After twenty traditionally-published books for young readers—by pure chance, they’re a nice round ten nonfiction and ten fiction—I recently self-published my twenty-first, a retelling of some little-known Greek myths with the title Orpheus Speaks: The Greatest Greek Myths You Never Heard (from now on, just Orpheus).
I’ve never said I would never self-pub. I did say, though, that I wouldn’t do it unless I could do it right. So what do I mean by “right”?
First, the book had to be good, as judged by someone other than myself. My wonderful agent, Lara Perkins, is a terrific editor, and she thought it had promise. Before submitting it, though, she suggested a whole slew of edits to what I originally sent to her. I went through several more drafts before she thought it was ready to go out.
Several editors seriously considered the manuscript. None of them wanted to publish it, but many were complimentary and considered it for a while before passing on the project. (Their reasons for passing on it varied, but appeared to boil down to fear that it wouldn’t sell enough copies to justify the expense.)
Second, it had to appeal to a relatively narrow niche of readers. I can’t begin to imagine how to market a general-interest book, but marketing for a book like Orpheus can be targeted to various groups. I already have a good relationship with many of these groups: organizations involved with Classical studies, as well as teachers and librarians.
Third, every aspect of the finished product had to be done by a professional. I’m a professional in only one area of all the various tasks required to create and market a book: writing. The editing, copy editing, cover design, cover art, formatting, and marketing and publicity had to be farmed out to qualified professionals. The last thing I want is a book that looks, feels, or especially reads as amateurish.
Lastly, self-publishing had to change. There had to be a way that someone with expertise in only the writing part of the process could put out a quality, professional book without going broke.