The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – Prairie Wind Feature | Real Authors DO Self-Publish

The idea of indie publishing, also known as self-publishing, stirs people up. Some snub their noses at self-published authors. I know because I used to do the same thing. Committing to indie publishing didn’t happen for me overnight. It was more of a series of decisions, one built upon the other, that allowed me to take control of my writing career.

In 2018, my debut novel Because Of Khalid was published by Tiger Stripe Publishing. In the following months, I designed a website, sold books at festivals, and visited local schools. While doing all that, the first book of my Eco Warriors series went from a WIP to a completed manuscript.

When my SCBWI critique partner, Jeannette Lee, announced that there was a Twitter contest called RevPit, I entered. My pitch caught the eye of editor Bethany Hensel. I hired her for a manuscript critique. Once I completed my revisions, I set my sights on agents and small presses and submitted to whomever was open. While I was waiting to hear back from them, I decided to do a brand refresh, beginning with my website. It’s now called Earth-Friendly Fiction: Fact-Based, Middle-Grade, Climate-Focused.

While patiently (or impatiently at times) waiting, I educated myself about environmental issues which are at the core of my series. I participated in Plastic Free July, a global movement to increase awareness about plastic pollution, and I joined Go Green Winnetka, a local offshoot of a greater organization that encourages people to be more sustainable. These things inspired me to create a monthly newsletter called The Earth-Friendly Edition For People Who Love The Planet. It features eco-friendly fun things to read, learn, and do. I invite you to sign up or give it a read here on the site.

Still no word from those small presses. Not even a single rejection. I chose to believe that I was so far down in the slush pile that they just hadn’t read mine yet. So, I began writing Book Two of my series. My critique group went through it a couple of times. There was this nagging feeling that Book Two’s existence wouldn’t matter if Book One never saw the light of day.

On days when I should have been writing but instead was procrastinating, I took screenshots of every book cover I liked, printed them out, and taped them to my vision wall. Soon, I had a clear direction of how I’d like this book to look. If only I’d hear back from one of those small presses!

I went back to Bethany Hensel and hired her to do a complete manuscript revision. During one of our sessions, she brought up indie publishing. An annoying little voice kept telling me that “real authors don’t self-publish.” I ignored that voice and instead did some research. It turns out SCBWI has extensive information about self-publishing. What they don’t provide is a list of their own members who have taken this route. Could I do this thing without a community of support? I had so many questions and no one to ask.

More investigating led me to Ingram Spark, Ingram’s self-publishing branch. I discovered that they have the same global distribution opportunities as traditional publishing houses. I checked out Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Neither of them charge a set-up fee. Casting a wide net by using both Ingram Spark and KDP meant my book would be available for purchase everywhere: in bookstores, gift shops, other countries, and on Amazon. It was up to the individual bookstore or library to put it on their shelves, but all that would take was a simple request.

I was ready to commit, and then I announced my decision to family and friends. I had answers for everyone’s questions. I ignored their eye rolling and kept moving toward my goal. Indie publishing is more sustainable because it’s print on demand. So, no, I don’t have 10,000 copies stored in my garage. A few people said, “There are a lot of poorly written self-pub books out there.” That’s true. I whole-heartedly agree with them. My response, “There are also poorly written bestsellers published by the big houses. What’s your point?”

After making that vision board of cover art, I was ready to move quickly on this part of the process. I hired Christine Kettner on Reedsy. I discovered she had done the cover design for A Long Walk To Water by Linda Sue Park, one of my all-time favorite middle grade books. Christine has a long career as a book designer/art director working for publishing houses such as Disney, Harper Collins, Little Brown, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I was absolutely thrilled when this very talented and famous designer agreed to take on my project. I am her first Reedsy client, and we’re already collaborating on the next book in the series.

Does this sound like the road to self-publishing was smooth sailing? It wasn’t. I made a bunch of mistakes in the set-up process on Ingram Spark, forcing me to back track. I would have given anything to have had an experienced “me” leaning over my shoulder saying, “Don’t click that link! Do this instead. Take a deep breath. Don’t sprint toward the finish line.” I’ve learned so many valuable tips and tricks that I could teach a class on indie publishing. Let me know if you’re interested.

Indie publishing was a conscious commitment to pivot. It was a choice, not born out of rejection, but because of my intense desire to see this story out in the world. It was a test of patience and perseverance. Sometimes I was panicking. Other times, praying. But I’d like to believe that the tide is turning on indie publishing. More authors like me are unwilling to wait, are raising the bar, and are creating quality content that can stand on its own.