Self-publishing your out-of-print children’s non-fiction might be harder than you expected! An interview with Jenny Alexander by Alex Marchant

Jenny - Online-47
Jenny Alexander

As a new self-published author I’m always interested to hear of others’ experiences and when I found out Jenny Alexander was looking for a guest blog spot, I jumped at the chance to learn from hers. Particularly when I found out the book she’s launching this week is on a subject that links well with my own books and is clearly close to my heart.

Earlier in the summer, when invited to talk to two Year 6 classes in Barnard Castle (when presenting them with copies of my book donated by a local community group: see the-best-laid-plans-by-alex-marchant), it struck me that The Order of the White Boar wasn’t just about King Richard III, but also about the transition from primary to senior school. In this case, the transition from York Minster song school to ‘page school’ at Middleham Castle, but it’s effectively the same. And my other two books (neither historical fiction) are also about the same subject – and all three tackle the issue of bullying in one way or another.

Jenny Alexander has had lots of books published traditionally and, in recent years, she has branched out into independent publishing for new books that don’t fit the business model of big publishers, being ‘too niche to achieve bulk sales.’

Cover designed by Rachel Lawston
She is also reissuing some of her traditionally published books that have gone out of print. And this week sees the publication of her latest revised and updated children’s book, 70 Ways to Bullyproof Yourself, which was originally published by Hodder under the title The 7-Day Bully-Buster. I think it’s safe to say that it’s a book that Matthew Wansford would have found very useful had it been available when he first encountered Master Hugh Soulsby...

I asked Jenny about her reasons for republishing the book and about the difficulties she encountered along the way.

Alex: Why did you decide to republish this book?

Jenny: It was part of a series that went out of print quite quickly although the reviews had been amazing, apparently because the publishers decided to cut back on their non-fiction list. There were four books in the series, and I decided to try publishing new editions of two of them, with a view to starting a new series that could accommodate some brand new books I’ve been working on.

Alex: Which two did you choose, and why?

Jenny: I chose the one on self-esteem and this one on bullying, because I couldn’t find other books for children that were genuinely self-help – books that could help children not only understand their problems but also learn practical strategies for tackling them, through building up good psychological self-defences.
The techniques I suggest are basic Cognitive Behavioural Therapy mixed with common sense and illustrated by quizzes, jokes and stories – there’s absolutely nothing difficult about them.

Jenny chose illustrator Karen Donnelly for the project, only realizing later that she had illustrated one of her earlier books for A and C Black

Alex: What about the other two books in the original series – why aren’t you publishing new editions of them at the same time?

Jenny: It’s mostly financial. The subjects are also very relevant for children today – how to manage stress, and how to experience learning as a joyful process – but I’ve realised there’s a problem for sales with reissuing out-of-print books.
These days, online retailers like Amazon keep the out-of-print version easy to source and buy second hand, so the new edition is competing with a former version that has built up good reviews and may cost less than a single penny.
I’ll wait and see how these two do before I commit more resources to reissuing the others.

Alex: You mentioned there will be some completely new books in the 70 Ways series?

Jenny: I might be having a change of plan, because I found the process of self-publishing children’s non-fiction much more challenging than I’d expected.
I don’t do any of the layouts and cover designing for my self-published adults’ non-fiction or children’s fiction, and I thought it would be no problem adding an illustrator and creating a more designed-looking interior.
In my head, it would be more of a comic-style layout, with different kinds of boxes and so on. But because I didn’t understand any of the design issues – what’s possible, what’s difficult, when and how to incorporate illustrations, what size of illustrations would work best and be within my budget, reflowable vs fixed formats for ebooks and so on – I found project managing it really stressful.
So I’m planning to look for other routes to publication for the new books, and I’ve redrafted them as standalones rather than part of the 70 Ways series.
For the time being, I’m happy for 70 Ways to Boost Your Self-Esteem and 70 Ways to Bullyproof Yourself to stand as a pair.

70 Ways to Bullyproof Yourself  is published on 12th September, price £5.99. If you’ve self-published children’s non-fiction, Jenny would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

Rachel Lawston also created promo materials for Jenny 


Umberto Tosi said…
Thank you and Jenny Alexander for this informative post. I learned a lot. We can all use these insights as well as gain encouragement for our self-publishing efforts. 70 Ways to Bully-Proof Yourself sounds like a most useful book for everyone, adults and children.
Jenny Alexander said…
Thank you, Umberto. I think one of the wonderful aspects of self-publishing is that we have these blogs and forums where individual self-publishers get together and share experiences and advice. There's a real community-of-writers feel to it.
Lovely interview... and yes, I totally understand what you're saying about the secondhand copies on Amazon competing with new editions. This happens even with brand new titles out from the big publishers, and seems to depend on the algorithms as to how much competition they actually pose. (It always puzzles me that so many 'new condition' secondhand copies appear for sale before the book is officially released... are they perhaps all those free review copies sent out by the publisher in the hope of getting pre-publication reviews, dumped on amazon by overladen reviewers?)

In my experience, however, reissued fiction titles tend to do better than new ones published indie, as they benefit from the reviews for the old editions, as well as the word of mouth already out there. I guess things might be different for non fiction, though.
Jenny Alexander said…
That's interesting - and hopeful! Thanks, Katherine.

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