This morning on the train, a droopy-eyed INTERN clutching her bicycle with one hand and the overhead hangy-thing with the other was accosted by a Belligerent Self-Published Children's Author and held hostage for a full fifteen minutes that probably left a liftetime of psychological scarring.
BSPCA: Cute jacket.
BSPCA: I'm a children's book author. I'm on a book tour.
INTERN: Cool! Oh, neat! What's your book called? Who's your publisher? I intern at a publishing house.
BSPCA: (dark shadow falling over steely grin) It's called "Mystic Horizons of Gaia." It's self-published.
INTERN: Oh. Cool.
BSPCA: I never really considered getting it published through the usual channels. Do you know that most print runs for children's books are like 5,000 books? And then you only get 7.5% of the retail price? And publishers don't want to take on full-color books because they're expensive to produce, and then there are all these short, ADD books in schools and they wonder why kids have bad attention spans? And publishers are afraid of taking on anything with a spiritual message?
INTERN: Man, you know a lot about mainstream publishing.
BSPCA: (hollow stare) Listen. I want to sell 100,000 copies a year. Not 5,000. And I'm doing it. My full-time job now is selling my books. I've already moved 35,000 copies this year. I have a program on my computer that finds the e-mail addresses of all the school librarians and e-mails them to set up readings in elementary schools. I sell the books for $18 each, and I make $15 profit on each book.
INTERN: Damn, girl.
BSPCA: Traditional publishing is evil. I don't know why anyone would want their book to go through those leeches.
INTERN: It's certainly a complex question.
BSPCA: (breathing down INTERN's neck) So you work for a publisher?
BSPCA: (taking out two gigantic hardcover, full-color books complete with comic sans font and computer-generated rainbow-fill line drawings and pressing them into INTERN's thoracic cavity) You should take these into work with you. Show them all what they're missing. My book teaches children the importance of love and clean water.
INTERN (winded). Gack!
BSPCA: Want me to sign them for you?
The books in question are now sitting on INTERN's desk, within eyeshot at this very moment. She is afraid to touch them.
INTERN is confused as to what this exchange reveals about self-publishing. On the one hand, here's a person who managed to single-handedly sell 35,000 copies of a children's book without the support of a publisher or publicist. On the other hand, it's 35,000 copies of an atrocious book. Is this a success story or a horror story? Are children everywhere being moved to spiritual ecstasy by the story of Gaia and her gradient-happy mystical horizons, as the back-cover copy suggests? Is the BSPCA a successful author, or just a successful huckster?
And who are these people who spend $18 on a drippy, moralizing, adverb-ridden self-published book when there are so many quality children's books out there?
Maybe more children's book authors need to spend time riding commuter trains.