So first of all, who am I, and why do I think I'm qualified to write on this subject?
In the 1980's, I self-published a children's activity calendar/datebook called Tot's Agenda. It included simple and fun activities parents could do with their kids and also included pages that were similar to what you'd find in a baby book -- places to record the cute things kids say, favorite things, accomplishments, and the like. At the time, I thought that it would be something I could sell while I wrote my stories and poems. We lived on a farm and there were few opportunities to make an income. With the help of my husband and my brother-in-law, I distributed a thousand books over a few years.
Around the same time, I had a story accepted by Cricket Magazine, a renowned children's magazine in the U.S. The story was called "Sunrise," and it was published in the March, 1989, edition of the magazine. The story was well received, and I heard from teachers as well as the School Board in Portland, Oregon, who used it in some materials they were preparing statewide.
I wrote four middle grade novels, none of which I was successful getting accepted by a publisher. Now this is nothing to brag about, but in hindsight I can say that my main problems were twofold: first, I was shy and not well-connected and second, I was so broke all the time that to go to conferences where I would meet agents and editors, or to get that MFA in writing I so wanted to to get, was impossible for me. I worked many jobs during this period while raising my three sons. Nothing I did paid me more than peanuts, including the full time teacher's job I got at a private school.
I wrote volumes of poems and story after story. Most of the time, when I sent my stories out, I would have to wait almost a year just to receive the standard rejection note. Yes, people told me how so many famous authors received rejections before their masterpieces were accepted to become best sellers, but that knowledge didn't really help. The last straw was when I got my envelopes back a year or so after sending them off and noticed that the envelopes hadn't even been opened. After that, I decided that sending a manuscript to a New York publisher was not even worth my time. I chose three Canadian publishers to try, and when all three rejected my story, although two wrote me personal notes saying that they enjoyed it -- one even calling it "charming" -- but that they publish only a few books a year, I made the decision to print it up myself at a Print-on-Demand company and to promote it online. I consoled myself by admitting that I was doing this just so that I could share the story with my own grandchildren. I didn't have time to wait until they were too old to enjoy it properly.
I went the easiest way I knew of, which was to upload my book to Lulu.com. The people at Lulu make the process easy. You can download a template on which you can paste your story. Then they provide you with another template for creating the cover. Once they have created your ready-to-print file, you download it onto your computer and give it another look over. If all is well, you can order a copy of the book to see it in a hard copy.
I shared my early version with my siblings as well as with my children. One of my sisters teaches grade three in Massachusetts. She read Fiona the Theater Mouse to her third grade classroom who loved it. As an assignment, each of the students wrote me a letter telling what they liked and what could be better about the book. Mostly they thought it was funny and exciting, but they gave me some helpful positive feedback, too, such as that they wanted more information at the end as to what happens next. I took that advice to heart and added a couple of paragraphs at the end so that the reader gets a more satisfying resolution.