Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Book of the Week: A PLACE FOR DELTA by Melissa Walker

This week’s book gives me an opportunity to discuss self publishing, a topic I’ve long wanted to address. It’s a tough old world for writers, Esteemed Reader. As I know many of you who read this blog are writers or publishing professionals, I’ll assume I’m preaching to the choir.

I don’t write “sour grapes” posts and I don’t mean to start now. The publishing industry is what it is. Much of what goes on there is out of writers' hands and I mean to keep this blog optimistic and focused on reading and writing books for young readers. There are many other fine blogs that detail the unfairness of the industry. I prefer to discuss the one thing we writers have control of: writing the best possible book we’re capable of, and that involves reading books by writers who are better than we are (thus, my book of the week reviews).

Still, the fact remains: it’s a tough old world for writers. Even the best writers among us have to deal with a steady barrage of rejection, be it from critics (not ninjas), be it from readers, or whomever. It’s especially frustrating for the unpublished writer who has written a whole book or twenty whole books and still the form rejection letters come in the mail from agents and editors. The unpublished writer only wants to share her story with the world and create art to be enjoyed by readers. Is that so wrong!?! And The Man keeps these writers down, or so it feels like sometimes.

What does a writer do after he’s written every agent and every publisher and still no one shows him some publication love? Assuming the writer has sought out a critique group and perhaps professional guidance (like the sort offered at conferences), and rewritten and rethought the book accordingly, it might be time to think about self publishing. It might also be time to think about writing a new novel, especially if it’s your first that’s been roundly rejected. There’s no shame in it. Plenty of writers have to plow through three, or twelve, or twenty practice novels to learn the writing craft.

But if you’ve paid your dues and you’ve crafted a truly excellent work that for some oddball reason is still being rejected, self publishing may be a viable option. Even writers published by large houses often have to do most or even all of their own publicity, whether they hire a publicist or send their books to bloggers like moi (always open for submissions). Why not publish your novel and keep all of the profit from your work? After all, John Grisham started as a self published author and it panned out pretty well for him.

Be advised, however, that there is a stigma against self published authors. Whether or not that’s fair is the subject of another post. But bookstores will be less willing to arrange signings for self published novels and even less willing to carry the book on their shelves since they’ll have to eat the full cost should it fail to sell. Given that a large number of readers now buy their books online, this is less of a concern than it used to be. But even online, a self published novel faces headwinds. Many bloggers, myself included, will probably not review your book if it’s self published and readers may hesitate to buy your book.

Having said all of that, if you are going to self publish, you should take a page out of Dr. Melissa Walker’s book (not her actual book, but you know what I mean). Sometimes I contact authors if I like the look of their book and ask for a copy to review. Sometimes they contact me (which makes me feel like a big shot). Dr. Walker’s publicist contacted me. The package I received contained not only the book, but a press release, a business card from the sales consultant, and a post card about the book. That’s more than publishers have sent me. It was a professional presentation and I was genuinely impressed.

Self publishing means that you have to do everything a publisher might otherwise do in addition to your responsibilities as writer. You’re essentially creating your own publishing house and that is just what Dr. Walker has done. The book doesn’t say it was self published. The publisher is Whale Tale Press, but their distributor is The Bookmasters Group (a press for those who wish to self publish), and the house’s only projects are A Place for Delta and its upcoming sequels. More, their website was designed by the book’s illustrator.

Aspiring self publishers take note: this level of attention to detail paid off. I read and enjoyed the book and only afterword did I realize it was self published. I bet Dr. Walker will more easily be able to arrange signings and school visits because she's created her own publishing house. And I hope she sells a lot of copies. She’s worked hard and she deserves it. Also worth noting is that Dr. Walker published the traditional method and is only now self publishing.

Listed on Whale Tales' site are a book designer, a consultant, a marketing manager, a publicist, and a marketing consultant. This isn’t some frustrated writer paying to publish her book at the last desperate moment. This is a genuine entrepreneur investing the startup capital to create a product comparable to what already exists in the marketplace. And that is essential to note about A Place for Delta to you would be self published authors out there. As self published books tend to be more expensive than those traditionally published, you have got to deliver a book that justifies the reader’s expense.

A Place for Delta has none of the hallmarks of the poorly self published novel. It’s a good looking book. It isn’t riddled with spelling or punctuation errors. It’s fully illustrated and well put together. If I picked the book up at the same time as a book from a major house, I would not be able to tell which of the two was self published. And there’s an entire section in the back of the book of educational information for readers looking to learn more about polar bears and environmental conservation. This tells me that Dr. Walker and/or her team have published A Place for Delta with an eye toward the educational market, taken steps to make the book appealing to that market, and I think it will be a success there.

And now, Esteemed Reader, I see that our time is almost up. This review is pushing my outmost limits of length and I haven’t even told you about the book. But those of you who read this blog regularly know that I use each week’s book as a springboard to discuss the lessons I take away from each title to improve my own writing. So that I don’t short change Dr. Walker completely, let me close by at least telling you what the book’s about:

Eleven-year-old Joseph Morse has received an email from his aunt Kate, who lives in Barrow, Alaska, inviting him to a research station to help take care of a polar bear cub named Delta. While there he makes friends with an Eskimo girl and uncovers a conspiracy that could threaten the life of Delta and others. There’s a mystery to solve and an adventure to be had. The book is clearly written from the perspective on an environmentalist with deep convictions and spans multiple generations to deliver an exciting story. It is also the 2010 International Best Book Award Winner for Children's Fiction. You should definitely check it out A Place for Delta, especially if you’re contemplating self publication.

If you'd like to know more about the book, let me also link to another blog's review: http://fewmorepages.blogspot.com/2010/05/review-place-for-delta-by-melissa.html

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn’t happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own.


  1. "After all, lasts week’s Whirlwind has a cover price of 7.99 versus A Place for Delta’s 16.95."

    Whirlwind is a paperback vs. A Place for Delta being hardcover at those prices.

  2. You're right Katie. After reconsideration, I have removed the offending line as it wasn't a fair comparison. Even ninjas make mistakes from time to time. Thanks for keeping me honest and thanks for reading the blog.


Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.