by Erin Dalpini
Dreaming of becoming a published author? Here’s an avenue you may not have considered—publishing a kids’ book. It’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s free, that is, if you work with BigDifBooks. This up-and-coming company’s transforming the way children’s literature is published, thanks to the marvels of e-book technology and a group of folks committed to sharing great stories with kids.
Tom Watson, founder of BigDifBooks, joined us again to discuss his passion for children’s literature—the inspiration behind his company—and more. (By the way, if you missed our last post on BigDifBooks, check it out here.)
Freelance-Zone: Why did you make a website for kids’ books? Why might a freelance writer want to write a kids’ book?
Tom Watson: The whole idea is to give kids (and parents) access to original stories for very little money–or none at all. I probably wouldn’t have started our company if I wasn’t a parent myself, to be honest. I’m kind of a kids’ book snob. There are some really bad ones out there. I won’t name names, but there are an awful lot of movie- and TV-tie-ins that are just terrible. There are some good books too, of course, but a lot of shelf space is dedicated to some really inane stuff.
I also think kids themselves write great stories. I think traditional publishers reject great stories. I think there are great storytellers out there–parents, grandparents, teachers and, of course, freelance writers–who don’t have the time or wherewithal to share their stories. All that stuff got me going with the idea [to] give kids lots of choices—[without driving] parents into the poor house just because they want their kids to have lots of books—and give new voices a place to be heard.
FZ: What are some of your favorite children’s books? What, in your opinion, are the attributes of a successful children’s book?
TW: We own every Doctor Seuss book at our house. My favorite has always been The Butter Battle Book, which is probably one of his lesser-known books. My favorite book when I was a kid was called Giant John by Arnold Lobel. More recent picture books that I really like include the Stella series by Marie-Louise Gay.
As my kids have gotten older, we poured through the Harry Potter books, of course. Right now, we’re reading Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams, who wrote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Last Chance to See is nonfiction; it’s about trying to track down and see animals that are threatened with extinction—a serious subject, obviously—but Adams has a great voice and, believe it or not, great fun with the subject.
We think the best kids books are written “up” to kids, not “down” to them. We say that all the time. We think it’s better to challenge young readers with words, ideas, stories and characters that are unconventional. Vampire Bass, Stick Dog Wants a Hamburger and The Night Before are three of our titles that really do that, I think.
FZ: Say I have a story and want to publish with BigDif. What are my first steps? If you accept my story, what happens next? Are there startup costs?
TW: There are no startup costs. There are a lot of scams out there–self-publishing, “editing” services, “review” services–so I’m glad you asked.
There are really only two first steps: sign up and send us your book. (Your book can be uploaded, e-mailed or snail-mailed.)
If we accept your book, then making it available in our onsite e-reader or to print at home is pretty easy. If you’ve uploaded the book to us in the proper format (page files are 8.5 by 11 in., 144 dpi resolution, saved as jpegs), then we have to do a couple of quick things to the files and then we’re ready. If you snail-mailed it or just sent us a Word file or something, then the process takes a little longer. We have to manipulate the files or scan the pages so that they will work on the site correctly.
Considering it takes the traditional publishing world up to two years to make a book available–if they even accept it–we think we’re pretty fast.
There are a couple of forms to fill out, too: The book form is a description of the book itself–dedication, that kind of thing. The legal form establishes our agreement. The nuts and bolts are that you retain all copyright–not us. You promise that your story is original. If you choose to sell the book for $1.99 (as opposed to offering it for free), then we’ll pay you one dollar of that price.
FZ: What format should writers use to submit a story? Do they have to provide pictures or artwork?
TW: Most of the books we offer have illustrations, but we’re happy to consider a book without them or a book with no words and only pictures.
Each page of a book in our e-reader is really an image file, that’s the easiest way to think of it. Our uploading program prompts you, page by page, for the correct image file. There are only three parameters for the page files of a book: each page has to be 8.5 by 11, saved at 144 dpi and saved as a jpeg. Most design software programs can handle that and virtually all scanners can do it.
And, of course, we take a snail-mailed, hard copy submission too. If we accept it, we’ll take care of the scanning (although we do ask that we’re starting from 8.5 by 11-sized paper).
FZ: Can you tell us a little bit about your copyright policy?
TW: That’s easy. The author retains absolutely all copyright.
So, if a commercial publisher like Scholastic sees your book and wants to buy the rights to it, that’s fine by us. Or if you want to shop it to a traditional publisher, that’s fine by us, too.
FZ: How did you come up with the name BigDifBooks? And what’s up with the frog?
TW: For the name, we really wanted to say we’re very different than a traditional publisher. About half our stories are free, the rest are $1.99. I don’t think many traditional publishers do that. We try to accept about 50 percent of new author submissions; they accept less than one percent. We try to make books available within a couple of weeks after we accept them; they can take a couple of years. We pay a 50 percent royalty; traditional publishers pay about 10 percent.
When we thought about the idea and how different it was from what authors expect from traditional publishers, we just thought “BigDifBooks” made a lot of sense but still sounded playful.
We get more comments about that frog! It’s such a great image. Our head designer found it for us. We actually had one potential author contact us and say she really likes the idea of what we’re doing, but has a phobia when it comes to frogs and toads. She was really shocked when she saw that giant guy on our homepage, but I think she’s going to submit something anyway.