Monday, May 13, 2013

The publishing rock and the hard place

There are days, and then there are days. And weeks. And months. And years. 

This week I revised my submissions chart and put it into a spreadsheet, the advantage being that I compressed a lot of information into a smaller format, making it easier to get a bird's eye view of where my manuscripts have been, are now, or are going. 

One picture book manuscript stood out to me particularly. This story had something which you might consider as early success. The first publisher to look at it wanted a rewrite and held onto it for the editorial board until they (alas) decided they didn't want it. 

That's okay, I thought. How hard could it be to get a publisher if the first one wanted it?

Quite hard, actually. The whole thing reminded me of those probability problems I help my daughter with in her math. Just because the first publisher who looks at a story likes it doesn't mean there will be a higher likelihood that anyone else will want it. Thirty-one rejections, four years, and countless rewrites later, I'm still hawking the thing. I've had a prolific published author encourage me that it's perfect the way it is, but that it's just hard to sell picture books right now. I've had an agent tell me how much she liked it, but that she doesn't think it's salable. Auuugghh!

So here's my question: do I shelve this story when I've done all I can do, or do I attempt (sinister music) to self-publish? 

It's not that I'm against self-publishing. If you actually produce a high-quality product which has been thoroughly and professionally edited, self-publishing is okay. Even if I were only to make enough for a hot cocoa at Starbucks, I wouldn't turn that down, but with a picture book, one tiny problem remains. It's a PICTURE book. Ah, those pesky illustrations. Who would create them?

Who wouldn't create them is easier to decide. No amateurs. Period. When I was working in publishing, I hired professional illustrators. I wouldn't accept the kind of work I know comes out of an artist who doesn't do illustration for a living. (I have a degree in art and even I don't want to attempt it.) 

But on the flip side, I can't pay a professional, either. Years ago I used to pay $350 to $450 for one dinky, half-page, four-color illustration. Paying enough to finance a professional illustrator to do an entire book is pretty much out of the question. (And contrary to what the occasional picture book writer might thinks, illustrators have to eat. Illustrating is their full time job rather than a sideline like children's writing is for most children's writers. It requires full time hard work, and it comes with full time bills and full time taxes. An illustrator can't knock out a picture book in a couple of days, and they surely can't wait years to see if they get any sales from months of work so they can pay the rent.) 

So there it is. The rock and the hard place. 

(Tell me again: why did I want to write children's books?)