Self-Publishing or Traditional?


  • Re-published with permission from Vicki H. Moss’s blog LIVING WATER FICTION
  • Originally published on June 6, 2011
  • This is an interview with Karen Frantzen, an author with whom I collaborated, designing the book cover, layout and illustrations.

To self publish or try and go the traditional route – that is the burning question these days. For the next few weeks, I’ll be interviewing KC Frantzen about her new children’s book coming out in July 2011 and we’ll be talking about the wonderful, magnificent, May, the K9 Spy and her adventures.

KC has chosen to self publish her middle grade novel and the first book of the series is May on the Way: How I Become a K9 Spy. I’ll be interviewing her about the ups and downs of this process and for those who are also interested or just plain curious about how to negotiate the same path, let’s get started on the hike.

Q: Hi KC, and it’s good to have you here today to answer all of our questions about self publishing. You have a children’s book coming out this summer about a K9 spy dog. Can you tell us where the concept came from for this character?

A: Vicki! Thanks for having me. What a pleasure to meet you at the Nashville SCBWI conference last year! I’m looking forward to finding out more about your readers, too. Not sure I can answer all the questions, but we’ll give it a go. This is an exciting time for us. May and I have waited 28 dog years to see her story in print, and it’s about here! The idea began during a lesson in the Christian Writers Guild course. We were instructed to write the same scene from three different perspectives. I created a scenario where our Schnauzer, May, was checking out luggage in baggage claim, and dashed through the flaps into the loading area. My mentor complimented the character and especially the first dog approach by saying, “I LIKE May!” Not long after, a law enforcement officer from Washington, D.C. met May and exclaimed, “She would make a GREAT bomb-sniffing dog!” So now you know.

Q: This is too cute! So, KC, how long have you been speaking the language of critter?

A: I guess you could say from the beginning. My dad is a small animal veterinarian, and I’m an only child. So, I always had dogs as playmates. Plus I worked at Dad’s clinic during summers and for a full year out of high school. My degree is in elementary education and history, so I love both human kids and four-footed kids.

Q: Sounds like you’re a natural with animals – what can you tell us about your writing background?

A: I’ve been writing since elementary school but it was mostly for fun. As time passed, it seemed like I had a book in me. I thought about various topics, but May’s story is the one that woke me up nights. God gave it to me and it wouldn’t let me go.

Q: I love that story about divine inspiration. I do believe you said you were planning on a series, right? And if so, what other books will follow?

A: Yes! In fact, you can read a sneak peek of book two at the end of May on the Way: How I Become a K9 Spy. What you may find of interest is that I’d planned to include that baggage claim scene, but it never worked into book one. Ha! I’m envisioning a three book series, but May, the K9 Spy is such a strong character, it could go longer. It will depend on what her audience would like! She has much to share with animal lovers 8 and up.

 Q: I’ve heard some writers get their plots in various ways. Did you write an outline first or write from stream of consciousness until the story evolved – I’m curious about your process.

A: Seems I hear about well-recognized authors who do one or the other, or even a combo. I’m a pantster meaning writing from the seat of my pants. (Isn’t that a great term?!) However, this approach made the editing process VERY difficult and I hope to outline somewhat with book two. I’m in the midst of that process now. It’s not easy, but few things worthwhile are. I don’t yet know what will work best for me. Time will tell.

Q: You mentioned a writing coach when we first met. Has she been helpful and if so how?

A: OH. My. YES!!! Let me count the ways My writing coach, Sandra Byrd, is a multi-published best-selling author for tweens, teens and adults, as well as being a former acquisitions editor. She knows the business of publishing, successfully putting her own work out there. She knows the nuts and bolts of the craft, and continues to be an excellent guide. She is encouraging, but asks the hard questions too, and prods you to excellence. Example: One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to scrap the way I presented May on the Way (3rd person) and to rewrite it entirely in first dog, present tense. But it was so worth it. Sandra and I agreed this is not a Christian story. However God has a part in anything I do And therein lies the dilemma. It is not suitable for a Christian publishing house, nor will it likely be picked up by a secular one. So – I could continue to try and shop it to a secular house, and hope they won’t secularize it too much for what I think God has called me to write, or I can take responsibility, step out on faith, and do this without a major house backing me.

Q: I totally understand the dilemma. Okay, let’s start with the process. What was the first step? Did you send the manuscript out to traditional publishers in the beginning and go through the rejection process or did you always know you would eventually self publish?

A: This is an excellent question and one others will answer differently. For me, it began with the story that wouldn’t let me go. I worked on it for several years, always trying to learn more and to make it the best I knew how. I completed the Christian Writers Guild course, but that was several years before I began the book. I talked to authors (published and un). I read blogs. I read books. I joined a critique/writing group. I joined SCBWI and went to several conferences. I got a website going. Along the way, I prayed for wisdom and guidance. God proved faithful and continued to encourage me with incidents, to let me know I was on the right track. Once I completed the manuscript, I sent queries to a few folks. I used the Writer’s Market to check out agents. One agent in particular was gracious enough to meet with me for almost 30 minutes at the Southern Festival of Books. I will always be grateful to her. I gave her a folder with my information, and included the first chapter. Also an agent friend of a friend said she would look it over for me. Turns out neither agent was interested. And, sigh, I never heard back from any of the queries. BUT! At that same Southern Festival of Books, the Lord was gracious enough to introduce me to a wonderful author from Louisiana, Vicki Allen. (Another Vicki!) Her books are beautifully produced. She let me know about her experiences shopping her manuscript. Her family decided they would form a company and publish on their own. And that’s what they did. Ten years and at least five books later, Vicki told me she would be hard-pressed to work the traditional way. She has been a tremendous resource and good friend to help guide me.

This is getting interesting and is very encouraging for those who might consider self publishing. I can’t wait to get more of the details and we’ll do just that as we continue the blog story line about self publishing on into the next few weeks. I can’t wait to find out how you found your illustrator. So stay tuned everyone!

PART 2

I’m back this week continuing the series of questions with KC Frantzen about her journey into the self-publishing world with her debut mid-grade novel May on the Way featuring May, the K9 spy dog.

Q: Hi KC – good to be back with you. I have more questions our readers might also be thinking about. Did you research companies like Create Space or Create Here with Amazon?

A: I did. And others Oh! You want more detail?! With my husband’s support (a tremendous blessing), we chose to form a publishing company and tackle this ourselves. It’s less expensive per book, but a LOT more work. However, we have control over the story and how it is presented. This ultimately helped us make our decision. (Regardless of which way someone goes, there are no guarantees. And another thing while I’m thinking about it, I actually read a publishing contract from one of the big houses. The author receives such a small percentage. It was rather shocking. With the amount of work expected for the author to perform after the sale, for me at least, doing it ourselves is the way to go.) This is my third entrepreneurial venture, though this is the first time I’ve worked with a specific product. I’m well aware it could fall flat. Exposure to readers, like this opportunity, is GOLD. Thank you!

I’ve had to take off my author hat and look at May on the Way objectively – as a product – and decide how best to let people know about it. One of the first things I concluded: the manuscript wasn’t where it needed to be. So, I hired a writing coach. I had to find an illustrator, find a book manufacturer, find someone to design the book and cover which ended up – WOW – being the illustrator – WOW – how amazing is that! Then there’s the matter of what to put ON the cover, including blurbs and placement of bar code, design a logo, write an author bio, etc. What about the spine design? Meaning, I had to think about how the book will appear on the shelf among hundreds of other books.

I had to figure out what would best enhance our May, the K9 Spy brand. (We decided on a plush Schnauzer, complete with custom collar and sunglasses. SO CUTE!!) I had to decide how to price the book, find out how to get the ISBN/bar code, how to apply for a Library of Congress number, what to do about shipping I have to know going in that, more than likely, May on the Way will never be sold in large bookstores. Details go on and we’re still not finished. But we’re almost there. WAHOO! Book Two will have its own challenges but in many respects is going to be SO much easier!!!!

Q: That’s a lot to think about, much less juggle. You decided to start your own publishing company. Can you tell us about the process and how difficult is this to accomplish? Incorporate? Or not? And of course, I’m sure May was right along for the car ride to all these meetings and put her WOOF! into all of the decisions about her book…

A: Certainly! We already had an LLC. Our company, RushJoy Press is an imprint of that LLC. Interestingly perhaps, was the task of finding a suitable name for the imprint. It took quite awhile but we’re happy with it. We are blessed with a good accountant who also helped advise us. That is a MUST. Other than that, it’s making sure forms are completed, taxes and registrations paid and the like, including getting a resale number for your state, check on city/county issues, etc. It’s not hard, just make sure you do all of it.

Q: I agree with having a good accountant. Saves you a lot of headaches down the road. Once you had your publishing in place, what was the next step?

A: I’ve been working with Carol Bell at Sheridan Books in Michigan for months. Using the analogy of custom house building, you start with an idea and translate it into a structure. Where do you place all the plugs, where should the doors be, what style of doors, what are they made of What type fixtures and how many, what kind of windows, what are they made of, how tall are the ceilings, what treatment will the walls and floors have, etc. In other words – when you say “book” what do you mean? Is it paperback or hardcover or perhaps an e-book? If hard cover, will it have a dustjacket or will it be printed case? What about colored endpapers, or hey – maybe print those endpapers? What size is the book? What kind of binding, color for the binding tape? What color paper will the text be printed on? How much extra will it cost to do that? What font will you use and do you have to buy it? What size? Where do the page numbers go? What embellishments will you use, if any? Where will you store the books when they come? Or are you going to use print on demand? Take a breath! And while I’m taking a breath, May is still undercover and hard at work cracking cases that will be included in future books. There’s a lot going on for sure!

So I spent a LOT of time in bookstores and at libraries, seeing what was available. I spoke to librarians, young readers, older readers, other authors. Carol at Sheridan sent a variety of samples too, and has been such a help guiding me. This has been a great experience from start to (almost) finish. I say that because we turned in the file May 31st.

I researched probably a dozen companies before deciding upon Sheridan. Vicki Allen has used them for over a decade, which also helped with our decision. They produce beautiful work and manufacture for major publishing houses. What most people don’t know is they will do short runs (2000), like ours. : One of our objectives (the illustrator’s and mine) is to show what TRUE self-publishing can produce. We hope the quality of the book itself will knock your socks off, and we hope the story and illustrations will have May, the K9 Spy’s audience begging for more! Check her page out on Facebook Facebook MaytheK9Spy and sign up for May updates at MaytheK9Spy .

Thanks for helping bring awareness to this venture, Vicki. I look forward to answering questions from your readers as we go.
You’re welcome KC. I find you rs answers informative and hopefully, your willingness to share with my readers will help anyone els e who is thinking about traveling the route of self-publishing.

Stay tuned next Sunday because KC will be back sharing more tidbits about the self-publishing world.

PART 3

Once again I’m back interviewing KC Frantzen and getting all of the scoop on how to self-publish a fully illustrated middle grade adventure novel. This is a photo of the Fed Ex truck that has recently delivered the galley/hard proof. YAY! May gets to proof and make sure there aren’t any mistakes in her new book. And this week, KC goes into more depth about how she found her illustrator. So let’s get started.

Q: KC, this week, I’m wondering again about the illustrator. With so many out there, how did you find the right one? Did you have someone in mind – did you go through a corral of listed available illustrators who might work with free lance writers?

A: I did have someone in mind – after I saw her work! It was a marvelous illustrator I met at a conference. But she told me she didn’t work with authors who self-publish. That’s fine. I love her work and always will! You can imagine how thrilled I was when she saw some of the art and liked it. I asked her after looking around for a couple of years. The thing is, I wasn’t sure what I wanted the book to look like. I KNOW these characters personally in real life, so imagining scenes and characters as illustrations was hard for me.

I went to book stores, libraries, anywhere to find book-related art. Even found a man based in the Ukraine after reviewing his work on his website! But by January/February, time was getting critical. I’d not found THE one. So, as the Lord would have it, I found two the same weekend. Both fabulous, both very very different.

Conversed with each on the phone for about 1-1/2 hours.

What to do?

An artist friend of mine (different type of art than I needed) suggested I request samples. So, I sent several chapters to these 2 artists.

Artist 1 sent a cute Schnauzer, really cute, but it wasn’t our May.

Artist 2 sent three drawings and landed the job.

I cannot say enough good things about Taillefer Long . The collaboration has been excellent from my perspective. From the start, I sensed he wanted me to LOVE it. I gave him free rein with the manuscript and he got to work. Out of all the art you will see when you acquire your own copy… (GOSH! Did I mention it will be available by the end of the month? Where? MaytheK9Spy 🙂

So.

Right.

Out of all the art you will see, there was only one illustration that didn’t grab me, though he tried several versions. Only one. Most of the rest took a bit of tweaking here and there but overall, I’m amazed at how he perfectly embellished the story. And as I recall, there were several that I said, “Step away from the drawing. Do not touch it. It is perfect as is.” Those were happy moments for us both! I feel sure I exasperated him at points but he didn’t let on. He’s a real gentleman and brilliant.

He has created art for a number of authors’ works, but sometimes the finished product did not live up to his expectation. It has been very important to me that he is as pleased as I am with May on the Way. I think that will be the case.

At the end, he was working directly with Sheridan to be sure he sent what was needed. There were a few hiccups here and there but we made it. It’s in. And… I get to see it roll off the presses and binders. He was going to come but has a scheduling conflict so, alas, we won’t get to meet in person quite yet!

Q: Were you able to discuss your vision with the artist about how you saw the book cover or did you allow him free artistic rein?

A: As a bonus to me, he designed the cover and the actual book. Mind you, from what I hear in traditional publishing, there are departments for each of these, so what a blessing that I only had to deal with one person. Amazingly, the cover you see is the first concept he presented to me. Wow. It was entirely his concept. My request was that the photo of May figure prominently. (After speaking with various people, this seemed like a must.) This presented a challenge, because May on the Way is not a story told with photographs, it’s a book with hand-drawn illustrations. Furthermore, it is the first of a series, so he had to keep that in mind as well. I loved his concept from the start and it had good feedback from almost everyone. When a librarian was gracious enough to let me send it for comment, she said, “I’VE GOT TO HAVE IT!” So. I guess that’s good! Y’all can make up your own mind if we succeeded or not.

Q: So far, the book cover design is ready. Then you’re ready to go to print. After that, how long now for the publishing process? You’ve already touched on receiving the galley/hard proof. Where are you now?

A: Everything is now complete and in the works. The hardcopy proof came June 7, and the company uploaded a soft proof online the day before. I had 2 days to approve. The book will be manufactured in a couple of weeks. Sheridan has graciously arranged for me to watch production, which is in two phases: the internal pages one day, then binding and finishing the next. I’ll be able to bring some home on the plane!

IMPORTANT: Here’s an interesting note of which I was unaware, and my ignorance proved costly. ANY changes to the file once it is sent is charged per page. I was under the erroneous impression that one could make changes to the “galley” (they call it hard proof) but after that, there would be charges.

Nope.

When you send in the file the first time, ANY changes are charged. $10.50 for the first page, $5 each subsequent page.

Ouch.

OR, you can resubmit the entire file for $1/page, which is what we ended up doing because it was less expensive.

Ouch.

We also had a few tweaks to the cover. Yep. Charges applied.

Ouch.

Also, they expect to be PAID. Ha! So – we opted for the 50/50 plan. We paid 50% up front and will be expected to pay for the remainder before the books are shipped.

They do have a credit plan but we do not like interest payments. We had saved and budgeted for this project so we didn’t have to borrow.

We’ve been debt free for years and intend to stay that way.

Q: I like debt free! While you’ve been working with an illustrator and choosing paper thicknesses and colors and bindings and finishes, you’re working on other things. I have to know. Where did you find the darling stuffed Mini-Mays?

A: It was important to us to have as many things made in the USA as possible. However, finding a domestically made plush toy is not only difficult, but the pricing is exorbitant. (I inquired of one lady who said she would create a prototype. Even then it would be manufactured in China. She wanted something like $800 for the prototype. She does beautiful work, but for now, it’s not something we can afford.)

I spent a number of hours /cough/ looking on the Internet and found Aurora . They sent several Schnauzer samples and it was puppy love at first sight! These are handmade in Indonesia. They are SO soft and wonderful. Everyone who has held a Mini-May has fallen in love. We hope they will bring hours of pleasure to their new FURiends!

Q: May the K9 Spy wears a collar. Was this a special collar you had in mind for her spy character?

A: The real May doesn’t normally wear a collar but her K9 Spy character does. It has some interesting things about it, some of which I’m still developing. Stay tuned for book 2! When trying to source a collar for the plush toy, I found even itty bitty collars are expensive. Taillefer suggested having some silicone wrist bands made, so kids can wear them if they want to.

GREAT idea!

So that’s what we did for the plush. I sourced several companies, requested samples and decided. Alas, these are imports also.

Q: You’ve researched self publishing, plush toys, and pet treats. What about packaging? Was finding a supplier who was reasonable difficult?

A: Great question and something to consider if you are doing this yourself. Once you sell the items, how do you get them to your customers? Again, Lois at JPTB has been invaluable. We are using the company she does for some of our itemswww.nashvillewraps.com . They have been great to work with and I love that they are based here in TN! They are stamping our gift bags (also made in the USA) with May’s logo in metallic teal. Can’t wait to see them!

We need to ship the actual books and after speaking to a few folks, decided to use a box instead of a padded envelope. Nosed around the Internet, looked on eBay also and foundwww.corrugatedboxstore.com . So we purchased a box that will hold an individual book or possibly two, and then larger boxes to ship the gift packs. There was a big difference in cost between the self sealing ones and
the ones we must seal ourselves, so for now, we will use clear packing tape to seal them. Now we needed shipping labels and had to determine a proper size too. We sourced, compared and settled onwww.123print.com . We’ve not received the shipment yet, but just got word that the thank you cards and address labels have already shipped. We also ordered the shipping labels and updated business cards from them. All designs were ours. We uploaded to their templates for free, but you can use some of the hundreds they already have. I’d previously usedwww.vistaprint.com for business cards but their shipping labels were MUCH higher so went with this other company. We’ll see.

This is my third business, so I’ve tried to leverage my knowledge of what is needed. No doubt I’ve forgotten something, but we tried to think of everything ahead of time so it’s all ready to go when the books arrive.

 PART 4

I’m back with KC Frantzen for the fourth week of interview questions about her enlightening experience in the self-publishing world.

Q: Hello again KC! Let’s talk more about the doggie TREATS! May has already had a birthday party with all of her friends, humans, and Mini-Mays showing up. But actual dog treats can be ordered with or without the book. Novel idea – do you mind telling us how you found your supplier?

A: Not at all! I met the fabulous folks from Joshua’s Pet Treat Bakery at the Apple Festival about 1-1/2 years ago. They were so kind to offer refuge from the rain! May and our other dogs had been blessed recipients of their treats before, and love them. So when I heard their story, I knew then and there that when the time came, I wanted to partner with them, if they were interested. They have been great to work with and we are helping each other network and cross-promote.

Q: How did you go about finding someone who packaged or sold the dog treats?

A: Unbeknownst to me, but known to God, Lois had been working about 18 months on designing her package. So when I phoned her with the idea, neither of us could believe God’s timing! We clicked. We’re like-minded when it comes to business so we think this will work out well. It certainly has thus far.

Q: You’ve been out of town watching your new book May on the Way roll off the printing press of Sheridan Books. What was that experience like?

A: I couldn’t believe it – I actually cried!

Q: Ahhhhh! Wish I could have been there with you to see how it’s done. I’m sure it was almost like birthing a baby in a way! So now what’s left to do? Is there anything else you’re going to add to your website for promotional purposes?

A: The webdesigner is revamping the site now. When we first started, my vision was very different than how it has evolved. So it needs to change. Websites seem to be a chicken/egg situation. You need a website to develop a presence and platform, but know that changes are necessary as your book develops.

Or at least mine did.

I’m very happy with the book that Tailleferhas illustrated and designed and… I was happy with the website. They just don’t mesh now, so the website must conform to the book.

Hopefully the new site will be up and running shortly.

Q: Where will the book be sold?

A: Important question. We also concluded that most of the sales will be online, which meant we had to find a credit card processor. Again, what a blessing as the Lord seemed to guide us here: credit-card-processing-review.toptenreviews . We chose one of the top companies on the list. I don’t yet know if this is a good decision or not, but know that just about ANYTHING can be negotiated. Take good notes as you speak to the various reps and whatever you do, keep looking at several. Do NOT sign up on the spot. I learned and learned and learned as I spoke to others. I believe I interviewed five companies and seem to have gotten a good deal. Again. We will see.

Lois uses a system that can swipe through her smartphone. We decided against it at this time for ourselves. We’ll see how it goes as we proceed. This may change.

Q: You’re marketing the book, healthy pet treats, and a plush toy. What if someone wants to purchase the book but they don’t own a dog? Can the book be bought separately?

A: Most definitely. I’m not even sure people will want the Mini-Mays but so far, everyone who has seen her wants one so hopefully that will go well. We just took a shot in the dark on quantity and ordered 504 of them, figuring 1:4 ratio of book:plush. Have NO idea if this is reasonable or not. Everything can be reordered as of now, so we’ll just have to keep an eye on how fast things are moving.

So yes, to answer your question!

Someone may purchase just the book, or the book and plush, the book and treats. If someone orders all three as a gift pack, there is a discount plus we include the gift bag.

And we are happy to help people with FUN-raisers, book clubs, Scouts, homeschool groups, etc. by offering book discounts in quantities of 10, 25 and more.

Taillefer and I are both available for in person or phone interviews and would love to talk to your group. Contact information is on the © page and on our websites.

So remember, all this part of it takes away from writing time. It’s something to consider as you decide which direction to take in your own journey. Thanks again for letting me share. I truly hope this will help others as we journey the path to publication together! And again let me add that we are happy to help people with birthday parties, FUN-raisers, book clubs, Scouts, homeschool groups, etc. by offering book discounts in quantities of 10, 25 and more.

And May is so happy with her new book she’s giving Mom a kiss. Too Cute! I’m also looking forward to reading the book May!

Great interveiw KC! You’ve definitely taken us through a step-by-step journey of how to self-publish. Like May the K9 Spy dog, you’ve had to be a sleuth in your own right – thank you so much for sharing with my readers. I’ll be checking back with you to see how things are going.

KC and May are available for questions/comments – email me vmoss@livingwaterfiction.com and I’ll post comments/questions and replies.