Self-publishing is a viable way to produce a quality book and it is easier now than ever before. If you have written middle grade fiction and you would like to learn more about self-publishing, this article is for you. I interviewed middle grade authors who have self-published their novels. Here we discuss their experiences, as well as tips and tricks of the trade.
What is self-publishing?
When an author decides to bring their book to print without the help of an agent or a traditional publishing house, then they are self publishing. This often means a book is printed on demand, as opposed to a traditional run, although some self-published authors do choose to offset print copies. It also means that while you’ll be in complete creative control of your book, you’ll also be in charge of all your marketing, sales and distribution. And you’ll be footing the bill—a price worth paying for many people.
Should I self-publish my middle grade novel?
In today’s book market, there are many good reasons to explore self-publishing.
Maybe you have researched the traditional route and it’s just not the right path for you. Perhaps your project is for a limited market, like family and friends, or your book is for a specific audience. Maybe you plan to write just one book. Investing time in examining the goals for your book and identifying your audience will help guide you in your decision to self-publish.
I spoke to two experienced authors to learn about their journey to self-publication. The following conversation is with Miriam Pittman, author of Ancora: The Fog Banshee’s Curse, and Geoffery Alan Moore, author of The Tale of Hodgepodge: A Lost Hippo, A Poetry-spouting Parrot, and the Quest for the Wow.
Tell me about your book.
Miriam: Ancora: The Fog Banshee’s Curse is a fantasy about three sisters who stumble into a magical world and have all kinds of not so well-behaved adventures. They have to battle an evil fog monster, uncover a dark sorcerer, and clear a friend who’s been framed for terrible crimes (so no pressure!). Along the way, they meet hostile brownies (not the dessert), an ornery hermit, and a nasty lady with a peacock, but unfortunately nothing bad happens to her!
Geoffery: When Moxie, a kindly elephant, finds a baby hippo alone and crying in the jungle, she takes him back to the savanna and raises him herself. But little Hodgepodge (as they call him) has trouble fitting in with the other animals. Eventually he runs away into the jungle where he meets a poetry-spouting parrot named Krakatoa; together they embark on a dangerous journey through the jungle to look for Hodgepodge’s original mother.
Why did you decide to self-publish your middle grade novel?
Miriam: To be honest, I tried the agent route but it didn’t go anywhere, although I did amass an impressive pile of rejections! I told myself I would never self-publish, but after receiving my last rejection from an agent who held onto my manuscript for nearly two years, I realized that I had been waiting for someone to give me permission to be a writer. In reality, I had been a writer all along. I love creating stories and I wanted to share those stories with the world. If my publishing journey took me on a different path, that was okay. I needed to do this for myself and I’m so glad I did.
Geoffery: If I were younger, I probably would take the time to submit to agents and publishers and go through that whole process. But as a retired person, I didn’t want to spend the years it might take to finally break through. I can afford to self-publish now and I didn’t want to wait to see the finished product.
Timeline for Self-Publishing
When publishing traditionally, it typically takes about nine months from acquisition for middle grade fiction to hit the shelves. Self-publishing bypasses the challenges of finding an agent and then selling your book to a publisher. However, there are critical and timely tasks to perform to be successful in self-publishing your book. Firstly, there is the time taken for you to draft and perfect the novel. Revise. Revise again. You’ll need to come up with your cover art, have your book laid out and proofread. You will want to think about marketing and distribution before you go to print. The timeline is very different for every author. Setting up a personal project timeline with realistic goals for revisions, editing, layout, pre-launch marketing and print production is a good place to start.
How long did it take from completion of your initial draft to publication?
Miriam: Ha, about four years, but those included several months of me telling myself I would never write again (very dramatically, of course) and researching the ins and outs of self-publishing. I’m hoping my next book goes a little more quickly!
Geoffery: Well, that is a difficult question. I forget who said, there is no good writing, only good rewriting, but I think that is true for me. I tell myself I’m a bad writer and that’s okay, because I’m a good rewriter. As best I remember, I spent about three months getting to the first draft of Hodgepodge, but then another six months revising and rewriting, going through more than two dozen drafts. Then I spent another four to five months getting the illustrations done and having the book edited, proofread and designed, and put on Amazon.
Basics of Printing and Distribution
There are many options for printing and distribution of a book. Careful research to see what works best for you will reap rewards. Although you can use separate companies for print and distribution, some authors find it beneficial to use the same company to handle both. Here are a few companies that handle both print and distribution. Their websites are full of useful information that can help you think through the process of self-publishing such as costs, preparation, distribution process and e-book options.
IngramSpark.com is a comprehensive website for self-publishers. It’s full of resources that will help you with pricing estimates and planning for print. It even has an Academy of courses for things like self-publishing essentials and increasing sales potential.
KDP, or Kindle Direct Publishing, is an Amazon product. Your book can be uploaded quickly and hit an international market within hours. You may benefit from Amazon’s massive algorithms and marketing. One potential downside is that you cannot sell your book elsewhere.
Other authors choose to print one place, and distribute through a separate company, or choose to handle distribution by themselves. There are pros and cons to this. For example, if you offset print multiple copies, you may need to find a way to store and distribute your books. You may distribute them online through sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, but do consider the work that will go into managing orders, storage and shipping.
Personal marketing using good old fashioned legwork is another way to distribute your book. Try to get your book into local libraries, schools and bookshops. You may even be able to get them in boutiques, kid’s toy or clothing stores, or shops that thematically match up with your book. Be creative!
What services do you use to to print and distribute?
Miriam: I use IngramSpark for printing and distributing my paperback copy and Amazon for my ebook. It’s mind-numbing how many choices are out there now, so I tried to keep it as simple as possible.
Geoffery: Heather Bousquet (BousquetIllustration.com) created the illustrations for the book. Then Elise Grinstead of Elisign Design (ElisignDesign.com) took my final edited and proofread manuscript plus the illustrations and designed the book. She also prepared the manuscript for Kindle and put the book up on Amazon as a Print On Demand book. I was very pleased and delighted with everything Heather and Elise did.
Challenges and Rewards
Self-publishing comes with its own set of challenges and rewards. Funding your book before production is one challenge. Authors who wish to sell copies must invest time and effort into marketing and distributing their work. However, the rewards can far outweigh the challenges. Authors who self-publish their middle grade novels have more control in book design, illustrations and cover art. They determine where to schedule readings and book events. They can choose their marketing and distribution targets, such as local schools or specific communities.
What was your biggest challenge?
Miriam: I imagine a lot of authors say this, but I think juggling all the different roles required of a self-published author has definitely been a learning curve. I joke with my husband that I feel like I’m building an airplane while trying to fly it at the same time! And when I assume the non-writing roles like marketing, that leaves less time for the actual writing, so it’s difficult to strike the right balance.
Geoffery: Two big challenges: one at the beginning, the other at the end. At the beginning, it was a challenge to disable my inner editor and let myself just write that first draft freely (and badly!). Even though I knew I was going to revise the first draft many times, I still caught myself sometimes looking at what I had written that day and telling myself, “That’s awful! I should be arrested for writing like this!” Second challenge: Knowing when to stop rewriting and revising! Seriously, knowing that I was about to pull the trigger and get the book designed and/or printed only made me want to go back and keep making it better. Deciding how good is good enough—that can be a tough call.
Your biggest reward?
Miriam: Seeing how enthusiastically my younger readers have embraced Ancora. It really makes all the moments of frustration and self-doubt worth it. One of my first readers, a nine year old girl, told me she stayed up late reading my book and couldn’t put it down. I almost cried. At the end of the day, that’s why I write—to create stories and characters that children will (hopefully) love and connect with.
Geoffery: Just the process of doing it was rewarding—it drove me crazy at times, but it was also rewarding. I’ll share two gratifying moments. The first happened one day when I was sitting out in the park working on my laptop. A boy of about seven or eight asked me what I was doing. I explained that I was writing a story for kids. He looked at me wide-eyed and said, incredulously, “That’s a job?” I laughed and thought, “You’re right kid, it is kind of crazy.” I’m not sure why I liked that moment so much, but I did. The second moment was when that first box of my books arrived and for the first time I held a copy in my hands. It felt like it was worth it, even if I never sold another book.
Marketing Self-Published Middle Grade Fiction
Marketing your own book usually requires a rather grassroots approach and will take planning, time and effort. Legwork—getting out into local libraries, schools, children’s museums and book fairs—is a great place to start. On the other end of the spectrum, some authors take to social media platforms to promote their books. Person-to-person efforts such as interviews, sending promotional copies to book reviewers, book bloggers, etc., pays off. Some authors create their own websites or blogs where they can share news and updates about their books and writing, or even have a monthly newsletter. The amount of time and coordination you put into marketing is something to be seriously considered and planned.
Tell me something about marketing your book.
Miriam: I was hoping you could tell me how to market! Just kidding, but marketing has been a challenge, more than anything else. What works for one author doesn’t for another. I’m most active on Instagram and I have found several book bloggers who kindly reviewed my book and promoted it on their pages. Since this is just my first book out of an eight book series, I’m working on slowly building my reading base through social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, where I can interact/support other authors. It definitely takes a village to sell a book!
Geoffery: Well, in the year of COVID I really haven’t done much marketing yet. I haven’t been able to go to schools or bookstores for readings. I’m starting to plan for what I’ll do in the fall, but as of now it’s still up in the air.
The Do’s and Don’ts
The experience of self-publishing is different for everyone. What works for one author may not work for another. Take time to research and understand the genre and format in which you’re writing. Read scores of middle grade novels before you put your pen to paper.
Every author should avoid rushing the project and revisions. Work with a professional editor if you can, and be sure to hire a proofreader as a last step before going to print.
What is an absolute Do or Don’t for anyone who plans to self-publish a middle grade novel?
Miriam: Do as much research as you can before you publish and if you’re financially able, outsource those things that are outside your toolbox (cover art, copyediting, interior design). But also know that no matter how much time and energy you devote to self-publishing, you will make mistakes, especially the first time. That’s okay!! This is a marathon, not a sprint. Be in it for the long haul.
Geoffery: Don’t rush the writing and rewriting. Try not to let the time pressures get to you too much. Enjoy the process and take the time, whatever time it takes. Try not to get too discouraged if you read over your novel and realize it’s going to need a lot more revising and that’s going to take a lot more time. That’s all part of it.
Self-publishing your middle grade fiction is a long, yet rewarding, process. Remember, thoughtful planning along the way will reap benefits in the long run. Everyone has a story to tell, what’s yours?
Authors’ Recommended Reading List of Self-Published Middle Grade Fiction
- Alessia in Atlantis: The Forbidden Vial by Nathalie Lane
- Ancora: The Fog Banshee’s Curse by Miriam Pittman
- Blue Moon Calling by Marianne Flannagan
- Dreadmarrow Thief by Marjory Kaptanoglue
- Frankie and the Gift of Fantasy by Ruthy Ballard
- The Tale Of Hodgepodge by Geoffery Alan Moore
- The Identity Thief by Alex Bryant
- Izzy’s Impossible Adventure by Geoffery Alan Moore
- Mulrox and the Malcognitos by Kerelyn Smith
- Tell, or the Adventures in Themiddle by L.N. Mayer
- Tales by Moons-light: Stories from Before the Great Melt by Ruthy Ballard
If you would like to purchase any of the books mentioned in this article, please use the links above, or consider checking out my bookshop storefront: Best Self-Published Middle Grade Novels.