The Right Tools for Publishing: SCBWI 2020
Books are babies. So, like any birth story, the story of how each book came into the world is unique. In the book publishing world, agents are kind of like doulas. An agent is your champion, fighting for you so you can focus as much as possible on the hard work of creating. Until fairly recently, finding an agent was the first stop on most people's publishing journeys. But since you already know that I am a weirdo, it will not surprise you at all that my story didn't start there.
In 2014 I had an idea for a series that I thought the world (i.e., my son) needed. I had already written a book for my daughter, so this was the logical next step. The only problem was that a book my son would love needed illustrations, and I am no artist. Here's the astoundingly weird and improbable part: I mentioned it to someone I knew, and he gathered people to invest in it. I told you. Weird. That investment made the Jaden Toussaint series and, when it had paid everyone back, we decided that instead of keeping the profits, we would use them to bring more books into the world and support the people who wanted to make them. That's how Plum Street Press was born, out of a desire to pay it forward.
I've played a large role in Plum Street Press, but I would never be so bold as to say that I am "self-published" because I have never, ever been alone. Without the team at Plum Street Press, none of my books would have been the same, so it would be selfish and foolish to take that much credit. However, working with such a small press means that I’ve done my fair share of marketing, research, production, and advertising, so even though I would never say that I am “self-published,” I do have a lot of insight into what that means, especially for a children’s book author.
I used to hold that information back in some circles. Not hide it, but also not offer it up first thing. People, even lovely people, can be judgy, particularly when they have your best interest at heart. Book people can be pretty dismissive if they even think that you might be... *gasp*...self-published, and that includes the people at SCBWI. Or, at least it did until recently.
SCBWI, for those of you who don’t know, is the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I have been a member since 2015, and I sing its praises to everyone who asks me about writing children’s books. In my experience, SCBWI is a nurturing, supportive environment where writers can get knowledgeable critiques of their manuscripts, support finding an agent, and just generally fall into a gaggle of other writers who will cheer them down the long road from idea to published book. My experiences with SCBWI have been invaluable, even if, historically, SCBWI has not been the most welcoming to people who haven’t gone the agent route to publication. That is beginning to change.
SCBWI’s around the country have started making moves to be more supportive and inclusive of people who self-publish or, like me, haven’t been entirely traditional. After all, the people at SCBWI want to help people get more amazing books for children into the world. So, in a world where marginalized voices are still suppressed, people need an opportunity to make their own seat at the table, even if one hasn’t been offered to them.
I didn’t make that up, y’all.
[Insert awesome Shirley Chisholm quote.]
Self-publishing can be an excellent tool, but like any tool, you have to know how to use it. At Jambayala KidLit 2020, the SCBWI Louisiana/Mississippi conference this year, we’ll be doing just that. Join us and see if self-publishing is the right tool for you.