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.