Being sure that their book is current on all distribution sites, in addition to on the self-publishers' site is critically important.
Leading Self-Publishing Companies Globally
Of the over 60 self-publishers or print-on-demand publishers in existence globally only a handful are considered world-class in their operations, from editing to production and distribution. The vast majority of self-publishers do not offer manuscript screening, hardcover binding, color printing or support for ISBN and Library of Congress (LIC) submission of books. The self-publishing companies who dominate this industry are Amazon.com CreateSpace, Authorhouse, Lulu.com, iUniverse, and Xlibris. Of these companies two are world leaders in children's book publishing with Lulu.com producing a total of 15,240 children's books to date (as of April, 2010) and iUniverse producing 1,020. Lulu.com has produced orders of magnitude more children's books as a result of their expertise in on-demand color printing and production. One of their ancillary businesses is the production of photo books and customized calendars. This expertise in wide-format publishing has led to Lulu.com becoming the leader in children's books publishing as a result.
The risks of going with Lulu.com and iUniverse for the production of children's books vary by the processes each of these self-publishers relies on. Lulu.com has an entirely self-guided production process online which can be initially intimidating to a new author. By purchasing a children's book package however, new authors can gain valuable guidance from editors and a project manager assigned to their book. The increased price of a children's book package is worth it for a new author as they guidance provided will help their book attain its greatest potential. Lulu.com sells introductory packages specifically for children's book production beginning at $479 for their Imagination Pack, going to $879 for their Explorer Pack and $1,099 for their Fantasy Pack. iUniverse has a range of six packages, starting at $599 up to $4,200. Unlike Lulu.com, iUniverse does not have expertise in graphics and four-color printing, and as a result they often revert to their editorial processes to critique children's books.
The risk to a new children's book author of working with iUniverse is that the editor assigned to their book may have just finished a nonfiction book for example. The risks of working with each of these companies then are in how they approach creating, editing, producing and distributing books. Of the two, Lulu.com has far greater expertise and experience. Yet this company produces so many children's books it is clearly advisable for the new author to pay the higher price for a package program, gaining project management and editing as a result.
Comparing all print-on-demand providers, the risks are clearly much greater with iUniverse, Amazon.com CreateSpace, Authorhouse, and Xlibris due to their lack of experience with children's book production. The risk of partnering with Lulu.com is that the selection of any of their programs will lead to a book that is not actively promoted and marketed. Yet this risk applies to all print-on-demand publishers as the author must take responsibility for the promotion of their book if it is to succeed. Finally there is the uncertainly of paying for premium cover art and actually getting and excellent cover or not. This is another reason why purchasing a package program with is worth it. Authors have more opportunity to control the quality of the cover and production through the use of these package programs and offers vs. just using the basic services.
Assessing the Potential for Success as a Children's Book Author with Self-Publishers
In analyzing the most and least successful children's books from the variety of publishers listed here, several key criteria emerge that explain why certain children's books do very well and others do not. Children's books published by Lulu.com have more best-seller rankings in Amazon.com due to the integration Lulu.com has with this online bookstore. Second, by the sheer number of titles they have produced, they have more best-sellers from self-publishers than all of their competitors combined. Third, the Lulu.com production processes create higher quality children's book specifically designed for this audience, and therefore the books have greater credibility. The results are evident in the best-sellers on Amazon.com as a result of these factors coming together.
The book Where Are You? A Child's Book about Loss (Paperback) by Laura Olivieri is a best-seller on Amazon.com as is Steve Prefontaine-Rocketman (Paperback) by Linda Prefontaine. Both of these books are illustrative of how self-publishing can open up opportunities for new children's book authors to gain entirely new readers and also further showcase their crafts and unique skills. The common theme of these two successful books is the focus on quality of illustrations, well-defined and compassionate stories, and the development of storylines that engage the reader. Dr. Laura Olivieri is a pediatrician and saw the need for a book that would help children through the loss of a parent. The book is designed as a guide for children who are grappling with extreme loss and succeeds because Dr. Olivieri has created a roadmap for them to follow. As she published with Lulu.com she had greater freedom in getting this book to reflect her exact requirements and nuances of insight as a pediatrician. Both are excellently produced and the authors, one of which had never written a children's book before, Mrs. Prefontaine, provide examples of what can be accomplished using self-publishing. Another successful book is Zach's Tracks by Juliana Morgan. This book has highly specific printing requirements, which are critical to its story and message. If the book had gone through traditional publishing chances are it would not have turned out as high quality as it did through Lulu.com. Again as with Dr. Olivieri's book, the author had a very specific vision of what they wanted to accomplish with the book. Using a print-on-demand service the author was able to attain that vision.
Books that have failed in self-publishing are those that have characters and stories that require exceptional levels of marketing and promotion to explain to parents of young children. An example of a book in this genre is The adventures of snake boy and snake girl book 2 the dawn of the dino's which has an unfortunate cover image of an actual coiled snake and no artwork in the book at all. It graphically is designed as a nature book yet the story is about snake boy and snake girl. The disconnect between the story and the artwork, as the authors could not find an illustrator, is why this book failed through self-publishing.
Future of the Self-Publishing Industry
Given the significant freedoms that self-publishing provides authors and the cost advantages to retailers, it is understandable why 6% of all books produced in the U.S. In 2009 were produced using this approach (Economist, 27). Research firm InterQuest estimates that by 2010 15% of all books will be produced using print-on-demand services (Economist, 27). According to the research firm approximately 285,000 titles were printed using print-on-demand services in 2008, 132% more than through traditional publishing (Economist, 27). 2008 was the first year that print-on-demand publishing exceeding traditional publishing in terms of total number of titles produced.
Print-on-demand services' advantages for authors outweigh the risks and also have the potential to significantly reduce supply chain, pricing and retailing costs for booksellers. Due to these factors, print-on-demand continues to accelerate as a viable alternative to traditional publishing. In addition to these advantages, print-on-demand publishers also are becoming content aggregators, which are opening up entirely new distribution channels for authors choosing to use these services. Print-on-demand publishers have the ability to support a wider variety of formats than their traditional publishing counterparts due to the lower costs of operation. As a result, print-on-demand publishers are actively supporting the fastest growing new content platforms including the Apple iPad, iTouch and iPhone in addition to Amazon's Kindle ebook platform.
As a result of their success with content aggregation and the ability to produce books in a wider variety of formats than traditional publishing companies, print-on-demand publishers will continue to experience rapid growth. The catalyst of this growth will continue to be the freedom and flexibility that these services provide authors. As this industry matures, quality levels will increase significantly as competition becomes more focused on delivering the highest quality book possible.
The balance of power in publishing relationships has shifted away from the traditional publisher to the self-publisher due to the many factors mentioned in this analysis. For first-time children's book authors, self-publishing offers significant new opportunities to get published and retain greater creative control of their authored works. Print-on-demand publishing provides unparalleled freedom to new and experienced authors, and also opens up entirely new distribution channels for them as well. The future of print-on-demand publishing services will be marked by increasing competition over book production quality, bundling in of editing services, and broader distribution. Firms including Lulu.com and iUniverse are setting the pace…