Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Class Clown Academy: SCBWI's President Self-Publishes his latest book (after more than 60 traditionally published titles!)

Author Stephen Mooser

Stephen Mooser has written both stand-alone books (like his first published title, 101 Black Cats (Scholastic), Orphan Jeb at the Massacree (Knopf) and Shadows on the Graveyard Trail (Dell Yearling); series, including The Treasure Hounds (Troll), The Creepy Creature Club (Dell), The All-Star Meatballs (Dell) and Goofball Malone, Ace Detective (Penguin); and also nonfiction books about the weird and strange, including The Unknown: Nine Astounding Stories (Lippincott) and The Man Who Ate A Car and Tons of Other Weird True Stories (Dell).

A co-founder of the SCBWI, Steve has had over 60 books for children and young readers traditionally published.

His latest book is Class Clown Academy, and it's one that he chose to self-publish.

This news was so unexpected (and fascinating) that I had to find out more. Here's my interview with Stephen...

Lee: Hi Steve!

Steve: Hi back

Lee: So, you've traditionally published something over 60 books for young readers, and now, you're doing something different - self publishing?

Steve: Yes, the last book I wrote, Class Clown Academy, a Wayside School type format failed to sell for a number of reasons. Normally I would not have considered self publishing but I believed in this book and also believed it had certain aspects that lent itself to self publishing

Lee: Okay, so you have a book you really believe in that isn't getting traction the traditional route. What were the factors that made you decide to self-publish rather than continue to try the traditional publishers?

Steve: We had tried all the traditional publishers. 3 agents had tried. What made the book special was that it lent itself to becoming a virtual school. Over 3 years my team built the school www.classclownacademy. The school will drive people to the book, which is available in the student store.

Lee: So it's a website that's a virtual school, and in the school bookstore readers can buy your book?

Steve: Yes, and yes. They can also buy hats and bumper stickers and much more. Now my job-a huge one - is to drive people to the site!

Lee: I spent some time on the site this morning, reading in the library about how to tell a joke... (and laughing at the movie "Farts and You" that was screening in the CCA Theater.) Did you envision the project being MORE than a book when you were originally going out to publishers, or was the expanded universe of the story something that came about as you plotted how to successfully self-publish the book?

Steve: I thought of the school early on, but I didn't envision so much the cost or the time. But I had a great team, a book editor and formatter, programmer and artist and once I started I wanted to finish.

Lee: so, really, you didn't so much as self-publish a book as become a self-producer of an online website and a book - you had to hire that team, right?

Steve: Yes. Here is the thing about self-publishing. First you have to have a good product and believe in it. Then you have to think about how to sell it. You are now a small business and basically on your own. It is a big risk, but doing it right gives you a chance to reach a readership.

Lee: It used to be that self-publishing was viewed as the realm of the impatient, the "easy" way to get published. You're not making it sound easy.

Steve: It is not easy but then selling a book to a traditional publisher is not easy either. There are thousands of talented people you are competing against. Amazon has something like 3 million unique titles on its site. How can anyone find your book. And then want to buy it? Most projects fail badly. Mine might too, but. And I say this often. Where Digital Books are going no one knows but wherever it is heading we are all in on the ground floor.

Lee: Now the perception of self-published books and the 'stigma' they might have had 10 years ago, that seems to have changed, hasn't it?

Steve: Yes, it has changed. More and more people are self-publishing. But, again, I can't emphasize enough you need to do a professional job and put out a book that can compete with traditionally published books. As an aside there are some areas where it makes sense to do a limited edition. Books, for instance on something like autism where there is a need and you can target the audience have had success

Lee: Sort of niche-self-publishing

Steve: Sure, I have talked to many people who did books because they saw a need and filled it. For the most part self-publishers should do Print on Demand so as to keep costs down and just print as orders come in

Lee: that way your car trunk (and/or garage) aren't filled with books you haven't sold yet!

Steve: Yes, don't carry inventory. Also, the people that will do large print runs are often rip-offs. Always look at Preditors and editors before giving anyone your money.

Lee: Good advice. So how do you set your expectations when you're self-publishing... How do you keep the stories of the Amanda Hockings and Christopher Paolinis and their superstar level of success from taking over?

Steve: Good question. There is nothing wrong with dreaming. It is why we are writers. But don't embark on self-publishing without setting a budget and believing the possibility of losing it all. Start before investing anything by thinking long and hard about "how will I sell this?"

Lee: Yeah, sending a notice out to all your facebook friends is a one-time thing, and not a marketing plan. No one wants to get two announcements that you have a new book out!

Steve: Right. Having someone with a million followers tweet your book will probably sell less than 50 books because that's not your audience. You have to be creative and, again, have a great product. As I said Amazon has millions of books. But I built a website. Well, there are now over a billion websites. It's a hard climb but there are steps along the way if you are willing to look for them

Lee: Well, I imagine a lot of those steps of being 'discovered' are the same dance, whether you are traditionally or self-published.

Steve: Exactly

Lee: Like pitching your book...

Steve: Of course. And when it comes to making the sales the marketing departments of traditional publishers are relying more and more on the authors anyway

Lee: Okay... So, pitch us "Class Clown Academy!"

Steve: If you are 6-10 years old, or have the mind of one--as I do-- then you will find lots to do at the Academy. At the end of the day you can go back to the principals office and print out your diploma, as I did, and become A Master of FineFarts. And if you like the school I promise you you will love the book

Lee: So that's really pitching the website... is your main strategy that playing there will lead to book sales?

Steve: Yes, I do visits and conferences and sell copies, but I'm counting on the website to bring notice. Also, putting out a book, or a website is opening yourself to many possibilities. Will some father in the film business look over his kid's shoulder and think that might be a good title for a film or animated series. Or would someone want to buy the site and add it to their own multi-game site. As I said dreaming is part of the fun of any project. And I know since I used to be a treasure hunter

Lee: Ha! I loved learning about your 'treasure hunter' past in your bio! So, for your next book, would you consider self-publishing again, or would you take it the traditional route? Or is it too soon to say?

Steve: I would not do this again unless I had a way to market it in advance. I am working on a sequel to the book Class Clown Academy Summer School, but will just fold it into the site

Lee: I hope you find treasure there! Thanks so much, Steve!

Steve: Thank you.

* * *

And that's our interview. You can check out the Class Clown Academy website here, and Steve's website here.

Illustrate and Write On,


Teresa Fannin said...

lots of good information, Steve and Lee. Thank you for taking the time. We will 'share' this with our chapter.

Kit Grady said...

That is so interesting Steve,
Kit Grady

Anonymous said...

You know what would be great? Add the social media buttons to this blog post (well, to ALL the blog posts) so readers can tweet posts and spread the word!

As a writer and member of SCBWI, I was intrigued enough to zip over here and see why Steve Mooser is self-publishing (and he had some interesting things to say). And now I'm thinking I'll check out the website...:-)

Julie Hedlund said...

So fascinating! Thanks for the great interview Lee and Steve.

Unknown said...

Nice to see I am not alone. I did something similar with Ranger Rom, to promote conservation.


Unknown said...

You caught my attention, Steve. I have a friend who has a niche book. I'll be sure to show her this interview and spread the word about your book to others.

Deb Lund said...

What a great idea, Steve. And a fun interview, Lee. And besides being an inspiration to SCBWI members who are considering self-publishing, I'm guessing this will also inspire new avenues for other self-published projects to be recognized. Good for you, Steve!

Susan B James said...

Wow. I think you are on to something in developing your audience through a website. Look what happened with Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Off to visit the site. Thank you!