A few hard-earned lessons
Her third book experience was the charm for this humor writer, who offers some practical tips on the do-it-yourself option.
Published: May 11, 2010
|While I’m not one for bungee jumping or skydiving, I did risk a great publishing adventure back in 2000 when I chose to self-publish my first book. Sure, boasting of a contract with Simon & Schuster would have been fun, but I knew that my chances of selling Carpool Tunnel Syndrome: Motherhood as Shuttle Diplomacy were slim. I had little name recognition as a writer, and humor is stubbornly tough to sell, unless you’re famous. I also was unwilling to wait a year or more to see my book in print.|
I read a lot of John Kremer and Dan Poynter, experts on self-publishing and book promotion, and was pumped to work hard to produce and promote my book. I was not, however, prepared for the disaster I faced some months after.
A friend had convinced me to publish my book under her new fledgling publishing company. Doing business with a friend is always risky, but she was a talented graphic designer and was already going to publish her husband’s book. Despite misgivings, I agreed.
Unfortunately, after my book was published, her marriage fell apart, and the stress made her decide to close her publishing venture, forcing me to declare my new book out of print. My little dream became a publishing nightmare.
About a year later, I found a small, supposedly “traditional” publisher who wanted my second book, Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout, and who also was willing to republish Carpool Tunnel Syndrome. But I was dismayed by the shoddy production of both books, and the company’s dizzyingly incomprehensible royalty statements (which usually showed that I owed them money) revealed that I was dealing with unscrupulous people. Thousands of dollars in legal fees later, I ransomed back both my books. Thankfully, this company is now defunct.
You’d think that with two publishing disasters to my name, I’d return to safe feature work and editing. You’d be wrong. Undaunted, I wrote a third book and, with hope triumphing over experience, I found an enthusiastic agent to shop it for me. He worked valiantly on my behalf to try to sell The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement, but we were told that a) the publishers already had a female humorist on their lists, b) my humor was great but my platform too small, or c) my platform was fine but the humor did not induce the desired hilarity. After inching our way down the publishing food chain, we realized that I was looking at self-publishing again, if I wanted the book produced.
I did. Terrified of blundering again, I spent several months investigating self-publishing options, including well-known POD outfits such as iUniverse and AuthorHouse. I considered book packagers, book “shepherds,” and other publishing options. I checked references relentlessly, asked endless questions.
One day, determined yet still gun-shy, I picked up an issue of a book-marketing magazine from SPAN, the Small Publishers Association of North America. Almost in desperation, I called and asked if SPAN could think of any members who might be interested in a hard-working, award-winning, yet still inexplicably unknown humor writer.
And that is how I found Beagle Bay, Inc., and agreed to publish under its Creative Minds Press self-publishing imprint. Having received enthusiastic endorsements from their clients for professionalism, integrity and honesty, I finally felt secure with this decision.
|This has been my best publishing experience so far. The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement earned ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award for humor, won a silver “IPPY” award from Independent Publisher, and took a bronze in the Benjamin Franklin Awards in 2008. Even better, three years after publication, it’s still selling steadily.|
To make your own journey in self-publishing as successful as possible, here are some tips:
Choose a publishing model that is right for your goals. When Judith D. Schwartz’s agent was unable to sell her latest book, despite the author having a successful track record with major publishing houses, Schwartz was undeterred. “I believed in my book,” she says, “and wasn’t going to let my publishing fate be determined by an increasingly dysfunctional system.”
Working closely with the staff at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., and a friend with computer design skills, Schwartz published The Therapist’s New Clothes in 2009, through an Espresso POD machine located in the bookstore. Since Ingram, the biggest wholesale book distributor, has partnered with On Demand Books, which makes and sells the Espresso Book Machine, her book is widely available.
“I liked the camaraderie and feeling of partnership in this,” Schwartz says.
Self-publishing is a business. If you have more ambitious commercial designs, treat your independent publishing venture as a business. Carol White, a book-marketing coach and co-author of the award-winning Live Your Road Trip Dream, observes, “You need to set yourself up with a phone line, business cards, Web site, letterhead, business name, licenses and checking account, or you will quickly be seen by others as not a serious player. With over a half-million new books coming out each year, your book must be stellar to get noticed.”
If you lack the skills, time or temperament for this, hire out publicity and other services, but be prepared to pay for them. I paid Beagle Bay for six months of promotional help after The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement came out, even though I was working relentlessly on publicity myself. It paid off: This extra help from a publishing insider led to my book winning its awards, as well as garnering several reviews and mentions in the news media, including The New York Times.
Get ready to promote like crazy. Today, all authors must self-promote vigorously, but self-published authors must do it like they’re on steroids. Create a marketing plan, just as you would for a book proposal, and know that marketing is a work in progress. However long you want your book to sell is how long you’ll need to find new outlets for reviews, excerpts, media mentions, speaking engagements and social networking.
This work is relentless, but it can be fun and rewarding. I was thrilled when I sold an excerpt from Carpool Tunnel Syndrome to Woman’s Day and had it promoted on Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s radio show. While controversial, Schlessinger had more than 22 million listeners at that time. Her one-minute mention of my book made it shoot up higher in the Amazon rankings than any of my books have been before or since. On my own, I also sold 2,500 copies to Scholastic Book Fairs.
Not bad for an unknown writer with only one self-published book to her name. With Till We Eat Again, I sold a serialization to eDiets.com, which ran for many months.
Know your audience. I mistakenly thought that most moms of young kids would be an eager audience for my first book, since I was a mom writing for other moms. But I discovered that my voice and humor can’t resonate with everyone. To find my audience, I have learned to be unafraid of my voice and point of view. Ironically, it is easier to target (and find) a smaller audience rather than a vast universe of people.
Get references. Just as you would in buying a coffeemaker, don’t entrust your book to any printer, designer, packager, book shepherd or other individual without performing due diligence. Ask to see book samples of any designer or printer you’re considering. Ask authors if their royalty/sales statements have arrived on time and make sense. I’ve learned this the hard way so you don’t have to!
Don’t skimp on editing or design. Because it’s so easy to self-publish now, many people do so without investing in professional copy-editing or design. This will mark your book as the project of a hobbyist instead of a professional. If you want your book to be taken seriously, treat it seriously. Even if you write humor like I do, you want people laughing at it for the right reasons.
As a self-publisher, you have great advantages over traditional publishing, especially with quality and artistic control. You have no pressure to sell a certain amount by a set date or risk having the book remaindered. Still, it’s a big job. Jacqueline Simonds, a book shepherd and co-owner of Beagle Bay, says, “When a prospective client calls and says, ‘I don’t know how to go about this but I’m willing to learn,’ it’s a good sign that they are realistic and that this model can work well for them.”
Self-publishing is not a second-class function. “Some in big publishing hous-es like to sneer at it,” Simonds says, noting some well-known authors, including Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) and Margaret Atwood, who began as self-publishers. “And while many use this as a route to getting signed by a big publisher, many self-publishers discover they have more control and fun doing it themselves. Self-publishing,” she adds, “is one of the hardest, scariest, most exhilarating tasks there is. There’s a boatload to know, there is way more competition than you expect, but it can be done well and successfully. You can do it!”
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Judy Gruen has published three books of humor and writes columns for Aish.com and Mommasaid.net. Her work has also appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Ladies’ Home Journal, and elsewhere. Web: www.judygruen.com.|
(This article appeared in the June 2010 issue of The Writer.)