"Self-publishing, that’s just another word for vanity publishing, isn’t it?"
I’ve always been of the mind that, when it comes to my stories, I wouldn’t be able to consider it a ‘proper’ book unless it were traditionally published.
But something’s happened to change my view and I’ve done the unthinkable and self-published. How did that happen?
From idea to story
I’m not sure where the idea came from (which is often the case of my stories) but, for some reason, my brain latched onto the similarities between word diary and dairy and decided to pose the question - what if you asked for a diary for Christmas, but got a dairy instead?
An idea for a chapter book was born. I set about writing it, modelling it loosely on the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series in terms of length, as I’d been reading a load of these with my son.
I even visited a local dairy to do some research. After all, it’s really important to be as factually accurate as possible in the story where Santa has left three cows in the little girl’s bedroom. I even based my story’s conclusion around the dairy and their ice cream parlour.
A short time later, a first draft clutched in my sweaty metaphorical hand, I showed it to my mentor. Apparently, at 20,000 words, it was far too long (someone needs to tell Jeff Kinney, has for Wimpy kid books are double this. Clearly, they’ll never sell…). It was also not part of a series, so publishers wouldn’t be interested.
I looked briefly at whether I could turn the book into three shorter ones, but it didn’t seem to work and I shelved it the six months while I moved on to other projects.
But, although I was done with the story, it seems that the story wasn’t done with me. One day, whilst buying more lovely ice cream, the owner of the dairy asked how my book was getting on. I explained that it was on the backburner for now, but the conversation had sown a seed in my head. Over the next week or so came to realise that I really loved the story and wanted it to be shared and, just because it didn’t fit a particular mould, didn’t mean it wasn’t a good story (there are plenty of other reasons it’s not good story, but that’s another matter…).
The other catalyst was the fact that the ice cream parlour also sold other stuff from local producers and designers. Since the book featured their place, and it was frequented by thousands of children every week in summer, it might be that they would be interested in selling it.
So, the decision was made. Like a literary Dr Frankenstein, I would bring my creation to life (albeit with fewer squishy organs involved).
From story to book
I immediately ran into my first problem – illustrations. I had always envisaged the diary having little doodle illustrations in it (more Wimpy Kid inspiration. At what point does inspiration tip over into plagiarism?) But I’m terrible at drawing. Even though they are supposed to look like a 10-year-old has done them, that’s still a pretty high bar for me. I did ask various family members to help me out but was quickly reminded of a very important lesson - never ask family members to help you out. It seemed it was down to me.
Thankfully, the Internet is full of how-to guides and pictures to provide inspiration and I quickly produced enough scrawls to have a picture every three or four pages. If they were hung in the Tate Gallery, the little card underneath would say “created in the naive style”, but they would do.
I then hit the next unexpected problem - font choice. This was the diary of a ten-year-old girl, so it would make sense to print it in a handwriting font. But, once you start looking, you realise there are literally tens of thousands of handwriting fonts, all with different usage rights. It took a long time to track down one that looked ‘right’ and could be used for free.
Next up, I needed a cover. Now I was in much more comfortable territory. I’ve done a lot of work on websites and brochures for work recently so have access to stock image sites and graphic design software. The cover was complete in the evening and I was able to use the same template to create a display poster for use in the shop.
From virtual to physical book
Unfortunately, that was the end of the fun stuff. Now I had to proof read. A lot. I’ve spent a long time immersed in the world of writing, as well as training people on the way our brains interpret the world. Our brains don’t read every letter in every word, but create pictures of words and even sentences, ignoring mistakes in the process (read the triangle opposite. Now read it again, carefully). I know this and try and take this into account when proofreading but I still find new mistakes with every read-through and, a bit like listening to your favourite song too many times, reading the same jokes and plot twists spoils them a bit.
Eventually, though, we were done. All the bits were in place; they just needed turning into a book.
I decided to use Lulu’s print on demand service to publish. I’ve used them before for creating training materials and found it to be fairly simple process, although delivery times are long. The only difference this time is that I would be making the book available to buy online.
I created a proof copy, reviewed it, found a small mountain of mistakes, decided half my illustrations weren’t good enough, reworked everything and uploaded. Almost there!
The final hurdle was to select my book categories. You need to select one or more BISAC codes (Book Industry Standards and Communications) - https://bisg.org/page/BISACEdition
Not a difficult task, but certainly an interesting one. For example, In the Young Adult section, Wizards and Witches fall under fantasy, but not Zombies, Vampires or Werewolves - do they know something we don't? Along similar lines, under Juvenile Fiction/Animals, you can select Dragons, Unicorns & Mythical. Does that mean dragons and unicorns are not mythical creatures? I think we should be told.
It is clear the list is drawn up by Americans. You can have your Young Adult fiction book classified under each of the major religions, but if your book is grounded in Christianity, you get a whole further subset, allowing you to have YA Christian Mysteries and Detective Stories. You would think this will be a fairly niche category, but it must be popular enough for them to include a code for it. Likewise, YA fiction/Cooking and Food must exist for a reason.
Some categories might be a little oversubscribed, however. In Juvenile Fiction/Action and Adventure, you get three subcategories - General, Survival or Pirates. Secret agents don’t get their own category, but pirates do. Maybe they have really good lobbyists.
And now, here we are. 12 copies, ready to go on sale. It’s not many but I feel fairly confident they’ll sell out quickly and I can get a bigger batch ordered. If they do sell at this ice cream parlour, I know there are plenty of similar places around the country who might be interested as well. It’s not going to make me rich but I’ll have given the story life and let it loose in the big wide world.
Has this changed my view on self-publishing? Partially. I’m still going to pursue mainstream publishing as my main route forward, however hard it will be. After all, self-publishing to make money is hardly a walk in the park, either. However, when one of my creations doesn’t quite meet the industry’s definition of beautiful, maybe it can still see the light of day. Even monsters deserve love.
Right, that’s me done. If you need me, I’ll be cackling maniacally in my attic trying to bring another bunch of random thoughts to life. That’s right, I thought of a sequel…
Dear Dairy, by Pete Frederick (ISBN 978-1-4710-9747-8) will soon be available on Lulu bookstore, Amazon and at Ferneley's Dairy Barn Cafe, just outside Melton Mowbray.