My Rights Reversion Odyssey, or, How I Jumped through More Hoops than a Circus Poodle

By Alice Loweecey

In a perfect world, self-publishing would come with a bottle of wine per book. I picture a shining, fluffy cloud appearing above my desk. With an ethereal sound of angelic voices it would open and a chilled bottle of Chenin blanc would come to rest next to my keyboard.

Still waiting for this to happen, by the way.

My first series ended in 2013 after its initial three-book contract. Because I had a new contract with a new publisher I let the old books hang. Not a smart plan, so a few years later I requested via a formal letter for my rights to be reverted to me.

The letter arrived about a month later, returning all rights, e and paper. Now that I owned my books again, I got to work.

Wine bottle #1: Commissioning covers. I decided to issue ebooks only. I’m no artist, plus I know ebook covers have to be formatted to certain specs. I got estimates from a few artists whose work I liked and fit the tone of the books. When the right artist and I agreed and I had the new covers in hand, I moved on to . . .

Wine bottle #2: Formatting. If anyone heard a primal scream from the east coast of the US at the end of summer, it was me. To make my books available on all platforms (Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, etc.) I used the Smashwords style guide.

Full disclosure: I opened the style guide, scrolled through, and closed it again. Twice. Only the money I’d already spent on covers and the knowledge that it would be a shortsighted business decision not to have my books out there made me open the guide a third time. Adulting FTW.

There are no shortcuts when formatting. Every chapter needs to be formatting separately. I kept three docs open on my screen at the same time: The final Word doc, the edited PDF, and the new Word doc for self-publishing.

Every chapter. Every book. Night after night (after the Day Job). Rechecking each book after I thought I was finished. Changing certain elements. Updating others. Editing and more editing. The copyeditor in me would not be silenced.

Wine bottle #3: Uploading. So many hoops to jump through. The carrot that kept me jumping was inclusion in the Smashwords Premium Catalog. Again, it would have been short-sighted to skip steps and cut myself off from free marketing to potential readers.

I chose to price my books at $1.99. This way I can run a half-price sale in conjunction with my next new book release. Marketing. Promotion. Getting my work out to new readers. I am so happy my current ten-book contract (!) comes with my publisher’s marketing clout and contacts. Because all that is on the self-publisher. Constant work in addition to writing a new book, because readers want a new book and authors want readers coming back for more.

I tip my fascinator to all writers going it alone. Now to work on clouds that deliver wine. In  between writing, promotion, conferences, the Day Job, laundry, cooking . . .

And maybe a short nap.

Baker of brownies and tormenter of characters, Alice Loweecey recently celebrated her thirtieth year outside the convent. She grew up watching Hammer horror films and Scooby-Doo mysteries, which explains a whole lot. When she’s not creating trouble for her sleuth Giulia Driscoll or inspiring nightmares as her alter-ego Kate Morgan, she can be found growing her own vegetables (in summer) and cooking with them (the rest of the year).

Force of Habit is the first of three Falcone and Driscoll mysteries, followed by Back in the Habit and Veiled threat. You can read more sleuthing from Alice Loweecey’s character Giulia Driscoll in Alice Loweecey’s latest from Henery Press The Clock Strikes Nun.

Alice Loweecey has a Website. She also writes horror as Kate Morgan.

The Accidental Publisher

By Elisabeth Keely Wilson

Ostensibly, it was your basic itch just begging to be scratched. You know—the kind of itch that can’t quite be reached, so it keeps twitching and itching, demanding your attention. Finally, in order to appease the little beast, you have to twist and turn your body into various odd positions, until at last, you find just the right spot and “ah, relief!” This itch of mine, however, proved to be even bolder than your ordinary, garden variety. The little pest seemed to have a mind of its own and was clearly intent on attaining its complete and total satisfaction—no matter how long the wait might be. Even after a few years of my attempting to ignore the vexing sensation followed by a year or two of diverting its attention with creative endeavors, it persisted. In the end, completely exasperated by its relentless pursuit, I succumbed to the demand of that irrepressible itch—I will write a book!

Although I was aware that the contents of a full-length manuscript were contained in the piles of artwork and copious notes written to myself, I still couldn’t visualize how the various elements might be transformed into a cohesive whole. However, a few nights after agreeing to pursue the itch’s wishes, my unconscious mind rewarded my new-found willingness with a dream in which the book’s framework was clearly presented and the interlocking pieces seemed to fall naturally into place. Fortunately, my conscious mind retained many of the details of the previous night’s journey into dreamland and so, the following day, the writing began in earnest. Three months later, my itch was living in a state of bliss, prompting me to realize that the next phase of the process was about to begin. It was time for a publisher . . .

Now, I acknowledge there are still times when I long for that fairy tale existence where good things inevitably happen to good people; however, this wasn’t one of those times. Upon a thorough investigation of the publishing industry, it became apparent that the probability of my manuscript connecting with just the right publisher was, indeed, slim, and would be increased only with a sizeable investment of time and effort on my part and more than a bit of cooperation from the powers that be.

During one of my moments of doubt, I was struck by the realization that there were two potential obstacles that could prevent me from ever finding a publisher. Not only was I a first-time author (having previously written for magazines only), but my book, as proposed, would require the four-color process to be printed throughout. Taking these two points into consideration along with the magnitude of articles describing others’ difficulties, I chose to forego the publisher route, and instead, focused my concentration on the objective of securing an agent. At least this way, my logical mind reasoned, the agent would be responsible for producing that essential publisher.

The very first agent I approached actually offered a forewarning of what was to come. Her response to my book proposal was a handwritten note: “This is all quite lovely but would be difficult to sell to a publisher. You might want to consider self-publishing.” Pshaw! At the time, I was unaware of the significance of receiving a handwritten note from a literary agent rather than your basic form letter and I simply didn’t want to accept that this agent was being quite forthright with regard to my situation. Rather, my hope sprang eternal as it so often does, and I turned my attention to the numerous letters mailed to other agencies, anticipating that one of them would respond favorably.

Needless to say, over the next few months, innumerable dry responses signed with the agent’s stamp were sent my direction, basically informing me of the unsuitability of my proposal to that particular agent’s needs or desires. Luckily, or maybe unluckily, I was not one to give up until all viable options had been explored. So another batch of letters would simply be dispatched, along with my heartfelt gratitude that at least there wasn’t a shortage of literary agents.

Just as my patience and persistence were beginning to wear thin, I happened to attend a women’s writing conference, and lo and behold, seated directly behind me was an attendee who was the owner of a publishing company. Oh, the beauty of serendipity! This publisher agreed to review my book over the weekend (a copy of which was my usual appendage), reportedly liked what she read, and I liked that she liked it. Over the next few weeks, we conversed frequently, negotiated the terms of a contract, and came to an agreement. It was with a humungous sigh of relief that I signed the final contract. Hallelujah! I had a publisher!

The next few months flew by as the manuscript was checked and rechecked, the finishing touches were added to the artwork and the cover design, and the entire package was submitted to a professional editor designated by the publisher for the book’s final reading. Upon completing the suggested editorial changes, the book was formatted, chapter by chapter, so that the negative film needed for the printing process could be created directly from disk. During this period, a common question posed to me by various family members was, “Who are you going to be today—Elisabeth, Betty, Elsbeth, Lily, Lisa, or Ellie?” Now, this isn’t quite as strange as it sounds once you take into account that I was not only the author, but also the copy editor, the artist, the graphic designer, the cover designer, and last but certainly not least, the computer technician. Whoops, and I almost forgot—I was and still am somebody’s wife and mother.

Well, as the bumper sticker so succinctly says… life happens. Just two days before the complete and unabridged version of the book was to be delivered to the printer, Chicken Little was proven to be right—indeed, it was the day that the sky fell. Quite possibly, the sky didn’t come crashing down on you and your world but it certainly did on mine. That morning’s mail had brought a letter from my publisher informing me that “unfortunately the company’s doors [were] closing as a prerequisite to the immediate need to file for bankruptcy.” The intent of the letter was to state that our contract was, in three words, null and void. So I did what Chicken Little always did—I looked to the sky for answers.

I was utterly confused—perplexed and befuddled—by this unexpected turn of events. What I truly longed for in that moment was a meticulously detailed set of instructions for this experience called life. Then I would know what to think and do! Instead, I was offered the suggestion that I just go with the flow and see where the flow took me. Now, while I am more adept today at going with the flow than I once was, it doesn’t necessarily mean I do it easily or with great panache but I did agree to try. Amazingly enough, I still had the willingness to persist (that itch had taught me well) in spite of not knowing where I was going or in which direction. I simply resolved to pay attention to anything and everything that came my way and let whatever happened happen. In essence, happenstance would lead the way. In other words, I was an accident just waiting to happen.

Somewhere during one of my sojourns along the information speedway (a fancy name for the Internet), I found myself at a website designed by independent publishers, for independent publishers. After perusing the site for just a few moments, I joined the association simply because I recognized its obvious value if I were to ever self-publish. At this point, I still wasn’t too excited about the idea of self-publishing, but I had begun to tentatively consider it as a slight possibility.

Actually, there was a valid basis for my hesitation. Having owned a graphic design business for many years, I was keenly aware of the amount of time, energy, and money that would be required to promote and market a book, particularly after the book’s publication. In addition, I recalled from past experience that the reality, in terms of time and effort expended on any one project, was usually double that of one’s initial expectation. However, I was attempting to remain open to the possibilities and let life’s current guide my way. So with every twist and turn, I simply whispered a little prayer that it wasn’t toward the falls.

My meanderings on the Internet also led me to a virtual storehouse of information involving various legalities within the publishing industry. Pertinent topics for the self-publisher included applying for a fictitious business name, obtaining a seller’s permit, registering for a copyright, acquiring a UPC symbol, and cataloging one’s book according to Library of Congress guidelines. Realizing that it might be wise to have all my ducks in a row—just in case—I began the process of filling out the various forms and applications required, eventually sending them on to their respective homes.

In the meantime, it had come to my attention that many of the newly released art books and children’s books featuring color illustrations had, in actuality, been printed overseas rather than in the United States. Intending to do just a bit of research on the various printing options, I subsequently found the publishing association’s website offered an abundance of information and contacts. Armed with a written bid from a large American printer (a benefit of my relationship with the now defunct publisher), my goal was to obtain competitive bids from printers elsewhere around the globe. I quickly discovered that many of the overseas printing companies had representatives located in the U.S. in order to facilitate the bidding of jobs. Eventually narrowing the field down, I finally met with one international printer to personally review several book samples that had been produced at his printing operation in Asia over the last few years. In spite of my doubts concerning the possible roadblocks with overseas printing, his extensive knowledge of the printing industry and his very competitive bid and printing schedule were quite reassuring.

Simultaneously, the quest for a publisher was underway, with my recent abandonment furnishing the key to open the door. After successfully arranging an interview with the president of a publishing company whose current list seemed to be the perfect match for my book, my hopes were high. Within the first few minutes of our meeting, however, came the revelation that his company didn’t, in his words, “do color.” So that was that! Our brief exchange concluded with a repetition of the handwritten message received so many months before. “This is all quite lovely but would be difficult to sell to a publisher. You would be better off self-publishing.” Consequently, I was offered the names of two distributors who could skillfully represent my work and who would be apt to accept me as a publisher in my own right.

Having been tossed a bunch of lemons, I knew the scenario—it was time to make lemonade. I figured I might as well take one more step into unknown territory, reasoning that if it didn’t work out, then I would absolutely, positively know which direction to proceed. I applied for a business loan requesting an amount that would more than cover the actual printing costs if I did, in fact, self-publish. Much to my consternation as well as to my surprise, the loan was approved by the end of the following day. Yikes! I was, literally and figuratively, at a point of no return. Standing on the edge of the precipice, my mind was a muddle.

Still clinging to the notion of myself as the emerging author, being represented by a strong, stalwart publisher, I was aware that the image was beginning to look suspiciously like a dream. Or possibly a favorite fairy tale? The reality was that I had a book ready to go to print a dependable printer prepared to respond to my every need, and the necessary funds safely ensconced in the bank. If I let myself fall into the world of self-publishing, I wondered, would I crash and burn? Or would I find my wings with which to fly? A flash of clarity brought the realization that the answers to my pondering would be found only with my acceptance of the challenge, come whatever may.

A color dummy of the book was packaged along with thirteen zip disks and sent to Korea, with the hope that, at least in this case, the number thirteen would be lucky. After three weeks, I received a slightly damaged box (Korea is a long way from San Francisco) containing a professionally prepared color proof of the entire book. So far, so good. After indicating a few minor changes, the proofs were immediately returned to Korea, as I didn’t want to create any hang-ups in the printing process. The next several weeks crawled at a snail’s pace while my emotions ran rampant, catapulting from intense excitement to paralyzing fear and back again. Finally, after what felt like five months instead of just five weeks, I received the much-anticipated call—a shipment for Brookside Press was docked at the Oakland harbor, would I accept delivery?

Barely a year after surrendering to that infernal itch, I became the publisher/owner of five thousand books. Today, upon opening my garage door, my eyes are immediately drawn to the space that is covered high with sturdy cardboard boxes, each one boldly proclaiming the scope of its journey:

Kaleidoscope
Brookside Press
Danville, CA
Printed in Korea

In all honesty, the actual presence of one hundred twenty-five boxes can be somewhat intimidating, particularly if you have the propensity to view each and every book as a reminder of the work still to come. Yet at the same time, I stand in awe of what I have accomplished thus far, seemingly in spite of myself. It is with a sense of ownership and pride that I reflect on the tower of boxes upon boxes leading upward toward the sky and I am suddenly filled with gratitude that I didn’t crash and burn—at least not yet. In retrospect, to classify my experience as pure happenstance or a simple quirk of fate seems, at least to my way of thinking, to be an oversimplification of the events. Indeed, the more plausible explanation for my foray into the publishing world is that it was an opportunity in disguise, just begging to be scratched.

You can find more of Elizabeth Keely Wilson’s writing as well as her art at www.elisabethkeelywilson.com.

Navigating the Self-Publishing Waters: An interview with Victoria Strauss

By Lisa Abbate

For so many writers—fiction or nonfiction—the completion and publishing of a book is the fulfillment of a great dream. Completing a book is no small feat, and neither is getting it published. Some aspiring authors choose to seek out an agent and traditional publisher, while others opt to self-publish. Technology and competition has brought self-publishing to a new level and has offers some solid benefits—writers can get their books out sooner, have a bigger chunk of book sales, and participate in every step of the process. But you’ve got to do your due diligence and remember: Writers that approach publishing options more with their business mind and less with their emotions (even though it’s exciting to achieve your goals!) will ultimately be happier with the outcome.

photo courtesy of Victoria Strauss

To that end, I want to introduce you to Victoria Strauss.

An active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Victoria is Vice-Chair of the Committee on Writing Scams, and co-founder, with Ann Crispin, of Writer Beware, a highly-respected publishing industry watchdog group that provides information and warnings about the many scams and schemes that threaten writers.

Abbate: There are so many self-publishing choices out there, with new companies emerging constantly. What are some key aspects that a writer must consider when shopping for a self-publisher?

Strauss: There are plenty! One is how long the company has been in business. Several years in business indicates stability (for example, the company is less likely to suddenly vanish without a trace—always a risk with a brand-new startup).

Another thing you want to see is a large catalog of books, and a steady output. Again, this indicates stability and experience. Look the company up on Amazon, and sort the search results by date. This will give you a sense of how many books the company has published, and you can check to see if there are any suspicious hiatuses. For instance, if the company has been producing books at an average rate of a several dozen a month, but the numbers suddenly dropped or stopped a few months ago, something might be wrong.

There’s also price and packages. These vary from company to company, which makes comparison shopping especially important. True DIY companies like Lulu and CreateSpace charge nothing upfront; more elaborate services, which include extras like custom cover design, can charge upwards of $20,000.

Make sure that what the company offers is a good fit for your budget and your goals.

Abbate: What about look and feel of the books?

Strauss: Physical and design quality matter too. Many self-publishing writers design their own covers—something they may not have the expertise to do—so there are nearly always poor-quality covers on a self-publishing company’s website. But the company’s cover templates should at least look professional (comparable to what you’d see in a physical bookstore). It’s also a good idea to order a couple of books from any company you’re considering, so you can assess paper, binding, and interior design. Print-on-demand books can be indistinguishable from their offset-printed counterparts, but some self-pub companies skimp on paper and cover stock.

Abbate: I know that there are some self-publishers out there that market themselves as the more traditional publishers, but are really in the market of selling books back to the author at an inflated price. What should people watch for?

Strauss: Book price is critical. POD-printed books are expensive to produce, so cover prices will generally be higher than for offset-printed books, especially at longer lengths. Some self-pub companies let you set your own price, but others don’t give you a choice. Make sure the cover prices are not unrealistically high, and be aware of what your own book is likely to cost. Visit Amazon and your local bookstore and compare prices in your book category.

Abbate: I always go by the guideline that you shouldn’t offer a deal or contract that you wouldn’t accept yourself, knowing all the variables. What should self-publishing writers be mindful of in contracts?

Strauss: Look for a nonexclusive contract that covers only digital
rights (POD and electronic) and can be terminated at will. Your share of the proceeds shouldn’t be less than 20% of net price, or 75% of profit. Beware of any self-pub company that demands exclusivity, or puts a claim on subsidiary rights.

Then there’s reputation. You can find complaints about just about any self-publishing company, if you Google it. But some companies are the focus of more complaints than others, and that can be a warning sign, especially if the complaints all mention similar problems. There are resources at Writer Beware to help you assess a company’s reputation. Don’t bother with the Better Business Bureau; writers rarely complain to the BBB.

Abbate: What are some of the emotional aspects that a writer can get caught up in when looking at self-publishing, or being “accepted” by a company? It seems that some companies present as having an application process, when the reality is that they just want the money and really aren’t discerning.

Strauss: Straightforward self-publishing services, such as Lulu or Infinity, may sometimes present an overly-rosy picture of the benefits of self-publishing, but they don’t pretend to provide any sort of vetting process or quality filter. Anyone who can pay will be published, and that’s made very clear.

The problem arises with the more deceptive companies, which present themselves as “mainline” or “traditional” publishers despite charging fees, or call themselves “subsidy publishers” rather than vanity publishers or self-publishing services and say they don’t accept just anyone. For writers who are frustrated by multiple rejections, or who can’t get publishers or literary agents to pay attention to their queries, or who’ve been searching for so long that they’ve begun to believe they’ll never succeed, a contract offer from a company that claims to be selective is a huge validation, and can be a major incentive to ignore warning signs.

Abbate: It’s that point where the business decision is driven by emotion, perhaps without seeing the facts clearly. Every writer wants the satisfaction of seeing their work in print.

Strauss: Absolutely. But any time you are required to lay down cash in order to be published—whether it’s an upfront fee or a purchase requirement of some sort—you must abandon the idea that you have been chosen on merit. Yes, some fee-based publishing companies are at least somewhat selective—focusing on a specific market or genre, excluding manuscripts that are too long or short, rejecting those that are egregiously ungrammatical or poorly-spelled. But the fact that their profit is built on authors’ fees means that they can’t afford to exclude too much. So even if a company isn’t lying about picking and choosing (and some do lie), whatever selection process you’ve been subjected to isn’t rigorous enough to provide true validation of your work. (Conversely, it doesn’t condemn your work, either. A fee-based company will as happily publish a good book as a bad one.)

Another emotional pitfall comes with not doing your research. Many writers who decide to self-publish make the decision based on incomplete or faulty information. Writer Beware often hears from authors who believe they’ve been scammed by self-publishing companies, when in reality it was their expectations that were the problem—they didn’t realize that the average self-pubbed book sells fewer than 200 copies, or that the wholesale distribution offered by most self-pub companies is only half the distribution picture.

Abbate: Many people think that they have distribution—that the fact that they self-publish a book means it’s easy to get a book into a bookstore or on Amazon—when nothing could be further from the truth.

Strauss: As noted above, there are two pieces to the book distribution picture. There are wholesalers (such as Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Bertrams, and Brodart), which provide warehousing and fulfillment services for publishers and self-publishing companies. They keep publishers’ books on hand (in either physical or virtual form, depending on the publisher’s business model), fill orders as they come in, and accept returns. Distributors (such as PGW/Perseus, Independent Publishers Group, and Consortium) do everything a wholesaler does—plus, they maintain a sales force to sell publishers’ books directly into bookstores.

Self-publishing companies (and fee-based publishers in general) offer only the wholesale piece of this picture. That means that your book will be available at most online booksellers, and can be ordered in bookstores if someone asks for it. But it will not actually be stocked in stores, because without the direct sales component provided by a distributor, the stores won’t know it exists. For volume sales, you need a balance of online and offline presence—and for wide offline presence, you need a distributor. Many writers don’t realize this.

Abbate: If you were going to self-publish a book, what would you walk away from in a contract?

Strauss: Exclusivity. Any claim on subsidiary rights. Any contract that wasn’t terminable at will. A share of less than 20% of net price, or less than 75% of profit.


Victoria Strauss is the author of nune fantasy novels for adults and young adults, including the Passion Blue duology (Passion Blue and Color Song), the Stone duology (The Arm of the Stone and The Garden of the Stone) and the Way of Arata duology (The Burning Land and The Awakened City).

She has written hundreds of book reviews for magazines and ezines, including SF Site, and her articles on writing have appeared in Writer’s Digest and elsewhere. In 2006, she served as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards. She maintains the popular Writer Beware website and blog. She received the Service to SFWA Award in 2009. Victoria Strauss has a Website

Lisa Abbate is a nonfiction author’s coach, writer, and editor for many innovative technology companies. She’s been a longtime contributing writer at Absolute Write .

You can find more interviews with Victoria Strauss on these websites:

FMWriters interview

Writer’s Write interview

WOW (Women On Writing) interview

Previous Absolute Write interview

Interview: Susan Bays, Independent Publisher at Arbutus Press

By Gloriana 

Susan Stites Bays publishes under the name of Susan Bays, and writes as Susan Stites.  She owns and operates Arbutus Press, a small independent company that publishes nonfiction subjects relating to Michigan and the Midwest only. Arbutus Press flourishes due to Susan’s skills, resourcefulness and drive.  Here, Susan shares some of her secrets—how she began, what she’s learned along the way, and her vision of the future. 

Tell us about your company in its present state. 

Arbutus Press is still a very small publishing company with a bright future.

What got you into self-publishing?

It all started under the name Discovery Travel Tours, a production company for audio travel tour tapes. After some success with writing a script, hiring an announcer, booking studio time, finding an artist for cover art, ordering jewel cases and J-card inserts, and selecting music or sound effects for audio, a 60-minute audio cassette tape describing Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore found its way into the marketplace. That was in 1989. It is still stocked through regional bookstores.

I guess that venture got my feet wet. Actually, it was total immersion into the exciting field of writing and producing.

After two more titles on audio tape, I found the concept of tape tours difficult to distribute. It didn’t fit standard displays at bookstores. There were no distributors who would handle them because the product was neither a book nor a book on tape. I realized that the product’s time had not yet come to the Midwest (tape tours are very popular on the West Coast and in museums), so I moved on to publish a book on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The Road Guide: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a guidebook in its second printing.

So, from what I gather, you tried travel tapes, but found that in this market, books do better. 

Exactly.

Why did you choose to pursue the travel genre? 

I was a gypsy of sorts and loved to explore. I read Joseph Campbell at the time and just followed my bliss. In addition to bliss, it was a way to make my travels more necessary. Friends often came with me on my “business trips” to hike the dunes or take the ferry to Mackinac Island. I couldn’t think of a better business to be in.

You must have had to do a lot of research to jump in and publish a book. How did you find everything you needed to get going as a publisher? 

I bought a book on self-publishing. That got me started. From then on I just flew by the seat of my pants and asked people questions. Research was really part of my training as a biologist, so I applied those learning strategies to acquire the knowledge to get a book in print.

It was, and still is, a huge learning curve. I made mistakes, some costly, but it’s all part of the process of doing it on your own.

Care to pass on any of those lessons?

There are many technical aspects of the printing process that I found difficult to understand, ranging from paper selection to scanning and reproduction of photos. Now I realize that there are prepress businesses to help with this process. But it all takes money. The language of printers was foreign, so just communicating with them was difficult.

Then there was the confusing discount that booksellers and distributors receive, sometime tiered depending on shipping charges, consignment or not, and a million other details.

I never consign with bookstores anymore. If they want to buy a book, that’s fine, but consignment is very labor intensive, and the bookseller has no motivation to sell your book. The merit of consignment comes from a measure of desperation. No one was buying my tapes outright because the whole concept was unfamiliar. My choices were to consign with a bookstore or look at cardboard boxes in my basement that were filled with tapes.

Why didn’t you go with an established publisher? 

I might have given that option a brief thought but never seriously considered it. I really wanted to do it myself. The rewards, financial and personal, were my original motivation. Why would I want to give 95% of that away? I know that established big publishers are absolutely the route for fiction, but my project was regional nonfiction.

Would you define “regional nonfiction”?

To me, regional nonfiction means that the intended readers are familiar with the topic of the book because it is essentially about their neighborhood or about their neighbors. And distribution of the book is limited to one area or region. The Road Guide: Sleeping Bear, Dunes National Lakeshore is limited to bookstores in the region and visitors of the dunes. It is not a fictional account of the dunes, but a factual guide.

Why is self-publishing is better for that genre?

Because the marketing is easier. People are already somewhat familiar with it because they have visited the place or already know they like the topic. Again, the Sleeping Bear Dunes book sells itself if someone is interested in the dunes and needs a guidebook, versus a work of fiction written with the setting of the dunes.

In fiction, you’re selling the writer’s ability to tell a story with exciting characters and compelling conflicts. It takes many readers to form a consensus that a book of fiction is worth recommending. The reader doesn’t know if s/he will like it or not before buying it unless it is recommended by someone like the New York Times, other book reviewers, friends, book clubs. How many times have you overheard people in bookstores say, “I’ve heard this is good”?

I’m not discouraging writers from self-publishing fiction; I’m saying be prepared to put tremendous effort into getting the book out to readers.

How did you find a printer? A distributor?

There are resources in the library to help find vendors. Also, I asked an independent bookstore owner for advice. This proved valuable in finding distributors, publishing and marketing organizations to join, and journals to read—-for a start.

How did you handle the business aspect of self-publishing?

I bought Quickbooks, keep a card file, have a file cabinet, stamps, fax and a telephone. What more do you need?

Quickbooks?

Quickbooks is a software accounting program. It tracks the sales of books and accounts receivable, prints invoices and also has a wonderful feature that allows you to accept credit cards for book orders from individuals.

You did your own writing. How did you obtain the photographs that must have been an integral part of the project? 

Of the three books I’ve written, each has different sources. Some used historic archival photos or public domain photos. Even my digital camera produced some photos. Friends of mine took color shots for one of the books, and I share the profits from that project with them.

Did you do your own public relations work for the book? 

Yes. I found that every stage of publishing required a new skill. Public relations work is the most difficult for me. It takes a tremendous amount of my time and energy, and I have to put my ego away. PR can be an endless pursuit, because without readers for your book, you’re left with that basement full of cardboard boxes. Besides, the author is really the best person to convince a newspaper, radio show, or bookseller on the merits of their book. Sometimes, just the author’s enthusiasm alone will rouse interest.

What did you do about advertising at the beginning? 

I wrote a press release and sent it to various newspapers. If a press release is well written, the newspapers sometimes print it verbatim. It saves them money and benefits an author. Never underestimate the power of that first press release. Usually a follow-up phone call [to the place you sent your release] is helpful.

How did the book do when you released it? 

All of them have done well. By well, I mean I’ve made enough money to pay for the expenses and then some. The “some” is invested in more projects. Right now, I’ve taken the leap from self-publishing to other-publishing. I have an author’s work in layout ready to send to the printer next week.

By “other-publishing,” I assume that you publish others authors’ books?

It seems to me a natural progression to move from self-publishing to publishing other people’s work. For me, I can apply the acquired knowledge and experience from fumbling around to get my own stuff in print for the benefit of others. Sometimes it’s a joint venture, where the author and I team up and finance the project jointly, and sometimes it’s a standard contract where I apply my knowledge and money to publish a book for someone else.

What type of book is the one you’re publishing for the “other” author? 

I have two that I’m working on. One is a very special cookbook, and the other is a historical chronology through black and white photos.

Have you ever gone with Print On Demand (POD), or have you always used conventional publishing? 

I have researched Print On Demand and received a sample copy of one of my titles. I wasn’t impressed with the quality of reproduction for the photos, so it wouldn’t work for me. But I do have a copy of a an author’s work of fiction that is text only, and it seems a viable solution to the problem of quantity and expense for that type of book.

Your Sleeping Bear Dunes guidebook is in its second printing. This means it’s sold out or almost sold out. How many do you print at a time? 

I printed and reprinted 3,000 books under that title. Another book out last year will have 10,000 in print by mid summer. Determination of the print number has to do with what I think the interest is. Century of Summers [a third title] is an extremely regional book about people and places on a small inland lake near Traverse City. I have only 600 in print and sell them at the corner market. I’m pretty conservative in my print runs. I’d rather pay more per copy than store many books. Reprinting is nothing more than making a phone call and writing a check.

Susan, your experience illustrates several cardinal aspects of successful entrepreneurs in this field: 1) Write about what you love. 2) Be resourceful. 3) Do your homework. 4) Be willing to take risks. 5) The only way to learn is to jump in and do it. Does that sum it up? 

Well said.

What is your five-year vision for Arbutus Press? 

I see Arbutus Press remaining a small publisher of quality regional nonfiction in five years.

Susan, thanks for sharing what you’ve learned. You’ve worked hard to get where you are. 

Visit the Arbutus Press website at www.Arbutuspress.com. Susan’s publishing name is Susan Bays, and she can be reached at Arbutuspress.com.

©2002 Gloriana

Self-Publish Your Own Book — A Timeline

By Patricia Fry

The thought of self-publishing can be daunting. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the processes of setting up a publishing company, writing a book, taking care of the business aspects of preparing that book, and then there’s promotion.

But many professionals recommend self-publishing as an alternative to trade publishing. Why? You maintain control of your project from start to finish. You make all of the decisions — decisions that affect the future of your book. You will develop a greater sense of intimacy with your project, and thus be better prepared for the task of promotion. And you get all of the profit.

The process of self-publishing takes time, effort, and money. But isn’t your book worth your full attention? Here’s a calendar to guide you in the steps necessary to self-publishing your book.

BEFORE WRITING YOUR BOOK

  1. Write a book proposal. While a book proposal is generally thought of as your foot-in-the-door to a publisher, there’s even a greater purpose: a book proposal will tell you if you even have a book. So before sinking your life savings and a year or more of your life into this project, make sure you actually have something worth publishing.
  2. Determine if self-publishing is for you. Talk to others who have self-published to find out what it entails. Read about self-publishing. I recommend The Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter. Study how a book is marketed. Preparing the book for market is a huge job, but marketing your book is ongoing. The amount of time you put into marketing will relate directly to how successful your book will become.

WHILE WRITING YOUR BOOK

  1. Name your publishing company. Be careful about using a name that reflects the nature of your book. You may decide to publish books in different genres in the years ahead. While Lace and Linen Press would be appropriate for a company producing books on sewing or crafts, it doesn’t work very well for historical or travel books.
  2. Apply for a fictitious business name. This is available through your county clerk. Have two or three names in mind in case your first choice is taken.
  3. Establish a business address. If you’re working out of your home, you might consider signing up for a post office box or a box at a mailbox store to use for business correspondence.
  4. Order business stationery.
  5. Open a business checking account.
  6. Request a block of International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN). Assign one number to each book you publish. This number identifies your publishing company and the book and is necessary for books sold in the retail market. R.R. Bowker is the U.S. agency for distributing ISBNs. You cannot purchase just one number. You will probably want to start with a block of ten numbers, however you can also order blocks of one hundred or one thousand. The cost as of this date is $225 for ten. For more information and to purchase your ISBN printout, visit www.isbn.org. Contact the agency by phone at 877-310-7333 or by e-mail at isbn-san@bowker.com.
  7. Request an Advanced Book Information (ABI) form. About six months before your book is finished, fill out the form and send it to R.R. Bowker (POB 2068, Oldsmar, FL 34677-0037). This insures that your book will be listed in Books in Print– one of the industry’s most important directories. There is no charge for the form or for the listing. Books in Print is the directory that bookstores use to locate ordering information about your book when customers request it by name.
  8. Request Copyright forms. Contact the U.S. Copyright Office at 202-707-3000 or online at www.loc.gov/copyright. Wait to file this form until after you’ve completed your work on the book. The cost as of this date is $30.
  9. Contact your State Board of Equalization and request a resale permit.

 

WHEN YOU’RE ALMOST FINISHED WRITING THE BOOK

  1. (About six months before completion)
  2. Assign an ISBN to your book.
  3. Fill out an ABI form and send it in.
  4. Order your Publisher’s Cataloguing in Publication information (P-CIP). This information, which is printed on your copyright page, is important for library use. Contact Quality Books at 800-323-4241 or visit their website at http://www.quality-books.com/qb_pcip.html. The cost depends on how quickly you need the P-CIP information. Expect to pay $40 for a 60-day turnaround.

WHILE EDITING YOUR BOOK

(About three months before the book is completed)

  1. Search for a printer. If you’re going the traditional printing route, send a request for a price quote to eight or ten printers and ask to see samples of their work. The printer will want to know quantity of books, number of pages, type of binding, paper stock, size, number and type of illustrations, text color, and cover ink (4-color, 2-color?). Find printers listed in your local Yellow Pages and Literary Market Place (in the reference section at your library) and ask for recommendations from other small publishers. If you want to work with a POD company or produce an e-book, research these avenues.
  2. Send pre-publication review copies. While some experts are now suggesting that the small publisher doesn’t have a chance for a review by one of the important pre-publication reviewers, others recommend submitting your manuscript. If you get a review, this could jump start your book sales in a big way. I know self-published authors who have had marvelous reviews in these major review publications. Pre-publication reviews appear in magazines that are read by the book industry: bookstore and library buyers, for example. And these reviewers want to see the book before it’s published, so don’t wait to send a finished book. While you can send your manuscript, you’ll make a better presentation if you have it bound, even with a plain cover. Give your publication date as anywhere from three to six months in advance. Enclose a cover letter with your galley that includes the title, author’s name, publication date, ISBN, name of publishing company, price, and contact information. If you have a distributor or wholesaler lined up, list their contact information as well. Generally, however, you don’t approach distributors and wholesalers until you have a book to show them.
  3. Commission someone to design your cover. Contact authors and small publishers to find out who designed their covers. Locate graphic artists and illustrators through an organization such as SPAWN, the Yellow Pages or a local arts directory.
  4. Set your price. There are a couple of ways to figure your price. Some experts suggest pricing your book at an amount eight times the cost per book. This means if the total cost of producing your book is $5.00 each, you should charge $40 for the book. If you produce an 80-page book for around $1.50, you must charge $12. This doesn’t seem logical to me. I recommend comparing the price of books similar to yours to help determine your price.
  5. Order a bar code. Contact Bar Code Graphics, Inc. at sales@barcode-us.com. You will need an ISBN and the price of the book in order for the company to create your bar code. I generally pay around $30 for my barcodes.

WHEN THE BOOK IS FINISHED

  1. Choose a printing method and a printer. Find out how they want you to deliver the book and cover design.
  2. Deliver the book to the printer.

WHILE THE BOOK IS AT THE PRINTER

(approximately two to six weeks prior to publication)

  1. Solicit pre-publication orders. Send announcements to your mailing list which should include everyone who has expressed any interest in your book: friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances. State to those whom you plan to give complimentary copies that they have one coming and if they’d like to order additional copies they may do so. Also mail notices to local libraries, bookstores, and anyone interested in the topic. Make it easy for people to order books. When you start receiving orders, don’t cash checks until the books have been put in the mail to the customer. Sometimes I offer a discount for those folks who order by a certain date.
  2. Fill out and send the copyright form. There’s a $30 filing fee.
  3. Create a list of post-publication reviewers. This might include book reviewers for magazines, newsletters, and websites on the topic of your book and general book reviewers, as well.
  4. List those to whom you wish to send complimentary copies. This might include those involved in helping to create the book: cover designer, typesetter, and so forth. Prepare promotional packets for key book reviewers and address mailers in preparation for your first shipment.
  5. Start planning your promotion program.

AFTER PUBLICATION

  1. Ship and deliver review copies, complimentary copies, and pre-publication orders.
  2. Send two copies of the book to Copyright Office (address on Copyright form).
  3. Send three copies of the book to the Library of Congress (address on Copyright form).
  4. Send one copy of the book to Quality Books. Ask them to consider your book as a distributor to the library market (1003 W. Pines Road, Oregon, IL 61061-9680).
  5. Fill out paperwork for the State Board of Equalization.
  6. Apply for a business license. Check into your city/county requirements for a business license. I have to have a county business license and one for the city since I live (work) in the county and sell books in bookstores in the city.
  7. Contact book distributors and wholesalers. Find listings in Literary Market Place.
  8. Put your promotional plan into action.

Patricia Fry is a full-time freelance writer and the author of numerous books, including fiction and non-fiction titles.