I have decided to offer a tell-all of the story behind Runaway Smile on my blog. This is done for two reasons: first, I want to thank all the people who made it possible, especially Dimitris Fousekis and George Vasdekis. Second, I want to inspire any authors who are looking for a way to get published without surrendering all rights to their hard work, but for whatever reason are not interested in self-publishing.
The Runaway Smile started out as a silly poem that I was playing with in my head (you can read the final version of it at the end of the book). One day, back in 2012, I was having my childhood friend, Dimitris Fousekis, over for lunch. He’s a professional illustrator and liked the poem so much, that he suggested we turn it into a children’s book. This was before I decided to become an author, and Pearseus had not been written yet, so I was intrigued by the idea.
We decided against self-publishing, as there’s no Greek Amazon, and Indie publishing still has to take off over here. So, we approached Patakis, the largest Greek publisher. Dimitris had illustrated books for them in the past, so setting up a meeting was not a problem.
At first, we wanted to do a traditional children’s book (full-colour spread with a couple of verses on each page). However, Helena Patakis suggested we do it instead in the form of Frightfully Friendly Ghosties. The text would be around 5,000 words long, and be peppered with monochromatic illustrations. This would both keep the printing costs down and allow us to turn the book into a series.
I played around with my poem and ended up writing the whole book in a single Saturday morning. I remember it clearly, as Electra wanted to go for a walk in Tatoi (a nearby national park) and was annoyed that I chose instead to spend my Saturday writing 🙂
Once we had the story, we approached Patakis again. When I saw a contract, I was disappointed. I would get 10% of the profit – but the real problem was that I would no longer own anything. All rights would be theirs. We had the right to use only one (!) illustration for promotional purposes, and they would keep the rights to publish abroad as well. In other words, I needed their permission to publish the English version, and even if they gave it, they would still keep most of the profits.
While Dimitris focused on the illustrations, it was time to explore other options. I had self-published Pearseus by then, so had a much better understanding of the publishing industry. A friend kindly introduced me to George Vasdekis, third generation owner of Diptycho, a century-old, prestigious publishing house, famous for its excellent children’s books and magazines. George was intrigued by the book and my author platform. We started discussing terms. He offered me a deal that was similar to Patakis’, only with more freedom for me. As for an advance payment, his very valid point was that he’d have to cover illustration, design, printing, marketing etc. In a tumbling publishing market, a first-time author should not expect an advance payment on top of that.
I got his point, so I made him a counter-offer: I would keep all rights and most of the profits, and he would exclusively handle distribution and promotion. In exchange, I would cover the illustration, design and publishing costs.
George accepted and referred me to Lyhnia, their printers (that’s the place you see in my post, Hold the Press). The total cost for producing 1,000 copies, including design, printing etc, was a little over 1,600 euros ($1,900). It would have been lower, around 1,300 euros, but we decided we wanted to use UV printing for the cover and do a really nice job, instead of a more economic one.
Thankfully, Dimitris was happy not only to cover half of the costs, but also not take a penny for his work, in exchange for half the profits. He, too, got to keep the copyright to his illustrations, agreeing to let me use them in any way I wish for promotional purposes. Sadly, it took him much longer to complete the illustrations than anticipated, and the book was only published in December, after over two years in the making.
When George saw it completed, he said, “I should have never accepted your counter proposal.” As you can imagine, his comment made my day. I really believe in this book, so I hope it won’t take long to cover its production costs. But I’ve done everything I can at this point, so it’s time for the final part in every book’s launch: praying! 🙂
As for the moral of this whole story, I think it’s important to remember that the publishing model is changing on a daily basis. New collaborative paradigms between authors and publishers are emerging, as my example and the 33rd Street Press show. It is important not to get hang up on obsolete models, believing we can’t change things. There are now more ways of getting our work to readers than at any other time in history. All it takes is a bit of experimentation and a lot of perseverance!
Don’t forget that you can read Runaway Smile for free on my blog. If you like it, please review!