Self-Publishing Journeys: Stacey Alfonso-Mills

Why I Will Continue to Self-Publish

There is definitely a new era of Caribbean books by an even newer era of self-published authors! For many authors, self-publishing is a personal choice, while for others it is the only choice. My journey as a self-published children’s author, however, has had an element of both.

In 2009, when I was finally ready to write my first children’s illustrated storybook, The Boys of Sinclair Hill-Fun in the Backyard, there were limited choices of traditional publishing houses. As such, self-publishing was the best option. However, I was not at all prepared for the many roles I would have to fill in order to see my book from start to finish.

As a working mother of 3, just finding time to be creative and actually write my book was a challenge. But I now also needed to source an illustrator. This was no easy task as there are no ‘how to’ sites or handbooks in Trinidad and Tobago for writing a book. So sourcing an illustrator was done the old fashioned way– by asking! Over the following months I became the writer, the contracts director, the proofreader, the editor, the graphic design consultant, the production manager, the marketing/public relations manager, the sales manager and finance guru.

Because of my business and communications background, some of these additional roles were easier than others. I was fortunate to find a very talented graphics designer who worked closely with me to put my book in a format that I was happy with. However, there were other areas that I found very challenging as a self-publisher. The production aspect of the book, particularly sourcing and working with the printing company, became a very daunting task.

At the time of my first book in 2009, I found that local printing companies lacked cost-effective packages to benefit a self-publisher. And in many instances, the quality of the finished product was less than desired especially in relation to cost. Despite this, I felt very strongly about printing locally and contracted a well-known local printing company to print 1000 copies of my first book in hardcover. However, when I received the first 250 copies from the printer, I was appalled. Despite the printing company’s insistence of internal quality control checks, my own quality checks uncovered poorly done binding, smudged pages and many of the books were printed either upside down or with pages missing.

When continued production did not improve, I was forced to stop production and I refused to accept any more poorly printed books. Although in the end I worked with another local printing company to complete the production of my first book, it came with additional costs. So in the process of maintaining my quality standard as a new self-published author, I was hit hard financially. So there was no question that the printing of any new books would be done externally.

In 2011 I wrote and self-published The Boys of Sinclair Hill –The Princess, The Treasure and The Blue Dragon, which I out-sourced to China. This proved to be a far more cost effective experience, not to mention a far more superior quality in the actual finished product. Although I now incurred a new expense to receive hardcopy proofs via expedited post (DHL or FEDEX), the overall cost of printing and shipping was far less than printing locally. Using this option meant that the entire communication process was conducted online. While this was a new experience for both my graphic designer and myself, it was a welcomed change. However, despite the benefits derived from printing in China, an immediate downside was the delivery timeline, which was up to 90 days from shipping out of China via ocean freight. This delay in receiving a finished product would certainly affect any scheduled launch and supply of product to the market.

In late 2013, while preparing to print my new book, the challenges of printing locally had not changed so outsourcing to China was my immediate choice. However, while in the production stages, I experienced an elaborate online hacking incident, which forced me to retreat from my business relationship with the printing company in China. And while this new development caused quite a bit of grief, there was a faint silver lining. I was now discovering the wide range of online self-publishing/print-on-demand companies available for the new era of self-publishers like myself. So after much effort, in April 2014, I printed and launched my third self-published book, Manatee has a Question.

Another major challenge for self-publishers, particularly in Trinidad and Tobago is the absence of financial support and/or subsidies for contributors to local literature. As a self-publisher, producing a book is by no means cheap. Apart from the printing/shipping costs, other expenses include contracting an illustrator and/or graphic artist, ISBN and barcode registrations, office supply (for example a small personal colour printer including paper and ink cartridges to print drafts for reviews), editing and finalizing. There were also expenses for promotional material such as flyers, advertisements and bookmarks. In the case of a children’s illustrated storybook, the collective cost to produce a quality product can cost thousands of dollars. In most cases, as it is in mine, this is financed completely out of pocket.

Other challenges include the lack of interest by mainstream bookstores to promote and supply local literature. I have found the most interest and support from non-mainstream bookstores, non-bookstores, teachers and general citizens who simply desire more local literature, particularly children’s literature. There is a particularly high demand from foreign nationals and expatriates residing in the country. This is the area that also requires a lot of work once the books are ready for distribution. There is a small window of opportunity, once the books have been delivered, for a self-published author to enjoy the actual accomplishment of writing and publishing a book as this can quickly become lost in having to move onto the next crucial steps: launching, marketing, publicizing and selling a new children’s illustrated storybook that just cost you a personal fortune.

There is no doubt that the era of self-publishing is here to stay and in this regard there is a desperate need in Trinidad and Tobago for government subsidy intervention for local authors. This would encourage not just more local authors but a wider range of quality local literature into the market, which of course promotes cultural and historical preservation and appreciation. All of which continues to build national identity.

However, despite the many challenges associated with self-publishing, this avenue created an opportunity me for to expand my knowledge of online marketing using more social media networks. It also provided the opportunity for me to build my own networking base and work on developing a writer platform. Over the last two years I found that having author control from self-publishing has opened new doors for collaborations with literature and writing programmes at schools.

While there is still a notable absence of quality local literature in our public schools, there has been a high demand for book readings at private schools and at children's events. It is at a book reading that I can interact freely with my direct customers – the children. If a first-time children’s author wants a truly honest book review, then do a book reading. It is a humbling yet exhilarating experience.

After three self-published books, I have learned that apart from my job in the oil and gas industry, I love to write and create books that children can enjoy and learn from and in particular that children from Trinidad and Tobago can relate to. At this time, it is clear that self-publishing is the only option that would allow me to control the supply of my books, not only to where they are needed but also to where they are truly appreciated.

I would definitely invite any author to self-publish. The key is to be realistic about how much work you will have to do on your own, while being aware of your talents and your limitations. But most importantly find a support network and with each experience the self-publishing option should open new doors.

Stacey Alfonso-Mills is the self-published author of The Boys of Sinclair Hill-Fun in the Backyard (2009), The Boys of Sinclair Hill-The Princess, The Treasure and The Blue Dragon (2011), and Manatee has a Question (2014). She writes for the early primary school age group and her books are perfect for reading aloud. Her books are included in the BGTT-sponsored Bridge Foundation’s ‘Read to Rise’ programme, which uses a book rotation strategy to inspire and encourage student reading while innovatively building classroom libraries.

When Stacey is not writing books or reading her books to students at primary schools across Trinidad, she is a Communications Consultant and the Managing Director of MAALAN Resources Limited, which is a service company in the Trinidad and Tobago energy sector. She is married with three sons and currently resides with her family in Trinidad and Tobago.

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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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