Alternate Publishing: POD to Finish a Series

Alternate Publishing Series TOC

Alternate publishing has been a quiet, behind-the-scenes subject for the last two or three years, but I keep hearing people talking about how they’ve taken the plunge. The terms vary: self-publishing, indie publishing, niche publishing. Some authors are apologetic; some are arrogant; some are business-like. But more and more, people are taking their copyright into their own hands and asking: how can I make money with what I have written. This week, we’ll look at seven stories of people who have done exactly that. For every story told here, I probably know of two or three more similar stories.

Dusting off an old publisher’s hat

Guest post by Joni Sensel

My latest book starts with a mouse-gnawed, bedraggled hat, and I found myself donning an old hat myself to get this book to readers who were asking for it.

More than ten years ago, I started a small press and self-published two picture books. One earned an award, both sold out their print runs, and I got a terrific crash-course in publishing — enough to know I’d rather write. I stuffed my publishing hat into a closet.

After four traditionally published middle-grade novels, however, I dusted off my DIY cap. Having published THE FARWALKER’S QUEST and its sequel (which were contracted individually), Bloomsbury didn’t even want to consider the trilogy’s finale. Though the books earned good reviews and even a little award notice, sufficient copies didn’t sell for the company to invest in the third.

Farwalker’s Quest was a 2009 Cybil Award finalist and a 2010 Bank Street College ‘Best Book’.

  • This is a solid and well-paced fantasy in which the journey is more important than the conclusion. The theme of finding and accepting one’s true calling resonates. —School Library Journal
  • [T]he book is at once elegant and lyrical, while also offering an intensely paced and action-driven plot for readers who are seeking adventure along with poetic contemplation.
    The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
  • This stand-alone fantasy has a unique setting with an intriguing history and a suspenseful plot. —Booklist
  • The story offers crisp dialogue, an exciting plot, and strong secondary characters. —Kirkus

Yet readers were asking for more. So I finished it myself.

I did plenty of homework, including talking with others who were self-publishing to finish a traditional series. These included Book 6 in Kevin Emerson’s Oliver Nocturne series (Scholastic) and Book 4 in Chris Eboch’s Haunted series (Aladdin). (Chris has since self-published several books, though not that one yet, I think. Kevin’s series finale came out last May.)

One thing I did differently was to hire my Bloomsbury editor, partly because I wanted more third-party sanction (and more confidence in the work). I got lucky; her moonlit editorial notes came dirt cheap. Since I couldn’t afford the busy illustrator who did the first two covers, I paid a friend, Kirsten Carlson — who’d previously helped with marketing materials — to create the cover. For middle-graders, I wanted a physical book, so I used CreateSpace. (Next time, if there is one, I’ll look at Lightning Source for their distribution options, or the new Apple app.) I formatted the book and did my own ebook prep, too. The latter took the most effort.

Pulling my print-on-demand (POD) proof from the mail was as thrilling as getting an ARC from New York — just with more proofing pressure! THE SKELETON’S KNIFE was published in November, and readers I’ve heard from so far have loved it. Yahoo!

My marketing plan is, frankly, minimal. I didn’t do this to sell lots of books, and I haven’t—about 100 copies in three months, though that’s still more than I expected. Really, I just wanted closure and something to offer fans who asked for more (without mailing them pages in a three-ring binder!).

That said, I did the same social media, blogger outreach, and announcements I would’ve done if someone else had published it, but at a lower volume, in part because my audience is mostly those who’ve read the first one or two, anyway. I’m pleased to have gotten a great review from a recognized kidlit blogger, Charlotte Taylor at Charlotte’s Library, as well as several on the book’s Amazon page. My attitude hasn’t changed, though — I’d rather write. Yes, I know marketing is part of the writer’s job. After four traditionally published novels, however, with equal effort on my part and distinctly different sales results, I’m not convinced there’s much relationship between the author’s efforts and sales. (And none of my editors have thought so, either. Others, of course, disagree.)

I’m not planning to self-publish again soon. I think there are good reasons and bad reasons to do so, and I’m leery of the bad reasons. I still want the experts’ imprimatur and thus the confidence that I’m not embarrassing myself before my peers and readers. I also want to spend maximum time writing (regardless of the results).

I’ll keep my worn publisher’s hat handy, though. Whether I like it or not, it probably won’t be another 10 years before I need it again!

14 responses to “Alternate Publishing: POD to Finish a Series”

  1. Joni, thanks for sharing this story. Although these are scary times in the publishing world, I think we’re also lucky to have so many different options available to us.

  2. Joni, thank you so much for sharing your story. I agree with Alissa – things are changing in traditional publishing and it seems like sometimes readers are paying the price. I’m glad you finished the series – as I’m sure your fans are! It’s a brave new world in the industry!

  3. Thanks for reading, and I’ll certainly be interested in the other perspectives to come this week — thanks, Darcy, for pulling it together!

  4. Joni and Darcy – Thank you for this. I’m increasingly frustrated with the market, and curious about alternatives. This is both sobering and enlightening. The good news is, maybe, maybe authors will be in the driver’s seat as we now at least have options.

  5. A very eye-opening post. I wouldn’t have thought publishers would walk away from the middle of a series like that. I’ve just finished reading your first book this past year. I’d hate to not be able to find out how it all ends!

  6. The marketplace is indeed frustrating these days. I agree with others this week who say to go with a traditional contract when you can get it, because of the marketing muscle, the editing and so on. But when that doesn’t work out, we have options!

  7. Thanks for the referral to this post, Joni. I’m in the process of readying an adult nf book for self-reprinting as an ebook (originally pubbed by McGraw-Hill and HarperPaper back in the day) and I’m reading everything I can about the process. At least I don’t have to deal with the formatting; a book designer colleague who asked if I had an old ms. around that she could practice on (!) so we’re learning together. As a bonus, she is a good copyeditor!