Bobbie Hinman is the author of four, award-winning children’s picture books, the most recent of which I’ve had the pleasure of reading with my 3 1/2-year-old granddaughter. Called The Fart Fairy, the book was an instant hit with her. Bobbie’s experience with publishing has been unique among the authors I know, and I asked her to talk about it here.

1. What made you choose to become an independent publisher rather than going the traditional route?
My writing career began when my first cookbook was published by Prima Publishing Co. in the 1980’s.  It was one of the first low fat cookbooks to hit the market. Instantly my books were in bookstores nationwide and I thought I would just sit back and collect my royalties while happily writing my next volume. After the hoopla of the initial book launching began to wane, and the publisher directed his attention to his next featured attraction, I realized that if the book was going to be successful, I would be wise to step into the arena of marketing and promotion. And promote I did. I traveled all over the country as a featured speaker and guest on radio and TV shows. I even appeared on the Regis Philbin show. I worked very hard, creating a total of seven very successful cookbooks and learning a lot along the way.

Several years ago I decided to re-invent my career and decided to write a children’s book. My bachelor’s degree in education and my minor in children’s literature were calling to me to re-enter the book world. I thought about submitting my manuscript and began writing my query letters. At the same time, my husband had retired from his position as a school principal and we were looking for a new challenge. (Neither of us is very good at being idle.) Why not publish the book ourselves? (Little did we know just how much we were yet to learn.) We formed a corporation and launched our own publishing company. We did mountains of research. We studied hundreds (maybe even thousands) of children’s books. We hired the best illustrator we could find. We hired a very talented graphic designer, an editor and a top-notch printer. Having decided to include an audio CD with our book, we hired a sound studio, a musician and a vocalist. We invested a lot of time and money as there was no choice but to do it right. Two years later, The Knot Fairy was born. Three months later, I was thrilled to order my second 5000-book printing. It’s now four years and four books later. We have received a total of nineteen book awards and we are very proud of what we are accomplishing.

2. What’s the difference between independent and self-publishing?

There are a number of differing opinions on this topic, further complicated by the emergence of vanity presses. This is what I think:

The author of a self-published book typically not only writes the book, but also arranges for its design, printing, marketing, and distribution. The self published author pays to have the book published, rather than having someone else publish the book and pay them a royalty. Self-publishers also purchase their own ISBNs, register with the Copyright Office / Library of Congress, and generally handle their own distribution and fulfillment.

An independent publisher is any publishing company that operates on a traditional business model – where the money flows to the author – but is not owned by another company. Independent publishers function in much the same fashion as a larger publishing company, but on a smaller scale. Unlike self-published authors, these companies may also publish the works of other authors.

A vanity press is a publishing company that offers publication services for a fee and holds the copyright to the book, but does not generally promote or market the book. Bookstores often refuse to carry books published by subsidy/vanity presses, and such books are rarely reviewed. These companies often own the ISBN numbers of the books they produce. People often confuse vanity press with self-publishing.

3. What do you think are the most important characteristics of a children’s picture book?

A good picture book speaks to a child’s experience and imagination; it tells its story through delicious artwork and lively text. Rhyming words are always a plus. Picture books should have a minimal amount of words, allowing the children to “read” the pictures. And let’s not forget the addition of a dash of humor. A good children’s book will capture the child’s interest in the first pages and hold their interest throughout the book. Hopefully it will leave a child saying, “Read it again.”

4. You chose to write a series. How important do you think a series is in children’s picture books?

Children love the continuity of a series. They are always excited to see what is coming next. My illustrators have been inventive about carefully hiding each of my characters in the other books, adding a bit of hide-and-seek fun for the readers.

From a sales point of view, each book in a series enhances the sales of the previous books. If fans like your books, they will want to collect the series. I love to hear people say, “I have your first book, so I will need to have the next one.” At our recent book launch party for The Fart Fairy, we had 350 attend and each one left with not only the new book, but at least one copy of one of the previous books.

5. What’s your favorite part of the process?

My favorite part of the writing process is working with my talented illustrators and seeing my thoughts spring to life. I am continually amazed at how well they can read my mind.

However, the special part of the entire process is the time I get to spend with children. I have been a presenter at book festivals and have visited numerous schools and libraries all over the country. It’s hard to describe the magic that fills a room when little imaginations are at work.

Bobbie’s books have received many awards, including the Mom’s Choice Gold Award and the Indie Excellence award. Visit her website for more information!