Sometimes I think this blog is just a hair flick away from a L’Oreal ad (self-publishing: because I’m worth it!). So on that note, ‘here comes the science bit’ …
Checking out which platform to use for Print On Demand feels a lot like wading through glue. For a start, there are many options: the big guns like Createspace and Lightning Source; the medium guns like Lulu.com; and the relatively new-to-the-market handguns like Completely Novel.
My starting point with all this was Karen Inglis’ very helpful webpage at http://kareninglis.wordpress.com/print-on-demand/ (thanks again Lorraine Gregory for feeding back on the talk Karen Inglis gave; lifesaver!) From there I looked into all the gun-size options (above) and probably stumbled through a couple more. I quite soon realised that the safest choices for someone wanting to seriously give self-publishing a go, are Createspace (run by Amazon) and Lightning Source (run by Ingram). It was a relief to come across a Huffington Post article that backed up this impression – and also beautifully sums up the considerations in an easily digestible graph. Check out: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terri-giuliano-long/self-publishing-platforms_b_2810092.html
So … when faced with deciding between two strong and similar options, I did what any sensible person does … and opted for both!
My thinking around why I will go for Createspace AND Lightning Source goes like this:
– Createspace and Lightning Source both provide the best trim (or book) size currently available for a children’s book on cream (the paper colour of choice for all fiction) [Lulu.com don’t, which is why, for my purposes, I discounted what is a great platform].
– Createspace is easy to use, supplies the self-published author with loads of tools, templates and information, customer support as well as a brilliant user forum where you can find the answer to any question.
– Setting up with Lightning Source is wield-y to manage for a novice publisher.
– Using Createspace has low set-up fees and offers a better author price per book (i.e. a better profit margin).
HOWEVER (and these are potential biggies):
– Lightning Source allows the publisher to set the wholesale discount
– Lightning Source distributes direct to UK bookstores
All this means that my plan is to set up on Createspace, then (additionally) move onto Lightning Source when I’m ready to tackle the UK bookstore market (and I don’t know when this will be, could be at launch, could be months post launch, could be … never?).
So far so good – ? Well, yes … except that in the meantime Ingram have launched Ingram Spark as an aimed-at-small-publishers alternative to Lightning Source. Well, I had been warned that this was a rapidly evolving market!
The theory is that Ingram Spark has all the advantages of Lightning Source but is more user-friendly. The only downside that I’ve seen in my reading so far is that Ingram Spark sets the retailer discount at 55% (industry standard) whereas one of the joys of Lightning Source is that the publisher can set its own retailer discount. Well – I’m not losing any sleep over this right now because I’ve got setting up on Createspace to worry about first – and once I get to the point of needing to distribute to UK retailers, I’ll look into the Lightning Source vs. Ingram Spark thing again. In the meantime there will presumably be a lot more information out there. After all, Ingram Spark is only 11 days old at the moment … a mere new-born.
Before winding up, I should say one thing about all these musings – my budget didn’t allow for considering the many companies out there that offer a “don’t worry, we’ll do it all for you” option (from printing, to marketing, to PR). If you’re flush – there’s a whole other box of fish to look into.
SO: if you’re really clever, have read all the above and now feel “oh right, I get it” then MAJOR congratulations. But if you’re like me and your brain is still thinking “oooh, pretty, shiny hair” while the ‘the science bit’ is on, don’t worry. You just need to re-read this post, the Karen Inglis’ post, any articles or comments you can find, the stuff on Createspace, Lightning Source, etc. etc. over and over. And over.
After the 384th reading it will all be clear as windows after a dust-storm. I promise …
Tuesday I’m heading off to a CWIG talk titled “Children’s Self-Publishing: Authors in Control?” so next week I’ll be reporting back any pearls of wisdom I manage to glean.
Avoiding Ankle Sprain and Letting Go
Using a photograph on the front cover of a middle-grade children’s book is a bit like jogging in stilettos – it can be done, but isn’t generally recommended. Certainly, you wouldn’t expect to win the London Marathon. And much like challenging Priscah Jeptoo whilst sporting Manolo Blahnik, I wouldn’t want to be the first to try … so I’ve found myself an illustrator.
There are, I’m sure, gazillions of ways to find an illustrator: through SCBWI – both British Isles and International; through friends; agencies; by checking out illustrators on already-published books; through illustrator or other sites like deviantART and Elance. I was completely overawed by the amazing talent out there … and ended up having a surreal moment of experiencing what it might feel like to be an agent. Really.
It happened after I posted a job on Elance and found myself going through proposals from 66 illustrators in places as diverse as Kazakhstan and Costa Rica. And after the first 20 there I was, scanning and declining submissions in a matter of seconds – like the best of ‘em! Turns out that what I’ve always heard is true: the high level of competition meant I considered only the illustrators whose style reflected EXACTLY what I was looking for … and once I already had a few strong contenders, I was looking for reasons NOT to like something. To top it off, when really inspired, I found myself writing the occasional email along the lines of “I really loved your work but it’s not what I’m looking for right now” … er … anyone heard THAT before??? It felt freaky to be on the other side of that message and has definitely got me looking at my (many) rejection letters in a new and more positive light. Every cloud, eh?
The main benefit of checking out lots and lots of illustrators’ work is that it gave me clues about what I did and didn’t want. A few times I sloped off to Waterstones or headed online to look at the different styles that are out there, trying to work out what I wanted to achieve, and whether what appealed to me would appeal to middle-grade readers. You could say that, for the first time, I really properly looked at book covers … and some way into this process it dawned on me that a book cover needs different skill-sets, and I had, wait for it …
OBVIOUS (to anyone else) REALISATION NO. 2:
A kids’ book cover needs an illustrator AND a designer.
Of course. Because the illustrator does the … yes, the illustration … but you need a designer to decide on fonts, where the blurb goes, how the title and author name will be laid out, etc., etc. In fact, a very kind SCBWI BI member informed me that in publishing houses, the designer will first make all the decisions on layout and fonts, then get the illustrator to provide artwork to fit around the design.
I’ve been lucky enough to find an illustrator who can also do book design. For a novice this seemed like a good choice, because it means I have one less person to factor into my incoherent ramblings about what I’m looking for … which brings me to the other thing: communication. As the person commissioning and instructing the illustrator, the challenge is to convey a strong, clear sense of the book and characters, because this informs the illustrator’s work. So unless you speak fluent Kazakh, that illustrator in Astana whose work you liked, well … he might not work out.
SO, for anyone who has wondered what could possibly be the upside of going-it-alone to publication, setting the ball rolling towards getting a cover for my book will likely be one of the highs (and yes, it may be the one and only upside).
Usually authors don’t have much input into how their book ends up looking, which is in some ways very sensible, because we’re writers, not visual artists (apart from you lucky and brilliant lot who do both). And bearing in mind we all absolutely do judge a book by its cover, The Book Cover is second in importance after The Manuscript on a list of ‘bits you really need (at least try) to get right’.
Speaking of which: as well as signing up an illustrator, I’ve also commissioned an editor to advise on the state of my ms. This means I’m now facing a new challenge – letting go … letting go while trying not to imagine what is happening to my ‘baby’. To take my mind of it, I may take up jogging … in trainers.
Thanks for reading. Next week I’ll be looking at the different platforms for Print On Demand. Hope to see you then.