With the commercial success of the Korean selfpublished essay "The Temperature of Language," self-publishing has become a new norm for younf aspiring writers in South Korea. According to Korean Publishers Association, there were only 97 independent bookstores in 2015. Now, there are over 600 independent bookstores running across the country due to the rising popularity of selfpublished books.
Indeed, commercial publications continue to be the most attractive book publishing option for writers. A publication from a notable publishing company ensures quality cover designs, specialized marketing, and large distribution cycles. At the same time, commercial publications have been criticized for their selective taste for renowned authors and mainstream books — leaving no room for diversity. Hence, there is an invisible barrier between commercial publications and writers who experiment with nonmainstream writing styles and topics.
Recently, due to the advent of affordable technology, prospective writers are turning to self-publishing as a way to express their deepseated thoughts and mad creativity. Compared to commercial publications, self-publication has a lower entry barrier, which makes it appealing for many young writers who have always dreamed of publishing their one and only book. However, selfpublishing writers must also carry the burden of every minuscule publication process from handling licensing rights to measuring book sizes.
Kim BoBae, a full-time illustrator and alumna of Ewha’s Korean Painting, works as a part-time self-publishing picture book writer. In 2020, Kim self-published her first picture book “Ordinary Scenery,” a story that peeks into six rooms of an imaginary villa where essentially an infinite number of events could happen. The book became available in several independent bookstores including Normal A, Afterbooks, and Booktique. She further released a picture book titled, “I, Alone” and a postcard book titled, “Small Rooms.”
As a child, Kim would spend endless hours reading picture books, engrossed by every detail reflected in the drawings. She fell in love with picture books, dreaming of making them. She decided to fulfill her childhood dream after realizing that her entire life already suffices the most pivotal requirement of becoming a selfpublishing picture book writer and illustrator — expressing her perspective of life through illustrations.
“Ever since I entered art school, presenting my views in life through art became a natural part of my life,” Kim said. “I thought it would be exciting to collect my artwork and transform it into the form of a book.”
According to Kim, the first step of creating a book requires brainstorming ideas for the book from its theme to details. After finishing drafts based on the ideas, Kim uses a computer program that allows her to formulate and edit into a book. Before printing the book into an actual copy, she needs to create a sample in order to check if there are any mistakes or problems with what the book looks like.
The amount of time it takes to create a book varies from person to person, depending on the working style and volume of the book. For instance, while it took Kim nine months to finish “Ordinary Scenery,” “I, Alone” was published in a span of two months.
Kim elaborated the most difficult part of self-publishing was accepting the stark reality that there is a drastic difference in the color of illustrations between her computer screen and printed paper. Even the slightest changes in, for example, the kind of paper she uses could completely change the way the book can look.
Despite the hardships, Kim elaborated the best part of self-publication is interacting and empathizing with her readers. She shared her thrilling experience of attending an independent book fair called Seoul Publishers' Table in December 2021. At the book fair, she relentlessly conversed with readers, exchanged personal stories, and answered questions.
"In 'I, Alone,' there is a drawing where everyone is paired up with partner except for one person," Kim said. "It was exciting to introduce this secret in my book and watch my fascinated readers search for that hidden person who was alone. I found myself emotionally connected to these readers through my book in a matter of minutes when we were initially strangers to each other, which was a heavenly experience."
Kim believes that essentially anyone could venture into the world of self-publication and experience the same bliss as she does. While commercial publication is bound to select writing that is deemed profitable, self-publishing liberates writers from creating their stories based on profitability.
"Self-publishing is a window where you can freely tell the stories you want," she said. "For me, I am an artist — I will never allow my books to become void of pictures. I like having landscapes in my drawings that tell stories. I love exploring the idea of 'people' and 'space.' I want to write books where I can spend time conversing about my pieces with other people. Self-publishing sets me free to accomplish all of this."