by the Editors of Words into Print and Selected Clients
For writers of today who, by choice or through default, do not have their books published by mainstream presses, ever-changing alternatives are available. Among these options are print-on-demand, e-book publishers, limited print runs, hybrid publishers, and self-publishers. Words into Print, an independent editors’ group based in New York City, provides services to publishers and to writers whose books appear in a wide range of venues, from traditional to groundbreaking. The group asked some of its clients who have taken nontraditional paths to share their experiences—the good, the bad, and the exasperating.
Participating Authors and Their Books
- Jodi Bean: Love Lessons, a memoir
- Doreen J. Berrien: All My Friends Have Dark Brown Eyes, a novel
- Robert Burns Clark: Pittsburg Landing, a novel
- Karen Coccioli: The Yellow Braid, a novel (originally published as How Did She Get There?)
- Jane Crosen: Maine Mapmaker’s Kitchen, an illustrated cookbook
- KD Easley: Murder at Timber Bridge and Where the Dreams End, novels
- Terry Gavin: Shaving Without a Razor and When Men Are Young, novels
- Peter Golden: Comeback Love, a novel
- Sue L. Hall, M.D.: For the Love of Babies: One Doctor’s Stories About Life in the Neonatal ICU, a medical memoir
- Peter Hoffmann: Carnal Weapon, a novel
- Lamar Jones: The Secret of Adoration, The Myth of Adoration, and Trouble, novels
- Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer: Amalie in Orbit, a novel
- Peggy Kornegger: Living with Spirit, a memoir
- Jasai Madden: The New Fast Girls, nonfiction
- Judith Sanders Malinoski: Crescent Veil, a novel
- Carlos Meza, M.D.: Silicone, a novel
- Lisa Braver Moss: The Measure of His Grief, a novel
- Ligia Ravé: Hanah’s Paradise, a novel
- Sasha Rubel: This Is the Life!, illustrated stories in app form
How was your book published, and why did you choose that route?
DOREEN J. BERRIEN: I self-published my book with a print-on-demand publisher for two reasons. The first being that I could not move forward in my life—and I was oh so ready to do that—until I saw my manuscript in print; and secondly because I believed, and still do for that matter, that All My Friends Have Dark Brown Eyes is a great work of fiction that readers would enjoy, and it deserved to be in print. In order to ensure that I was not the only person who thought so, I had it critiqued by a Words into Print editor [Alice Rosengard—Ed.]. That critique helped me a great deal. However, it was the expense of working with an editor that actually steered me toward self-publication. Rather than fix the novel and have it reviewed again for a fee—and still not have an agent or a publisher—I felt it better to fix the novel and use my financial resources toward actual publication.
JUDITH SANDERS MALINOSKI: Print-on-demand … was my only option. The cost was approximately $3,000 just for the produced copies. At that time, 2008, e-books were still not that popular. Also a print copy in my hand was as close as I could get to commercial publications.
JASAI MADDEN: AuthorHouse Print-On-Demand … allowed me the flexibility of quick turnaround and the ability to order as many or as few books as I would need. With Lorraine and James [her literary magazine—Ed.] I went the traditional self-publishing route and secured a very reputable book printer … but the cost of going that route and the inventory that I was left to store was ultimately unmanageable.
JANE CROSEN: [My cookbook] was printed by Penmor Lithographers in Lewiston, Maine. I did not think any publisher would go for the way I wanted to do it. I wanted it to be my book, not touristy, and, for marketing purposes, to build on my identity as mapmaker—and I wanted to be able to take as much time as needed.
GLORIA DEVIDAS KIRCHHEIMER: I turned to the independent presses because, for one thing, you can approach them directly. And they tend to publish books that a mainstream publisher would probably never look at because these books are not best-seller material. After looking over the Wessex list, which looked marvelous, as did their mission statement, I sent a note to Sandra Shwayder Sanchez, the publisher. She asked to read the entire manuscript, … loved the book and wanted to publish it. Wessex, however, was not in a position to cover all the costs involved in the production and asks its authors to contribute substantially to the expense. Sandy understood that this might be an impediment and urged me to continue to try and find a publisher, preferably a mainstream house that would be able to pay me an advance and royalties and [that] would be better equipped to do the kind of publicity she felt the book deserved. After agonizing over the decision to go or not go with Wessex, I finally said yes.
PETER GOLDEN: My book was published by Staff Picks Press, an independent publisher owned by a woman who is a longtime owner of independent bookstores in upstate New York. Susan Novotny … read it quickly, [and] loved it.
LIGIA RAVÉ: I sent the manuscript to several readers/friends. One of the readers passed it to Ellago Ediciones, a publishing house in Barcelona, who translated it from [English] into Spanish. It was published with great European flair: TV encounters, reception at the prestigious Literary Circle in Madrid, several interviews in literary magazines. It was out there for the world to embrace it. I was a published author, my book had a life—a first life over which I had very little control. Then a year later I joined a writers’ group, a group with high ambitions for quality literature, well-written prose, and discernment between criticism and judgment. The group [had been] meeting for the last twenty years and in communal accord, a new publishing house was born: New Door Books. Since my book was already published in Spanish, it became the first [publication] of the new house.
TERRY GAVIN: All of these new ways of getting a book out became available and that coincided with my desire to get published. iUniverse [a self-publishing company—Ed.] is my publisher in the U.S., and various other printers handle overseas printing.
LAMAR JONES: I felt that self-publishing would stigmatize me as someone who wasn’t a good enough writer to be signed by a mainstream publisher. But, after two years of professional representation, I decided that I would at least stick a toe in the pool and see how the water felt.
KAREN COCCIOLI: After a year of submitting queries, I decided to self-publish using CreateSpace, an affiliate of Amazon Books.
LISA BRAVER MOSS: I was impressed with the technical support at CreateSpace. That’s what sealed the deal for me. I had checked out a similar service, but they didn’t return calls or emails in a timely fashion, nor [did they] answer my questions with the needed precision.
KD EASLEY: I published my books in both print and e-book formats. I used Lightning Source for my print copies and went through Smashwords for all e-book versions except for Kindle. The Kindle versions I submitted direct through Amazon.
I chose Lightning Source because they had the lowest per copy print costs, so I was able to keep the prices of my books on par with similar novels that were being published through established publishing houses. Also, using Lightning Source took the distribution headache off my shoulders.
Smashwords was the easiest way to make the books available in all e-book formats, but I like to custom format the Kindle copies. You have more freedom with formatting on the Kindle versions by submitting directly through Amazon.
SUE L. HALL, M.D.: My book was published by a small independent publishing start-up called WorldMaker Media. The founder of this imprint runs a writing workshop website, www.thenextbigwriter.com. In one of the writers’ discussion forums on the website, I was bemoaning the fact that I wasn’t getting any publishers to request the full manuscript, and a day later I received an email from the founder offering to publish my book. As owner of the site, he is able to peruse the writing people post and also to see readers’ reactions to the writing. His business model is to identify online manuscripts that get good reader response, and then solicit the authors.
ROBERT BURNS CLARK: [My] book [has been] e-published by an Atlanta publisher called Definitive Words—a small start-up company founded by a number of people who worked in technical publishing and advertising for Hewlett-Packard.
SASHA RUBEL: My husband programmed a narrated iPad app version of the book, and it was published on iTunes. We had to boil down two-page spreads into a single screen version, so the pacing is a bit different than the original book version. A huge plus to the app is that we can bundle games and activities tailored to the theme of the story.
Were you happy with the results?
JODI BEAN: I was beyond thrilled. Things just fell into place. I found a great graphic designer [who] put my vision on the cover. I went to the vastness of the Internet and found a great editor [Alice Peck—Ed.], which I think is essential in publishing a book. And with her assistance found someone to do the layout.
SUE L. HALL, M.D.: I’ve been very happy with the collaborative and personal relationship I’ve had with my publisher, which I know would not have been possible going the traditional publishing route. I’m also pleased with the revenue-sharing model, which is a 50-50 split of profits (although I did not get an advance). Although someone who is self-published keeps all the profits, I have enjoyed having the support of my publisher, and have found him to be a great partner in brainstorming how to move the book forward in the marketplace.
Are there things you wish you had done differently?
JODI BEAN: I would do things exactly the same way; however, I would have been more focused [on] marketing the book.
ROBERT BURNS CLARK: I didn’t realize there was so much to do. The cover art took months. It is necessary to transfer the manuscript to several different formats. Every time it is reformatted something crashes (paragraph indents, for instance). As the manuscript passed through the hands of several readers, new errors were discovered and had to be fixed. The process of turning the manuscript into a 6 x 9 format resulted in a whole new array of formatting problems. And so it
KAREN COCCIOLI: Two things I would do differently would be, first, to research less expensive POD companies. Second, I would market the book before the publication date in order to get bookstores and distributors excited about the debut of the book.
KD EASLEY: I have been thrilled with the print and Kindle versions of all of my books. Lightning Source has very good quality and they offer the ability to do a traditional print run if I were to need a large number of copies. If I did anything different in the future it would be to not make any formatting mistakes when I send my files in to Lightning Source. Their fees are very reasonable, but changes can be expensive.
LAMAR JONES: I’ve had very modest sales but positive feedback and that has made it worthwhile. I enjoy knowing that, finally, people have read, discussed, and enjoyed my work. It is still not my venue of choice, but it’s much better than being a writer that no one has ever read.
PEGGY KORNEGGER: I am very happy with the printed book; it is exactly as I wanted it to be.
JASAI MADDEN: I was happy with the turnaround time and the ability to buy 200 books at a time as opposed to 2,000. I would most certainly go the POD route again.
JUDITH SANDERS MALINOSKI: I was not happy with the results. The first run was full of errors. Instead of paying the POD group for editing services (which amounted to spell and grammar check) I had paid an independent editor [selected by the publisher—Ed.] to polish the book. The editor did her job. The POD group printed the unedited manuscript by mistake.
I received a bad review on Amazon because of the POD group’s negligence and it followed me like the plague.
SASHA RUBEL: In some ways, the app has exceeded my expectations. What surprises me is how many people have downloaded it for their iPhone. It still translates [to the tiny screen] but the effect is less encompassing, emotional—like viewing Guernica as a postage stamp.
Did you hire an editor, a copy editor, or a proofreader? Did you hire a designer?
DOREEN J. BERRIEN: I did pay for the services of a copy editor during the publication process. … The first run of my novel actually had to be redone at the publisher’s expense because of typos on the back cover that were supposed to have been corrected in the editing phase. And later, after the second run was complete, there were more errors found within the book that I felt the editor should have caught, but didn’t. I paid for those to be corrected, and the book revised. I would never self-publish without a copy editor.
ROBERT BURNS CLARK: I hired both an editor and a proofreader. DW [Definitive Words] hired a graphic artist to design the cover. The book would never [have] reached [publication] quality without the efforts of my editor [Alice Rosengard—Ed.].
KAREN COCCIOLI: Yes, I hired editors—Alice Peck and Jessica Swift. In addition, Ted Gilley, an editor from CreateSpace, did the final read-through. Without these people, my book would not [have been] as well-crafted as it is.
JANE CROSEN: I asked Joyce Kleffner to proof the designed pages as a technical editor, and I hired a graphic artist to help me with the cover—Ann Ahearn, the art director at Downeast Graphics, who was tremendously helpful. I designed, typeset, and laid out the text, and Ann converted my Word files. I also needed her help with scanning, placing the interior illustrations, and other pre-press work.
KD EASLEY: I actually turned down a contract on Timber Bridge because the small publishing company that made the offer wanted to publish it as is. I loved the story, still do, but I knew at the time that it needed an editor’s touch before it was ready for publication. I’m so glad I waited. It is a much better book than it would have been without Alice’s [Alice Peck—Ed.] help. I did not use a copy editor and that’s a mistake I will rectify before I publish the next book.
TERRY GAVIN: Alice Rosengard is my go-to editor. She possesses invaluable insight and offers excellent assessments.
PETER GOLDEN: [I hired] a freelance editor, Marlene Adelstein. She is remarkable. I didn’t hire a designer. Staff Picks used their own for the cover, and they had a fine proofreader.
SUE L. HALL, M.D.: I hired an editor (Alice Rosengard) after completing my first draft. Her input was invaluable in helping me refine my manuscript and make it more cohesive, with a more consistent voice throughout. I also hired a copy editor who helped tweak a few stylistic and grammatical details when the book was nearly ready for publication, but what I didn’t understand is that she wasn’t also a proofreader. The proofreading that my publisher and I did ourselves was agonizing and time-consuming, but at least I felt like I knew what was going on with every word in my book when the process was completed. The publisher hired a graphic designer to work with me on cover design and I was thrilled with the result.
GLORIA DEVIDAS KIRCHHEIMER: The book itself is beautiful. Sandy has a partner, Peter Burnham, who does all the production work as a volunteer for Wessex. I worked directly with him. I wanted my book to be a thing of beauty. It was wonderful to have control over the production process.
I chose the cover photo and proofed the book myself (usually not a good idea) but having worked as an editor for years I was confident that I would catch any problems.
PEGGY KORNEGGER: I used Alice Peck as my editor. She was invaluable, both because of her editorial suggestions and her advice on all aspects of publishing. Since I am an editor by profession, I did all the editing, copyediting and proofreading myself, using Alice’s suggestions as my base. I hired a designer friend to design the cover and make suggestions about the interior; her artwork is also featured on the cover.
LAMAR JONES: While still in the process of trying to land an agent, I engaged the services of Alice Rosengard and was very pleased with the results. Her advice and encouragement made me a better writer than I’d been. Most memorably, I had written the line “Stripped of their burdensome greenery, the trees in the yard weaved in the wind like listless skeletons.” Alice asked a simple question: “How can a skeleton be listless?” Amazing how much insight can be reduced to so few words. I never forgot that lesson about overwriting and it guides me still.
JASAI MADDEN: I did use both an editor and a copy editor. Their help was invaluable. I would never produce or publish writing without those services.
JUDITH SANDERS MALINOSKI: I found [an editor] through the International Women’s Writing G[uild] of which I am a member. I also found a cover designer through IWWG. Both people were very professional and helpful. However, I was still in the painful [throes] of learning and paying (both monetarily and careerwise) in the process. Until I found an extremely competent and professional editor [Alice Peck—Ed.] while at the Writer’s Digest Conference held prior to BEA, I had no idea what I should have been getting and expecting from a good editor (structure, character arcs, plot points, story development, and line edits).
LISA BRAVER MOSS: I hired Ruth Greenstein and her staff at Greenline Publishing Consultants, and I don’t think I’d have a book if it weren’t for Ruth’s steadfast support and belief in my project. I worked with Greenline for several years back and forth. I would submit a polished manuscript, get the feedback, feel grateful for the concrete and insightful comments—and then consider throwing myself in front of a bus. After a while, I’d start to tinker, and finally (sometimes months later) I’d get through the needed revisions and resubmit it to Greenline. Lather, rinse, repeat.
CreateSpace offered cover design, typesetting, and every other service I might need, but because that involved several different departments, it looked like this approach would delay my project. It was more practical, and afforded me more creative control, to choose my own local people for these services.
LIGIA RAVÉ: Yes and OMG—at the suggestion of my marvelous literary agent—I connected with a marvelous sophisticated editor [Ruth Greenstein—Ed.] who understood my emotions, my thoughts, and the music of my narrative. I learned English very late in life—street English, that is. Since my grammar was unrefined and my vocabulary limited, the meaning of the words [was] not felt, but translated. The passion of my editor for the most appropriate expression, the only one that could convey my feelings, is what made the manuscript into a book. I wish I had used the mind and the skills of this editor from the first draft.
SASHA RUBEL: I first contacted an editor/ghostwriter via Publishers Marketplace. I liked the clarity and organization of her website design, and the testimonials seemed genuine and credible. She referred me to Michael Wilde, a very good fit. He contributed some valuable ideas and questions, and helped shape the dialogue, boiling it down to a more pleasing flow. Transitions were another concern, so he helped smooth those areas.
I had many friends read this, including many established writer friends, but it didn’t take the place of an editor/writer who is trying to channel your own message and voice as best he or she can.
MW encouraged me to include another fantastical happening in the book. He couldn’t have known this, but the original version of the story had more of these, and he seemed to suss out that it was there, or a ghost of it was there. He encouraged me to ramp up the absurdity, which was also helpful.
I would encourage anyone to find the funds to pay an editor, if necessary.
DOREEN J. BERRIEN: I selected the cover design from the thousands of pictures that the publisher had available for use. The publisher tried to entice me into a custom design, which of course was more money, by sending me a sample of what they had come up with. I did not like what they had produced. The picture I selected appealed to me very much.
JANE CROSEN: I wanted to keep each recipe to one page as much as possible and to do the illustrations myself. I created four icons to accompany recipes to indicate which ones (a) have very few ingredients and thus are camp-friendly, (b) are vegetarian, (c) are recyclable, and (d) are a good way to use leftovers. It’s all about a rustic kitchen with an international flavor. Another thing—on the advice of a local publisher/distributor, Dean Lunt at Islandport Press, I paid a little more to have the books shrink-wrapped in fours, to protect from humidity in storage.
PETER HOFFMANN: I wanted an iconic image of the chest and wanted Alice Mercer [one of the main characters—Ed.] on [the cover]. Dog Ear said that was too complicated—you will have to supply that. And I did.
LAMAR JONES: With Kindle, everything falls on the author. If you present a steaming pile of crap, a steaming pile of crap will appear on the website with your name attached.
LISA BRAVER MOSS: I let the typesetter make suggestions, and with her I selected the font, font size, spacing, format and content of the headers, pagination of sections, et cetera. I also asked her to put the first few words of each chapter, and also the first few words of text just after each section break, into capital letters but in a reduced font size—that’s how it’s often done in literary fiction, and I felt it gave the typesetting a more finished look, a little more visual impact, since I selected a very straight-ahead font.
Did you hire a publicist?
KAREN COCCIOLI: I hired several different people—website designers, FB and Twitter experts, publicists to create my press and media releases—at sometimes costly rates but never achieved the proposed results. On Long Island, NY, where I debuted the book, I reached out to bookstores (both local and national), newspapers and magazines for book reviews, and libraries to give talks, but … no one wanted to spend the time promoting a book that was self-published.
DOREEN J. BERRIEN: Had I known what was required to market a book successfully, I probably would have held off on self-publishing because I did not have the time, financial resources, or personal know-how to put forth a good marketing campaign. By the time the publication process was complete, my financial resources were pretty much depleted.
KD EASLEY: It’s kind of a catch-22 situation. You need a publicist to help promote and sell your product so you can make money, but you need money to hire the publicist.
ROBERT BURNS CLARK: DW [Definitive Words] and I hired Ronni Stolzenberg, of Launchpad, LLC, to design and launch a promotional campaign. A hard copy [version] has been made available on Amazon, B&N, and Apple, so Ronni intends to hit the traditional reviewers as well as the social media and Civil War sites. (My book is a work of historical fiction set in the Civil War era.) There will be promotional cards (bookmarks) handed out at the anniversary celebrations at Manassas this summer, and Fredericksburg this December. There will also be a saturation of email promos to the major Civil War reenactors groups.
JANE CROSEN: Because I already had a presence at mainemapmaker.com marketing my maps—as prints, posters, postcards, note cards, T-shirts, aprons, and coasters—I had a publicity venue in place. I also had an established network of stores carrying my map products. Since I no longer had a sales rep and was handling the marketing myself, I went to bookstores in person, which made a big difference in getting the cookbook into stores. The buyers especially liked the cover. One buyer looked at the illustrated note cards I had printed (with line art and a quote from the cookbook on the front) and said, “If there were just a little color …” So I tried that—and they do sell much better that way. I hand-color each one in pastels.
TERRY GAVIN: I sent a copy of my book to every [news]paper in the U.S., but within a year most papers had done away with their book editors. I rely on social media outlets, book reviews, and book signings.
SUE L. HALL, M.D.: I have identified most of the niche groups (doctors, nurses, etc.) that I’d like to have as readers, and reached out to them. I’ve also been working on establishing a platform as a speaker and expert in my field, with the goal of getting my book in front of ever-larger audiences. I think if I’d had a traditional publisher, I might have sat back and waited for the “magic” to occur, and it might not have.
PETER HOFFMANN: Annie Jennings got me booked on some radio shows. Penny Sansevieri helped on Internet—good recognition on Google and Yahoo. A staff of bloggers read the book.
Don’t delude yourself into thinking that the publisher is going to do it for you. Until you have that spark of notoriety you are better off going on your own.
Publicists can’t help tell your story if you are not out there building some kind of name recognition on a person-to-person basis. You have to get out and sell it on your feet. [Peter secured a table at BEA and sold some books there—Ed.] Any store will take your book on consignment, but you have to go and sit there and sign books when people come by. In the bookstore you wait and wait and you can get to feeling pretty forlorn. And there are so few bookstores now—local bookstores are best, even the local Barnes & Noble. But we’re in the e-book era now. Even last year you could see that. I did the full court press—now I would look more towards the Internet—getting my face on [the] social network. The best thing would be on YouTube. I would give that a try.
Looking to go viral is like trying to win the lottery.
GLORIA DEVIDAS KIRCHHEIMER: We simply did not have the money to hire a professional. Between us we contacted every possible outlet: reviewers, bookstores, book clubs, and libraries. What we should have anticipated was that a publication like Publishers Weekly will only look at a book prior to publication and we did not have galley proofs to send out.
PETER HOFFMANN: You still have these literary clubs—sometimes only five or six people come to the club—and you sell your book at a discount, half price. These people will read it and talk
GLORIA DEVIDAS KIRCHHEIMER: Sandy tried book groups in her area (Colorado) but here in New York, there are so many and not all of them can be found.
I went to a number of bookstores in the city, spoke to the managers and left copies and then followed up by calling and asking to give readings. The two readings I gave were packed and very well received. People lined up to buy the book. One bookstore I contacted told me that they would have given me a reading only if they were going to be the first venue for such an event. A community center in my neighborhood where I had read a couple of short stories from my collection a few years back informed me that their policy was to invite only authors who are represented on the New York Times best-seller list.
The most encouraging responses came from Barnes & Noble and the New York Public Library. I tracked down the people responsible for acquiring new titles and, to my great joy, B&N took a sizable number of copies, as did the NYPL. … B&N displayed the book in their window for some time.
PEGGY KORNEGGER: I did my own marketing, using suggestions in Stacie Vander Pol’s book Top Self Publishing Firms. I used email and Internet contacts and websites as much as possible, plus sending out review copies. Also used email signatures and reviews of other books on Amazon, with my name and book title included. And I mentioned the book in my bio when I posted articles.
JASAI MADDEN: I created the standard social networking outlets for book promotion (blog, Facebook, Twitter) and promoted myself to women’s groups, church organizations, health talk shows, et cetera.
JUDITH SANDERS MALINOSKI: I hired a publicist. I did one local Fox TV interview, eighteen radio interviews in one day, and multiple book signings. I wish I had known about branding. I had no experience in building a name for myself or finding topics for speaking engagements, et cetera. These are necessary for success. And for a fiction writer not being branded is a huge problem. In today’s atmosphere I would most certainly spend more or, at the least, the same amount of money on developing an Internet presence as I did learning to write a novel.
LISA BRAVER MOSS: I hired Nina Lesowitz, a local publicist whom I already knew, who loved my book and wanted to go to bat for it. To keep costs down, I did a lot of the pavement-pounding myself, such as securing the blurbs for the back cover (something even traditionally published authors often do). Getting the blurbs came first; that way, I was able to reference them in query letters to the media when I was trying to get reviews and interviews.
I got absolutely fantastic coverage in local papers, I joined Facebook to facilitate promotion, and I also created a separate Facebook page for the book. And with the help of a very smart high school student whom I paid by the hour, I created an author website. I wish I’d had more energy to pursue online book clubs and to learn much more about how to drive traffic to a website. By that point, I was a bit drained and I found a lot of it overwhelming. Ultimately, I needed to get back to writing. But I’m still doing things to promote the book. I was recently a panelist for a discussion following a controversial Jewish anticircumcision documentary, Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision. I’ve also been invited to speak about The Measure of His Grief to several private reading groups.
LIGIA RAVÉ: Except for some readings, I didn’t put any effort into publicity. I used to believe that books, like buildings, sit on their own. Only now I understand the mistake. To be seen and heard, one has to be known.
SASHA RUBEL: So far we’ve been promoting it ourselves. We created a new website, sasharubel.com, with a Dress Up game. First, we made a full-color postcard announcing the book. It included a QR code that people can use to take them directly to the website via their cell phones. We’ve found that postcards are invaluable, reaping dividends beyond the relatively small investment. Printrunner.com does a terrific job with postcards at very good prices.
I made media kits with a press release that I send both via email and regular mail. We also took out a monthlong ad on the website for the local newspaper and saw a marked increase in traffic to the website and a lot of click-throughs. And finally, I also created a Gotta Getta Greta Facebook page.
KAREN COCCIOLI: I was so intrigued by the process that … I am now partnering with a good friend and we are moving ahead to open a full-fledged publishing company.
What has been the worst thing about your experience?
ROBERT BURNS CLARK: The worst thing is having a very limited budget for promotion. Of course, the brick-and-mortar publishers have squeezed their budgets nearly bare, so I may be in a pretty good situation.
CARLOS MEZA, M.D.: The best thing about self-publishing is that you control your own destiny. The worst part is that you have to do most of the work and it costs lots of money to do your own marketing.
KD EASLEY: Most of my writing-related time is spent managing my writing business instead of creating new stories. I don’t recommend it. I will continue to publish my mysteries nontraditionally, but if I branch out into something else I may try once more to attract an agent’s attention.
TERRY GAVIN: Although I cannot think of a downside, I must be honest and admit that having Random House as a publisher would bring me much joy.
PETER GOLDEN: Nothing bad about it. The novel was published in November 2010. It got some very good reviews, there was a bit of a buzz … ; by February 2011, major NYC publishers were contacting my publisher to read the book. I got a great new agent, Susan Golomb, and in March 2011, it was bought at auction by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. It [was] published by Atria in April 2012. It was a very positive experience overall.
GLORIA DEVIDAS KIRCHHEIMER: The distribution outlet used by Wessex was totally inept. … It took weeks for the distributor to send the requisite number of copies to Baker & Taylor before the book found its way into the Barnes & Noble stores.
Another negative factor is how we underestimated the power of the Internet and the social networks. We did not fully understand that having a website for Wessex would not be enough for publicity purposes. We simply did not have the know-how to go ahead and plunge into all the social networks that might have helped spread the word. Both Sandy and I had (have) a deep reluctance to be out there, to self-promote, to open up our lives, as it were, to total strangers. Only recently has Sandy dived in, establishing a web presence as a book reviewer and at the same time calling attention to Wessex publications, which are now also available as e-books.
Would you do it again?
PEGGY KORNEGGER: I found that unless you are a teacher who gives frequent workshops throughout the country or are already well-known for another reason, it is very difficult to sell your book beyond the circle of folks who already know your work. I would do it again, though.
LISA BRAVER MOSS: I’ve gotten letters from people across the U.S., and a few from abroad, telling me how much they appreciate my having written the book and how much they liked it. It’s very rewarding.
Because the mechanics of self-publication are now relatively straightforward, people sometimes get the impression that it’s easy to put out a book—that the hard part (writing it) is over, and that the primary challenge in self-publishing is to believe in oneself and to fork over a few bucks.
Well, the process requires a lot more than a completed book, a thick skin, and a wallet. For starters, there are important design decisions that can feel daunting. And depending on the book and your specific goals, it can be harder to get blurbs, reviews, interviews, and events when you’re self-publishing (though those attitudes seem to be shifting somewhat). Also, some independent booksellers are snooty about self-publication, not just because it’s still associated in many people’s minds with vanity publishing, but also because it often involves the use of amazon.com. It’s completely understandable that independent bookstores would tend to view amazon.com as the enemy, because of the devastating effect Amazon has had on their business. But, paradoxically, for self-published authors, Amazon is often the best way to secure wide distribution—which winds up being much more democratic, in terms of the marketplace of ideas, than the traditional publishing system. These issues are complicated.
I’m currently at work on another novel, and the landscape may be very different by the time I’m ready to publish; I’ll have to be open to whatever makes sense at that point. I really feel the ground is shifting under our feet. My guess is that I’d at least try to shop my novel traditionally (whatever that’ll mean), because there’s a little more infrastructure that way.
PETER GOLDEN: I’d still go for a mainstream publisher first but would definitely be open to going with a small press again. And the small press to mainstream publisher route is a rather complicated story in itself.
SASHA RUBEL: I would do it again. The up-front costs are relatively low, and the percentage of profits is a lot higher. Would I rather be represented by a traditional publisher? Probably yes. I’m still a huge fan of physical books, they have a feeling of substance and impressiveness; they hold our attention in a different, quieter way. There’s a feeling of commitment there, commitment of resources, ink and paper, commitment of institutional confidence. Distribution and marketing budgets are often larger and more efficiently implemented, and the expertise you get from a good publishing house is immeasurable. And yet, there are so many stories of authors being given a very short window of time in which to succeed, to prove themselves through sales. There’s increasingly a lack of understanding that certain properties need time to build customers, build a constituency, and self-publishing lets you take the time to reach an audience.
Was your book reviewed?
KD EASLEY: Where the Dreams End was reviewed on redadeptreviews.com and was voted #2 in the Red Adepts Annual Indie Awards. I was thrilled. Murder at Timber Bridge was reviewed by Genre Go Round Reviews (at genregoroundreviews.blogspot.com).
KAREN COCCIOLI: [My book was reviewed by] ForeWord Clarion Review and Writers in the Sky.
JANE CROSEN: [There were] a couple of profile reviews and features with photographs in the Maine Telegram, as well as the Ellsworth American and Bangor Daily News. Smaller review articles appeared in the Maine Sunday Telegram, Portland Sun, and Working Waterfront. The Bangor paper did another little article on the book a year later, in 2010.
DOREEN J. BERRIEN: There are several publications that review self-published books before the actual publication date. Had I known of them in time I would have submitted my manuscript for review. In addition, many of the reviewers that I found out about later required fees that I could not afford.
TERRY GAVIN: [Reviews appeared in the] Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Capital Times, Shepherd Express, [on] Wisconsin Public Radio, and [by] numerous bloggers. Just to highlight the power of bloggers, there is a well-known blogger out there who wrote that there were three novels you have to read: Chelsea Handler’s Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, Denis Leary’s book, and Shaving Without a Razor. It’s not wise to do nothing to promote yourself, but bloggers and readers will find you in the blogosphere.
LISA BRAVER MOSS: The book was reviewed in Tikkun Magazine. [There were] many excellent interviews and reviews both in print and online (amazon.com reviews plus other websites and blogs).
PETER GOLDEN: A handful of small newspapers [reviewed the book]. I met many indie bookstore owners. Publishing it this way created a buzz, got my book in front of editors, and I collected some good press.
SUE L. HALL, M.D.: My book has gotten great reviews in my local hometown newspaper (The Kansas City Star), and in an alumni magazine (Bostonia, for alumni of Boston University).
PETER HOFFMANN: I got a nice review from Kirkus Discovery—you pay for them to review—but they are the same reviewers who review for major publishers, and they hold you to the same standard. Kirkus Discovery is now on the same page as Kirkus Reviews—with the big boys and girls.
GLORIA DEVIDAS KIRCHHEIMER: Midwest Book Review, the Internet Review of Books, Prick of the Spindle. These were enthusiastic reviews. Two other reviews (one of which was riddled with spelling errors), by bloggers, were downright hostile. Amazon gave the book five stars.
PEGGY KORNEGGER: [Reviews ran in] Spirit of Change; Earth Star; amazon.com; plus [an] interview in [a] local newspaper.
JASAI MADDEN: TNFG [The New Fast Girls] has been the feature of many radio and live discussions on physical and spiritual health and wellness.
JUDITH SANDERS MALINOSKI: My book was reviewed by Heartland, Midwest Book Review, [and] Reader Views [readerviews.com—Ed.].
LIGIA RAVÉ: The book was mentioned in Catalan De Libros – Al Sefarim, in Barcelona, December 2007; then in El País Literario, June 2007; and ABC, in Spanish. It was featured in Madrid at the famous “Circulo Literario,” then in several American magazines, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jewish Woman Magazine, The Jewish Book World, and a most beautiful review in Small Press Bookwatch.
How many copies did you sell, and in what formats?
PETER GOLDEN: We sold well over a thousand in a very short time.
JODI BEAN: About 800 books with no marketing.
DOREEN J. BERRIEN: My guess would probably be around one hundred twenty-three copies. I have not sold any electronic copies.
ROBERT BURNS CLARK: Approximately 150 e-books have sold.
KAREN COCCIOLI: I sold very few in total so far.
KD EASLEY: A total of 500 [were sold] and probably 100 donated for giveaways and promotional programs.
PETER HOFFMANN: I personally sold between 120 and 140 books. Amazon sold 5, and Dog Ear Publishing sold about 10.
TERRY GAVIN: Both novels have sold well into the low thousands.
SUE L. HALL, M.D.: In the first year I have sold about 1,200 copies, half of which were paperback and half digital (mostly Amazon). The book is still selling about 40 copies a month.
LAMAR JONES: One hundred ten downloads of all three novels.
GLORIA DEVIDAS KIRCHHEIMER: Five hundred were printed. I don’t know how many were sold. The publisher and I had a very loose agreement (nothing in writing, but I didn’t want to insist on it; maybe I should have) that the proceeds of copies sold through Wessex would be plowed back into the press, and that I would keep the money from books I sold on my own.
PEGGY KORNEGGER: Not sure exactly, probably around 160 print copies, and 1 or 2 e-books. Many more [have been] given away as review or promo copies.
JASAI MADDEN: To date I have probably sold about 150 books.
JUDITH SANDERS MALINOSKI: Through my own efforts we sold approximately 3,000 copies.
CARLOS MEZA, M.D.: Under 500 printed copies. Under 500 e-book downloads.
LIGIA RAVÉ: 4,800 in Spain in paperback; 2,700 in America in paperback.
SASHA RUBEL: Most of the sales are coming from our own circle, and we’re seeing an expansion in sales via word of mouth and also people buying the book as a gift. More media kits are in progress, and I’m considering other promotional ideas, including tie-ins to my next gallery show.
JANE CROSEN: I decided to print 2,400 copies. When it was released, 765 sold the first year, about 350 more the second year, and about 140 this year. So there are about 1,150 to sell. Stores in Maine continue to display the book. I’m very pleased.
TERRY GAVIN: [The books sold] via book signings, pounding the pavement, and making my own contracts with bookstores. Now 50 percent of sales are e-book.
PEGGY KORNEGGER: [My book] continues to sell in small numbers in the local spiritual bookstore, but not well in other local bookstores.
JUDITH SANDERS MALINOSKI: We sold out in B&N where we did signings and they asked for more for the store shelves. But they were returned. We had budgeted for 3 months of publicity and when that stopped, so did our sales.
CARLOS MEZA, M.D.: [My book has] sold in the Internet outlets (Amazon, B&N, etc.) and independent stores.
What advice do you have to give to someone who has chosen to publish through a nontraditional publisher?
JODI BEAN: … reach out to others that have done it and learn what has worked for them.
DOREEN J. BERRIEN: First of all, do due diligence on the publisher. Make sure you know who you are dealing with, what their reputation is, what exactly they will do for you, and what you will have to do for yourself. Familiarize yourself with the publishing world lingo so that you understand thoroughly the agreement that you are entering into before you sign on the dotted line. Also … have plenty of cash available for this venture as editing, cover design, marketing, and getting reviews are costly, but also critical to success.
ROBERT BURNS CLARK: There are a lot of entities out there who claim to know how to e-publish a book. Many of them do not. Many of them operate as self-publishing representatives, charging large fees for every step. If you want your manuscript to be a vanity book that you can sign for your friends and family, you should still be careful when sending money to someone you don’t know. In my case, it will still be many months before I know if my book has been well published and promoted. If it is, it will take more time to see if the public will accept it as a good, moving, and entertaining literary work.
I looked into e-publishers. They offer prices for hardcover and for paperback also. Most of them seem to be vanity publishers. You can’t tell where they are located, and they don’t give you any money for advertising.
The people running Definitive Words are not new to publishing—they have been doing it for years in-house.
KAREN COCCIOLI: Go with the commercial flow. By this I mean write a book that is commercially viable. My book is a novella with a controversial and sensitive storyline so … odds were against me from the start.
Figure out a marketing strategy beforehand.
KD EASLEY: If you can afford to pay for support people to do the things that cut into your writing time, it may well save your sanity. Oh—and hire an editor and a copy editor. They are worth twice what they cost.
TERRY GAVIN: Hire a good editor.
SUE L. HALL, M.D.: Don’t let a nontraditional publisher trap you into a traditional publishing contract with paltry royalties. You have to do so much more of the work yourself in a nontraditional situation, so your royalties should be much higher than traditional publishers usually offer. And, especially don’t settle for small royalties for e-books, because they essentially cost publishers almost nothing and are pure profit. Why limit yourself to 10 percent of that pie?
PETER HOFFMANN: You don’t get a publisher without an agent. An agent wants you to have a platform—wants to hit the ground running. You need to be very well recognized.
If I had it to do again, I would probably go the same route. I would go to more literary groups. People start talking about you. But [going around to groups like that] takes a lot of time. I like to say indie rather than self-published. When you undertake such a venture, you have to be like a rock-and-roll band that’s playing dinky clubs. You have to have a story to tell. If you are able and willing, you can go to various venues, but you have to be able to talk about your work, and if you have to travel farther and farther, it can become a losing proposition.
GLORIA DEVIDAS KIRCHHEIMER: Set up a website for your work, use all the social networks you can think of, and if you can afford it, hire a crack publicist in advance of publication. Find out exactly how your publisher plans to publicize your work and be an active participant in the process.
PEGGY KORNEGGER: Make sure the publisher staff is easily available to answer questions via phone or email. … Always hire your own cover designer to make sure your book doesn’t look like a clone.
JASAI MADDEN: Be ready to do all of the real work after you get the book in your hand; you will have to sell it with complete conviction and passion, time and time again.
JUDITH SANDERS MALINOSKI: I think the most important lesson I have learned is that branding and developing a website presence is a priority (years) before the manuscript is completed. It is as important as the writing. I still dislike the time I spend online blogging versus writing. I am sorry I didn’t start this second career earlier but life is a curvy road. But at my age I certainly don’t have time to throw around a lot of clever crap glorifying myself and see what will stick to an agent. Instead I’ll keep writing and probably self-publishing. (I’ll go to e-books.)
LIGIA RAVÉ: If you have something to say, do it with perseverance, do it with clarity, and publish it immediately. Get feedback and find a team to edit the manuscript from the first draft. Do not wait until an agent is able to find you a publishing house. It may take years, it may be never.
SASHA RUBEL: Persistence is the byword. Definitely send out media kits. With media kits, break things down as much as possible: When, Who, What, Where, et cetera. Think of yourself predigesting the material for the busy editor or writer on the other end. Any media coverage is the equivalent of a large advertisement, with the benefit of a third party putting the spotlight on you and your work. Good media clips lend legitimacy to your projects. Publicity begets publicity. Postcards are the gift that keeps on giving: if it’s a good image, people will leave it on their refrigerator forever. In fact, that’s how I met my husband!
If I were to do one thing differently, I would join a writer’s group, either online or locally. … I find it awkward at times to talk up my own project, it can seem self-aggrandizing or grating. I see other writers gaining support from each other, and it can be especially helpful to have another person mention you on [her or his] blog, or via Facebook.
PETER GOLDEN: Have an audience in mind for your book and a marketing plan in place before you publish. After that, it’s crucial that you get very, very lucky.
Visit the authors’ websites to learn more about them and their books:
- Jodi Bean, Love Lessons
- Doreen J. Berrien, All My Friends Have Dark Brown Eyes
- Robert Burns Clark, Pittsburg Landing
- Karen Coccioli, The Yellow Braid
- Jane Crosen, Maine Mapmaker’s Kitchen
- KD Easley, Murder at Timber Bridge and Where the Dreams End
- Terry Gavin, Shaving Without a Razor
- Peter Golden, Comeback Love
- Sue L. Hall, M.D., For the Love of Babies: One Doctor’s Stories About Life in the Neonatal ICU
- Peter Hoffmann, Carnal Weapon
- Lamar Jones, The Secret of Adoration
- Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer, Amalie in Orbit
- Peggy Kornegger, Living with Spirit
- Jasai Madden, The New Fast Girls
- Judith Sanders Malinoski, Crescent Veil
- Carlos Meza, M.D., Silicone
- Lisa Braver Moss, The Measure of His Grief
- Ligia Ravé, Hanah’s Paradise
- Sasha Rubel, This Is the Life!
“All the Difference: Forays into Nontraditional Publishing” copyright © 2012–2013 by Marlene Adelstein, Martin Beiser, Linda Carbone, Ruth Greenstein, Melanie Kroupa, Alice Peck, Alice Rosengard, Katharine Turok, and Michael Wilde