Taking the plunge into self-publishing can be a scary process, especially if you do not do your homework. After receiving my fair share of rejection letters, I decided that I was not getting any younger, had a great marketable story, and so decided to somersault into self-publishing. Flying forward into the dive at the age of 53, I was amazed to find the water is just fine! Since my book launch on October 15, 2010, it’s been a remarkable dip, a refreshing experience with the fruits of my labours blessed by amazing book signings, readings, interviews and meeting many super, supportive people. This is all part of the package that can go with self-publishing: a best-selling (2,500 copies), number one (McNally Robinson, 2010); award-winning (Anne Pidruchney Award) children’s picture book that is now in its second printing.
For me, it has been well worth the swim, the money involved (my children’s inheritance!), and all the time and effort. However, the success, I achieved on my first book was no accident. I did do my homework and dove into the process of self-publishing with great preparation, investigation and tried to achieve a well-researched, marketable product with Olympic style.
I did not just enter the water blindly, though, but put real effort into making my book the best it could possibly be before it came out. I started this process with an idea six years ago, did the research necessary to build a marketable product, compared costs and information on self-publishing companies, found an excellent illustrator to help tell my story and was self-promoting both before and after my book launch. My success was based on many factors that worked for me. I would like to share them with you so perhaps you might gain insight into the self-publishing world should you dare to venture down “the road less travelled” speaking from Robert Frost. There are important decisions to make and things you can do that might make the experience easier, and help to create a better, more marketable book should you decide to embark on the path of self-publishing.
Technology is changing, rapidly. It is important to understand that this phenomenon creates a need for tools to work smarter and not harder in order to survive in the 21st century. The same holds true in the self-publishing world. There are important things you need to know to produce a successful book. My advice to you is do your homework. Check out the many self-publishing businesses that offer help, and compare costs, time and the information that the self-publishing company handles for you before, during and after the process. It is vital to find out what, exactly, the self-publishing company will help you with and what you are responsible for before writing a cheque.If you are really brave, you can even work directly with a printer and do the entire self-publishing experience all by yourself.
I did not choose to do the self-publishing book experience myself, but rather investigated reputable self-publishing companies both online and in Saskatchewan
. Throughout this process, I discovered a gem of a person with a very reputable self-publishing company.
I chose Heather Nickel at Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Company in Regina, Saskatchewan
. This turned out to be the best decision for me. Not only does Heather have 13 years experience in assisting authors and artists to self-publish their works, but she is professional, has self-published 62 books, is knowledgeable, insightful, and is very well liked by the bookstores she arranges to sell your book in like Chapters/Indigo/Coles and McNally Robinson.
Together, Heather and I, along with Wendy Siemens, my illustrator, created a final product, that, in my opinion, is exceptional and comparable to books produced by any major publishing company out there. In the end, that is what really matters if you are interested in selling books. It is important to have a marketable product/book that people want to buy.
My historical fiction children’s book Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Christmas
is about the story of Natalia, a little girl who goes back in time to Ukraine at the turn of the 20th
century and meets another little girl, who turns out to be her baba. Natalia learns the very precious and varied traditions of Ukrainian Christmas Eve. The book also captures the love inherent in Ukrainian culture and family traditions. My grandparents, Tessie Woznakowski and Stefan Dubyk, immigrated to Canada
in 1912, married and moved to Hafford, Saskatchewan
in 1913. It was their story that inspired me to write, and pictures of my family members are included in the illustrations. My late mother, Sophie Mutala, was used as the model for the picture of the baba in the story based on actual pictures of her wearing her babushka. All of this makes for a more personal story and interesting read.
Finding the right artist is another important area of consideration if you are doing a children’s book or require illustrations. I was very lucky to find a wonderfully talented illustrator, Wendy Siemens, who can paint both portraits and landscapes. Her illustrations are vital to my story. My pictures had to match the Ukrainian traditions. Wendy used pictures I gave her of my actual family members to illustrate her pictures and the people in the story. Again, Heather had the foresight to photoshop my grandparents’ picture into the photograph on the wall in my story.
You’re sometimes advised to write about what you know, about what interests you or about what you are passionate. However, if you can put a twist on your story that makes people want to buy your book and it contains information that intrigues people, you will have completed a one-and-a-half somersault dive into the water. I was always curious about my roots, my ancestors, my culture and my traditions, and am very passionate about my family. In 2009, my three sisters and I went back to Ukraine
to explore our Ukrainian roots on my mother’s side. I had already started the research and the writing of my book before I went to Ukraine
, six years prior to self-publishing.
Well, it turns out a lot of other people besides Ukrainians are interested in Ukrainian roots, ancestors, culture and traditions as well. Many Ukrainian people, both adults and children, love this Saskatchewan-based story as there is an extreme shortage of books with Ukrainian content on the market. Many non-Ukrainians, who also enjoy learning about Ukrainian culture, have similar traditions and have many friends or relatives who are Ukrainian, which makes my book an exceptional gift. It really is the perfect Christmas present!
In the fall of 2009, I sent my rough draft to Heather Nickel. She had the capacity to see my real story through all my mega-research, and the wisdom to focus my writing from one book into three. We have the remaining two books all mapped out and the second is slated to come out in 2012. The next two books continue Natalia’s story: in book two, baba is now a teenager, and Natalia will learn about Ukrainian Easter traditions, and in book three, baba is a young woman who will marry and immigrate to Canada
, just like my grandparents did, and Natalia will learn about important Ukrainian wedding traditions.
Because it is a work of historical fiction, I wanted the Ukrainian traditions to be accurate and consulted many fine people with Ukrainian expertise to assure the traditions and the spelling of the 27 Ukrainian words used in the book and glossary were exact. The Ukrainian Christmas Eve supper is a beautiful tradition. My late mother, Sophie Mutala, loved these cultural traditions and taught them to me, and they are now preserved for future generations to enjoy, for schools to study and for others to use to learn about Ukrainian culture and immigration to Canada
To me, Heather is a visionary, which helps make for great self-publishing results. Heather has the confidence and ability to help one see future projects, which is remarkable. After all, it is my buck and I could literally publish anything. However, from my experience, Heather is not just interested in making money and publishing books. More importantly, I believe, she maintains a reputable company with high standards and wants your book to be excellent too. Her books, my book, reflect her business and that is just good business practice.
So don’t be afraid to jump in the water, even if you don’t yet know how to swim. There are experts out there who can help you, if you plan and do your homework. Find a story idea that not only interests you, but creates some magic, like my babushka did when it “swept Natalia off her feet, higher and higher, nearly touching the moon.” I am so pleased with how my book turned out and happy to document these important Ukrainian traditions for future generations.
Swim in magic! This has been a truly, magical, historical moment in my life and I owe it all to taking the big plunge into self-publishing. Or as Shakespeare might have said “to do and to do.”
Peace @ 2011 Marion Mutala
Issue: July/August 2011:Volume 40: Number 4