Self-Publishing: A Conversation with Becky Gehrisch and Bookling Media
Time was when those words were looked upon with disdain by the literary “establishment”. Today? Well, it reminds me of something my husband once said about breaking into the film industry. “They call it ‘breaking in’ because once you’ve done it they block it up so that no one else can come in that way.” That’s sort of how I look at self-publishing. Who cares how you find success as long as you find it?
Today I am in conversation with author Becky Gehrisch. She’s a “portrait artist, illustrator and author” who works with colored pencils, acrylic paints and chalk pastels. Highly talented, she came to my attention when I noticed how sophisticated her art was. Having self-published the picture book Escape to Play, I was interested in asking her a couple questions about the current self-publishing world. It’s been doing well for at least a decade now, but what is its current state of affairs? Becky, I’m happy to say, was willing to oblige me with answers, and her methodology and technique when self-publishing is quite different from what you might assume:
Betsy Bird: Hi Becky! Thanks so much for joining me here today. So first and foremost, I’d like to talk to you a bit about your self-publishing journey. Like the process of writing books, this can take a myriad number of different forms. How did yours begin? And what got you writing in the first place?
Becky Gehrisch: Thanks for having me, Betsy! I am happy to share a bit about my journey to publication. Beyond drawing and writing stories when I was little, I was influenced in middle school. My art teacher encouraged students to submit our own picture books to the Written and Illustrated competition. As the name suggests, we wrote and illustrated then bound and copied our picture book. I loved the process and my panda themed book won honorable mention!
Years later, I received a degree from The Ohio State University in Painting and Drawing! Shortly after that, I moved out to the countryside in Delaware, Ohio. Needing a break from the stress that college can create, I took time away from art. It wasn’t long until the sights, sounds and farm animals inspired me to paint again.
My three dogs at the time were good subject to put in funny situations. The resulting paintings would evolve into Escape to Play. I slowly began to write a poem to accompany each painting. Not knowing what I didn’t know, I had a rough book created and was sending it off to publishers.
It was a long road to learn how the picture book process worked. Joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) helped me gain valuable information on the children’s book industry, writing, illustration, and publishing. I’d recommend this organization to any aspiring author or illustrator.
Between 2015 and 2020, I reworked Escape to Play from top to bottom. I added pages and included an informational section (backmatter). This section introduces young readers to art terms and fun facts about classic art that was recreated throughout the book! Overall, each spread took over 60 hours to create and roughly the same on studying and writing the rhyming text.
Like others who wondered how to deal with quarantine during 2020, I needed a creative outlet. I hunkered down and worked with my publishing team to complete and promote a presale campaign. Funding the picture book printing, marketing, and initial distribution, was a success! Escape to Play was released soon after in August of 2021.
BB: You’ve also started your own publishing company, which is fascinating. Bookling Media has an interesting model. Could you tell us a bit more about it, how it came to be, and who it serves?
BG: This is true! The catalyst for Bookling Media’s creation was when I was approached by a publisher asking me to illustrate for them. After looking at the intellectual property rights terms, I decided I wanted to keep my rights. I began to wonder if building my own publishing company wouldn’t be the best for my book(s).
Through my involvement with SCBWI, I learned that my frustration with the traditional publishing industry is shared by other creators. Knowing I wasn’t alone, I saw there was an opportunity to build a better publishing model. I didn’t just want to publish my own books but create a place where other author-illustrators could retain full rights to their picture books and Bookling Media was born.
BB: And your first picture book ESCAPE TO PLAY came out last August. I know that when someone goes with a traditional publisher, they usually have to do the bulk of marketing and promotion themself. How has the release of the book been for you? How do you market it?
BG: I’m glad you asked this! Many authors might think marketing is managed for them by their publisher. However, like you said, they need to carry much of the load themselves. Because Bookling Media created a preorder campaign, Escape to Play gained a lot of early traction. As a result, sales have now gone beyond the word-of-mouth!
Most of Bookling Media’s marketing is done through the usual channels. We use advertising on social media, blog posts, Instagram bloggers, conference trade shows, trade magazines, billboards, and even old-school postcards to bookstores. As a small independent press, we need to get the word out in as many places that we can.
Since author visits are also a very effective marketing tool, I am building a repeatable framework to help Bookling Media’s author-illustrators plan successful strategies for their book events and author visits to drive sales.
BB: When I spoke to you back in January of 2021 you didn’t yet have any other authors or illustrators on your publishing roster. Has that changed?
BG: I am excited to say that Bookling Media has opened submissions for author-illustrators! This is a big step. I am thrilled for the opportunity to collaborate with other author-illustrators to help them bring their picture books into the world!
Bookling Media does not use print-on-demand services which often automatically place books on Amazon and Ingram. Because Bookling Media prints with high-quality off-set printing, we had to do the legwork to get distribution.
Before I could bring another author-illustrator on, it was imperative that Bookling Media develop distribution and logistics capabilities to allow bookstores and libraries to order through their standard suppliers, typically Ingram (bookstores) and Baker and Taylor (libraries). Self-published authors whose books are not available through Ingram have a hard time getting books into bookstores.
BB: And what have you learned about the book industry and the process of publishing since you began?
BG: Oh, wow! I have learned so much. I often feel that I am still constantly learning. Such is the life of an entrepreneur! It seems that the biggest lesson is that there are numerous ways to play the publishing game. Between self-publishing and traditional publishing lies a whole sea of choices.
Not every option will work for everyone, yet there are countless options available. It is all fluid – and challenging. This industry is tough but magical; hard but rewarding. My personal experience has made me learn to take baby steps every day to get to my goal. I am amazed how far that has taken me!
BB: All right! Finally, I just gotta ask, what’s next for you?
BG: Adding a new title to Bookling Media’s catalog is next. That will keep me busy building industry relationships to drive the upcoming project, launch, and eventual marketing blitz that will follow.
Additionally, I will continue to develop Bookling Media’s capabilities to include eBooks, physical product lines, and expanded marketing and distribution support for author-illustrators. I want creators to see that it is possible to publish and promote their books on their terms.
I am excited for this next chapter!
Big time thanks to Becky for answering my questions today. A glimpse into self-publishing in a whole new form. I hope you got something out of it today!
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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