader with the exploration of hieroglyphics and Egyptian phrases. During his travels, he meets up with someone who needs a hug. Who will he meet this time? 

So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Anna improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)

Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in August, so you have time to polish :) for a chance for it to be read by editor Erin Molta!

Anna is looking forward to your thoughts on her pitch!

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June 25, 2012

Self-Publishing Mini-Series - Meet Vivian Kirkfield

Whether you're a parent or grandparent, a teacher, a writer, or any combination of the above, you guys are in for a treat today!

Our guest has a lot of knowledge, information, and advice to share, so make sure you've got a snack (I'm offering homemade blueberry muffins today if anyone would like one... or two... :))
and your cup of coffee/tea and get comfy!

And now please join me in giving a warm welcome to the lovely Vivian Kirkfield!

First, a few words about Vivian for those of you who haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting her.


Vivian Kirkfield is a mother of three and an educator and author who lives in the Colorado Rockies. She's passionate about picture books, enjoys hiking and fly-fishing with her husband, loves reading, crafting and cooking with kids during school and library programs and shares tips and tactics for building self-esteem and literacy in her parenting workshops. To learn more about her mission to help every child become a reader and a lover of books, please visit herPositive Parental Participation blog or contact her at vivian@positiveparentalparticipation.com.

Vivian adds: for almost 50 years, I've been involved with the care and education of young children...teaching kindergarten and Head Start and operating a successful home daycare while raising three amazing children.   Throughout my life, I've had a passion for picture books...I've always loved to listen to them, look at them and read them...and I've always wanted to write them.  When my childen were young, I entertained them with stories I made up in my head...often scribbling little stick figures and pictures to accompany the tales.  Several years ago, my daughter-in-law drew illustrations for one of those stories.  Perhaps, one day, The Balloon Man, will be published.  Thanks to Julie Hedlund's 12 x 12 Challenge and Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Book Friday, I've had one of the most joyous years of my life, giving free rein to the picture book ideas that tumble around in my head and connecting with an amazing kidlit community.


Now, on to the educational, informational, inspirational, so-sensational interview :)  (I almost said the Muppet Show - where did that come from? :))

SLH:  Good Morning, Vivian!  Thank you so much for joining us today.  Let's jump right in with the first question, shall we? Did you try the traditional publishing route?  What was your experience?

VK:  I started writing Show Me How! in 2005 and sent out several dozen one page letter and email queries to literary agents who, from looking at various lists (in books and online), seemed to be involved in parenting/activity books.  I got back many nice no’s...and five or six positive responses.  Each wanted to see a book proposal.  I picked a husband and wife team with a small literary agency in Massachusetts...she said that was the type of book she specialized in.  I won’t say our relationship was of no benefit to me...however, she did nothing by computer and so everything was a slow, snail-mail process.  She had a specific book proposal format in mind and I spent 3 years, honing the proposal until it was “perfect” in her eyes. My husband wanted me to go elsewhere with the proposal...but I was so timid, I was unable to push myself to change...even though I was not happy with how the process was going.  When the proposal was “perfect” she began “shopping it around”...again all communication was through the mail, although she was always available to me for phone calls...but because of my shyness, I wasn’t really comfortable talking to her on the phone.  After a year of submitting the proposal to many publishers with no success, I decided to self-publish, a route my husband had pursued to do a second edition in 1999 of his book that had been published by Stackpole Press in 1986.  In 2003, he also self-published a small paperback on a different topic, so we felt we had, at least, a little experience and some good contacts.  When I sent the agent a letter, informing her of my decision, she replied that she thought that would be a great path for me to take.  A WORD OF ADVICE: If you opt to have a literary agent represent you, make sure you feel very comfortable with the way he or she goes through the process and ask questions of anything you are unsure of.
SLH:   What made you decide to pursue self-publishing?
VK:  Well, part of that answer can be found in #1.  In addition, traditional publishing these days is different from the way it used to be...now the author is expected to do his or her own marketing and promotion...unless of course your name is Sarah Palin or Barack Obama or Madonna.  Also, there is the financial side to consider...when a traditional house publishes your book, you might get a small advance (unless you are Sarah Palin, Barack Obama or Madonna) and then a tiny piece of each book sold...after the advance amount is deducted from the first profits.  When you self-publish, the book is yours and the profits are yours...after deducting your expenses to publish...and these can vary quite a bit, depending on whether you publish electronically or by print...and that can vary depending on who prints it and how many copies you have printed and the type of paper, whether color or black and white, binding, etc. A WORD OF ADVICE: Before making the decision to self-publish, find out how much it might cost and think about how much time you have to devote to the marketing and promoting of your book and also how you will market and promote it.
SLH:   How did you go about self-publishing?
VK:  As I mentioned in #1, my husband had already self-published two books, so we felt we had a relationship with the printer he had used. We had already set up a company (MoneyPenny Press, Ltd.) as an LLC (for that we had to get a lawyer to draw up papers...but a person could do it more easily and cheaply by being a sole proprietor...but that gets into legal issues which I am not qualified to say anything about) and so all we basically needed was the company that would print the books.  I did go online to check out some of the ones that were available at that time and we felt that Jostens (the company that had done his books) offered the best prices...and we already trusted them.  They are a nationwide company that does the class rings and class yearbooks...but they also have a small press business printing section.  I called and they assigned me an account rep and she fielded the questions and concerns and would email me the answers.  They were also very easy to speak with on the phone and were great to work with.
In addition, I got copies of John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Books and Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, as well as several other self-publishing books from the library...and read them cover to cover.  There is also a wealth of knowledge and info available on the Internet now.  A WORD OF ADVICE: Do your research and then ask others who have self-published before you make the final decisions about who will print your book or where you will electronically publish it...the choices are overwhelming...advice and info from someone who’s been there is priceless.
SLH:   Did you hire an editor?
VK:  I did not. :)  My husband, son and sister all read the manuscript several times...my husband for technical corrections, my son for technical and word usage and word flow corrections (looking at it from the point of view of the age group of parents I was targeting) and my sister for technical, word usage, word flow and functionality corrections (looking at it from a mom’s point of view...she, by the way, suggested having pictures of the completed crafts and/or recipes...but it was too late for that...the next book in the series will definitely be much shorter and will include pictures, even if they are black and white photos for cost reasons).  Then my daughter took on the job of formatting the manuscript with some input and advice from a friend who is VP and website guru at a small publishing company. His help was amazing...I should have taken him up on his offer to help me with my book website.  A WORD OF ADVICE: Decide what you can do on your own...and what you can’t...and find the dollars to pay for what you can’t because it is so very important to put out a professional piece of work...especially something that is self-published.
SLH:  How did you choose your illustrator?  If you hired an illustrator did you have a contract?  Did you have a lot of back and forth discussions?
VK:  I was very lucky...my daughter-in-law is a fashion designer and she is very artistic.  Andrea had already done some charming illustrations for a picture book I had written many years ago. (We never went ahead with publishing it...although I did send it to Random House...my niece had worked there years before but still knew someone who walked it over to one of the editors...I received a lovely personal letter that said it was a sweet book and encouraged me to pursue other publishing houses...however, I was involved with Show Me How at that time, so it sits in a drawer...maybe it’s time to dust it off. :))  My daughter-in-law drew the cover and also the images that appear on every page...so I didn’t have to worry about image rights.
SLH:  Did you hire a cover designer?
VK:  No, as I explained in #5, my daughter-in-law did the cover.  The book recommends three activities that can help build self-esteem...reading, crafting and cooking.  She borrowed photos of my own children when they were in the two to five-year old age range and she drew them in the cover picture...so Jason, the oldest who was always book-crazy, is the one reading the book, Peter (her husband), who loves to cook and is an amazing amateur chef, is stirring up the bowl of veggies and Caroline, my youngest who loves to craft and makes beautiful framed scrapbook-like pictures to give as gifts, is sitting with a bouquet of construction paper flowers.  So for me, the cover is extremely meaningful.  Because of Andrea’s artistic eye, it is also balanced and eye-catching.  A WORD OF ADVICE: They say the cover is one of the most important elements of your book...and I believe it.  If you have your book traditionally published, you have nothing to say about it.  But, if you self-publish, your input should be important to whomever you hire...make sure it is a cover that would compel you to take the book off the shelf.
SLH:  What formats is your book available in?  Hardcover?  Paperback?  E-book?  Print-on-demand?  How did you get it into each format (e.g. if it's available on Kindle and Smashwords did you need different formats and were you able to get the book into those formats yourself or did you hire someone?)
VK:  Show Me How is available in paperback.  We did not do print-on-demand...Jostens is a traditional off-set printer...so the printing quality is great and their staff have quite a lot of experience.   That said, even though I specified early on that I wanted the pages of the book to stay open when someone opened it and put it on the table, they used the wrong type of paper (short as opposed to long...or the other way around) and so the book snaps shut.  They sent the first copy of the book in advance of the delivery of the order...and when I saw the problem, I called and they were amenable to giving me a discount...and free shipping.  There is also a Kindle edition of the book which was converted from the word/pdf file into the Kindle format by the publishing friend of my daughter...for a reasonable fee...that was an area I was not willing to try myself.  A WORD OF ADVICE: Do your research and know what you want and make it clear and put it in writing when contracting with anyone concerning your book.
SLH:  How have you gone about marketing your book?  What has been most successful?
VK:  If only I had known...how often do we hear that?  I took a “Build Book Buzz” course with Sandra Beckwith in the summer of 2010 and learned about the whole new world of book marketing and promotion.  That course was one of the smartest things I did in this book journey...it helped me focus on what I needed to do and gave me many of the tools I would need to do it.  But it couldn’t do it for me.
My book was published in September of 2010...I started my website and blog and Twitter and Facebook (personal page...still have not completed the page for Show Me How..why the resistance, I don’t know...I guess I’m not sure I am doing it correctly) in August of 2010. The internet can be an extremely valuable marketing tool...but you need to be established and have a following.  If only I had known...I would have started years before.  In addition, I believe it would have been better had I hired a professional web designer who understood the complexities of SEO optimization, keywords and the other elements that are important in having a successful website.  Again, I opted for my daughter and daughter-in-law...both did a fantastic job...but neither was an expert in that...and both have full-time jobs...so after they set everything up, I took over and maintain everything myself.  Although I’ve learned a great deal, I still have a long way to go.
As soon as my books were delivered:
·       I put out a press release through PRWeb...this did get some buzz going...but I know that a press release program consists of multiple releases...at least one a month if one wants to get good publicity results and I was not able to fund a program like that.
·       I began sending out copies to everyone who had done an endorsement.  (I got quite a few wonderful endorsements by contacting authors and illustrators of the picture books recommended in Show Me How...they read the book and loved it...never be shy about asking for a testimonial if you are proud of what you wrote). 
·       I also began to connect with mom bloggers and others who I thought might be willing to read the book and review it.  Over the last year and a half, there have been over three dozen reviews and guest posts.
·       My attempt to connect with the media (local reporters, parenting section of the local newspaper) has had limited success.
·       I contacted the volunteer department of our local school district and arranged to do a Show-Me-How Story-time with Miss Vivian program of reading and crafting in the kindergartens and Pre-K’s on a bi-weekly basis. 
·       I also contacted the local children’s librarian and have done several library story and craft programs.
·       I walked into a few local bookstores (really hard for me because of my shyness) and was able to place my book in them.  I also connected with a children’s boutique in Chicago (where my son lives) and was able to place the book there (and have done an event there as well).
·       I contacted the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and was lucky enough to have them endorse the book and recommend it to their chapters as a great resource for families who have children with diabetes (one of the chapters bought 15 copies...but I never heard from any of the other chapters). 
·       I took part in several local events, paying for a booth in two of them (Fun Fest where I partnered with PBS and Festival of Trees where I partnered with the Ecumenical Social Ministries) where I crafted with children...at the PBS Kids Fun Fest last summer, over 200 children did crafts at the Show Me How table.
·       I was interviewed on two blog radio programs.
·       I entered Show Me How in the Indie Awards for Excellence in Books...and was a finalist in the Parenting/Family category.
·       I respond to HARO queries (Help A Reporter Out) and Reporter Connection queries.  These are free services (of course, their parent companies are each selling publicity packages) that send you an email every day or several times a day.  In each email you will find queries from journalists, reporters, authors and others who are looking for experts in different fields.  If you see a query that speaks to your expertise, you can answer it and hopefully, the journalist will want to use something you said.  This, I have found, is great free publicity, especially for a non-fiction book like mine.  Last December, I answered a query from a writer for Parenting Magazine.  I was quoted in the lead article of the February issue and my book was mentioned. Before February, I had only sold a few copies of my book on Amazon.  During the month of February, 65 copies sold on Amazon. I’ll be quoted again in an article in the September issue and also in Parents Magazine...not sure which month yet.  This avenue of marketing does take a lot of time...and you have to be willing to write something of value to people who may not want it or need it...however, I’ve seen that it can work really well.
·       I connected with Lexie Lane who runs www.Wikimommy.com, a site like Wikipedia, but specifically for moms.  I’m the Portal Mom for the Children’s Portal and have contributed a dozen or more articles. Again, it’s a lot of writing...but hopefully, the exposure will pay off.  At the very least, I know I am contributing articles that will be of value to parents who can easily access the website.
I’ve definitely tried a bunch of marketing avenues...probably too many!  For me, the school/library programs, event booths, blog reviews and giveaways, books in bookstores, bookstore events and media coverage (a few articles in a small local paper) have provided a very poor sales result.  The article in Parenting Magazine was by far the leading sales getter.  A WORD OF ADVICE: Each of us has a particular comfort zone...some people love speaking in front of groups...others love social media.  Check out the various ways you can market your book and pick the ones that you enjoy...and make sure you leave time in your day for your family and yourself...the blogging/social networking/school visits/etc. can wear you down...and the whole idea of it all is, after all, to enjoy what you are doing!
SLH:  Do you do school/library visits or library/bookstore readings/signings?  How have sales been in relation to those visits?
VK:  As I mentioned in #8, I have done school visits (21 classroom presentations this school year and 24 last year and 3 PTA programs this year) plus 3 library programs and 6 bookstore events (and I work four days a week...now you know why I sometimes miss commenting on some of the PPBF posts).  At every presentation and event, all the children and/or parents receive a printed flyer that has a short bio and contact info along with a sample book summary, craft project and recipe from the book and a bookmark that has a picture of my book cover, two endorsements from famous picture book authors (Clifford the Big Red Dog and Angelina Ballerina) and my contact info.  I’m sorry to say that all those school presentations only resulted in less than half a dozen books sold...at one PTA meeting I sold 4 books, none at the library programs and only a few at the bookstore events, which are usually poorly attended.  They say it is not the book...but the hook...that gets people to buy a copy.  To be fair, I think when parents come to a library, school or kid’s event, they are not coming with the thought of buying a book...they are coming with the intention of enjoying a story or craft with their children.   And I think that if the bookstore does not do a good job of getting the word out, the author needs to...the question is how?  Before a story and craft event in August (geared to kids who would be starting school for the first time) at a local Family Christian Bookstore, I put up posters at the local Vitamin Cottage, Whole Foods and Sunflower Market (after obtaining permission from the managers of each store...another difficult hill to summit for a shy person) and tweeted about it and posted it in the online parenting calendar of the local newspaper...one person showed up from a town 40 miles away because she had seen it in that online calendar and had a daughter who was hesitant about going to kindergarten.  I was thrilled to do the program for this child...and there were a few other kids who wandered over and took part...their parents were shopping in the store and made their way over when they were ready to leave...but I have to be honest and say the turnout was disappointing.  If someone has the secret of how to publicize this type of event, I hope they will share it. :)  A WORD OF ADVICE: They say it is important to plant the seed.  If you want to get your book out there, you have to get out there with your book.
SLH:  What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self-publishing?
VK:  Self-publishing takes effort...and patience...and determination...and motivation...you need to do your homework...it takes some outlay of money...but the rewards can be wonderful.  A WORD OF ADVICE: A support group is a necessary resource...whether it is family, friends and/or an online community.
SLH:  Any particular pitfalls to avoid?
VK:  As I said in the answers above, know what you want as far as type of book format...get recommendations for printers, PR companies, etc. from people who have done it already...put everything in writing (if you are paying out your money, you want to make sure you get what you pay for)...make sure your manuscript is word perfect (because there will only be a few mistakes instead of many when it has been checked over and over and over again and is word perfect).  A WORD OF ADVICE: Before you sign anything, read it several times...and have someone you trust read it also.  Don’t rush into anything...but don’t procrastinate either...your book won’t get out there unless you take a leap of faith!
SLH:  Anything else you'd like to add?
VK:  Authors who self-publish need to think about how they will price their book...you need to be competitive...but you need to make a profit.  There are various formulas and templates you can find online and in printed material to guide you.  From experience, I would say it is important not to overprice your book...the potential buyer who takes it off the shelf may experience sticker-shock.  Unfortunately, I did that...but lowered the price as time went on and I got a better sense of what people were willing to pay.  That said, it's also important not to underprice the book, as when you place the book in bookstores or other venues, they will want between 30% and 50% of the final sales price.  When you list your book on Amazon, they also take a cut (I think it is 20%)...if you have your book listed on Amazon through their Fulfillment Program (they keep copies in their warehouse and they ship it out), their take is 55%.  If you sell your book on your own website, using PayPal to enable purchasers to easily buy it, PayPal takes a small cut...a little more than 5%, I think.

Thank you so much for that wealth of information, Vivian!  I'm sure I can speak for everyone when I say we have all learned so much!

If you'd like to find, visit, follow, like Vivian, you can find her here:


And now, you all have the opportunity to be the lucky person who wins a signed copy of Show Me How, a book that any teacher or parent will find invaluable, and that writers can use as a resource for great picture books!  Just leave a comment telling why you'd like the book!

Thank you all for joining us for today's interview.  I know it was long, but I hope you all found it as enlightening as I did
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June 22, 2012

Self-Publishing Mini-Series - Meet Suzanne McGovern (And A Giveaway!)

I'm sure we're all in a little bit of withdrawal on our first Friday without PPBF, so to lessen the sting a little - well, a LOT really! - I have a fantastic and educational post to share with you, the first in our 4 part mini-series on self-publishing!

(Also, a large plate of assorted danish... help yourselves :))

Also, there will be an awesome giveaway at the end of this post!

So without further ado, let's welcome Suzanne McGovern.  Thank you so much for joining us, Suzanne!
Suzanne McGovern
SLH:  When did you first become interested in writing?  Was it something you always did, or something you came to later in life?

SM:  I’ve been an avid reader since I was a young child, and writing assignments were always my favorite in school, but I wouldn’t say that writing stories was something I always did. What has been clear for as long as anyone can remember, however, is that I am horse crazy.
Suzanne with Gator (dk. bay) and Milo (gray)

SLH:  If you began as a child, were you encouraged by family/teachers?

SM:  I was encouraged by my parents to pursue all of my interests and got positive feedback on my writing from family and friends (though, again, writing wasn’t a spoken passion at the time). In high school, for me, writing became part of my self-identity.

SLH:  If you began later, what drew you to it?

SM:  The opportunity to express myself – to talk about a particular topic or situation through my own lens. As a Communications and English/Journalism double major at the University of Delaware, I always enjoyed writing features and “column” type stories more than reporting news.

SLH:  Is there an author who has been especially inspirational or instrumental in your own development as a writer?

SM:  So many writers have impacted me as a reader – it’s much too hard to choose just one or two. I can say that when it came to writing my Gator books, the gold standard I had in mind was a poem written by Jimmy Cagney about his deceased dog – “A Dog Named Beau.” It was so simple, so illustrative, so poignant and so pure.  That’s what I wanted my stories to be.

SLH:  You are self-published.  How and why did you decide to go that route?

SM:  Though I had crafted my Gator idea and written several scripts, I had virtually no access to publishers. I’d heard the endless stories of manuscripts sitting in piles on publishers’ desks with little chance of ever being read and considered. And I heard horror stories about writers who lost all input and access to their stories once they signed a deal. I had one friend of a friend in publishing who told me that my stories were nice, but that rhyme doesn’t sell – that, at minimum, I needed to rewrite them as prose. To me, this was sacrilege, as I believe the rhyme in my stories is a critical part of what I have to offer as a writer. I like the rhyme. And moms who read the stories said they liked reading it aloud. Long story short, I decided to focus my efforts on publishing the series as I envisioned it, end to end, vs. trying to please publishers (if and when I actually connected with one!). This required a tremendous investment of time, energy and dollars on my part, but it enabled me to maintain control of the entire process. This was important to me, as I only had one idea (I’m not prolific like some writers I know!)  and that idea was based on personal experience, so I wanted to keep it pure.  I realized in making this choice that I would be severely limiting my ability to publish and market my work, but it was a choice I made regardless.

SLH:  Can you describe the process?  How did you get your illustrator?  How did you manage paying the illustrator (flat fee, royalties?) Did you have a contract with your illustrator?  How did you decide where to have your book printed?  Did you hire an editor at any stage?

SM:  I didn’t have an editor at any time, but an advertising copy writer friend did proof the stories and offer a few suggestions in terms of word choice and punctuation.
I found my illustrator Donna in an unusual way… I started with an extensive online search, which yielded a few illustrators of interest; however, all had agents and I’d been told by a few friends to avoid illustrators with an agent if at all possible, as the agent’s fee drives the total cost of hiring an illustrator up quite a bit.
At the same time, at the suggestion of a friend, I phoned SCBWI to ask for guidance on negotiating Illustrators’ fees. (I had zero experience at any of this!) The woman at SCBWI offered to post my job on the SCBWI online bulletin board, for members to consider. So, I submitted a short classified ad and, within days, started receiving emails and links to portfolios – 20+ in all. One or two even took the initiative to draw a spec illustration based on the requirements I’d outlined in my ad. I considered each one carefully, made a short list of two, interviewed both by phone and requested additional spec work. In the process, it became clear to me that Donna Bizjak was the one and only illustrator for Gator and me.
Donna and I sign a contract for each Gator book (three so far). I believe doing is is critical -- it is both professional and practical; it protects us both. We negotiated a flat fee, which was my preference, given that I had no idea where this project was headed and I wanted to be sure Donna felt she was being fairly compensated for her amazing work.
For printing, I again conducted an in-depth online exploratory around domestic, digital, on demand and printing abroad. For my purposes and given several key considerations, printing abroad proved to be the best option.

SLH:  As a self-published author, how do you handle marketing and distribution?  What has worked best for you?

SM:  By day, I work a career in advertising, so I have a solid foundation in marketing. At the same time, the time I have to focus on marketing my Gator series is limited to nights and a few hours on the weekend. I got the three books I’ve published so far on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. I built a web site. I did some readings and book fairs. And, I sold the books to local shops door to door. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time or wherewithal to pursue the type of marketing efforts I know have the best potential to build awareness and drive sales. This is frustrating, but I console myself by believing that the books are timeless – they will still be relevant whenever I have the opportunity to make them a priority.

SLH:  Have you tried digital publishing in any format?  Can you share your experience?

SM:  No, I have not tried digital publishing. My exploratory indicated that digital publishing options are inhibitive for a classic children’s storybook – no hard covers, no sewn binding, sometimes no color, limited page sizes. As with publishing, I had a very specific vision of what I wanted the books to be and digital printing wasn’t able to meet my needs. Important to note -- this was about seven years ago and things may have changed by now. I do recall that digital printing was the most economical option for modest quantities, a major pro for that route!

SLH:  Have you done apps for any device?  Can you share your experience?

SM:  No, but it’s a great idea. I’d love to pursue the Gator series as both e-books and apps. For me, there’s nothing like books printed on paper, but digital is an absolutely critical path to pursue today.

SLH:  Where/when/how do you get your ideas?

SM:  Horses have always been my passion. I’d wanted a horse of my own since I was about eight years old but, given realities, it took me until my mid-30’s to make it happen. Until that time, as much as I loved a good book, and as much as I wanted to write, I never felt I had anything of interest to say…no story to tell, no ideas. That all changed when my first horse, Gator (aka Montana) came into my life – then the Gator stories just started popping out of me. My childhood dream come true was also the lens through which I realized what I wanted to say and how to say it.

SLH:  What has been the most challenging thing you have faced as an author and/or as a self-published author?

SM:  Too little time to make it happen. If I had the time, I’d probably be most challenged by the financial investment required. When you self publish, you’re on your own for everything – figuring out how who to sell to, how to sell, marketing, distribution, franchise development, finding a partner/investor, etc. As best I can tell, traditional distribution points (i.e., retail chains and larger independent booksellers, as well as smaller independents beyond driving distance) are not accessible to those without a publisher. Non-traditional marketing is the way to go for the self publisher – I believe there’s major success to be had via clever efforts online.

SLH:  What has been the most wonderful thing that has happened to you as an author?

SM:  I’ve created something I’m proud of, so I’d say the most wonderful thing is the sense of accomplishment at having actually become the writer I’ve aspired to be since college (albeit in my own small way). There’s nothing like a child telling me how much he or she loves Gator, or calling out a favorite detail from the books. Or, a parent telling me that my Gator books are bedtime favorites on the night stand, alongside famous classics handled by major publishers.

SLH:  Do you do school visits?  Would you be kind enough to briefly describe your program/presentation?  What is your preferred age range and group size?  Do you have materials available for parents/teachers to go along with your books(s)?

SM:  I’ve done a few, but not enough to intelligently comment here.

SLH:  What advice do you have for authors just starting out?

SM:  Frankly, I think I’m the wrong person to ask, as I consciously chose not to follow the traditional rules of writing for or pursuing publishers. In doing so, I understood that I was not setting myself up to create a writing career, but it was more important to me to bring my personal project to life exactly as I’d envisioned. All I can suggest is to be honest with yourself about your objective, do the necessary homework to understand how to pursue that objective (unbelievable how much information and how many resources are available online), and keep the energy flowing as you go. The process can be both exciting and gratifying (as well as scary and frustrating) – whether you win or lose, it’s a great life adventure and fantastic learning experience.

SLH:  Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on now?

SM:  As previously mentioned, my “day job” has absorbed all of my time over the past couple of years. (After all, it is the day job that funds the self publishing!). So, I’m not working anything new. Just looking forward to a time when I can really dig into all the ideas I have for Gator.

SLH:  Do you attend writer’s conferences?  Enter contests?

SM:  No, not since I entered a few contests with the first book.

SLH:  What has been your best selling book so far?  Which book's sales (if any) did not do as well as expected?  Why do you think that might have been?  Were you surprised by one book's success over another's?

SM:  As previously noted, all of my sales have come through local door-to-door distribution and personal sales. I’ve sold the most of the first book in the series, Gator and Pete – More Alike Than It Seems. But I think that’s because I was able to focus the most time and energy on that one. Less for Blue Ribbon Gator . And, less still for Gator to the Rescue.
One interesting learning for me – Moms seem to like Gator and Pete best, because they love the sweet story and the moral. They say they love to read it to their little ones. At the same, kids seem to like Blue Ribbon Gator best, because it shows lots of horses, has lots of movement and has lots of bright, primary colors. They also say they like winning – go figure!
My personal favorite is Gator and Pete, so I published it first to ensure it made it to print if I was only able to do one.

Where can we find you?
gatorsgang.com; suzanne@gatorsgang.com


Books can be ordered direct from Suzanne's website, or from Amazon!

Just for fun quick questions:
Agented or not?  Not
Traditionally or self-published?  Self
Hard copy or digital? Hard copy
Apps or not? Unfortunately, not (yet!)
Plotter or pantser? Not sure what this meansJ
Laptop or desktop?  Laptop
Mac or PC?  PC
Day or night worker?  Night
Coffee or tea?  Hot chocolate
Snack or not?  Absolutely
Salty or sweet?  Sweet
Quiet or music?  Depends on the day but, generally, quiet if I’m creating.
Cat or dog?  Horse!
Currently reading?  The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and A Respectable Wife by Robert Goolrick.

Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge and expertise with us, Suzanne!  We all really appreciate it!


Now then, Suzanne has graciously offered to answer any questions y'all might have, but she is traveling, so please be patient for your answers :)


In addition, we are offering a fantastic giveaway - a complete set of the Gator and Pete books - that's 3 hardcover picture books, folks! - signed by the author!  All you have to do to qualify is leave a comment saying who you would like the books for (it's okay to say yourself :))

I hope you will all be back Monday for our visit with Vivian (and just so you know, I know this was a long interview and post - Vivian's is long too - she was incredibly generous with her knowledge and advice - but the other two are not this long! :))

Have a great weekend everyone! :)


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