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Here’s Part 2 of our SCBWI conference posts. For part 1 go here.

The first panel I went to was called “Testing the Waters: Publishing Alternatives,” and was all about creating an app, writing for the educational market, and self-publishing.

2013-04-06_21-52-06_539The fountain in Roseville.  It had dancing water.  🙂


First up was Chris Pedersen, who created an app for “The Prisoner of Carrot Castle.” In today’s market, creating an app can be a possible alternative to creating a picture book. With an app, you can be more interactive, which can help engage your readers on a deeper level. You can also add things like interactive puzzles, etc., and, much like with self-pubishing, you have much more creative control.

Downsides to creating an app – the market is starting to flood with them, and now all the “big names” are coming into town, like Disney. Plus apps generally are expected to cost much less than an eBook, and yet there’s a lot of work that needs to go into one.

How do you go about creating an app? Pedersen recommended coming up with a budget first – if you need someone else to develop it for you off your story boards, you’ll be looking at somewhere between $3,000 – $7,000. You’ll also have to consider legal issues, like should you be an LLC, and what kind of contracts do you need in place? From there you need to find either a programmer or, if you’re technically savvy enough, a do-it-yourself program. And of course you’ll need an illustrator, unless you’re lucky enough to also have a spare artistic sister lying around. 😉

After that you still need to create your storyboard, and you’ll need to either record or find your sounds/music/effects, as well as a narrator (there are sites devoted to good voice actors you can hire, like voices.com). From there, you’ll need to manage everything to make sure it comes together, and of course you’ll probably want to create a website and start developing a social media presence or your app might just fade quietly into the night.

Chris Pedersen’s app looks delightful, and she seemed pretty happy doing this. My perspective? It could be a fun medium to try to create in, but be prepared for a lot of work that might take you away from your writing. Finding all the necessary pieces/people, managing it all, and then creating a social media presence on top of that and staying up on all the current app trends would be a lot of work.


Next up was Lori Mortensen who talked about writing for an educational market. This is something I’ve thought about trying to get into so I was pretty interested in learning more. Unfortunately, she didn’t give a lot of information on how to get your foot in the door, but she did go over what it was like to work in this field and stressed that it’s very possible to make a decent living doing this kind of writing.

According to Mortensen, here’s how it works: you send in your resume and proof of experience to different educational venues, and they’ll either ignore you, or they’ll tell you they will keep your information on file until a suitable assignment comes up. Once they have an assignment they think will fit you, they send it your way. These assignments are very specific – something along the lines of “write 1,000 words about dinosaurs for a target audience of 10-12 year olds, and make sure to include these vocabulary words. Should be broken into 12 chapters.” Etc.

Writers for these markets are given a flat fee which can vary greatly from project to project. There are a lot of writers waiting in the wings, so the ability to negotiate price is extremely limited, but Mortensen said you’ll develop a relationship with certain companies and be sent work from them throughout the year. According to her, you’ll get to work on a variety of topics/issues, so it can be fun if you like learning about all different things and jumping around, and you can set your own schedule, accepting work or choosing not to as you see fit.

My perspective? I think this is a very valid way to make a living as a writer, but as someone who loves writing fiction, I’m not sure I’d enjoy having someone tell me exactly how to write what. It would feel a lot like school then, and while you can be creative in how you’re writing, a lot of that creativity is limited with this kind of writing. Still, as Mortensen stressed, you can make a decent living this way, and you can always work on your own writing in between jobs.


The final speaker for this panel was Elaine Russell, who wrote several books, self-publishing through CreateSpace. She basically said she’s not young, and she didn’t think she had the time to wait around for the traditional route to work out, so she decided to go with self-publishing. That being said, she’s thrilled with this alternative route and has been very happy with the way it’s worked out for her.

She did talk about the cons of self-publishing, most notably the stigma that is still associated with those who self-publish, regardless of their reasons, and the fact that it’s much more difficult to get your book into bookstores, to get reviews for your book, and to set up readings or speak at writing conferences, although clearly she’s managed to break through that last issue. 🙂

If you’re self-publishing she highly, highly recommends hiring a publicist. It’s expensive, but Russell claims it is worth every penny. She told us she paid $1,200/month for a three month contract…ouch! But her publicist was able to get her into blog tours, radio readings, book signings, etc. that she never would have gotten into on her own.

Also she recommends paying Kirkus to review your book. I didn’t realize it cost money to get a Kirkus review, but apparently it’s currently $425, and it takes 7-9 weeks for them to respond, so plan accordingly. Oh, and just to clarify, you’re paying them for an objective review, not a good review – they will tell it like they see it. Of course, you can always decide not to use their review if it isn’t flattering, but if you get a good review it can lend your book a bit of legitimacy.

Other tips? Enter a lot of writing conferences before you put your book out – if you win any you can list those awards on your website. And it wouldn’t hurt to enter your manuscript into some contests as well. As always, be wary of the fine print for these contests and make sure you’re not giving away any rights you don’t want to give away.

My takeaway from this? I think self-publishing is becoming increasingly acceptable. Yes, there’s still definitely a stigma against it, but I feel like it’s lessening, and there are a lot of great self-published books out there. Russell’s main advice was to make sure your self-published book stands out from the rest and to give it as much legitimacy as possible in order to counterbalance that stigma. I think that’s great advice, and while I’m still planning on trying to go the whole traditional route with my writing, I’m definitely taking notes on the other options as well.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about Andrew Harwell’s workshop on Letting Your Characters Tell You Who They Are. As a HarperCollins editor he’s seen lots of different styles and shared some very helpful writing tips…stay tuned!