My passion for writing began in the fourth grade. It was 1998 and an author came to my school, Belle Hall Elementary, to have lunch with a few lucky students. I was selected for the lunch date after confidently sharing with my fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Peninger, that I too would one day write a book. On our last day of class, Ms. Peninger gave me a hardback journal with instructions to write in it all summer and come back as a fifth grader and share.
Fast forward to exactly twenty years later. I am sharing my book, The Manners Contract, with a group of 1st grade students at Belle Hall Elementary and guess who walks in the room…
You guessed it.. Ms. Peninger, now Mrs. Inglett! To my wonderful surprise Mrs. Inglett is still teaching 4th grade at Belle Hall Elementary and I am given the honor and privilege to come back a few weeks later and share this poetic journey with the entire fourth grade class. As I read the book to the shadows of my former 4th grade self, I often paused to explain the process that went into the creative writing, editing, illustrations and publishing. Just as Mrs. Inglett inspired me 20 years ago, I am inspired once again to continue this presentation – The Making of The Manners Contract – not only to the fourth graders at Belle Hall but to students of all ages all over the Lowcountry.
But this story hasn’t just resonated with students. It seems that everyone from my hair dresser to my Uber driver has an idea or story they would like to see come to fruition. While the book might have appeared to simply show up on amazon.com overnight, there was about a year of trial and error that went into nothing short of this labor of love.
So, if you are a fourth-grade student or a 64-year-old dreamer, I’ve compiled a list of my top six tips for getting your next story published.
1.Write about something your familiar with. I teach manners and mindfulness classes so it was a no brainer that I would write a book on manners. A book can also be an extremely lucrative business tool so don’t waste an opportunity on a book about your dog. Or do.. it’s up to you!
2. Don’t do it for the money. According to Forbes the average income for a self-published author is under $5,000 while authors published by traditional publishers have a medium income range of $5,000-$9,000.
3. Find an editor you trust. If you are writing in rhyme it is crucial to find an editor who is an expert in rhythm and meter. If you are writing for YA find someone who can work with you on plot and pacing. Either way, find someone you can trust so that critiques feel like progress being made rather than personal attacks.
4. Understand basics behind traditional publishing vs. self-publishing vs. indie publishing. There are pros and cons for each. To publish traditionally you will need an agent and if you are not a celebrity, plan on at least 100 rejections and at least two years of further editing and marketing before your book hits shelves. Once it makes it to print, the royalty rate is on average only 10%. The positive side is that there are no upfront financial costs, in fact, they pay you an advance anywhere between $6,000-$10,000.
Self-publishing bypasses needing an agent and offers individuals custom publishing packages depending on their wants and needs. These packages range from $400-$6,000 and offer basic to advanced publishing services such as ISBN, copyright, design, print, etc. Again, the royalties are slim and it can take years to earn back your initial investment.
If you don’t necessarily care for being told no or giving the majority of your paycheck to a middle man (like myself) there is a third option called Independent Publishing aka Indie Publishing. I used a local independent publisher called Palmetto Publishing who was able to format my manuscript and illustrations and have the book in print and on amazon.com in less than two weeks! There is a small fee for formatting, but they take zero royalties. Speaking of illustrations, if you indie publish, you will have to hire a professional illustrator (this will cost 1k-6k) or create the illustrations yourself. I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work with award winning artist, Tate Nation on my first book and have reached out to Charleston Artist Collective to interview local artists for book no. 2.
5. Take risks, embrace rejection and celebrate the rewards. To indie publish I had invest about 4k of my own money. 3k for the illustrations and another 1k in editing and publishing costs. When the book was finally available to purchase, I only had $18 left in my business account – that’s not even enough to buy a copy of my own book! Lucky for me, not too many schools are opposed to having a guest author share a lesson on manners for free. The money comes from the order forms I send home with students and my gratitude is debited to all the parents who have supported this 20- year-old fantasy turned reality. In only three months since the book launched, I’ve grossed double what most indie authors are predicted to make in a year. Not every school generates the number of orders I hope for, but when I get a school that does I make sure to celebrate!
6. Hustle. Nobody is going to sell your book better than you will. School readings have been my biggest motivator, but other avenues can be book signing parties, farmers markets, gift shops, children’s boutiques, etc. Last week, I even filled an order for a local car wash. There are no boundaries for your book when it is something you believe in and are willing to put in the time and effort to market, promote and sell.
So to Mrs. Inglett and all of the teachers who have dedicated their entire lives to the potential of their students, please know how much your hard work is valued and appreciated. The seeds you plant today (whether in 2 years or 20 years) become the roots that give us prospect and promise for the rest of our lives.