In the month of February – when I looked ahead and made the snap decision to self publish after a year of telling myself that it was not the way I wanted to go – I did a lot of research. Why should I publish via a “print on demand” company? Why shouldn’t I self publish?
The more I researched, the more I learned about the realities of publishing. Well-established authors are self publishing because their books are not getting into the shops in quantity. Many mainstream bookshops are not buying more than 5 copies from publishers and are not re-ordering when stock is sold. The internet has taken over.
I have already witnessed, to my dismay, that bookshops are closing. Amazon and similar web-based companies are destroying the shops we love to lurk, dream and relax in. During my last visit to the town where I lived for 33 years I was upset to find that the bookshop on the corner, the meeting place, the browsing place, the institution – has gone. In its place is a sports store. The town has lost two of its three bookstores.
When publishing books many years ago I learnt that marketing was not my thing, and that only independent booksellers bought from independent and small publishers. How would I ever get my work out to the people who might benefit from it? How did one begin? Then I remembered the growth of Facebook.
In the space of a few years, because of public initiatives I was involved in, I had Facebook friend requests from all over the place. My private family space had become a public connecting place. In accepting all those requests I was forced changed the way I used Facebook, moving from private to more public interactions. Hmmmmm. If I could cope with that, perhaps I could cope with on-line marketing too? It was an interesting but rather scary thought.
I ran the idea past my family. Half an hour or so later Little Goat Books had a name, a web address, a Facebook page, an internet profile, and I was looking for the print on demand company that would suit me best.
I chose Lulu ahead of Createspace and one or two other companies. Lulu gave me the option of doing my own page layout and cover design. I could upload directly to their site. They would handle all the sales and distribution for me. I had seen examples of Lulu books and was happy with the colour reproduction.
Createspace and its companion were marginally cheaper than Lulu and gave immediate access to Amazon sales, with bigger margins to the author if sold through Amazon. But Amazon is the giant that is killing bookshops. Some part of me was resistant to joining that throng. Closer investigation about systems, support, problem solving, taxation, and customer service kept returning me to Lulu. And so my choice was made.
I suppose the occasional “Are you self-publishing?” question did fuel a lingering doubt about the wisdom of being publisher, author and illustrator all in one. Had I failed myself in not actively seeking established publishers for my books? In January I had formed a plan to send proposals to publishers in three countries: New Zealand for the local stories, the UK for my rhyming children’s stories, and the USA for my stories with messages of peace. If I had followed that plan I would still be waiting to hear back from those publishers, ready with more packages to post to names further down the lists. My books would still be just manuscripts, drawings and dreams. Instead I am also a publisher, and have even received queries about publishing works for other authors.
Today I received a message from New Zealand from a customer. Here is a small part of her message, with any identifying details removed.
“The books have arrived – so quick, I paid for the fast delivery option to get them before I went away and they were here in only a couple of days. They are just delightful, I look after a special needs girl aged 15 … I have just read her Michelle and the Bumblebee. Well she was so interested and loved it, I’m saving When Mum Fell Asleep in the Bath for tomorrow. They really are just gorgeous, I love the drawings. Will have to order another lot I think, as I want to keep these. Have you any more that I can use for special needs, as she doesn’t have a long concentration span?”
When I read this request it hit me how free I am, as my own publisher. Yes, of course I will have something for special needs students, just give me a few more months. I was once a primary school teacher. Many years later I was a special needs teacher. After that I became an RTLB (Resource Teacher, Learning and Behaviour), working across several schools. I know how hard it is to source (and fund) appropriate books for these children. It will be my pleasure to follow this up, writing with this need in mind. Self publishing is the very thing that gives me the freedom to say “Certainly – I’ll let you know as soon as the books are available.” In fact, via self publishing, I can produce as many titles as I like – even to order, should a special case need it. If each one sells only one copy per school, they will have been useful additions to classrooms and libraries, bookshelves and toy boxes.
I proudly embrace the knowledge that my books have already served their purpose somewhere. Just think – they could still be languishing in the in-box in a publisher’s office. Instead they are bringing smiles and laughter, and are piquing the interest of children of all ages.
I am happy with my decision; in self publishing I feel an exciting freedom that I didn’t expect to find.