What’s worth more: a book or a cup of tea?

I saw an interesting article in the Telegraph today, in which well known crime author Mark Billingham bemoaned the growth in self-published ebooks, claiming that the practice devalued literature.

This seems to be a constant source of controversy now in the publishing world, where some established authors and publishing houses discredit the material that is coming out of self-published authors while on the other side of the fence, new and unknown authors accuse the literary establishment of snobbery.

The whole e-book/self-publishing phenomenon is an interesting one. Years ago, when I was training in editing, self-publishing was severely frowned-upon – the term it was known by was derogatory enough: vanity publishing. The view was that it was for people with more ego (and money) than talent. However, with the growth in technology, these layers of cultural snobbery are gradually being removed.

Will this happen with children’s books? The situation looks less clear. Certainly with young adult titles the self-publishing route offered by companies such as amazon looks like an easier and attractive route if the more traditional path is hard to navigate or get a foot on. For picture books, however, where design and illustration are as paramount as text, there aren’t a lot of options available when you do a quick web search.

I can testify to this. Last year, at the end of the summer holidays, Holly and I wrote our own story: Useful Uses for Pets. Originally we were just going to laminate the pages and do a very simple form of binding. However, a friend told us about a company – Blurb – that offered flexible publishing options for people who wanted to create their own books, primarily photo albums with a difference. When we looked into it all it seemed like a great idea so we decided to try it for fun and ordered several copies for relatives as Christmas presents. We were quite proud of the results, which you can read online here. If we were to do it again, though, I’d scrap my rather unattractive writing for a suitable computer font but this was just meant as a fun project. We hope to perhaps do another this summer and will learn from the experience. It was much, much more expensive than a cup of tea though!


So what are your thoughts? Will we see self-publishing coming to children’s books? Would this devalue their worth?



  1. As a currently self-published children’s book author, I can definitely say it’s happening (in the US anyway)! Whether books find success or acclaim, or are considered just vanity publishing is really dependent on the author and quality of the work I’d say.

    Though I can certainly see how many people could use a “children’s book” as an opportunity to do something lower quality, and how parents might be less willing to buy from an unknown source when getting a book for their kids rather than for themselves or another adult.

    I’d like to think, however, that after the “excitement” of self-publishing dies down a bit, so will the interest in publishing just to be published. Also, if the authors are good enough at self marketing, the good books have an opportunity to grab the right attention and either find a home with an established publisher, or at least get enough promotion to drown out some of the lesser works, making weeding through the options a bit easier 🙂

    Great post, thank you for sharing!!


      • Thank you! 🙂 It is a picture book for ages 3-6ish, actually, I just published the second in the series a few days ago!

        It was definitely a challenge doing it on my own – but I did a lot of research on the internet before starting – learning about the formatting and all of that. Luckily nowadays most self-publishing websites have programs that really help you, and I did a lot of fidgeting with Adobe Photoshop. Even though I felt prepared when I started, it was still a trial and error process. I would say that the key was to have other people read it/look it over to catch things I missed and give me honest feedback.

        The most prohibitive thing I found was the price – most self-publishing sites won’t publish books with so few pages, so the program I used isn’t connected to Amazon or B&N etc (and it doesn’t make financial sense to become a seller) – meaning a lot more marketing work on my part!


  2. I think that children’s books (picture books) will hang on in book form for a good while yet, simply because curling up with your child and a book is such a pleasure. And, besides, don’t we all have paper favourites we want to pass down to children and grandchildren? On the other hand I can see that digital interactive books used on an iPad or other tablet (such as the Kindle Fire) will offer opportunities for some creative story telling. Perhaps story mixed with audio and video clips, etc. The YA market for digital has exploded already.

    I worry, however, about self publishing in general for another reason. The authors good at self-marketing may not write the best books! In fact, many popular, top selling, self-published books I’ve read or sampled could really use a good edit. I believe that authors who are determined to produce quality books will buy in editing and marketing so they can get on with writing. In the end it will be down to readers to make their choices.


    • I think you’re right. Adults are more likely to spend more money on books for their children because of the experience of reading as much as the material itself. I can’t see traditional children’s literature being as ‘threatened’ by e-publishing as in the adult arena but, as you say, electronic platforms offer different reading experiences that children can enjoy. And I agree that not all people who are good at marketing are good at writing. I suppose the current situation puts authors and readers more in control about what’s out there to read rather than relying on the decisions of publishing presses but it does run the risk of more material that isn’t good quality to wade through.


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