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Q&A: Two Bestselling Children's Book Authors talk about Kindle Direct Publishing

Q&A vector graphic
Q&A vector graphic
created by Rachel Rodgers

Are you an aspiring author interested in publishing your book?

Authors Ally Nathaniel and EG Foley
Authors Ally Nathaniel and EG Foley
Ally Nathaniel, EG Foley

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is a fast and easy way to independently self-publish your work and place it into the hands of a large audience! With Kindle Direct Publishing, your work can be published as a Kindle eBook edition, paperback or hardback copy using the eBook formatting service, Createspace.

I did a Q&A with E.G. Foley and Ally Nathaniel, both bestselling children’s book authors who used Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to publish independently. Their children’s books have soared up Amazon’s bestseller lists and continue to be a favorite to many of young readers out there! (You can find their bios and websites below the Q&A.)

Q: Hi! Could you tell me a bit about your bestselling books and their incredible success after self-publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing?

E.G. FOLEY: We are writing a fantasy adventure series (with a hint of steam punk!) set in Victorian England, called The Gryphon Chronicles.
It’s about a plucky London pickpocket named Jake, age twelve, who discovers he is the long-lost heir of an aristocratic family with magical powers. From his parents, Jake has inherited certain magical abilities, along with a castle and an earldom, and a magnificent Gryphon who becomes his pet/protector. Along with his trusty group of companions, he then proceeds to go on various crazy adventures in each new installment of the series.
These are rollicking tales with lots of humor, excitement, magical creatures (some good, some evil!) and accessible historical ambience, appealing to readers age eight and up. Many grownups, male and female alike, have responded enthusiastically to these PG-Rated, family friendly stories. There’s really something for everybody in there.
Book One in the Gryphon Chronicles series, The Lost Heir, went to #1 on Amazon in all children’s books, which was absolutely incredible for us. At the same time, Book Two, Jake and the Giant, went to #2.

ALLY NATHANIEL: My first book, Sparkly Me, was written about my daughter, who was five years old at the time. She was all over sparkly things: shoes, jewelry, clothes etc. I wrote a book about her, where the message was that ‘the most important sparkle is the one you have in your heart’ -- as opposed to shiny objects! The book was an overnight success! It sold more than 30,000 copies in less than 5 months and was Amazon’s #1 bestseller for children for more than 16 weeks. My middle son, who was afraid of monsters, inspired my second book. Since I love to use humor as a way to cope with life, I wrote Who’s Under the Bed?, where the child and the monster have reverse roles. This book was a #1 bestseller for children ages 4-6 for about three weeks. I currently have eight published children’s books.

Q: How exactly does Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) work?

E.G. FOLEY: It’s surprisingly simple. You write a book. You make sure it’s the very best it can be. You get a cover made. You have the manuscript formatted for e-book compatibility, and voila. You open your account, fill out the various information fields like a catchy book summary and other product information, and you can go live in front of a global audience in about 24 hours.

ALLY NATHANIEL: First, you need to open an account and then format your book according to KDP instructions. After all is set, you need to fill in the required fields on your KDP book’s page, which means: title, subtitle, your name, book description, keywords, categories, price etc. You then need to upload your book’s cover, file and then choose the right royalties package. This is a very technical process that may take some time and can be a little frustrating. In my book, The 6 Step Plan to e-Publishing, I guide indie authors on how to do all of this, step by step. The reason I published this book is to save authors like me the discouragement and frustration that can be part of the process.

Q: What were some the benefits and/or struggles while personally going through
the publishing process with KDP?

E.G. FOLEY: Struggles – there is always a fear when you’re doing something brand new that you’ll mess up and cause some kind of catastrophe, but of course that didn’t happen, and even if there was a catastrophe, the system makes everything very easy to fix.
As to benefits, they are numerous! KDP is convenient, fast, very straightforward, streamlined just like everything else Amazon does. It’s a smooth process, very simply laid out. With KDP, the author has complete control over the book’s presentation (such as the cover and the summary on the back of the book). We can even fix typos if we notice one lurking in there a year later. We can run sales by lowering our book’s price at appropriate times, like when kids are getting out of school and looking for summer entertainment reading. And it’s a huge benefit and a relief to be able to write at our own pace rather than having to stress out over publisher-set deadlines.

ALLY NATHANIEL: The biggest struggle for me was formatting the eBook. The first time is always the hardest because you need to read articles about how to do it, follow the instructions and implement it as you go. It was a bit time consuming and frustrating. On the other hand, I had full control over my work; my book’s price, the people I chose to work with (the illustrator for example) and I could make changes on a daily basis.

Q: It’s been 3 years since Amazon announced that it will “aggressively expand its publishing efforts” by publishing independently. How do you believe the rapidly increasing eBook trend has changed the role of traditional publishing giants?

E.G. FOLEY: Considering that a writer, from the comfort of her home computer, can now hire freelance editors, copyeditors, cover designers, proofreaders, and even ad-copy writers to help with every step of getting a manuscript ready for the public, it seems to me that the greatest value a publishing giant has to offer these days is the ability to get national distribution of their most commercial titles into the stores that people go to everyday in real life, like Walmart, Target, Costco, etc. They allow an author to reach readers who are not into eBooks or who don’t spend much time in physical bookstores. BUT I am not so sure the value is really there anymore, considering that the big houses demand (non-negotiable!) 75% of the profits and will control the copyright on a book until 70 years after the writer is dead. Big publishers these days are hard pressed to convince authors that this is a fair exchange.

ALLY NATHANIEL: I love that question. The market is changing and there is no doubt about it. The biggest difference is for indie authors like me; we don’t have to wait for ‘permission’ to publish our work. No publisher can tell us our work is not ‘good enough’ to be published. We have other options, we can self-publish. I believe my personal story demonstrates this point.

As a stay-at-home mom I looked for a job that would allow me to spend as much time as possible with my children, and since I couldn’t find one I started teaching cooking and baking classes at schools and day-care centers. While doing that, I wrote a children’s cookbook based on those classes. When the book was ready, I started looking for a publisher and sent nearly 100 letters to different publishers, only to get rejection letters or no responses at all. I felt both discouraged and disappointed. I needed to generate more money but I didn’t want to get a traditional job. It was then when I learned about Amazon KDP and decided to give it a try. I wrote a children’s book, inspired by my daughter, found an illustrator and, in less than a month, my book was ready. I just loved the idea of having control over my work and not having to get ‘permission’ from a big publishing house.

The traditional publishing houses need to learn how to use the digital trend to market their books. I just came back from Book Expo America in NYC and I can tell that they know this. They also appreciate the option authors have to self-publish their work. Some of the most successful indie authors become their clients after becoming successful on their own. Things are shifting in that industry and the big publishers are aware of that. The buzzword is ‘hybrid author’ – which means authors who both self-publish as well as work with traditional agents and publishers.

Q: Do you believe that your audience of young readers is more engaged
with your work if you have a personal website or additional internet presence?

E.G. FOLEY: I would assume so. You can have a lot of fun with your author website. We like posting the book equivalent of a movie’s “DVD Bonus Extras” on our website for our readers to enjoy. That can be sharing “behind the scenes” stuff on the book, or things like showing the kids what the Victorian clothes that our characters would wear, looked like, or delving more closely into something like the various magical creatures in our books. We just ran a blog post “On Pixies” that was a lot of fun! Pixies appear in the third book in the series, Dark Portal. The blog gave us the chance to do a sort of magical encyclopedia entry on the pixies’ community and way of life. We’ve done similar posts on gryphons, dwarves, giants, and other magical creatures Jake and his friends run into along the way in their adventures.

ALLY NATHANIEL: Sure, no question about it! Readers want to get to know the authors that they like. If I let them know how to reach me, then there is an open channel. I just got a phone call from a 10-year-old fan about two weeks ago! She told me how much she loves my books and she found my phone number on my website. I also ended up sending one of my fans one of my books (a paperback) for Christmas, after her neighbor contacted me and told me about her. Some people contact me through Facebook or follow me on Twitter or other social media platforms.

Q: Any thoughts on a young reader’s personal experience with your story when reading an eBook versus the printed word?

E.G. FOLEY: What I think is particularly useful for young readers is that an e-reader like the Kindle has a dictionary built right into it. If a kid comes across a word in our book that he doesn’t understand, he can click on the word and the definition pops right up. Note: This means there is no need ever to “dumb down” the vocabulary! We do not believe in “writing down” to kids. (Eric is a teacher, so doing that would go against everything he stands for.) Anyway, I love e-readers for kids because the built-in dictionary function makes it easy for them to build their vocabulary while they’re having fun, reading for pleasure.

ALLY NATHANIEL: eBooks are much cheaper. A parent can afford 5-8 eBooks for the price of one paperback! There is no one answer for that question, since some people prefer printed words while others prefer eBooks. But it is much easier to carry a big children’s book library on your Kindle or tablet than to carry actual printed books, especially when you go on a road trip. Technology allows parents to entertain their young children, using one small device.
With some of my books, I also give a free video-book gift. People only need to share their email address and then they can access the title’s video-book, which their children can watch over again and again all by themselves! The young children of today are tomorrow’s readers – and e-readers are very natural to them. I believe this is only the beginning and eBooks will have even a bigger share of the market in the future.

Q: What are some financial benefits when self-publishing your work with KDP?

E.G. FOLEY: We really like getting paid monthly instead of twice a year, which is what the big publishers have traditionally done. The royalty structure is extremely fair, too.

ALLY NATHANIEL: First – you can do all by yourself for free!
Second – if you choose to get help you will end up spending less money than you will normally spend when printing a book.

Q: What advice would you give to other authors who are thinking about using
Kindle Direct Publishing?

E.G. FOLEY: Even if you’re skeptical, try it out with a short story. You can get a decent cover from a graphic designer for under $100. (You can pay a lot more than that, too, but I personally wouldn’t break the bank for a short story.) You can get it professionally line-edited and proofed for the price of a good meal at a restaurant, and then you can go through the process of uploading it and see for yourself how simple it is. Seriously, it’s about as difficult as signing up for iTunes.
Even if you are completely committed to selling to a big NY publisher, this is great fieldwork that you can dive into now while you’re waiting the two years to hear back from them (ha, ha—sad but true). There is no reason not to get your feet wet now rather than just sitting around waiting for something to happen.
Once you’ve got all the information fields filled out, then you hit the little button that says “Publish.” Wow, that’s hard, lol. Within twenty-four hours, your work will be on sale, and you’ll start selling some copies (or give them away free if you prefer!). If you’re a raw newbie, you can get your first taste of what it’s like to actually have real people read your words! It’s an amazing feeling. You’ll never know until you try.

ALLY NATHANIEL: Go for it, don’t waste time looking for a publisher. Be ready to work hard and to be in control of everything. And last but not least, ask for help from people who have done it already. Getting the right support can be the difference between publishing your book and getting stuck!

Thank you to Ally Nathaniel and Gael and Eric Foley for your delightful and informational answers in this Q&A!

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E.G. FOLEY is the pen name for a husband-and-wife writing team who live in Pennsylvania. They have been finishing each other's sentences since they were teens, so it was only a matter of time until they started writing together, too. Together they are the authors of The Gryphon Chronicles series and the upcoming States of Fear books – spooky stories for kids set in all fifty states – launching on the 4th of July!
"E" is a 7th-8th grade teacher of students who regularly use more than 10% of their brains, world traveler, ice cream connoisseur, and martial arts enthusiast. "G" loves big books and small fluffy creatures, and if she hadn't become a writer, would have pursued a career as either a princess or a spy—or possibly both! With millions of copies of her twenty adult novels for Random House and HarperCollins sold in seventeen languages around the world, she has been hitting major bestseller lists regularly for the past decade, including the New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher's Weekly. Visit them online at www.EGFoley.com.

ALLY (Ayelet) NATHANIEL is a writer, pastry chef and mom of three young children. She also graduated with honors from Tadmor Culinary Institute, and is a baking & cooking instructor. Nathaniel teaches and gives lectures about cooking - and parenting! - at community centers, throughout the school system and to parent groups. In addition to more than 10 years of experience in the culinary world, Nathaniel has worked editing an online parenting magazine, managing parent-oriented forums and supporting parents with childcare and educational issues. She is a best-selling children’s author who has published eight beloved children’s books. Visit these links to learn more about Ally: www.allynathaniel.com,
Ally’s books on Amazon and A free video book for fans!