Saw-Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)
"What was it you saw ? A Saw-Whet ? So what's a Saw-Whet?"
Our self- published children's book was a gift... from an owl.
When my friend, Linda Gast, showed me her appealing photos of a tiny Saw-Whet Owl with it's expressive eyes and confident demeanor, I knew these images needed to be shared with the world.
"This is a children's book," I told her, and began to prove it by penning a few lines to fit with the photos.
I know that most children's books start with the idea -- possibly some research -- then a story. The illustrations usually come last. Though we did this totally backwards, it proves that there are always exceptions.
After our first modest marketing attempt with hand-assembled books at a local street fair, we found that we could sell our little book about a tiny owl, "So What, Saw -Whet?", to complete strangers.
We had talked to a local publisher, and though it didn't quite fit with his line of travel and nature books, he did encourage us and gave us some useful information about pricing and promoting.
We applied for our business license, and IBSN numbers and opened a business account as partners in "Hummingbird Mountain Press". We invested our own funds to have the book professionally printed. We were publishers -- with an initial inventory of 2,600 books.
Linda set up a website. We signed up for Amazon Advantage which produces a very small profit, but did give us an aura of credibility and a way of publicizing our creation with book reviews.
We contacted children's book reviewers online and offered a review copy. Whenever we got a nice comment from someone, we asked if they would post it on Amazon (and anywhere else).
We mailed out fliers and post cards to nature centers, bird clubs and wildlife rehabilitators. I started started making e-mail contacts and found people who wanted to buy our book, in quantities of 6, 12 or even 20 at a time for a wholesale price. It was a modest start, but an encouraging one.
Partners Add Value
Self publishing requires multiple talents, which are not always packaged in one individual person. It is easier to handle the varied aspects of this enterprise if you are lucky enough to work with a partner who has complimentary abilities.
I had a little publishing and writing experience. She had some small business experience in addition to her photography talent.
We had worked together in previous years as a free lance writer and photographer for publications, so we already knew we enjoyed collaborating.
We share our work. We kept each other inspired with new ideas. We filled in for each other.
For us, the division of labor worked out in a natural way so that we did not duplicate or skip over important things like order fulfillment, and tax record keeping.
Our early hope was that we could eventually attract the attention of a "real" publisher who would take on the business tasks and leave us free to do more creating. But as we got into it, we began to see that there were advantages in being our own publisher.
Advantages of doing it yourself.
1. We were able to control the quality of the book. We believed that the superior photos deserved a heavier, higher quality paper than what is normally used. We wanted a heavy matte surface that would show off the images to good advantage, and would eliminate the possibility of type showing through from the other side.
2. We always knew where we stood financially, and we always knew exactly how much effort was going into marketing and promotion --- because WE were doing it ALL !
At that first street fair, the local elementary school principal noticed us and our book. She immediately invited us to visit the school and talk to the students about creating a book, about owls and about our book in particular.
She even arranged to have notices sent home so parents could send money to buy the book! We were invited to other schools, and since we had both been teachers we felt comfortable in those settings.
After almost four years, we had sold about a thousand books and were very close to recouping our original investment of start up expenses and printing costs, as well as taking care of our shipping and operating expenses.
We still had an inventory of about 1,500 copies. No, we were not making a lot of money, but we made some. Our profit margin was modest, especially since most of our sales were wholesale.
The experience had been very interesting, and it gave us some insight into what publishers and marketers must do.
We found out that certain marketing attempts produced few returns, and we made some mistakes.
On the other hand, we were very lucky that this little owl is very widespread, even though elusive. Nature centers that have gift shops, seem to be our best customers. We have sold to customers in about 30 states and provinces , and we have several multiple-repeat customers.
Measuring and banding a Saw-whet owl. This video give you a real idea of how small this owl is.
Our Best Customers
Naturalists all across the continent seem to be very interested in it. The book has an educational element that environmental educators seem to appreciate.
Librarians have told me that it is "fun to read aloud" and, of course, the photos are very appealing. We targeted our efforts to reach people who would be most interested in our subject, the Saw-Whet Owl.
I am sure, if we had tried to do this with a generic children's story book, it would have been much harder.
If things occasionally got a little hectic, Linda and I reminded each other that we were SUPPOSED to be having fun.
In fact our prime business objective is: "to have fun" . No one was pushing us except ourselves. This may seem like a selfish or frivolous ambition, but we both believe that it is the only way we can do our best work, and our best work will produce other benefits: Our books have raised money for nature centers, bird rehabilitation, educational groups and animal shelters. They have have also caused children to wonder, learn and think.
Yes, though we didn't become rich and famous, it was a worthwhile and rewarding experience.
Follow your dream! You never know where it might lead.
======= Photos by Linda Gast 2004
For more details on how we published and promoted our book, click on the link.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on August 25, 2014:
Thanks, rebeccamealey. Yes, it was a fun experience.
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on August 25, 2014:
The little book sounds wonderful, and I'll bet you had a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 17, 2012:
"Just do it!"-- Yes, there is more than one way.
We did invest our own money, which is not an option for everyone-- and it took time and effort. We were able to recoup our investment and pay our expenses. I think we produced a quality product, and were lucky enough to have a unique subject that we could sell to specific vendors.
Arlene V. Poma on July 17, 2012:
Fascinating. Over the years, writers were told that the only way to publish was through an agent and a big name book publishing house. Today, there are so many choices. Thanks for sharing your self-publishing adventure!
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on January 23, 2012:
Let us know when you do it. I have never e-published, but it sounds like the future of publishing.
Enlydia Listener from trailer in the country on January 23, 2012:
Glad I found this today, since I have been thinking of e-publishing children's books. I already have 3 adult-range books out there...and now think I would like to do children's books...rated up.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 26, 2011:
Thanks, dusy7969. I think 'luck' played a big part-- but most people think going to Lulu is the only way to self- publish. There are other ways.
dusy7969 from San Diego, California on May 26, 2011:
Nice Hub.This hub is very useful and informative.I like this hub because this hub related my desire.I am sure that those who have gotten the book will be customers when you two do the next one.So Thanks a lot for this outstanding sharing.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 31, 2009:
Actually, I think a novel would be MUCH harder to market, unless you could find a really good niche.
Spirit4112 on March 04, 2009:
That is so cool! If a children's book took that much effort, I can only imagine what a whole novel would be!
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 11, 2009:
Thank You! Marisa, We appreciate the attention, and would be very pleased to have you link it.
I entered the book in the Writers Digest self-publishing contest last year. There is only one winner in the children's category, (So I like to think ours must have been second) . Actually got a pretty nice written evaluation from the judge and a five out of five rating in the three categories listed. Too bad, no cigar.
Kate Swanson from Sydney on February 11, 2009:
A thousand copies is a big bestseller by self-publishing standards - very well done!
I'm going to add a link to this Hub from my self-publishing blog - hope it helps!
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 09, 2008:
Wow!-- sold 5 on Amazon suddenly in the past couple of days. Thanks, If it was some of you. Feel free to pass this hub along.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 30, 2008:
Not looking to make a bundle here-- I'm only glad that we have almost recovered our initial investment, which seemed rather substantial at the time. One good thing about having a partner, is we shared the expense.-- the other good thing is we formed a really good friendship and working partnership.
The non-monetary dividends have been a sense of accomplishment every time we get a positive review, or the enthusiasm of a classfull of kids who are excited about the tiny owl.
dineane from North Carolina on October 30, 2008:
Rochelle, great hub - I think it's so important for published authors to share their experiences and encourage others. Congratulations on your success - fun and personal, and I'm sure the $$ will follow!
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 30, 2008:
I'd like to hear about your publishing stories. A lot of people are interested in the subject. I certainly would read it!
We have other book authors here on HubPages-- check "DonnaCSmith" as a search term , which will show up in authors.
Leta S on October 30, 2008:
Very interesting for me to read! I am the author (though I don't say much about it on hubpages) of three books for young adults. But I've always been interested in writing and illustrating a children's book. There are so many differnet ways to publish now--I feel I am behind on using the internet. Reading your publishing story was very informative for me. Good luck with the book & continued success!
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 07, 2008:
Thank you, Jamie.
It was an enjoyable and informative experience.
Jamie Carroll from California on October 07, 2008:
This is an absolutely delightful hub to read. Enjoyment and informative are hard combinations to find and you seemed to have found it effortlessly. Keep your tips coming!
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on August 22, 2008:
i certainly appreciate that! it is available on Amazon-- (in fact you will see it in the Amazon capsule in this hub).
Of course people feel to leave comments like this on the Amazon site as well. :-)
Good luck with your writing!
Karen LaVelle from Texas on August 22, 2008:
It is a gorgeous book! It IS for all ages. Christmas is coming on and it is just the right kind of thing to put up for sale on e-bay this time of year. Forgive my plotting mind....I think it will look good in my grand childrens book collections and christmas stockings.
Thanks for sharing the joys you had with your self-publishing experience. I am new at writing for other people, and I appreciate getting ideas for ways to present more writing. This is just lovely!
Karen LaVelle =o)
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on August 22, 2008:
I really don't have any experience with that side of self publishing. Hubber, Alyice Edrich aka "The Dabbling Mum" might be able to give you some tips on that.
linalynn from no where fast on August 21, 2008:
i'm looking for a site that may could help a teen who wants to write a book and publish it if you know of a site that helps kids with that I'd appreciate it thanx
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on August 05, 2008:
Sweetiepie-- as I said, we were very lucky with this (even though we have not really made any real monetary profit yet) . Marketing- and targeting a market, I believe, is key! We just happened to trip over an appealing subject that had some specific and obvious potential customers.
Thanks for the comment.
SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on August 05, 2008:
Very informative hub and something I will refer to in the future. Thanks!
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 28, 2008:
CVR-- Having a partner made all the difference,tossing ideas back and forth and sharing the duties was really great because we are good friends.
Promoting-- not so bad. I like doing internet searching. Yes, I sent a lot of emails, but I did not consider them spam because I was sending to sites that had contact information AND usually a specific reference to owls-- especially the species of owl that is featured in our book. Because of this "gift from the owl" (who posed for us so willingly) we had a way to catch the attention of prospective buyers.
It was kind of like fishing in a pool where you knew there were some fish-- You can't snag all of them, but sometimes you get good results.
CJStone-- email me if you are having trouble ordering a book. The postage to UK may be a little high-- but I appreciate your vote of confidence and will see if we can work something out.
Donna-- thanks for all your help in spreading the word about Saw-Whets!
Carol-- thanks for your comments. Yes, things did kind of fall together for us. It has been a fun experience.
SmoothieKing-- must be great being king of something. In fact, Smoothieking might just be a credible children's book character-- start making notes and looking up all the smoothie establishments you can find to market to.
Disillusioned from Kerala, India on July 26, 2008:
So much goes behind making a book and publishing it yourself.
Have you ever felt that the pain of doing promotion killed the pleasure of writing the book?
Christopher James Stone from Whitstable, UK on July 26, 2008:
Well you've sold one copy here. It looks an absolutely ravishing book. I'll be putting an order in next, so I can read it to my neice.
Donna Campbell Smith from Central North Carolina on July 26, 2008:
I give So What, So Whet? a huge thumbs up. It is a delightful little book. Linda is so fortunate to have gotten those wonderful owl shots, and to have you for her partner. Tell her I said so;o)
cvaughn570 on July 26, 2008:
It is wonderful that you were and are able to do this on your own terms. I am sure that those who have gotten the book will be customers when you two do the next one. Thank you for sharing your experience.
SmoothieKing33 from Chestnut Hill, MA on July 26, 2008:
Congratulations! I've always wanted to write children's books. Well done.