In the ancient days of last summer, before I had seriously considered indie publishing myself, I self-published my then twelve-year-old son’s first novel, Adventures at and Around the Galaxy. The full story is here, but in short, creating a paperback at Createspace was cheaper than copying his novel at Kinko’s, and the ebook was an easy way to distribute copies at no cost to his friends. “Publishing” his novel meant making copies for his grandmas, teachers, and friends. It was an incentive for him to finish his story, put the hard work into revisions, and make it the best it could be so he could proudly share it with friends and family. We had no notions of readers beyond that.
Then a funny thing happened. A LOT of people downloaded his book.
To date: 458 downloads on Smashwords, 507 on Barnes&Noble.
It was a cute middle grade novel with a snappy description and a homemade cover. It was a kids’ book and it LOOKED like a kids’ book. And it was FREE. We had uploaded Adventures to Smashwords, because it had every format under the sun (for his friends with iPads, iPhones, Kindles, and Nooks). We inadvertently distributed it to Barnes&Noble. Neither of us expected anyone to download it besides his friends and family.
Kids and the Internet
Part of me was seriously uneasy that hundreds of strangers were downloading my kid’s book – not because of the quality of the book (I critiqued it, he revised it, I copyedited it – we are rightfully proud of the product). I just didn’t want the trolls of the world to find my not-yet-a-teen son. Adam doesn’t include a bio with his work, and nowhere does it say, “This book was written by a twelve-year-old!” This was intentional – again, I didn’t want to attract the pervs of the world by highlighting that this was a child online. As the downloads rolled in, I sat down with my son and explained that some people may leave nasty reviews. I wanted him prepared, and for him to know that I was tremendously proud of his work, and he should be too. We considered the option of pulling it down, but he wanted to keep it up, in spite of the risk of attracting trolls.
My Son the Writer
Because Adam is truly a writer, he kept writing. He took my classes at the library on plotting and story structure, and he worked hard to take his craft up a level. He spent all school year writing the sequel, and of course watched me self-publish my novels and heard all the tumultuous industry news. He decided that his cover needed an upgrade, like many indie authors do, and he put his newly acquired Computer Aided Design skills to work crafting a cover that would coordinate across the entire trilogy he intends to write.
When he finished the sequel, he asked me to critique, and I was impressed by how much growth he had shown. After more work on revisions, copyediting, and proofing, he’s ready to publish the sequel, Undercover War.
Stop by tomorrow for a guest post from Adam Quinn, announcing the release of his new novel, Undercover War.
Amateur vs. Professional
As we prepared to publish his second novel, Adam and I had a much better idea what to expect – people would download this novel. They would read it. My fears were overblown, and Adam’s first novel received nothing but a few positive ratings and reviews, the trolls opting to stay at home. But we had (intentionally) kept him in smaller markets (Smashwords, Barnes&Noble, not the 800 lb. gorilla of self-published novels, Amazon). But having had a taste of readers, and downloads, and reviews, Adam was eager to publish everywhere and maybe even make some money doing it! And who could blame him? He was putting out a product that was high quality and people wanted to read it!
This is where I put my Mom hat firmly on and said, “not yet.” Adam and I had a discussion about amateur vs. professional, with the Olympics this summer providing an excellent analogy about how “amateur” doesn’t mean “poor quality.” Neglecting the fact that Olympic athletes can earn lots of money in endorsements, the general difference between amateur and professional is that professionals intend for their work to make money. It is a career, and they expect to be profitable (at some point). Wearing the Mom Hat, I told Adam that I wanted him to stay amateur until he was old enough to make the decision himself. It had nothing to do with the quality of his work, but with the fact that he was only thirteen. He had plenty of time to decide, later, if he wanted to be a professional writer. Adam also has mad programming skills, but I’m not suggesting he go work for Apple as a child. He still has much to learn and deserves a chance to grow up first, before becoming a “professional” anything. He replied that he may always want to stay an amateur in writing; he plans to conquer the world in addition to being a writer, so he’ll be plenty busy. I told him I thought that was grand. 🙂
So, we agreed that he will be keeping off Amazon and keeping his work free.
Should you publish your kid’s work?
This varies by the parent and the child, but my general answer is “use it as a reward for your kid’s hard work, but always be careful about exposing them to the wider world. And make sure they still get a chance to be a kid.”
While Adam’s work is available to the public, that isn’t strictly necessary, even if you want to create lovely Print On Demand paper copies of your kid’s work or format their stories into ebooks. These things can be done with free online tools without ever making the books available to the public at large.
- Use Createspace to make a paper copy, but don’t approve it for publication. You will be able to order your own “proof” copies at a low cost, without it ever going public.
- Use programs like Mobipocket Creator, Sigil, and Calibre to convert your child’s work into an ebook format that you can then email directly to your family and friends for their ereaders.
- You can even mail a word document straight to your kindle (subject line “convert” – thank you Matt!) and it will convert to Kindle format. No messy formatting involved.