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What I learned from Published Illustrators and Authors

I had the opportunity to hear some illustrators and authors. On Wednesday, July 26th, Ellen Oh, E.B. Lewis, Joe Cepeda, and Kent Nerburn provided insights on being published illustrators and authors. The panel was geared toward children’s books at the Fort Smith, Arkansas main library.

I was able to glean a couple of interesting things.

1) The editor is no longer in charge of choosing the author/story to be published.
2) The gatekeepers are not holding onto what is being accepted, rather what is being distributed.

In the past, to be published it was the editor that decided what was chosen. He or she would comb through the submissions in the attempt to find that diamond. That is no longer the case. Today it’s all about the bottom dollar and companies are choosing what is to be published. Not by the good storyline or character, rather how well that story can be marketed, promoted, and consumed by the readers. IE: can we sell it.

A quick Google search will reveal five trade book publishers as the major players. Those are Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. These are the primary U.S. divisions of publishers based in foreign countries.
Outside the big 5 publishers, one can trickle down to the self-published authors or the guy running a shop out of his/her basement. The number of actual ‘publishing’ companies is hard to define.

Thus, getting published is easy, per say. The real power is the channels of distribution. Quantity of sales equals more money for the author, and those authors that have been chosen for their books to be allowed in the main bookstores are very fortunate. When you walk into any well-known book store and see that nice end cap display, it’s not done by the book store, rather the marketing department of the book publisher.

Each submission is filtered down to the group within the publishing company and weighed for its marketing capability, what is currently being consumed by the populace, and how much of a return will it be in revenue. As I said, it’s a business and the dollar weighs heavy on the choice.

Interestingly, all in the panel agreed in today’s book world it’s very difficult and ugly. Very few can actually be successful, much less live off of that work type alone. The very idea of self-publishing made more than one squirm.

The business side was ugly, and I personally do not believe any author or artist really enjoys it. The author and artist have a story to convey and wish that story is given to as many in the world as possible.

Regarding the discussion of self-publishing, many of the panels found it undesirable. After listening to them, I get it. In the author world, once you see that acceptance and the Library of Congress ISBN for your work, it is a mark of ‘making it’.

In every industry, there is a ladder and each dedicated rung of that ladder marks progression. Having that ISBN in the Library of Congress, and seeing your book accepted by distribution to the major arteries of the book stores is the epitome of success.

Having some Joe Blow push his content into a print on demand (POD) and calling himself an author is viewed as an insult for those hustling in the industry. What those stuck in the traditional model do not understand is many of us are simply using the provided new business model for our content. Both require work.

However, as someone working the angle of self-published, I also realize merely having the ability to print your content and seeing it online is not necessarily the end game. There are many of us, simply desiring to see their stories being available to the public. The measure of success differs for each of us.

As the landscape changes, so do the opportunity for that to happen.