Outgrowing Trafford

by Crystal J. Stranaghan
(Vancouver, BC)

My first book,

My first book,

From Trafford POD to a 2000 book print run to my own publishing company.

I had been avoiding the self-publishing option for several years because of the financial commitment and also because of the negative attitude so many people (me included) had towards self-publishing.

When I heard that Trafford was able to do full colour picture books in print-on-demand format it seemed like a good option. I was tired of waiting on publishing companies that seemed uninterested in work that wasn't by someone already published, and I wanted to get my work out there and see what I was capable of putting together on my own.

I had been researching self publishing and the publishing industry in general for roughly ten years, so I had a good idea of the commitment I was taking on. Even so, every stage of the process of actually producing a professional looking book required about 10 times more learning and work than I had anticipated.

When I heard Trafford gives you 1 hour of design time included in your package, I decided I didn't want a book that looked like it was put together in an hour. So, I learned how to use InDesign and Photoshop, so that I could make sure the layout was exactly as I wanted it.

I studied font conventions and spent about 150 hours working on layout of text and images.

I found an illustrator online who was willing to take a chance on the project once she'd read the story, and she spent a year creating the most beautiful illustrations.

I learned about fonts and registered as a corporation and read everything Trafford and the library had available on publishing your own book. I learned everything I could about the conventions of the picture book industry, contracts and royalties, and why a barcode has to be a certain size and in certain places on every book.

Finally my files were ready for Then it Rained (after a year of working with the Spanish illustrator whom I had never met) and I sent them off to Trafford. I was pleased with the book's look overall, and the print quality was good, but I didn't like

a) the fact that I had to set the retail price higher than I wanted, and
b) that I couldn't get hardcover copies.

Although Trafford said the books would be available on Amazon etc., what they didn't mention is that they would appear with a 6-8 week delivery estimate as a special order.

Also not mentioned was the fact that most bookstores won't order from self-publishing houses like Trafford, because they can't return the books if they don't sell, and they don't get high enough discounts.

In the meantime, I was having such a good time with the project that I started another book with a different illustrator. This effort was a little different - you can read the book from either side (it has two front covers), and it has the same story from two different points of view. That caused mass confusion at the printers (both times it was printed!).

But it was great fun to produce (and much easier this time). Vernon and the Snake was ready almost the same week as Then it Rained was from Traffod.

I started doing promotional tours, visiting bookstores and doing classroom visits, and was getting the same feedback from everyone, essentially, "Great books, but we really want them in hardcover." The bookstores kept saying "Great books," as well, but, "We need to be able to order them at a 40% discount to carry them, and the price is a bit high for softcover."

I was also working on two new books, The 13th Floor: Primed for Adventure and Faeries Are Real with artist Izabela Bzymek.

SO, I started looking into self publishing with a larger printer than Trafford. Friesens was recommended to me (I had worked with them to produce our high school yearbook years before), but they are a great company and one of the largest book printers in Canada.

The downside was needing to print about 2000 copies at a time, but the advantage was an amazing looking finished product, an option to print on recycled paper right here in Canada, and a far lower cost per book than what I was paying for print on demand.

By this time I had started receiving stories in the mail from people who had seen my books, wondering if I could help them publish and distribute their books.

I started doing design work, matching authors and illustrators, and helping people actually publish their books to get around some of the roadblocks.

For example, most book awards don't allow you to even submit if your book is self-published, and you can't apply for any government grants that help support the publishing industry. I didn't want other people to have to experience the same frustrations I have!

Things have expanded rapidly as the past 2 years have gone by, and Gumboot Books is now a full blown publishing company. It's not a move I'd recommend for everyone, since it takes an average of about 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, to do what we're doing (in addition to working full time to pay for the books!), and I've been researching and learning for over 10 years. It's a wholehearted commitment, that's for sure!

I now have 4 of my own books in print, and by next xmas we'll have 6 more books out (not written by me) - one of them being a collection of stories to raise money for literacy.

It's been an amazing evolution, and it all got started because I finally took the leap and decided I was tired of waiting around for someone else to do all the work. However, publicity is a daily struggle, and the sales and marketing is by far the most labour-intensive part of the whole process.

The hardest part for me is getting past other people's preconceptions of what a self-published book looks like!

That's my experience so far, and I'm now doing workshops and will have a blog up shortly for writers thinking about self-publishing, to share the stuff that I've learned along the way.

We don't all need to do it the hard way!!!

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Mar 08, 2008
From self published to publisher
by: Steve B.

Crystal, it's amusing to me how a significant percentage of self publishers go on to become publishers, but after reading your account I think I'm starting to understand!

After all that learning, it must feel almost a waste to put it to use only on your own book(s).

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