DOING IT MY WAY
Self-Publishing means self-promotion
I am an author, both published and self-published of seven books and over thirty short stories and articles since first entering the writing game in 1997. I have generated more than $100,000 in book sales earning more than enough profit to pay for all the books I self-published and still donate $20,500 to charity. (I do not count any of the books sold and royalties earned by Key Porter Books or those sold by Hushion House). Besides that, I have earned more than $100,000 ghost writing memoirs since the release of my first self-published book. Still, I donít recommend that anyone undertake self-publishing unless they know what they are getting into.
I believe most donít.
Self-published should not be confused with being published by a vanity press. Vanity presses will take the manuscript from birth to the grave. Inevitably thatís where it ends up. Submit Ė Pay Ė Receive.
A self-published author follows through on each process by engaging the services of the different skills required to complete the publishing of a manuscript to a book form. Itís a long and arduous procedure. Both methods can produce a professional looking product that wonít physically appear any different than a book published by one of the traditional publishing houses. In most cases, itís the quality of the words between the covers that determines whether the book has merit or not.
I have been told that I self-publish because no one wants my manuscripts. Not always true. I have turned down offers. There are a number of reasons for self-publishing just as there are many reasons why a manuscript is rejected by a publisher. Whatever the reason, most people who venture into this field will fail in even recovering their investment. I must clarify that I do not include the production of chapbooks as self-publishing. That may be enterprising and even profitable but the finished product pales in comparison to something written by Margaret Attwood, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum or Clive Cussler, which I prefer to be compared with as far as the physical product is concerned but not necessarily the quality of the words.
So what is it that you have to do to meet the challenge?
First, write a manuscript. Write it to the best of your ability. Write it as if you are about to make a presentation to Random House or another in that esteemed group. But keep in the back of your mind that you are about to enter a gray area of publishing. Itís a gray area in which the unwashed display their wares. Self-published novels have earned a reputation for being sub-standard. Mostly, this is because there are deficiencies in the writing when compared to books published by traditional publishing houses. Iím the first to acknowledge that. But like the birth of the infant computer, which entered the market against the quality of the linotype machine and the Vandercook proof press, the quality of the writing will improve as the unwashed are weeded out when they realize that publishing a book is the easy part Ė selling it is another story.
Your manuscript is now finished. Your friends and relatives have read it and claim you are the next Moishe Hemmingway and your spouse envisions royalties beyond your wildest imagination. In all probability your manuscript is flawed. Even the best need guidance. When living through the creation of a manuscript, after the fifteenth re-write, the words have lost their fire and what is on paper needs a red marker. Hire a competent editor with the right credentials that meet your needs and give them free reign to destroy or build your manuscript. When I say editor, I donít mean a Mickey Mouse copy cat whose discounted price attracts you. Donít fall in love with your words. Charles Dickens was paid by the word, which is why his books are thick. That doesnít work in todayís environment. Self-help books may improve your ability to formulate your prose, but itís only a quick fix. Get the manuscript out of your hands and into the hands of someone whose qualifications are self-evident Ė not self-serving. And always keep in mind that, as in all occupations, there are good and bad professionals. Find an author who will recommend an editor that has an acceptable track record. The right person can only enhance your chances of creating a better manuscript. An inept one is fleecing you. Above all, remember, this is not the time to count pennies.
So you have been trashed and rebuilt. The next step is to hire a graphic designer whose background is not only creative but has knowledge about printing. You need a design that will complement your manuscript and be eye-catching. The cover is more important at this stage than the contents because, if the potential buyer is not attracted by the cover, they will never get to know whatís inside the covers. All the years of struggle rests on the cover. Hiring the right creative designer is critical to your book selling. I recently won an award. The finalists were down to two. Myself being one. I received the letter congratulating me for winning the award because when it came down to the nitty gritty, both stories were worthy but my cover was outstanding. It appears I won because of the cover. Also, make sure the person you engage can formulate your manuscript to meet the criteria of the printer. There are too many designers whose creativity is limited to a computer screen and lack the knowledge to take their creation to the next level without the author incurring extra costs.
Now we come to the printer. Not any printer but one whose experience extends to the bindery of the finished product. Gluing pages together is not always the recommended process. Sewing may be necessary depending on the number of pages and the use the book will receive. If itís a textbook, then for sure the spine has to be attached so it doesnít pull apart. Not all printers know about bindery. Not all printers can produce a book. The printer to look for is one who produces books, not one that will show you a book they have done.
Who will buy my book?
The gap between the quality of books published in the traditional publishing way and those self-published is shrinking. Technology and knowledge has improved the content of self-published books at a time when traditional publishers are releasing too many weak novels from good authors and driving the public to look for alternative reading material. But I digress. Before you even begin to consider self-publishing, the most important aspect of self-publishing is, is there a market for your book? Before the manuscript leaves your computer, you have to have a marketing strategy. An outlet to the public. Self-published books have a short shelf life if they can find a shelf because the hype moves on to a book that is being promoted. But lately with Chapter/Indigoís new policy on returns, so do traditional books.
Selling is hard work.
The name of the game is Ė selling. Selling yourself and your product. Reading groups, societies, service groups and schools have to be solicited, over and above bookstores. Thatís the authorís job. Promotional materials, handouts, bookmarks also fall into your domain, even when you are
published by a publishing house. They donít give you much to work with. You have to find ways of selling your book yourself. After selling the book to your immediate family Ė whoís left?
Those who lack the experience of selling need to find someone who can. Distributors come in many sizes. Generally, they will handle your book for 20% of list price. Chapters/Indigo and Independents charge 40-45% of list on top of the distributors charges. Then, your book is placed in a catalogue for six months and you hope that, through the miracle of vision, it will be rapidly purchased. Not so.
I sell through several methods. I buy ad space in community papers. I buy half and full page ad space in tribute books produced by organizations and religious groups that honour a high profile individual. Consider Ė my name and current book presently appear in tribute books honouring the Deputy Mayor of Toronto, a retiring rabbi, a national philanthropist, the President of a national bank to name but a few. Thatís called exposure. I had a restaurant in which my fictious detective has breakfast allow me to print placemats for breakfast for a month in which my photo, the book cover, a brief outline of the novel were printed in colour. Iím told more than 6,000 people ate on my face that month. I had an independent book store give all my books window exposure for 1.5 months as long as I plugged his name where to buy my books. He sold about $400 in books in one month and ordered 35 books more. I could go on but I canít reveal all my secrets.
Did I mention I donít have a distributor. I tried it. My cover looked good in the catalogue, but my distributor has many authors to sell. His staff and his time were limited to the product that moved fast. By being my own distributor, I have only one author to focus on and I have a stake in his future. I do the work of mailing, advertising and promoting. I donít get a statement with pluses and minuses that confuse the heck out of me. I do get cash and cheques whenever I make a sale. Average month is $1,000.
Self-publishing is a lot of hard work.
The next step is critical. I hire a publicist for thirty days. I tell them what my expectations are and what I would like to see happen in those thirty days. I outline a territory Iím prepared to drive to in the event that television is involved. For my last book, I wanted to cover Windsor, London, Hamilton, Kingston and Ottawa. During the month my publicist was engaged, I appeared on television in London, Hamilton and Kingston. I was interviewed on radio three times, I had articles about me appear in several newspapers in different cities and I was involved in three speaking engagements and signings. Thirty intense days and a lot of miles. Ooops! Did I forget to tell you about the day job I have? I had to turn down Windsor and Ottawa due to business commitments.
Donít mumble Ė speak up
Learn to read out loud. When you are asked to read from your book, you have to remember that you are still selling. How many times have you listened to an excellent author mumble their way through a reading, using ďuhísĒ, ďandísĒ and ďyou knowís,Ē to the point of nausea. Donít take for granted because you have a good story it will sell itself. Practice, practice, practice.
The word is out. And the money pours in.
In your dreams. My previous book is a 450 page murder mystery, Holocaust story. Iíve had seven speaking engagements since it was launched at Word on the Street. I participated in the Winnipeg Book Fair, the Toronto Jewish Book Fair and I spoke during Holocaust Week, been on television several times and had articles written about me that I initiated the contact. And, of course, I have that pesky job that keeps interfering with my personal time. Itís not easy. It was never intended to be. But, itís personally gratifying though. And, oh yes, Iíve just released another book and have another book being edited and another in the oven, baking. In 1998, I was told I was a one book wonder. I count seven so far. So much for unbiased observations.
See you on the bookshelf.
The Light After the Dark
The Light after the Dark II
Stories I Wrote
The Unlikely Victims
An Eye For An Eye
The Dead Donít Weep