A Guide to Self-Published Books, Part 2 of 3



Our tour of self-published children’s picture books continues this week with Mama Loved to Worry, by Maryann Weidt and illustrated by Rachel Balsaitis.

Mama Loved to Worry, by Maryann Weidt, illustrated by Rachel Balsaitis;
Minnesota Historical Society, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 4-8.

Who’s the publisher?
* The Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) is a non-profit organization based in St. Paul devoted to preserving and promoting the history and culture of Minnesota. The MNHS was incorporated in 1849 and is one of the largest and most prestigious historical societies in the U.S.

* The MNHS is a member of the American Association of University Presses, a non-profit that provides marketing assistance to over 130 member presses.

* The book is 10 x 10, fully illustrated, and 32 pages long—all industry standards for children’s picture books.

* The book has been properly formatted with title pages, front and rear flyleaves, and ISBN information.

* The author and illustrator are properly cited for their contributions.

How’s the book?
* Mama Loved to Worry is a tall tale that takes place on a Midwestern farm—Mama is a “world-class worrywart” and there’s plenty to ruffle her feathers on Daisy Dell Farm. When she’s not knitting, sewing, or cooking, Mama saves Baby Eli from loose pigs, popping corn, and even a twister. Mama’s something of a homespun Wonder Woman—even though she’s clad in blue overalls, there’s something decidedly other-worldly about her ability to hold down the fort. Rich in local colloquialism, the book offers a fanciful glimpse of rural life on a farm.

* Author Maryann Weidt is a Minnesota librarian and won the Minnesota Book Award for her previous children’s book, Daddy Played Music for the Cows. (Unlike the Mom’s Choice Awards, which are pay-to-play awards, the Minnesota Book Awards are presented by the Friends of the St. Paul Library System.) Weidt conducted research about Minnesota farms by visiting the Gale Family Library, part of the Minnesota History Center and the MNHS. 

* Illustrator Rachael Balsaitis is also a Minnesota native and has illustrated other state-themed books like Annie’s Plaid Shirt and Love is Forever. The artwork appears to be rendered in watercolor, though a quick note explaining the medium would be helpful.

* This charming book offers a look at how one woman deals with life’s worries while also offering a glimpse of family farms, a way of life that’s all but disappeared from the American landscape.

Final Thoughts:
* The author and illustrator conducted research at the MNHS to create this book, and their knowledge is demonstrated throughout.

* This book will appeal to Midwesterners proud of their heritage as well as travelers to the state in search of a sweet memento for their children.

* Mama Loved to Worry is one in a series of picture books celebrating the state of Minnesota that have been recently published by MNHS Press, meeting the Society’s overriding mission of educational initiatives geared towards children.

As a side note, many institutions in Minnesota are dedicated to enriching the lives of children through storytelling—the Minnesota Center for Book Arts is another vibrant nonprofit advancing the book as a form of contemporary art and expression, while also teaching and preserving the craft of bookmaking. (See my article “The Young Illuminators” in the Winter 2015 issue of Fine Books & Collections Magazine where I discuss the MCBA and other institutions fighting back against the decline of arts funding for children.)

The final installment of this series will examine a book written by a former model-turned animal activist.

Tweet me your experiences with self-published children’s books @B_Basbanes

Self-Published Children’s Books: What to Look for (Part 1 of 3)

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.

(Children’s) BookNotes, June 22, 2016

Summer is officially upon us, but that doesn’t mean we should ditch all our books completely. Here’s a round-up of headlines in the world of children’s picture books this week.

We here at Literary Features Syndicate trumpeted our summer schedule last week: http://bit.ly/28Qq4rq

A pristine first-edition of Alice in Wonderland failed to sell at Christie’s: http://bit.ly/28Qq0Il

 USA Gold pencils announced the winners of the USA Gold Poetry Contest.
Each child won a cash prize of $500, plus $50 in U.S.A. Gold® pencils. Teachers of the winning students also received a $150 American Express® gift card, plus $100 worth of stationery products including U.S.A. Gold® pencils, an electric pencil sharpener and erasers.

Full list of winners here: http://bit.ly/28NbwNv 

We’re trumpeting an announcement today:

Literary Features Syndicate is going on summer vacation!

That means we’ll be posting less frequently over the next eight weeks. But don’t fret, there’s still some great stories heading your way–we’re even reviewing a trio of independently published books, a first for LFS!

Keep on reading and have a wonderful summer!

(Children’s) BookNotes, Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What do Beatrix Potter, Helen Mirren, QE2, Eric Carle, and Winnie-the-Pooh have in common? They all made news this week in the world of children’s books. Read on! 

 @ericcarle @GuardianBooks 



From The Guardian: Eric Carle talks about how children identify with the helpless, small, insignificant caterpillar

From Galley Cat: Disney celebrates Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday with a new Winnie-the-Pooh story.

The BBC reports that Helen Mirren is slated to narrate the audiobook version of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, a story rediscovered after 100 years.

Make Monday Bright

@HMHCo @huffpostbooks @bwon1

Hooray for Hat, by Brian Won; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26.99, 40 pages, ages 2-6. (Available June 26, 2016)

The Huffington Post dubbed Brian Won’s picture book debut it’s overall pick for best read-aloud of 2014. Now, the story of a crabby elephant whose jaunty topper brings joy to his fellow jungle creatures is available in Big Book format. Clutches of young readers can gather around Won’s delightful illustrations of pouting giraffes, sour turtles, petulant owls, and a wonderful assortment of hats sure to brighten any gloomy day. Chapeau to this adorable update ideal for libraries and nursery-school classrooms, or anyone facing an oversize case of the grumps.