Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUICK START GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING and to be notified when the 3rd Edition of the Indie Author Survival Guide releases!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Publishing Your Kid's Book

In the ancient days of last summer, before I had seriously considered indie publishing myself, I self-published my then twelve-year-old son's first novel, Adventures at and Around the Galaxy. The full story is here, but in short, creating a paperback at Createspace was cheaper than copying his novel at Kinko's, and the ebook was an easy way to distribute copies at no cost to his friends. "Publishing" his novel meant making copies for his grandmas, teachers, and friends. It was an incentive for him to finish his story, put the hard work into revisions, and make it the best it could be so he could proudly share it with friends and family. We had no notions of readers beyond that.

Then a funny thing happened. A LOT of people downloaded his book.

To date: 458 downloads on Smashwords, 507 on Barnes&Noble.

It was a cute middle grade novel with a snappy description and a homemade cover. It was a kids' book and it LOOKED like a kids' book. And it was FREE. We had uploaded Adventures to Smashwords, because it had every format under the sun (for his friends with iPads, iPhones, Kindles, and Nooks). We inadvertently distributed it to Barnes&Noble. Neither of us expected anyone to download it besides his friends and family.


Kids and the Internet
Part of me was seriously uneasy that hundreds of strangers were downloading my kid's book - not because of the quality of the book (I critiqued it, he revised it, I copyedited it - we are rightfully proud of the product). I just didn't want the trolls of the world to find my not-yet-a-teen son. Adam doesn't include a bio with his work, and nowhere does it say, "This book was written by a twelve-year-old!" This was intentional - again, I didn't want to attract the pervs of the world by highlighting that this was a child online. As the downloads rolled in, I sat down with my son and explained that some people may leave nasty reviews. I wanted him prepared, and for him to know that I was tremendously proud of his work, and he should be too. We considered the option of pulling it down, but he wanted to keep it up, in spite of the risk of attracting trolls.

My Son the Writer
Because Adam is truly a writer, he kept writing. He took my classes at the library on plotting and story structure, and he worked hard to take his craft up a level. He spent all school year writing the sequel, and of course watched me self-publish my novels and heard all the tumultuous industry news. He decided that his cover needed an upgrade, like many indie authors do, and he put his newly acquired Computer Aided Design skills to work crafting a cover that would coordinate across the entire trilogy he intends to write.

When he finished the sequel, he asked me to critique, and I was impressed by how much growth he had shown. After more work on revisions, copyediting, and proofing, he's ready to publish the sequel, Undercover War.

Stop by tomorrow for a guest post from Adam Quinn, announcing the release of his new novel, Undercover War.

Amateur vs. Professional
As we prepared to publish his second novel, Adam and I had a much better idea what to expect - people would download this novel. They would read it. My fears were overblown, and Adam's first novel received nothing but a few positive ratings and reviews, the trolls opting to stay at home. But we had (intentionally) kept him in smaller markets (Smashwords, Barnes&Noble, not the 800 lb. gorilla of self-published novels, Amazon). But having had a taste of readers, and downloads, and reviews, Adam was eager to publish everywhere and maybe even make some money doing it! And who could blame him? He was putting out a product that was high quality and people wanted to read it!

This is where I put my Mom hat firmly on and said, "not yet." Adam and I had a discussion about amateur vs. professional, with the Olympics this summer providing an excellent analogy about how "amateur" doesn't mean "poor quality." Neglecting the fact that Olympic athletes can earn lots of money in endorsements, the general difference between amateur and professional is that professionals intend for their work to make money. It is a career, and they expect to be profitable (at some point). Wearing the Mom Hat, I told Adam that I wanted him to stay amateur until he was old enough to make the decision himself. It had nothing to do with the quality of his work, but with the fact that he was only thirteen. He had plenty of time to decide, later, if he wanted to be a professional writer. Adam also has mad programming skills, but I'm not suggesting he go work for Apple as a child. He still has much to learn and deserves a chance to grow up first, before becoming a "professional" anything. He replied that he may always want to stay an amateur in writing; he plans to conquer the world in addition to being a writer, so he'll be plenty busy. I told him I thought that was grand. :)

So, we agreed that he will be keeping off Amazon and keeping his work free.

Should you publish your kid's work?
This varies by the parent and the child, but my general answer is "use it as a reward for your kid's hard work, but always be careful about exposing them to the wider world. And make sure they still get a chance to be a kid."

While Adam's work is available to the public, that isn't strictly necessary, even if you want to create lovely Print On Demand paper copies of your kid's work or format their stories into ebooks. These things can be done with free online tools without ever making the books available to the public at large.

Here's how:

  • Use Createspace to make a paper copy, but don't approve it for publication. You will be able to order your own "proof" copies at a low cost, without it ever going public. 
  • Use programs like Mobipocket Creator, Sigil, and Calibre to convert your child's work into an ebook format that you can then email directly to your family and friends for their ereaders. 
  • You can even mail a word document straight to your kindle (subject line "convert" - thank you Matt!) and it will convert to Kindle format. No messy formatting involved.
Ebooks and print on demand publishing offer an opportunity to inspire kids to write. Parents and teachers are finding innovative ways to use these tools to get kids writing - and that's something I'll cheer all day long.



18 comments:

  1. I love how you inspire your children to write, Susan. What a wonderful motivator! I had no idea that you could print a book on CreateSpace cheaper than Kinko's and do it without having it "out there" for others to purchase. My daughter is a budding writer. Thank you so much. I would like to do this with one of my daughter's stories one day!

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    1. Awesome! I’m sure your daughter will be thrilled to hold her work in her hands! There’s a teacher I visited last year who was so excited when I did a talk and showed off my son’s book – we chatted about POD and how she could use it for her class. There’s really all kinds of potential there!

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  2. I wish they had stuff like that when I was a kid. I would have loved to publish my stories like Adam. I still have my 40pg pirate adventure I wrote in sixth fith grade. It's great that you and your son can enjoy this together.

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    1. I wish I had anything writing related from when I was a kid - sadly, it's all gone. His friends get really excited about his books, and his brothers are devoted fans. It's all about the sharing... :)

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  3. This is great, Susan--congrats to your son!

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  4. Hear, hear! I wish your son good luck in his continued writing adventures.

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  5. Susan, I published my daughter's book when she was ten. I guess I was pretty naive, because I didn't really think of any of those precautions you thought of as a parent. I published it as a Christmas present to her but made it available to others. Surprisingly, people actually purchased the book.

    I think it's great that we can do this for our kids, but you bring up good points about precautions we should take.

    By the way, this same daughter downloaded Open Minds this weekend. She is thirteen now, so she has moved up to YA novels.

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    1. How awesome that you did it for her as a present! And I’m one of those overly-cautious parents, something that I have to work on as my kids get older and need more independence!

      And thanks for getting Open Minds!  I hope your daughter enjoys it!

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  6. What a great kid, and how lucky he is to have you as his mom guiding him to make good decisions. I think both of his covers are actually very cute.

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    1. Thanks! I'll make sure he hops over to read these comments when he gets home from Jr. High. Kid has a busy life! LOL

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  7. I, too, wish I had this when I was a kid. I wrote lots of stories as early as 3rd grade (8 years old), and the best part of elementary school was in 5th grade, my teacher taught us how to create books--sew the pages together, add hard cardboard covers, etc. I still have nine of those books today (I blogged it a while back here: http://cornerkick.blogspot.com/search/label/fifth%20grade%20books including a photo of the author at age 10).

    My wife is a writing teacher, and my sons have had a mostly reluctant relationship with writing even though they both read like crazy. This is really an inspiring story, Susan, and I think you for sharing it. Just knowing this is an easy path to print might inspire some kids to think of possibilities and get inspired to create something new.

    Plus, you seem like a good mom. :-)

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    1. Aw, thanks! Being a mom is my most important job, so I hoping not to completely mess it up. And HOW CUTE ARE YOU at 10?? (I’m sure you’re cute now, just sayin’) What a great thing, to be able to look back on your childhood self and see where it all started.

      I My son was a reluctant writer, then a switch flipped one day and he suddenly was off to the races. I think fiction can do that for a kid, as long as we don’t give up on them. I bet your wife, the writing teacher, sees this happen too – it just takes one, special thing to get them going, unleashing the creativity they all have inside them. :)

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  8. Thanks for sharing this. That's awesome your son likes to write. My daughter hated writing until last year when she discovered she has a great non fiction voice. But your ideas for publishing your kid's book sounds like a great balance between doing it and keeping your child's privacy.

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    1. Thanks Natalie! It’s great that you daughter finally found her “voice” in non-fiction!

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  9. I loved Adam's first book and look forward to the second. It is truely remarkable and wonderful that a child has the nurturing voice of a mom to encourage him to express himself. And, she does a great job as mom and writer herself! Where is #3?????

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  10. I feel a little silly leaving one-line comments on these epic posts, but this is so cool, I'm kind of speechless.

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