Self-published books have made great strides towards legitimacy in recent years, with scores of companies ready to help anyone (at any budget) put their ideas to paper and ink. The genre once completely dedicated to catering to vanity publications–and much of the industry still does–can confidently claim itself capable of producing professional-quality titles outside the traditional publishing sphere.

In fact, many traditional, “legacy” publishing houses operate vanity imprints–Archway is a division of Simon & Schuster, Partridge India and BookCountry are partners with Penguin, and Westbow Press is owned HarperCollins. Until recently, Author Solutions and iUniverse were divisions of Penguin Random House as well. These outlets provide sorely-needed revenue for an industry still negotiating this brave new world of on-demand publishing.

Still, when everything on Amazon is slapped with an ISBN, published
by a fancy-sounding company, promoted by publicists, and endorsed by award-bestowing entities, buying a self-published book is nothing
less than caveat lector.

All that being said, it seems timely now to offer examples of independently and self-published books, and explain what sets them apart from a sea of titles created purely for self-validation. Many children’s picture books have come a long way from being amateur attempts at authorship to items savvy consumers might actually want to purchase and read.

This is the first of three posts that will discuss various examples of children’s picture books offered by the self-publishing industry, and what smart consumers should look for before buying.

First up:

What does a family look like?, created by Christine Burger; Purposeful Goods, $12.95, 26 pages, ages 3-5.

First, let’s look at the packaging:

  • Though emblazoned with a gold “Mom’s Choice Award Honoring Excellence,” this is a pay-to-play award, where a base fee of $500 nets an applicant 250 award seals (to be affixed to books), an MCA-sponsored media release, and a dedicated winner’s page with links to the book’s website, among other goodies. $1,500 gets a written endorsement from the award company’s executive director, which the Buddy Boodles series also displays.
  • Physically, the laminate-wrapped hardcover looks and feels like any other picture book. The art too, looks professionally rendered, though no credit is given to the illustrator.
  • The page count is a giveaway that this was manufactured by a vanity press–32 pages is the typical picture-book standard, What does a family look like? runs 30 pages and lacks end sheets.
  • The title does not follow basic capitalization conventions, offering further evidence that the book was not copy-edited by a professional. 

Next, the publishing house:

  • Purposeful Goods is a San-Jose, California-based subsidiary of Noodle and Boo, a high-end “natural” skin-care company along the lines of Jessica Alba’s Honest Company. Boodles, the trademarked cuddly monkey (whose likeness is also available for purchase in plush format through the company website) appears in all three of the inaugural Purposeful Goods titles.
  • There is an altruistic element to Purposeful Goods, where a portion of sales go towards charitable endeavors.

Now, to the content itself:

  • In What does a family look like? Boodles introduces readers to all the different kinds of family dynamics–families with one mother, families with two daddies, and so on. The subject matter, though instructive, is, unfortunately, uninspiring.
  • The illustrations are equally insipid yet completely
    inoffensive–a perfect combination sure to appeal to well-intentioned
    folks looking to complete a swanky baby-shower gift basket or birthday

  • This is the kind of book that might find turn up in the office of a elementary school counselor or social worker.

Final thoughts:

  • The Mom’s Choice Awards are fancy product endorsement, and consumers would be smart to do their own research first. However, for  readers who don’t mind the blatant product placement, this title is an unobjectionable, perfectly PC choice.

Next time, we’ll look at a picture book published by a Midwestern historical society.

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