Self-Publishing in YA: It’s All About Control

The “Self-Publishing For Young Adult Audiences,” panel on the Young Adult Literature track at Marriott on Sep 3, 2023 at 5:30 PM was moderated by Natalie Simpson and featured authors Eric Asher, Katie Cross, Sean Fletcher, Isabelle Hardesty, and Katharine E. Wibell.

Before diving into the discussion of publishing, Natalie started off by asking the authors what made them want to write YA. For Katharine, she and her sister developed characters as children for their play. When she began writing, she wanted to write books around those characters, with the first book titled The Twelve Tasks. Sean and Eric started writing YA because that’s what they loved to read, and when Sean became an author, he learned a lot of adults read YA. Meanwhile, Katie didn’t make a strategic decision to write in YA. She simply “had a story to tell” and wrote it. However, she has stayed in YA and that decision is “very strategic.”

Natalie then asked the authors what made them decide to go into self-publishing, and for all of them it was about control. Katie didn’t want someone dictating timelines to her, or deciding her book covers for her. Sean started writing and submitting stories at fourteen, but as he developed as a writer and learned about the ever-changing publishing landscape, and discovered how traditional publishing treated authors, he decided to go on his own.

Isabelle liked the control as well, but as a YA self-published author she feared she might never get her books into libraries. But while eating dinner with her husband at Dragon Con one year, a librarian overheard her talking and gave Isabelle her card. The two talked and the librarian gave her a template for getting her books into libraries.

For Katharine, she initially tried to get The Twelve Tasks traditionally published, but soon gave up on that when a publisher wanted to cut the novel by one third. She rejected that deal and returned to self-publishing.

Discussion then turned to the responsibilities of being a publisher. To turn writing into a career, Sean noted “You can’t just be a writer, you’re an entrepreneur.” You have to be motivated to do all the things involved in publishing books. The good news, there are many opportunities, with Sean stating, “There is pie everywhere, which is fantastic because everyone loves pie.”

At the same time, the authors noted that you neither can, nor should, do everything for the long term. Katie loves being creative. She loves writing more than anything except for her family. To protect her writing time and family time, she turned her writing business into a company in which she’s the CEO, so that she can do the things she loves and have others handle the things she doesn’t. However, doing that means a lot of responsibility on her shoulders. Katie stated, “I have a lot of big dreams,” and to achieve them means making sacrifices and taking risks to achieve them.

For Isabelle, there’s always more to learn in your publishing journey. When an opportunity presents itself, “you have to decide whether to ignore it, or see where it can take you.” But pursuing a new opportunity might mean exploring an area with which you are not familiar.

Natalie then turned the discussion to contracts, and whereas in traditional publishing your agent and publisher handle negotiations, in self-publishing you have to handle your contracts and asked the authors how they handle negotiations. Katie has thirteen people who work for her as independent contractors, and has NDAs with all of them, and has been involved in negotiations with movie production companies, and will use an attorney for such negotiations. Sean added having a CPA to advise you on taxes, and that there are so many things that go on behind the scenes for publishing, and it is often better to find a professional to handle certain aspects of the business, but take time to build your team. He also mentioned there are many resources out there, such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to help you learn and find experts to aid with issues you encounter.

Katharine advised authors not to be afraid to ask for help. Educate yourself as much as possible, but be willing to ask for help.

Natalie asked the authors about the difficulties of marketing to YA. Eric mentioned that his targeting metrics are predominantly women 35–65. Those women are either buying the books for themselves, their kids, or their grandkids. They do marketing on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms, but noted that you can’t market directly to children and teens. The others agreed with their target audience for marketing being older men and women. They have the money and do the purchasing, whether for themselves (many adults read YA) or for their children, grandchildren, nieces/nephews, etc.

At the end during the Q&As, an audience member asked how the authors find their support personnel who help them with the business side of things for areas where they need help or simply don’t want to do that part of the work. Katie gets all of hers from among her readers, then she extensively vets them. Sean asks for inputs from others, but recommends not trying to do everything at once because it’s so easy to be overwhelmed. Isabelle asserts that you will find the people you need as you need them. Katharine recommended asking other authors for referrals as you develop relationships.

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