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Lessons Learned Self-Publishing My First Children’s Book

Edit, edit, and then edit some more!

New to self-publishing my first book, I knew I needed help from people with specialized knowledge. My team and I--five of us in total--edited up until the last moment, before sending the book to production. This was AFTER multiple rounds of editing and rewriting over many months.

Everyone on my team brought something to the table… but I knew that I needed someone with specialized knowledge to help me get the book all the way from “a good idea” to “a product on the market” and “into the hands of children.” Hiring brand specialist/web developer/marketing specialist/business coach/voice of reason, Jasleni Brito, was entirely worth the investment.

Just a few of the things that I learned:

  1. Whether you work with a publishing company or are self-published, authors are expected to self-promote.

  2. Self-promotion = website, social media presence and a following, content, visibility, networking, etc.

  3. How to actually DO all of the above (#2).

  4. The importance of doing a Trademark search before naming a business, book, or book series.

As a self-published author, it was trial and error for sure! I was clear about my non-negotiables:

  1. The book needed to be available in both hardback and paperback.

  2. It must be a high-quality book with beautiful illustrations (a story for another day) and quality print.

  3. It must be reasonably priced.

Due to my above-mentioned non-negotiables, Amazon KDP self-publishing was not my choice. At the time (I believe it may have changed since then) hardback books and thick, glossy interior paper was unavailable.

So, I decided to use IngramSpark, a publishing house for self-published authors. They provide book printing and global distribution to commercial bookstores, libraries, businesses, and Amazon. Their services are wonderful, but they are very expensive, with incredibly inflated shipping charges. In order to keep the books reasonably priced, just to break even would require a very large quantity of book sales. We kept doing the math and our calculations were accurate: they are expensive. But, as they are well-established and widely used by self-published authors, such is the name of the game, right? Seemed like a good-enough fit.

Well…. thus begins the challenges, debacles, and delays. Being new to the self-publishing world, I expected to have a learning curve, and let’s just say, I exceeded my expectations! 😂If you, or someone you know, is interested in self-publishing, this may be helpful.

If you are curious about the behind-the-scenes, read on:

  1. Customer service is a big deal for me. When I have issues or questions with something, I want to talk to a human and obtain a resolution fairly quickly. IngramSpark’s customer service is the opposite! No listed phone number, all issues and questions are addressed via email on their website. These emails are put into a queue. You will get an email response a few days later, and it may or may not provide resolution. Follow-up questions are put back into a queue and again, you wait. So... your resolution, if there is one, may take weeks!

  2. The first debacle was not getting the author’s proof copy of the physical book ordered. This was a mixup and miscommunication that was not brought to light until three weeks after it should have been ordered - one month delay in book launch.

  3. The IngramSpark online proof does not show the image of the page layout when the book is laid open, only one page at a time. This was critical for my book since the text for each illustration is on the adjacent page. When we submitted the files, there was one extra page in the beginning that went unnoticed due to the inability to view the full, open-book layout. This threw off the remaining 52 pages of the book, as the text page did not match with the corresponding illustration. This mistake was caught three weeks later upon receipt of the author’s proof book. In addition, I was highly disappointed in the thin paper quality and the matte finish. I ordered the highest paper-pound available, and the ink could still be seen on the opposing side. I wanted a thick paper with glossy finish and this was not an option with IngramSpark. But, I thought, “I can live with this, right?” The file was reformatted, resubmitted, and another author’s copy was ordered - launch delayed another three weeks.

  4. Several weeks later, the re-formatted author’s proof copy was received. Even worse… the ink on the interior pages was so faded, that the text wasn’t legible. This was completely unacceptable and there was no way I was going to order several hundred books to fulfill pre-orders with this level of inconsistent quality, especially at the high price IngramSpark charges! I couldn’t understand how these pages were pulled from the printer, bound, and mailed out in this condition. Are they working with the lights out? How was the need to change printer ink completely ignored? But now what? I am already over six weeks behind schedule and my pre-order customers are waiting!

  5. I felt that, as an indie, self-published author, my options were limited to Amazon KDP or IngramSpark. Neither option suited me. Enter my two voices of reason, Peige (my content-editor, friend, and so much more) and Jasleni. Both suggested that I explore alternatives, such as using a regular printer and getting quality books printed. For some reason, this just didn’t seem possible to me, and my internet searches for book printers were unsuccessful. But Jasleni continuously works miracles and found several companies. One in particular looked promising - Mixam.

  6. During this process, I researched other self-published authors' YouTube videos and guess what? Same issues in regards to IngramSpark! Horrible customer service, poor paper quality, and inconsistent print quality - just like my experience! I think that IngramSpark believes that their only competition is Amazon KDP, and so they have the indie authors in a bind.

  7. Mixam has great reviews in the self-publishing world; the drawback is that they are not book distributors. This means that I will be the distributor as my own Amazon seller (an entirely new learning curve, oh joy 🙄), and book distribution is limited to locally owned bookstores. More work for me, but a high-quality product is my non-negotiable.

  8. So what has my experience been with Maxim? I am IMPRESSED! When they found an issue with our formatting, they emailed immediately (before printing and binding) and actually had a phone conversation to explain what needed to be done! Yes, that is correct, we talked to a real life HUMAN! The author’s copy was shipped and arrived four days earlier than estimated, and the quality was AMAZING. And get this… great customer service, high-quality paper and print, fast shipping, and the cost is significantly lower than IngramSpark. Plus, we were able to view the online proof exactly how it will appear when the book is laid open, so we were able to guarantee that the book layout was accurate. Ultimately, the launch was three months behind schedule, but when my valued customers hold this beautiful book in their hands, it will be well worth the wait!

What is my biggest lesson of all? When you really want to achieve something, I mean really want it, you WILL experience hurdles and setbacks. I think it may be a test of endurance and heart, like a higher power is asking, “Do you really want this? If so, show me your commitment.” And when you experience these frustrating setbacks, it’s more important than ever to remain focused and motivated to keep going. Many inspiring, successful people that I have read about have stories of unrelenting barriers and hurdles that would have caused most people to give up, but they persevered. Want some inspiration? Read about Jack Canfield and his journey to creating the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, Tyler Perry and his journey to the Mamma Madea empire, Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes, and many, many more. There are endless remarkable stories like these and when I need a kick in the pants--or a bit of inspiration and motivation--these stories do the trick!

I know that I will continue to have a learning curve as I launch, promote, and distribute my first children’s book, and it all will be an incredible, yet sometimes frustrating, adventure. The good news: I will know the ropes for my next two books in the series (soon to be edited and illustrated). And I can share my knowledge and experience with others beginning this journey so that their path is smoother.

Have more questions about my behind-the-scenes experiences? Put a comment below and I will write about it in an upcoming blog post!



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