Self-publishing vs traditional publishing – an honest appraisal.

I fondly recall walking around Waterford City circa October 2019 with a wheelie-suitcase full of my first children’s book, But Really…Adventures With a Difference, batches of blank order sheets, coffee in hand, ready to doorstep the bookstores. It was, very much, one of those pocket full of dreams moments. I had a fantastic time meeting booksellers, telling them about my book, about Adam, and seeing the positive responses. I left that day feeling so happy with the decision I’d made to self-publish this book.

Almost two years on, and with the release of my new book A Hug for You with Sandycove (Penguin Random House Ireland), I find myself reflecting a lot on the two journeys I’ve been on – self-publishing and the more traditional route of working with a publisher. Knowing what I know now, and given the chance to do it all over again, what route would I take? I’ll begin explaining back in 2019….

Our son Adam was born with a genetic condition, osteogenesis imperfecta (Type III) and he is a wheelchair user. Adam is the second youngest of our five children – so my wife and I have lots of children’s books at home! Over the years I noticed an absence of characters with additional needs in the books we were reading our children. I was inspired to write a book about Adam as I wanted him to grow up seeing himself as the hero in the stories he reads, and to see representation of difference normalised. It is no small thing to write your child into a story, and at the time of creating But Really… I was nervous and naïvely suspicious of handing the story over to a publisher. I did not want to have any aspects of the story, or how Adam was represented visually, altered.  As a parent and author I was happy to own this decision, and take full creative license over my book.

The thing to remember about self-publishing  is the word self – by choosing to go this route, you are completely self-reliant and responsible for every aspect of getting your book into people’s hands. This includes but is most certainly not limited to:

  • Writing your book
  • Choosing an illustrator
  • Proofing illustrations and text
  • Working with designers
  • Checking print quality
  • ISBN registration
  • Printing and stock control
  • Marketing and PR
  • Liaising with bookstores
  • Invoicing, collecting payments

It can also be very challenging and demoralising to get a self-published book into mainstream circulation (I thankfully had help with this).

There can be enjoyment in this work though. If you like project management (which I do), being in charge and bringing an idea from conception to reality (which I loved), then self-publishing might be an option for you. The biggest downside however is not in all the extra roles you take on. It is, for me anyway, the loss of creative input from others.

When I began work with the team at Sandycove on A Hug for You, I immediately realised my concerns around creative license were unfounded. I got the opportunity to work with people who have a genuine love of stories. They know what works conceptually, visually, syntactically, and for the intended audience. I have learned so much as an author from working with the team at Sandycove and have undoubtedly benefited from their years of wisdom and experience in book publishing. This is something I could never have experienced as a self-published author and as such this process has really enabled my growth. It was also so enjoyable to work on a team project and to celebrate the successes of final proofs, delivery of first copies, publication day, together. The entire journey has been a joy from the start and I am beyond proud of how A Hug for You has turned out. Like any team project, you need to be comfortable being vulnerable and accepting that others will offer their own take on your ideas. This, in my experience, was a really good thing. Back in 2019 I feared a publisher would suck the soul out of my story. Now, I realise my soul and that of my story has been uplifted through working with experts who really care about the craft of storytelling.

I loved creating my first book. I am very proud of it and I enjoyed so many aspects of the journey. However, if I had my time again, I think I would approach a publisher. Self-publishing gives you less time on the creative side and more time on the management and ongoing running of a book project. Whilst I love all aspects to do with getting a book on shelves, being in the creative space and growing as an author is the aspect I love the most. You need to decide which one excites you more!

About David and Adam King:

David King is a children’s author and education professional. His first children’s book But Really . . . Adventures with a Difference was published in 2019. He lives in East Cork with his wife and five children. His son, Adam King, is six years old. Adam has a brittle bone condition, Osteogenesis imperfecta, or OI for short. This is a rare and lifelong genetic condition characterized by a shortened stature and brittle bones which fracture easily.

About Rhiannon Archard (Illustrator):

Rhiannon Archard is a Welsh artist. She studied Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts and creates illustrations using gouache, watercolour, colour pencils, lino printing and ceramics. She lives with her daughter in the Kentish countryside.

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