Thursday, January 24, 2013

How I Published a Board Book

Photo courtesy Jessie Kirk Photography


It was surprising to me how quickly I went from "wannabe" publisher to "accomplished expert" after I published my children's board book: "Dark & Light: A Love Story in Black and White."

As local author/publisher Dan Deweese told my now-famous friend Laura Stanfill and me at the last Wordstock literary festival in Portland:

"It's only crazy until you do it."

I've now had half-a-dozen people write and ask me for the nuts and bolts of how I published the book, so I've decided to compile this here FAQ. If you have additional public-friendly questions, don't hesitate to put them in the comments and I'll answer them. If you have more private or lengthy questions, then I think you will agree that my expertise is worth something to you! Our interaction would therefore be called "consulting." Write me an e-mail, and I'd love to set up a phone appointment! (Rates are reasonable and barter is often acceptable.)


Why don't you have a literary agent?
It's not as easy as calling up an agency and going: "Hey, mang, gimme one-a-dem agents y'all got." Getting a good agent is just as hard as — if not harder than — getting a good job. Not only do you have to have the right idea and the ability to execute it well, you need to present it to the right person, in the right way and have the right qualifications. This all requires a lot of time, energy and relationships that — because of my need ASAP for cash for Malachi's medical needs — I decided were better spent doing it myself.
That said I would love to have an agent and I hope to one day realize that dream.

Why didn't you publish your books traditionally?
Well, you almost always need an agent to publish a book traditionally, so see above. But also I knew that I wanted the Dark & Light series to be baby-friendly and therefore a board book. As agent Jennifer Laughran mentions here, board books are almost never original stories. They are either smaller, more-durable versions of old classics or concept books (colors, numbers) designed in-house. "Breaking in" to the traditional publishing world with a board book is practically unheard of.

Why did you create a whole publishing company instead of using a POD (publish-on-demand) service?
Again, because it was a board book. I used an POD service for my novella and it was SO MUCH EASIER. I would have loved to just do that instead of making my own company.

What did you have to do to set up a publishing company?
Mostly the same things you'd have to do to set up any business — business license, business accounts, QuickBooks for bookkeeping. I also took a free class through the local Small Business Association, but it was mostly not relevant because I don't have a public "store" and I don't have employees.
I also had to figure out shipping supplies and procedure, and tracking orders received and orders sent. This is actually a lot more difficult than I gave it credit for.
Then there is managing the website. A really nice guy at All Media Bainbridge helped set up the shell and added a shopping cart feature, and I used the skills I've gained from this blog to do the rest.
UPDATE 1/28/13: A few other things I forgot to mention. I had to get ISBNs and barcodes from Bowker and register my lovely work of art with the US Copyright Office.

What printing firm did you use?
I did a lot of research at various stages. I'll save you the details, but I ended up with CM Printing and I was very pleased with both their service and product. They are not fluent in English, but they know their stuff and are perfectly able to convey that knowledge in English. CM Printing has an MOQ (minimum order quantity) of 500 copies and many options. They can let you know how much it will cost to print your product, but they print it exactly as sent to them. No design work. You need to know what terms like grayboard and CMYK mean. They are a printer, not a publisher.
UPDATE 1/28/13: Proceed with great caution with using CM Printing. They seem to be in a legal dispute and it is unclear who the "real" CM Printing is. I have taken down the link to their site pending further investigation.

Why didn't you use an American printer?
I looked into it, but again it's the board book issue. No American printer could make a board book for less than anybody would buy it. The only ones out there are custom board book printers that are, for example, $20 for a single copy of a book with your baby's name in it, etc.
I've also heard there are affordable board book printers in Mexico, but I wasn't able to find them. China was just fine.

How did you raise capital?
I used Kickstarter. You can read my tips about how I managed that fundraiser here.
I think crowd-source funding options are AWESOME for launching a product because you can see if people will actually buy it before you have a massive order sitting in your garage. It also turns sales into more of an "event" with a time limit and lets you offer really cool rewards, like printing their name in the book. I highly recommend it.
However, I do not recommend Kickstarter itself. They have a weird rule that if your product's profits go to a good cause, you are not allowed on their site. They sent me a stern e-mail literally hours before the end of my campaign saying that I was "blatantly violating" their policy. They still let me go through with it, but they never made me a featured product or a "staff pick," even though I was almost constantly in the top-three most-popular products in my category. Since they have a bizarre bias against products that help people, I am planning to use IndieGoGo, which is not only less restrictive but cheaper, for my next book.

Was it worth it? You know, like, monetarily?
Hmm... to be determined?
Unequivocally, yes, it was worth it to me for a wide variety of reasons both personal and professional.
However, we have yet to turn a huge profit on the book. Most of our momentum came from Kickstarter and after Christmas, sales stopped dead. We have plans for more marketing and you never know what tomorrow will bring, so I have hope and am taking the long view. But if my time were worth anything on my balance sheets, then, no, I don't think I can say it has penciled out yet.

Hey, what are your qualifications/experience anyway?
I was a reporter and editor at small community newspapers for three years before the complications with my pregnancy led me to resign. During that time, and in college as a journalism major, I learned a lot about creating and selling print products, including writing and visual design, not to mention media relations. While this hardly made me an expert in the book publishing world, it did mean that I wasn't exactly a fish out of water.
Does this mean you can't do it if you have zero experience in publishing? No, but don't expect to be able to dive into the deep end right away. And if at all possible, you should hook up with someone who does have experience.


I hope you found this informative! Feel free to share using the icon buttons below and if you haven't subscribed to my RSS feed, liked me on Facebook or followed me on Twitter, there's no time like the present! Oh, and Dark & Light: A Love Story in Black and White is available here and all profits go towards my son's medical needs. 

14 comments:

  1. I might have to seek your advise as I've started writing a book myself! Hope your having a great week!

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  2. Oh, this is exactly what I've been looking to learn more about. I have a board book that has been kicking around in my head, targeted at very young children in glasses, and I just haven't had any idea where to start. Well that's not quite true, I'd thought about a kickstarter, and I imagine I could probably (maybe?) get funding. But assuming I did get the funding, I've just been at a loss as to what to do next. Your caution at the end about diving in with no publishing experience (I'm a librarian, so I guess I have a tiny bit, from the wrong end), really really rang true to me.

    Do you handle all the shipping of the books yourself? Would you be willing to share how much time outside the actual creation of the book you've spent on this other stuff? Have you considered using your publishing company to publish other people's books?

    Thanks
    Ann Z

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    1. Glad you found this useful!

      I do handle distribution myself and it's been a major pain. I've been trying to figure out a distributor arrangement but so far all of them seem pretty sketchy.

      I spend the vast majority of my time doing the business stuff instead of the creative stuff. I would love to be a traditionally published author to have some of that taken away, but published friends I talk to say it's still about 50-50. :(

      I have considered using my publishing company to publish other people's books. My guess is that a consultant arrangement would be more appealing to people like yourself as it takes a lot of man-hours to pull something like this off. That said, I'm perfectly willing to do the work if people are willing to pay me for it. :)

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  3. Shasta, I love what you did! I am also an author. I have two books out: "Robin Cheeky and the Magical Smileys" and "Robin Cheeky Travels to the Land of Candy" I am working on the third book in the Robin Cheeky series, called "Robin Cheeky and the Cousin Club". I plan to have it available the first of November 2013. I do own my own publishing company, Brilliance Publishing, Inc. I have had a blast writing and creating. You are an inspiration. I really need to do Robin Cheeky board books. That is what directed me to your page. Good for you for publishing your own board book! Have a Cheeky Day! www.robincheeky.com

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  4. I have to tell you I love your passion for life. I am also a mother of twins (fraternal twin boys) and trying to remain as creative and entrepreneurial as I was before kids. Of course being a mom means new ideas! I have an awesome concept for a kids book and was thinking about publishing it and ran into the same issues you describe here. Thank you for sharing your story.

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    1. Great! Thanks for letting me know that this is helpful!

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  5. Hi Shasta! Have you found another reputable printer other than CM printing? Thanks so much!

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    Replies
    1. Not yet, though I will probably try CM again. I get the impression that the company is the same, it's just the contact person who is different. You can always try to get them to agree to an escrow situation, which may be my next step.

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  6. Dear Shasta, I am currently working on a concept board book and finds your information very helpful. My next step is to have the book designed and illustrated. Can you shed a light on what steps can I take to protect my book idea whilst sharing it to a potential illustrator/collaborator? Many Thanks Shasta!

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  7. what company in china did you use? and how many did they make you order?

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    1. As I mentioned in the post, I used CM Printing. They required payment upfront. It worked out well, but I don't know what they are doing these days and if they are trustworthy or not.

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  8. Thank you so much for this Q & A! It's encouraging. I've had a board book idea I've wanted to create and sell for about 3 years now. I didn't have the funding available for the printing. We did get ISBNs but it just got left on the back burner for a while. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!

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  9. Question, now that you basically own your own board book publishing company, would you ever consider taking on an author besides you? I have been doing lots of research, and you are absolutely right, there is no self publishing company that does board books. I have also seen the way they operate, an initial investment from the author, printing services, ibsn, copyright, and distribution, and the author gets royalties, is that something you have thought about doing? I have not only an idea for a book, but a series of books aimed to help autistic children learn the alphabet as well as develop social emotional awareness. I only see this as a board book in my vision, but because of the lack of board book publishers, am now considering other options. I would love your input, and thoughts on this. Thanks, Ashley

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  10. Hi Shasta! Thank you so much for your article! Would you mind sharing how much it cost to get the books printed in china? Was there a minimum order and how much did you pay per book? Thank you in advance!

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