by Erin Dalpini
Think back to when you were five years old: coloring and make-believe filled up your days, naptime was a daily requirement rather than a luxury, and if you were anything like me, you probably listened to (and soon read) a lot of children’s stories. As a budding young writer, perhaps you even made up some of your own. And maybe, deep down, you’ve had this itch to write a children’s book, but never had the chance to publish due to fear of rejection, rejection or repeated rejection. (Ugh!)
Now there’s a way to realize that dream, thanks to BigDifBooks.com, an online publishing company that is changing the way kids’ books are published. Freelance-Zone caught up with Tom Watson, the founder of BigDifBooks, to find out what makes his company so special.
Freelance-Zone: What is BigDifBooks?
Tom Watson: We’re an online publisher of children’s books with two specific goals: we want to provide really inexpensive–sometimes even free–original stories for kids, and we want to provide writers a chance to share a children’s story without jumping through the hoops of the traditional publishing world.
The whole idea is to give kids a lot to choose from–while not asking their parents to spend a ton of cash. At the same time, we want to give new voices a chance to be heard—some of our stories are by kids themselves.
The site combines three main features: first, it’s a place for authors to submit a story for consideration; second, it’s a book store that offers stories for $1.99 or for free and third, it’s an e-reader that prints, too.
FZ: How long has it been around and what inspired its development?
TW: We went live a few months ago after about a year of development. The idea came pretty much from my own parenting experience. I had written and illustrated books for my son and daughter. And now they’ve started doing it themselves–their stories are so much better than mine.
Then I worked on a couple of books for our kids’ Montessori school. I worked with third-grade classes to put together a couple of storybooks. They’re both up on the website right now. The [children] used them at an auction to raise money for the school, and people really liked them.
I started thinking maybe there was a way to do that on a larger scale—help people provide books for youngsters, give them variety, make (the books) really inexpensive, encourage readers who might also want to be authors and, most of all, become an outlet for creative people who want to try new characters and voices and writing styles.
FZ: Could you explain the publishing process to us? How does it work?
TW: We’ve tried to make it really easy. Authors can submit a book for consideration by uploading it or snail-mailing it to us. If we accept the book, we’ll make it available on the site so anyone with an Internet connection can get it.
We do things really differently than a traditional publisher.
We aim to accept more than 50 percent of submissions–regular publishers reject 99 percent of new author submissions. The author retains absolutely all copyright. We pay a 50 percent royalty for books that are for sale–one dollar on a $1.99 book. Traditional publishers typically pay 7 to 12 percent.
We publish a whole lot faster than traditional publishers too. Once we accept a book and get a couple of forms filled out, we try to get the book up in less than two weeks. And, I think it’s fair to say that allowing authors to choose to make their books available for free is not a very common practice.
The key to the whole thing is how we make the books available, of course. When someone gets a book from the site, they can view it on-screen in a cool, page-turning program or they can print it out at home.
To make everything work together–mainly the submission program and the e-reader–we need to get the books in a fairly standardized way: 8.5 x 11 inches for size, 144 dpi resolution and Jpeg format. It’s actually simpler than it sounds. Most software or scanning programs can set these parameters pretty easily. And we help during the process if it’s needed–or we’ll do the scanning ourselves if a book is mailed to us and we accept it.
We fiddled around with some other options to get it all to work together–like providing a typing field for copy or common templates. But we really didn’t want to limit the creative side of the process, so as long as it’s 8.5 x 11 and saved the right way, we can make it work. Pages can be done in Photoshop or drawn with crayons on construction paper, in black and white or color, all words or all pictures, vertical or horizontal layout, whatever!
FZ: Who writes for BigDif? What are some tips for getting published?
TW: Right now, we have about 20 books available and we have quite a few in the pipeline. Some are the ones I did for my own kids. There are some by teachers, grandparents and kids themselves. There are also some that you can tell are by people with a little more writing experience.
Tips for getting published are the same tips any good writer–or reader– would think: [you need] a good story, characters, voice. We always [say] it’s better to write ‘up’ to kids rather than ‘down’ to them.
We think our publishing model allows for innovative writing more than a traditional publisher. Traditional publishers need to find, edit, print and distribute their books. Everybody along the way has to get paid. That means they have to be safer with their choices. Established authors, serial characters, movie- and TV-tie-ins. How many Hannah Montana or Dora the Explorer books are there? They know how many books they’re going to sell before they even hit the shelves–and how much money they will make.
We don’t have the same constraints. If somebody comes to us with a feather-eating, peanut-butter cup who speaks in rhymes about the current state of the environment, we’re happy to consider it. In fact, that sounds pretty funny to me.
I don’t mean to say there aren’t terrific books out there at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. There are. And there are some great independent traditional publishers. I guess I’m just saying BigDifBooks doesn’t have the same constraints.
FZ: If a writer wants to work with BigDif, what formats are his/her work available in?
TW: If we accept a story, then we’ll make it available as a page-turning, on-screen book for anyone who buys it–or gets it for free. And that reader will also have the ability to print it at home.
We’re also going to make some of our more popular titles available traditionally. We know that a really great kids’ book is something that gets kept a long time and handed down. We’ll work with authors to get that done.
FZ On average, what might a book earn?
TW: It’s really too early to tell. We went live about three months ago, and the first six weeks or so of that was mostly testing. If the site earns a wide following, who knows? I can tell you that our most popular title has been downloaded more than a hundred times. There are new writers and readers signing up every day.
Traditional publishers can see [the website] too. So if we have something that gets very popular, there’s nothing to preclude an author from signing with a traditional publishing firm as well. That’s because our agreement with each author states very clearly that the author retains any and all copyright. In fact, I could see the site becoming a very easy way for traditional publishers to look for new talent.
It’s also kind of interesting to think about the royalty. We built our model on a really simple premise: the author should make more than anybody else. So, on a $1.99 book, the author makes a dollar. I only made it through Trig, but I’m pretty sure that’s more than a 50 percent payout. Let’s say a traditional publisher pays 10 percent or thereabouts. To make a dollar traditionally, you need to sell one $10 book. To make two dollars traditionally, an author would need to sell two $10 books–or one $20 book.
Our model’s different. The cost of the book is way lower and the payout [ratio] to the author is way higher. To make two dollars, an author has to sell two $1.99 books.
We’ve even built in a fundraising component to the royalty structure. If someone agrees to donate their proceeds to a good cause, we’ll change the royalty to 75 percent. We think teachers who want to treat writing and illustrating a new book as a class project will like this idea. I don’t think they should plan on building a new gymnasium with the proceeds or anything, but maybe it could fund a field trip or a class party at the end of the year. We like the idea of that.
For free books, obviously, nobody makes anything. But you do get to share your story with a fairly wide audience.
FZ: Why might it be advantageous for a freelance writer to publish with BigDifBooks?
TW: We’ve always thought of it as the perfect place for that person who says, “I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book.” The way we’re going about things makes it possible for such a person to accomplish that goal – and share it with anybody who has an Internet connection. We think that’s pretty cool.
We think it will be possible for a new author to make some money. We don’t know if anyone is going to write the next Green Eggs and Ham–but who knows? Why not?
We also think BigDifBooks.com is a great place for professional writers who are in marketing, advertising or technical writing to get out of something that maybe has become mundane, take a break and try to really have some fun–re-engaging their crazy, creative side. That’s part of why we’re working with Freelance-Zone.com. There are good writers here who might want to take a stab at this kind of thing.
To learn more about BigDifBooks, explore their website by clicking here.