Patches: Breaking the rules of traditional publishing

I’ve broken every rule about children’s books. Except the part about creating a story for children.

Traditional children’s book publishers will laughingly point out the rules broken by Patches Catches the Sargo County Cattle Rustler. I’m assured there is no chance it will ever hit the mainstream. I understand. After all, I can recite hard and fast rules used by the software industry to predict wins and failures. The rules exist for a reason.

For example, “Patches” uses 1,775 words to relate it’s story about a young man, his Border Collie, and a cattle rustler. That makes it roughly 500 words longer than the optimal length for a picture book. It’s 24 pages long – eight pages shorter than the optimal 32 pages for an easy reader book, but twelve pages longer than optimal for a toddler book. According to the rules used by the publishing industry, it needs to be shortened. It needs to use smaller words. Or it needs to be longer with fewer illustrations. Or it should just be a manuscript with no illustrations. Poor Patches, you do not fit a mold.

Bucking good advice, Patches is available in print. You think I’d know better. Actually, I do know better. But I went ahead and self-published. Here are three reasons.

One: I’ve already been turned down by traditional publishers.

In truth, I haven’t been turned down; I haven’t received any physical rejection letters. Rather, I’ve simply never heard back regarding any of the manuscript submissions I’ve sent out. Not surprising: I’m an unknown author, they were unsolicited manuscripts and I am not represented by an agent. Experienced editors will agree those three strikes are common to most submissions and are deadly. If I’m lucky, one of those manuscripts is located in a stack of paper four feet high – along with 3,000 other hapless submissions. If I’m average, that four foot pile of haplessness was sent to the shredder long ago.

Writers get turned down – that’s part of the deal. I have a friend with a goal of ten rejection letters for every story he writes. Experienced writers agree; unsolicited, un-agented manuscripts have no chance, but send them anyways. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. So – I’m trying.

Two: Publishers cater to the widest profitable market. Patches doesn’t.

Publishers are successful when they’ve found a profitable market, have a clear idea of market requirements, and know how to deliver successful books. No small feat – book markets are incredibly competitive and profits are shrinking. Good editors use all the above-mentioned rules of thumbs to keep on the profitable side of publishing. Careless editors find new jobs.

Patches might find a profitable niche. The cost for me to find that sweet spot is almost nothing. If I’m lucky, I find it and Patches becomes a household item.

Three: I think it’s the right book.

I like the story. Kids like it. It’s a well-crafted book with professional illustrations. The story deserves to be printed.

I’m lucky. I don’t need Patches to be a raging success. I wrote the story on a whim, the illustrator needed a project (make no mistake – there is no way I could have afforded the quality of artwork he created) and I have the skills to produce the project. It all came together and felt right, so it happened.

Will I be published by a traditional publisher? Possibly not.

Should I have abandoned Patches? Certainly not.