The Self-Publishing Dilemma for Picture Book Authors

I wonder sometimes how much great literature has been lost for lack of a publisher or agent.

I have a friend who writes YA novels and publishes them online. It’s a viable way to go; but if you’re a picture book author and can’t draw a convincing stick figure, you’re out of luck. Without illustrations, it ceases to be a picture book; and when you’re writing for little people who can’t read for themselves or are just learning to read, those illustrations are essential to the book’s success. Simply e-publishing the words won’t do.

My sister sent me an article about some whiz kid named Charlie Kadado who, at the age of 17 (17!!!!), wrote a picture book and landed a publisher. Unhappy with the terms of his contract (25 cents per book), he decided to self-publish. So he hired an illustrator and published his first picture book, Perry Finds His Talent. The kid has chutzpah. I like that.

Charlie started Boundless Talents, a self-publishing company in Troy, Michigan, not too far from where I sit. It looks promising, though to date the website’s information is incomplete. It looks like Boundless Talents will be a full-service publisher, including illustrations and marketing, for those who want to bypass the traditional publishing houses and maintain control of their art, or who just can’t seem to get their foot in the traditional door. I wish Charlie and all of his future clients great success.

I have no lack of confidence in my stories. I think children would enjoy them and the books would sell. But money is a huge problem in that I don’t have any. I’ve checked out a couple of self-publishers and the fees are pretty scary. Some don’t provide illustrators, so you’re on your own as far as finding and paying for one. Some just print the books and leave all the marketing and distribution to the author. It’s a risky and expensive way to go.

The folks providing the self-publishing services have no real stake in an author’s work. They don’t collect royalties (as far as I know). They’re paid up front for their services and just put the product out there (often no further than delivering a box of books to the author’s home). What I would give for some middle ground! How about a publishing package that’s priced a little lower (OK, maybe a lot lower) in exchange for a cut of the book’s profits? That would certainly provide incentive for the marketing department to be aggressive while allowing the author to retain the rights and most of the money a book earns. Obviously, if they didn’t think the book had great sales potential, the self-publishing service would be under no obligation to offer such a package and could charge the standard fees.

Self-publishing has come a long way over the last few years, growing from the disdained “vanity publishing” of the past to a viable publishing option for today’s aspiring writers. If it evolves a little further, it might be an option for all of us.



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