Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ask Frida Pennabook: Scared in Sault St. Marie, and a FREE BOOK!

Sometimes it's helpful to tap into the expertise of a fellow writer or artist. Got a question? Need advice? Just ask Frida.

Dear readers: This is Part Two of a two-part column on self-publishing. This part deals with skirting the scams of unsavory scoundrels of the self-publishing world. For advice on whether you are actually ready to self-publish, please refer back to yesterday's column.

Dear Frida,

I am considering self-publishing my first middle-grade book, but I have heard so many horror stories of people who shell out thousands of dollars only to wind up with a box of books they can’t sell. How can I avoid being swindled?

Scared in Sault St. Marie

Dear Scared,

Congratulations! Your baby has gestated longer than a black alpine salamander and is ready for the world! Now you need someone to help you deliver it. More and more these days, that someone is…you. Self-publishing has become more common in the children’s lit world, and has lost much of the stigma it once had. Many self-published works are well written, beautifully illustrated, and high quality.

And then there is the dreck. Like the family story that great-aunt Edna wrote down on her yellow legal pad with a ball point, asked 9-year-old Biff to type up for her “on that computer thingee,” and then handed over to some fly-by-night self-publisher who used newspaper pages, free stock photos downloaded from, and Krazy Glue to bind it all. Edna’s family loves it, of course. But the rest of us shudder.

Finding a quality self-publishing press can be as tricky as avoiding the Minotaur in a labyrinth. If you don’t want to wind up like Edna, it’s best to take some precautions before entering the maze.

Don’t Get Scammed
There are many “indie publishers” that are actually vanity presses whose main goal is to con you into opening your wallet and paying them to do what you can do less expensively. These companies literally bank on the fact that most of the people seeking to self publish are not pros, and therefore are not sure what to look for in a press. In short, they expect you to cough up a lot of cheddar.

Know Your Publisher
How to find someone legit? First, check out, also known as Writer Beware. This website is a great source for learning about legitimate vs. predatory presses.
Aside from Writer Beware, watch out for sleazy business practices like these:

·  They seek you out—If someone comes knocking on your door, offering to publish you, but you have not submitted to them, be wary. How did they find you? Through your blog or website? Do you post writing samples on your blog/website (you shouldn’t, by the way)? Let me state categorically: no legitimate press will offer to “publish” your manuscript after only having viewed a paragraph or two, or even a chapter. They want the whole enchilada to mull over and take to acquisitions and then hem and haw for several months before maaayyyyybe offering you a contract. I promise.

·   They guarantee success—Who do they think they’re fooling? No one can guarantee success. Even Disney has some flops every now and then. Remember Treasure Planet? Neither does anyone else.

·   They promise “major exposure”—If they say they have connections with major booksellers, big deal. “Connections” does not equal “success.” Major book chains look at the bottom line. If you are an unknown, they’ll look for advance buzz before giving you expensive shelf space. That buzz isn’t likely to come in advance (or at all) from these presses.

·   They ask you to pay for things you can do for free (or almost free)—Maybe they want you to pay a huge fee for an ISBN number, or for marketing. But you can do that yourself for very little or no money. You can get your own ISBN (see the sidebar) and you can also set up your own blog tours, book signings, readings, and school visits. You simply need to be willing to put in the work. Even if you decide to pay for these services, remember that they are invested in the check you sign over to them, not your work.

·   Instead of dazzling you with brilliance, they try to baffle you with, umm…cow poo—If your contract is confusing, you are unsure of the breakdown of costs, you don’t understand what their editing service actually edits, or there are fees that make no sense, your spidey-senses should tingle.

·   They try to have you (not booksellers) sell the majority of your books—Many publishing houses usually offer a number of free books to the author/illustrator, with more copies available at a discount. If a press requires that you buy the first 500 copies of your own book, even if at “half price,” that’s a great deal—for them. The main source of revenue should be from bookstores and other brick-and-mortar retailers, as well as online and e-book sales.

Do Your Homework
Spend time researching self-publishing resources. Your baby took a long time to be ready to face to world. In your enthusiasm to show off your latest edition, er…, addition, don’t let just anyone take over the delivery room. Stay in control.

If you take the time to do it right, self-publishing can be exactly the right choice for you. Don’t forget to invite us when you hand out cigars and open the champagne!


Thank you, Frida! Read on for additional resources to help navigate the world of publishing, and find out how to win a free guide to publishing children's books.

To Research Agents:
·  THE BOOK: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO PUBLISHING FOR CHILDREN can be found by logging on to and then clicking on Resource Library. Scroll down and click on THE BOOK. You will have the option of accessing a PDF (at no charge), or ordering a hard copy to be mailed to you (for a fee). Note that you must be logged on to access the file.

·  The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (CWIM) is an annual publication of Writer’s Digest Magazine. It is an indispensable resource for researching agents, editors, publishing houses, magazine markets, and more. Read more or order at

·  Query Tracker is a website that provides lots of helpful information about agents and agencies, what they are looking for, whether they have moved (much more updated than the annual CWIM or THE BOOK in this regard). Go to to check it out.

To Research Self Publishing Options:
·  Writer Beware is a blog that investigates questionable publishers, presses, agents, agencies, and more. Find it at

·  THE FINE PRINT OF SELF-PUBLISHING is a book that reviews 26 self-publishers. You can order the book at The website also has a link to subscribe to their newsletter. If you subscribe to the newsletter, you can also download the Author’s Bill of Rights, which outlines what you should know about working with self-publishers.

·  Writer’s Digest has a helpful post about self-publishing options on their website at It is a good place to start when trying to decide the best way to self-publish.

·  Ask your friends who have self-published what worked, and what they would do differently. Get recommendations from people you trust.

Getting Ready to Self-Publish
·  Your book will need an ISBN number. You can do this yourself for a very reasonable fee by visiting

·  In the US, it isn’t necessary to copyright something “officially.” Once your manuscript is published, it is automatically copyrighted. But if you feel a strong need to have it documented, you can visit the federal copyright website at to fill out the official application. There is a $35 fee for this service. This is also the website to use if you feel your copyright has been violated.

Want to win a FREE BOOK? Complete the Rafflecopter form below by Friday, October 17th, and one winner will be selected to receive a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books by Harold D. Underdown. You haven't heard of Harold? You have been missing out on another excellent resource - his Purple Crayon blog. Go to:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Harold Underdown's site posts updates and news.

  2. Thanks for the links to these great resources. And I agree with Vicky--Literary Rambles is amazing!

  3. If you want to order the CWIM, you can get a discount until this Wednesday, Oct 15, if you check out the post on Facebook here:

    Scroll down until you find the link for CWIM.

  4. I actually don't really have any new resources to share - but am VERY thankful for the new ones I'm getting here. Thanks for this post, and the opportunity to enter to win this book!