by Adria Quiñones
Writer and illustrator Neil Waldman has published more than 50 children’s books. He’s won major awards, including the Christopher Award, the National Jewish Book Award, the School Library Best Book Award and the American Library Association Notable Award. To the attendees at SCBWI’s December Professional Series, he’s made it. So, after working with major publishing houses, why would he turn to self-publishing?
The answer is wrapped up in Waldman’s life history, which is echoed in his latest book. If Al and Teddy is the story of a young artist exploring his creative powers, the story of the publication of Al and Teddy is that of a man in search of a way to support young artists.
Waldman envisioned Al and Teddy as a revenue stream for the Saturday art program that he founded in the South Bronx, The Fred Dolan Art Academy, which serves New York City kids in grades 6-12. He therefore wanted to maximize what each book brought in. “If a big house publishes your book and sells it for $16, the author gets $1.60,” Waldman explained. “If you self-publish, the author gets $5.” In the case of Al and Teddy, the author’s cut would go to the Academy.
Waldman took the audience through the process of bringing his book to market. While his experience as a published author meant that he had contacts and industry knowledge, it didn’t make self-publishing easy—or cheap: 5,000 copies of a 42-page full-color picture book cost $12,600, raised via a Kickstarter campaign and personal requests to some of the Academy’s most generous donors.
After working out an agreement with a distributor, Waldman went to work on publicity. He created websites (for the book and the Fred Dolan Art Academy), Pinterest portfolios and Facebook pages. He sent the book to reviewers. For a year he spent several hours a day looking at how to drive sales of his book. The results? 3,000 copies of Al and Teddy sold. “If a mass-produced book only sold that many books in its first year, that would be considered a failure,” Waldman admitted. “But it raised $15,000 for the school”–a significant amount of money.
So, while it isn’t easy to successfully self-publish your book, it is possible. Waldman’s advice:
Research. “The answers to all your questions, from locating book critics to finding designers, are on the web.” Waldman recommends Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book (http://apethebook.com ), which provides a blueprint for getting started in self-publishing.
Negotiate. All fees are negotiable; you just have to ask. Waldman noted, “My book distributer wanted $500 up front and 15% per sale. I ended up paying $250 and 10%.”
Network. Social media is free: use it. “The people who’ve sold hundreds of thousands of books work on it every day.”
Al and Teddy won SCBWI’s 2014 Spark Award, which recognizes excellence in children’s books published through a non-traditional route. You can see artwork from the book at http://alandteddy.com/
For more information on The Fred Dolan Art Academy, go to http://www.freddolanartacademy.com/. Visitors, to the Academy’s Saturday program are welcome.
Adria Quiñones is a technical writer in the software industry. She took up writing children’s books in the hope that someone would finally want to read something that she had written. She’s just finished her third novel, The Disappeared,” a middle-grade mystery for boys that has no underwear jokes.