I am confident that every member of SCBWI loves writing and/or illustrating above most, if not all, other activities. At the same time, I suspect the vast majority of people who join SCBWI do not do so solely for the love of writing and illustrating. They join because they want to be published.
But what does it mean to be published these days? Let’s take a brief look at what’s happened to the publishing industry over the past few years. The “traditional” model, where an author submits a manuscript to a publisher who “acquires” it, pays the author an advance and then the author earns royalties if s/he earns out the advance, still exists. In fact, traditional children’s publishing is thriving, especially when compared to other genres.
Several years ago, publishing began to change in a big way as new technologies, such as e-readers and tablets, emerged which enabled authors to self-publish and distribute their own work much more economically than had been possible in the past. We started seeing many discussions about “self” versus “traditional” publishing. These discussions have been useful, but what tends to get lost is that other opportunities to publish exist, opportunities that blend the best of both the self and traditional publishing worlds.
My first book, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS, was published first as an interactive storybook app for the iPad and is now available in print. Most people, upon hearing the book was published digitally, assumed it was self-published. Not so. My publisher, Little Bahalia, acquired the manuscript with the intention of publishing it first as an app. The publisher edited the manuscript, hired and art directed the illustrator, produced the app, and published it to the iTunes store. The only thing “non-traditional” about this publishing deal was the format.
|An image from MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN|
My next book, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, will also be published by Little Bahalia in fall 2014 as a print picture book. This time, the approach we took was a bigger departure from conventional publishing. I ran a campaign (ongoing) to fund the initial costs associated with producing, publishing, and printing the book via Kickstarter. Little Bahalia, however, is still in the “publisher” role and I am still in the “author” role. In other words, Little Bahalia decided they wanted to publish the book under their name with the goal of eventually earning a profit from sales of the book. I’m not simply paying them for their publishing services, which is akin to self-publishing.
In this model, I will provide the funds to Little Bahalia to publish the book, through the first-run printing, via the funds I raise on Kickstarter. In a “reverse advance” model, Little Bahalia earns out those fees via book sales. Once they earn back the fees, the royalty structure returns to a traditional model of the publisher receiving their share, the author, the illustrator, and in this case my agent, receive their shares.
Why does my agent earn her commission? Because she helped me both develop and negotiate the contracts required to make this deal work. Freelance editor and publishing professional Emma Dryden wrote a fantastic guest post on this topic on my blog a couple of weeks ago about what is now being called “hybrid publishing,” or the “in-between” for those atmospheric writers out there.
What’s even more interesting is that in the span of time I’ve been running the Kickstarter campaign for my book, two other well-published (traditionally), agented authors have announced their own projects that fall outside the exact realm of “traditional” publishing.
Author/illustrator Katie Davis’ picture book, LITTLE CHICKEN’S BIG DAY, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2011. She and her husband wanted to write and illustrate a sequel titled LITTLE CHICKEN’S BIG CHRISTMAS, but as a self-published ebook this time. Katie’s agent consulted with S&S, got the go-ahead, and Katie published the book to the Kindle store in time for the holiday season.
Ann Whitford Paul, of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS fame, and illustrator Nancy Hayashi recently self-published a print picture book called ‘TWAS THE LATE NIGHT OF CHRISTMAS because, as Ann said, “our book is not easily classified.” The book is a parody of Clement C. Moore’s famous poem but with a more adult slant, from the perspective of an exhausted mother in the post-Christmas chaos.
What these three books all have in common is that they didn’t easily fit today’s market parameters for traditionally published picture books. Mine because it is a bedtime poem rather than a character-driven book with a narrative arc. Katie wanted to experiment with publishing an ebook with a fast time-to-market. Ann’s was written as much for adults as for children. Yet, each book has found an audience.
Does the existence of non-conventional publishing options make membership in SCBWI less relevant? On the contrary, I think it makes SCBWI membership even more important. Why? Because the first thing we need to do before publishing is make sure we have a fantastic book to offer, and SCBWI is the master of teaching craft.
Secondly, more publishers and agents themselves will be thinking about new and alternative ways to publish, and those opportunities will be presented to SCBWI members as they become available.
Last, but certainly not least, the connections made within SCBWI are invaluable. I met my publisher at a regional SCBWI conference. I met the illustrator for MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, Susan Eaddy, at the SCBWI booth at the Bologna Book Fair in 2012. In fact, I first pitched my agent Erzsi Deak at that same booth. I met the host of this very blog, Mr. Lee Wind, at the 2010 SCBWI Winter conference in New York.
Gather those contacts, serve them well, and keep them close. Some of them may lead you to traditional publishing contracts. Others may lead you to an “in-between.” Either way, it’s our audience, the children, who benefit by having more books made available to them in many formats and voices.
Julie Hedlund is a Children’s author. She’s had two books published as interactive storybook apps for the iPad by Little Bahalia Publishing -- A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS and A SHIVER OF SHARKS. A print version of TROOP was released in fall 2013.
Julie is the creator of Julie Hedlund’s Template for Storybook App Proposals and the founder and host of the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge, with more than 500 members. She is a monthly contributor on Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books children’s literature podcast, and a PAL member of SCBWI.