“I love that she found the answer to her problem through her tears,” says Altstatt, an English teacher for international students at Sacramento State. She self-published that book, “Completely Rainbow,” under the name Amy Louise in 2016.
Two years later, Altstatt created IndiPUB, a Sacramento-based self-publishing startup, as a cost-effective alternative for independent authors to print a small quantity of high-quality books and market their work collectively.
The business was launched after her own misadventures in self-publishing. She says self-publishing companies “charge authors an arm and a leg” for every service, including formatting, distributing and marketing. The add-on fees (plus the money needed to promote at events) make it difficult for independent authors like her to break even, let alone make a profit.
“You’d need to sell something like 20,000 copies before you made any money back,” says Altstatt, who has self-published three children’s books. “The quality of the books were excruciatingly poor. It looks like something you could’ve printed at Kinko’s.”
After she published “Completely Rainbow,” Altstatt and her husband realized they were spending a lot of money on promotion. So she looked for an alternative higher-quality option. She contacted one of the companies that printed her daughter’s books to ask about wholesale rates. Wholesale prices at high-quality print companies don’t kick in until around a minimum of 1,000 books per order. But she put in an order a few months later and was blown away by the quality compared to what she received from the online self-publishing companies. Due to cost and storage issues, she knew she couldn’t do wholesale printing for every one of her books.
“That’s when I asked about how many different books I could order at one time,” she says. “They said as long as the books shared the same specs, I could order many titles in that 1,000 minimum order.”
Altstatt shared this concept of “ordering groups” — books with the same specs (8 1/2 inches by 8 1/2 inches, 32-page paperbacks, for example) could be printed in one run — to children’s authors and artists she had met through social media. “When every one of them freaked out about the idea, I knew I had to try to make it happen,” she says.
IndiPUB won first place at Sacramento’s 2018 Global Startup Weekend Women, an international initiative to highlight the impact of women in entrepreneurship. The startup is running beta batches to generate revenue and gauge author satisfaction. By the end of May, Altstatt plans to launch the first ordering group with at least seven children’s book authors. A $49 fee paid by authors supports IndiPUB, which makes sure the books are formatted properly before sending them to print.
Ultimately, Altstatt wants IndiPUB to be a self-driven operation that produces industry-standard-quality books and fosters a community of indie authors looking for critique and guidance. Altstatt believes this can be a platform that also fills gaps in the market.
“There are so many gaps for minorities and immigrants in children’s book publishing,” she says, “so I’d love to create a wider path for high-quality books to be published in multiple languages, and books that represent and encourage every individual child to embrace their identity.”
Altstatt learned much of the business at Evolution Accelerator, a Sacramento-based startup incubator. Managing Director Alex Chompff recalls meeting Altstatt at a local event, then later inviting her to be part of their first cohort.
“I loved the way she was thinking about that last-mile problem,” he says. “She’s building the bridge between publishers who are catering to smaller runs and real authors who need to do even smaller runs. Her passion for the topic is just infectious.”
As independent authors know, the world of self-publishing is difficult, and the years of work required to gain momentum can be grueling. But for Altstatt, dedication runs in the family.
“My father worked as an entrepreneur my whole life. … He inspired me to move forward when the vision felt too big because he was such a dreamer,” Altstatt says. “I lost him last September, so I’m trying to harness that energy boost he would always provide if I ever felt unsure of myself.”