Final Thoughts on Self-Publishing for Young Readers

Chris Eboch has covered the discussion on self-publishing pretty thoroughly, and Joni Sensel has added quite a bit to that, so I’ll close out our series with a few questions I think are most pertinent to a blog about fiction for young readers.

Admittedly, these questions encompass my doubts about self-publishing books for kids and teens. Chris and Joni already made some great arguments for why you might want to self-publish–I’m going to discuss why self-publishing for young readers might not be a great idea.

Will self-published books reach young readers?

Teens are using ereaders (and reading ebooks on other devices) more and more these days, and many adults are happy to read YA ebooks. But can self-published middle grade novels sell? Kids don’t tend to use ereaders, at least not at this point in time, and they’re not likely to browse online for books, which means they’re not going to order your POD book from your website. Kids find books the old-fashioned way–in a bookstore, in the library, at their friends’ houses. All places where self-published books aren’t likely to be. Maybe if a kid has already discovered a series and wants to get the next book but can only find it online, his parents will order for him. But I doubt that a very young reader is going to discover a self-published book otherwise.

Can literary YA ebooks sell as well as commercial YA ebooks do?

YA ebooks are doing well right now–a decent percentage of the Kindle top 100 is devoted to Amanda Hocking and Suzanne Collins (plus I Am Number Four and the self-published The Vampire Journals series). But take a look at the top 100 Kindle books for “children” (which is mainly devoted to YA, not MG–another fact in favor of my argument above) and you’ll find commercial fiction dominating the list (Rick Riordan, James Patterson, Stephanie Meyer, P. C. Cast, Cassandra Clare, etc.). The only literary novels you’ll find as of this writing are The Giver, The Book Thief, and Animal Farm, none of which was written by a debut self-published writer.

Literary fiction usually finds success after receiving good reviews and awards, or after being ordered by libraries and schools. A self-published ebook isn’t going to be covered by major reviewers, isn’t eligible for many awards, and isn’t likely to be ordered by librarians and schools–at least not at this point in time. Which means a literary writer might not want to try to break into the market this way.

Can you be sure of the quality of your ebook as a whole?

Self-publishing your book means finding your own editor, copy-editor, cover artist, formatting expert, and marketing scheme. And it means you’ll be relying on your own taste to ensure these people are giving you the best service. A writer is not a graphic designer. A writer is not an editor. I don’t see how a writer can be the best judge of all the work that goes into readying a book for the market.

Even self-made millionaire Amanda Hocking admits that her readers often complain about how poorly her self-published ebooks were edited and says it’s hard to find a good editor for an ebook. That might seem like an argument for self-publishing–you can make millions even if your book is poorly edited! But it’s not. Because I don’t think you want your book to seem shoddy to your readers. And because any aspect of your book that seems shoddy to your readers is going to work against you. Hocking writes in a very popular genre. Her book covers are decently nice. And the prices are very, very low. If your ebook is poorly edited, badly formatted, and represented by a terrible cover image, you’ve got a lot working against your success. So until some really amazing freelance services become the go-to for writers looking to self-publish, I think it’s a mistake for writers to assume they can handle all aspects of publishing on their own.

A vision of the future

Most of my hang-ups with self-publishing books for young readers are attached to how the market looks right now. I’ll concede that the future could bring changes. Here’s a vision of a future in which self-publishing YA and MG books might make a lot of sense:

Ereaders are the norm. They’re cheap; they’re used at home and school and work; they’re easy for kids to use and synch up with all of their other electronic devices. Ebooks are cheap and easy to find. Libraries lend them out more often than they lend out paper books; schools use them for in-class reading; they come pre-loaded on disposable devices. It makes more sense to publish your novel as an ebook than as a paper book in this culture. So publishers have given way to freelance editors. These editors provide a top notch service, ensuring your book is ready for the market and either taking a flat fee or a percentage of royalties. Your editor can refer you to a graphic designer who can create a great image for your ebook, a marketing whiz who will help you spread the word about your ebook on the most pertinent websites, and any other proof-readers or formatters or bio-writers you need. If your ebook is good enough, it’s included on lists and websites that make it easier for readers to find quality reads. In a future like this, I can see how self-publishing could become the norm. Until then, I see a lot of exceptions to easy ebook success.

Parker Peevyhouse

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11 responses to “Final Thoughts on Self-Publishing for Young Readers

  1. You’ve pretty much summed up why I won’t be attempting to self-publish. My books are all middle grade and I’m not convinced I would reach my audience through any other means than traditional publishing.

    That could change in the future. One of the boys in my son’s 6th grade class has his own Kindle and downloads new e-books in class. So even five years from now we could be looking at a different landscape.

  2. Oh, I think you’re absolutely right, Parker, especially for MG or younger and right now. (My upcoming post on market research reinforces how miniscule the ereader market is for young readers.)

    But I already know kids with ereaders because their parents have upgraded, and I think that as the third and fourth generation ipads come out, more and more kids will have hand-me-downs of those, too. So I don’t think it’ll be even two years before ereaders become a much more common kid accessory supplementing their paper book collection.

    You do make an interesting distinction about literary titles I’d never thought about before, though — great food for thought!

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      Joni, good point about hand-me-down ereaders. I hadn’t thought of that, but I’ve seen it happen with cell phones. Parent gets a new one, kid gets the old one, and so you see kids with much nicer cell phones than parents would actually BUY for them.

  3. Elisabeth

    I think there will be a gradual trickle-down effect, with ebooks becoming more popular (for reasons mentioned above, among others) for the YA market first, and then gradually to the middle-grade market. I’m not sure about the picture book and chapter book markets though.

    I own two ereaders and love them – I prefer ebooks and only buy printed books if I can’t get the ebook version of something. But every book I (and the grandparents, and the aunt) buy for my (younger) child is paper.

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      It’ll be interesting to see how that trickle-down effect develops.

      I know there are electronic devices that display interactive picture books for young kids (but the price point is really, really high), and the color version of the Nook offers some picture books as well. But as a mom of a young one, I can’t see spending that much money when I can get a lovely picture book at the store or library for a lot less. Also, interactive picture books?? I’d rather my kid just read.

  4. This was a great post. I’ve often wondered what the future of juvie lit will look like. I just sat with Lin Oliver the other day at a conference and we talked a bit about how the professionally done e-PBs look, but also how there is nothing to recommend reading them off a device. Not much is addressed regarding the MG novel.

    Thanks for this.

  5. I have been trying to do some more research about this very subject. I have two kids (very young) and won’t let them near my ereader, but as they get older, I will definitely be giving my current ereader to them when I get a new one. I have been interested in creating children’s picture books and MG books for ereaders. There really isn’t much on the market right now for them, and if my kids have an ereader, I will be buying ebooks for it.

  6. Val Poalillo

    I am a budding YA writer. After parenting and teaching teens for the last 30 years I have observed and noted what they like.
    Last spring I had my first student pull out her kindle for our Free Reading Friday (my version of the old SSR). Many other students expressed their want for one. I can see the trickle down effect, as mentioned with cell phones, as a real possibility. Children will soon be inheriting their parents ereaders and will be craving books to read on it. I want to be ready!

  7. I see people’s babies in Starbucks playing with iPhones! Surely e-readers for tweens and teens aren’t too far off. I hope!

  8. livinglearningeating

    I’m afraid you’re right, but I still am trying to self-publish ‘Elsbett & Robin Take On A-Nasty-Sia,’ my middle grade novel (available for purchase, along with a preview, here:

    I hope parents will search for books for their children online!

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