Holly Nichole Zarcone is a baker turned writer. She is the author of “Cookies Before Dinner”. She lives in New York with her husband, three children, and very large Saint Bernard. She loves to go on adventures of all types with her family. She has had a voracious appetite for literature since she was a small child and it has been a lifelong dream to publish her own book.

I had always dreamed of writing a novel and one day pitching it to a publishing house. It was a dream and really not much more to me. I had dabbled in writing for years and it had always been my best distraction and escape. I loved writing short stories when I was younger and when I launched a baking business I came to the realization that I also really enjoyed writing copy for my website. I suppose you can say that I’ve led a long romance with words.

I had a spark of inspiration one night after putting my children to bed and I sat there, words streaming from my mind straight to my fingertips. I wrote my short children’s book, Cookies For Dinner, without ever really intentionally setting out to do so. After rereading it and editing it a few dozen times I fell in love with it more and more. I struck up the courage to read it to my toughest audience: my kids. They sat through it without pictures, which to me felt like a huge accomplishment. I started to research different ways to get published and I immediately felt overwhelmed. Getting into a publishing house to pitch my book seemed impossible and I was so discouraged. I couldn’t fathom hiring a book agent or even what that might entail. I took a little break and thought that maybe this just wasn’t my time.

After I put my book to rest, it ate at me. I knew I had something special that I wanted to make a reality; even if in the end it only was for my own children. One evening while I was having dinner with one of my oldest friends, it came up that I had been toying around with the book. They mentioned that their cousin who ran a successful food blog had self published through Amazon’s CreateSpace. I was intrigued and started to do some research. Given that the alternative of not bringing my book to fruition was not an option that made me happy, I made a choice to push on. I thought to myself: If not now, then when? Why not take this leap?

I will admit that when I settled on using CreateSpace for self publishing I did not do as much research as I probably should have. I knew that I wanted to create more than just an E-book. I wanted something tangible that could be held in the hands of parents as they tucked their babies into bed at night. I also knew that I really needed a service that would walk me through the process to an extent. I was starting out with a very small budget, so I knew that it was imperative to keep the majority of my costs on the front end and make sure that I was diligent about getting true estimates for the work I was having done.

The one biggest relief when you are working with CreateSpace is that they are owned by Amazon. Amazon is a company that nearly everyone I know uses, so it definitely made me feel safe to work with them as opposed to some of the other companies that came up when I was researching. That is not to say that reputable publishing houses did not come up in my search, I checked into using Simon and Schuster’s self publishing offshoot, Archway Publishing, but the children’s package they featured was beyond my budget. Many companies also do not cater to the needs of a children’s picture book and are limited in respect to the sizes available for your book.

After making my decision to use CreateSpace final, I realized that despite my manuscript being done the next hurdle was just ahead. I needed to find an illustrator. I started sending a few messages to both children’s authors and illustrators I followed on Instagram. Since I had a tight budget it immediately seemed like I would never find someone I could afford who was up to the standard I had set in my mind. I knew it would be a long road and I was right. I took my time and I continued to contact artists and would put up ads on Craigslist at least once every couple of weeks. I would sort through dozens of portfolios; Some of which were very interesting- just not for a children’s book. My favorite wrong match was an artist whose work completely consisted of Pizza. It took an entire year! The moment I found my artist, Sophie Kinsella, I just knew it would work. Her style was just what I imagined and when she started to send me over the rough sketches, it was like she had plucked them right from the inside of my own mind. This was a huge relief to me. I think one of the most vulnerable points for a writer is that moment when you hand someone else your words and tell them to interpret them into their medium. I truly was on pins and needles up until I received the email back from her with those roughs. We came to an agreement on prices and turn around time, her rates fit into my budget and just like that we were onto the next step.

CreateSpace basically leads you right through the steps of registering within their site, purchasing an ISBN, and they offer their own services a la carte to suit your needs through out the process of self publishing your book. It was relatively simple once I made it through the red tape. The one big problem I came across was when my illustrations were done; I needed to add the words, page numbers, and just put together the book in general so it could be uploaded into the website and go through proofing. That was when I found out that while they do offer these services, they do not offer them for children’s books. Once again I flocked to Craigslist and luckily found a graphic artist to help me relatively quickly. The proofing process was super easy and I was able to approve my book and have it listed on Amazon for purchase within a couple of weeks after uploading it into their system. I also took full advantage of turning it into a Kindle book, and signed up for their KDP service which allows customers with Kindle Unlimited subscriptions to be able to access your title for free.

As a self published author, it is important to create a marketing plan that you feel comfortable with. The route I chose is very dependent upon social media marketing and the Muses App has been a great help with that portion. I have been able to connect very easily with mom-bloggers and parenting focused influencers to do Instagram collaborations in exchange for copies of my book. I have also found that doing giveaways of my book with influencers has given me great results. In addition to this I utilized Instagram and Facebook ads, I was satisfied with their influence on sales for the amount of money I put into them. Having a larger advertising budget, I am sure I would probably have seen a bigger impact. For me personally, I believe in doing regional grassroots based advertising; so that has involved basically approaching local boutiques, book stores, play groups, and festivals. I think making waves with my small book as an independent author in the deep ocean of children’s literature has been one of the biggest challenges I have faced. It is daunting but I think with determination and the correct formula, it can be done.

Image credit: Cynthia Crook

Striking out on your own with a book is a bold step. I strongly advise and one who is weighing it out in their mind to really take a look at the big picture before finalizing their decision. Take a look at what your budget is, think about your advertising resources, and most importantly what your timeline is for your book. If you cant stand to wait like me, and you area first time author, then self publishing may be the best option for you too. I hope that my journey helps lend some clarity to your path and helps you along your way. It has definitely been a learning experience for me and I still am figuring it out. If you have any questions or would like to share your experience with me, feel free to email me at HollyNZarcone@gmail.com and you can check out my book at www.cookiesfordinnerbook.com  or find it available for sale on Amazon.

By Holly Nichole Zarcone