Award-winning indie children's book author Lucy Ravitch shares tips and clears up misconceptions about indie publishing
Lucy Ravitch is the author The Pancake Menu, a children's interactive book that helps kids practice math skills as they play restaurant. The book won the 2016 Bronze Independent Publisher Award in the Children's Interactive category, and was also the bronze Reader's Favorite award for Children's Concept Books for 2016. Lucy says she has loved math since she was young and love showing kids that learning is FUN. Lucy launched her own company (Enjoy Learning Something) to publish her books and blogs at KidsMathTeacher.com. She lives in sunny Southern CA with her husband and five children.
I usually focus on traditionally published authors and illustrators in my blog, but I was so impressed by Lucy's enthusiasm, business acumen and success in her indie publishing ventures that I thought Inkygirl readers would be curious to know more. Thanks so much to Lucy for taking the time to answer some questions!
Q. What inspired you to write The Pancake Menu?
While studying Elementary Education in college we were required to make a book in our KidLit class. I created The A to Z Pie Menu (It had a pie and a price and at the end asked "What will you order?") and years later my 3 and 1 year-old children would play with it, so I planned out several menu books for kids--The Pancake Menu being one of the 15 different options of menu. Next up are The Pizza Menu and then The Sundae Menu.
Q. Did you try to get your book traditionally published first? Or did you know from the beginning that you wanted to self-publish?
I tried to get an agent and go the traditional publishing route for five years (2009-2014). The last year of those five, I was getting more information about going independent and when I made the decision to give it a try I was totally scared, but kept my drive to do it!
I loved the control I got to have over my project in the long run, and when I take it to schools and events the profit is much bigger. Although, there is a downside that I don't have a marketing department to push my book onto bookstore shelves and in front of several people. Going indie is much more of a grassroots effort with a lot of word of mouth/online social sharing involved, which also takes time to grow and develop, and it's a LOT of work for the author.
Q. How do you find your illustrator for your Math Concept Story series? Are you paying them a flat fee, royalties, or do you have another arrangement?
I supported several Kickstarter projects before mine went live and when I went to the LA Times Festival of Books 2015 I recognized the books of this author/illustrator from the KS I supported. I got his business card, bought one more of his books, and I simply loved his artwork! Turns out Travis Hanson has been doing illustration for over 20 years and I thought his style was great for my particular project, so I called him up when I felt we could begin the project. We will be doing a flat fee for the book layout sketches and a flat fee per finished page. Royalties are too difficult for me to handle at this stage of my business.
Q. You’ve done such a great job at spreading the word about your work. What strategies have you found to be the most effective?
Great question! Word of mouth and having a free informational bookmark or giveaway item that tells people where they can buy the book is a must. Plus, I often give a few extra bookmarks to some people and ask if they can give the bookmark to people they know who might like my book. Great bloggers who are good with social media sharing goes a long way as well! I've had a few contacts of mine that have nice blogs and a good amount of Twitter and FB followers do a blog post. Every few months they Tweet about the old post and it is wonderful! I notice a few sales each time they Tweet about the post they did.
Q. What have you found to be the biggest misconception that people have about indie publishing?
The biggest misconception to me is people thinking Indie publishing doesn't result in a good quality book. If you do it right, you can use a good printer overseas who will work with you. You can hire out for editing and even illustration and layout if you need to (or you can be a bit like me and learn how to do some it yourself). Ultimately, you should still know what people want and find your niche. I felt my project needed to get out to the world and since it was such a different kind of book that no publishing house seemed to want to take on, I did it myself. I'm happy to say it's in the Library of Congress, it's sold on Amazon through Amazon Advantage, I have Baker & Taylor as a wholesaler, and I've entered it into several awards and it won the bronze IP award for children's interactive books in 2016.
Q. What do you see in the future for your publishing house? Or what would you LIKE to see?
I see Enjoy Learning Something publishing all my Kids Menu Books that I feel will sell well. Even though I had the idea for 15 different menus, I only think I'll do the best 5 or so (unless there is a huge demand for more of them). The Math Concept Story Series will be a hit among educators and parents too! I am not certain how fast I could have the publishing house grow (as I have a large family and other things take much of my time), but within the next 10 years I would love for it to grow to have more people working for the business and produce 2-3 books a year of other people's work as well as my own. It would be totally awesome if it was acquired as an imprint of a bigger house, like Klutz is now an imprint of Scholastic.
Q. Congrats on your successful Kickstarter campaign! What advice do you have for authors who are considering going that route?
Thank you! Kickstarter is a great crowdfunding platform among the others out there. It is a lot of work to run a campaign and then fulfill the orders. I recommend having everything lined up as much as possible before you go live. Your video should be brief and true to your work, your story with pictures, and make simple level rewards (too complex and you'll get too many questions or people may just not support). I worked for six months on my Kickstarter before it went live and I feel that paid off. After all, Good Morning America reached out to me when they were looking through Kickstarter campaigns for interactive kids products in April of 2015.
Q. What has the response been like so far?
Very positive! When people get to look through my book they are impressed and often say, "I would have loved to have this as a kid!" or "My nephew will love this!" So far the response from teachers and their students, as well as parents of the children who have the book have given me great feedback! One person used it during their family reunion breakfast for everyone to look through and choose from the options. The book is geared toward children ages 7-10, but kids as young as 3 have been playing with it and are being introduced to math skills with money and cooking measurements early. A special needs outreach program bought the book to practice social skills and cooking for their classes.
Q. What are you working on now?
I am working with an amazing illustrator to layout and do final illustrations for the first book in my Math Concept Story series which I plan to run another Kickstarter for next year or possibly later this year, with anticipated release June 2017.
I am also trying to finish up The Pizza Menu--testing dough recipes and making the directions. After that I will begin illustrations for that, the second book in the Kids Menu Book series! Tentative release March 2018.
While working on manuscripts is a big chunk of time, working to arrange school visits and attending those take time too. I am also researching and implementing how to grow a successful children's publishing house.
Good luck with your Math Concept Story series, Lucy! And thanks so much for visiting Inkygirl. - Debbie
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.