First, a celebration for the wonders of the Internet.
If not for The Worldwide Web, you wouldn’t be reading this post, or visiting regularly on Facebook with your best friend from third grade or sharing an obscure memory with a long-ago teacher.
As for my writing, if not for the Internet, you might read what I have to say in local newspaper columns if you lived in my circulation area. But for the most part, the distribution of my work – and that of other community journalists and would-be local authors – would be limited. And the magic of seeing your own story between the covers of a real book would probably not happen.
In the history of mankind, until recent years, the publishing ability for a common person who enjoys writing and thinks she has a book inside her, was limited to vanity presses, and, not many people actually published via that route. It was pricey, unusual, and laborious. Besides that, your friends and family would likely say, “Who does she think she is?”
What’s a vanity press? It’s where the author finds a company to print her work, then orders books to sell or give away after the investment. The slang term is insulting, and is meant to describe someone with no talent other than in her own mind.
So how on earth did this "no-talent" person distribute the volumes printed via the vanity press? That was always the problem, and that’s where the image of dusty boxes of books in the closet came from.
Not so today with print-on-demand options. (This is where your printer / publisher creates as few as one book at a time when you order it). It’s as easy to get your hands on a copy of your own book as it is, with little exaggeration, as it is to run a copy on a copier machine. Essentially, only with bigger and much more sophisticated equipment—that is precisely what a self-publishing company does. And the author doesn’t have to go broke in the process.
I once had someone at a program I presented to a men’s service club boldly ask me what it cost to publish my first book. When I hedged on an answer, he said, “I don’t know if you are talking fifty grand or $5,000.”
Neither, actually. But a whole lot closer to the lower figure. And while each book carries a different price tag depending on various services and add ons, the average price, including, say 200 copies of a book to get her started in sales, creating and listing the book on Amazon and for Kindle, and the set-up service package, would run around the cost of a nice Disney vacation for one.
The Internet opened a new means of both printing and distribution. Increasingly, over the past 15 years, local and regional authors have sent me books to review and consider for newspaper articles, or I’ve come across them on my own. The self-publishing industry exploded.
Suddenly, average people (and average or below-average writers) could have their work bound and boxed, available for their family and friends and for as many others as they could persuade to buy copies. Author fairs sprung up at small-town libraries where there are, generally and ironically, more self-published writers and books in attendance than there are patrons.
But in the authors’ eyes, you see the fire burning for the books they were passionate to write.
At the least, they accomplished something most people just talk about when they say, “I should write a book.” At the most, the book gets good reviews, many copies are sold, fun is had and even a sequel or a book in a different genre results. I suppose most self-published authors fall somewhere in the middle.
I’ve seen some disappointing self-published books. These are the ones that give all of us independent authors a bad name. They are sloppy and full of typos. And that isn’t even counting a judgment as to whether the stories are any good.
Sometimes, the bad ones come as surprises. I once purchased a book from an author who impressed me a great deal in person for several reasons. This author was well-educated, had a skilled job and was articulate and confident about the book he or she had produced. I honestly couldn’t even tell you the writer’s name, and I have only met the person once. (I meet a lot of indie authors.) We enjoyed a long, chatty conversation on the day we met and as a show of support, I purchased the book. I had someone in mind to give it to as a gift.
When I got home and started reading, I immediately realized that I would be embarrassed to give it away. I couldn’t believe it. I actually threw it out. Then I was mad at myself for my blind purchase. (Yet I must admit: I've read some terrible books that were traditionally published by the big houses.)
Still, many other self-published books are well done, review and sell well, and there is little separation between these books and those books which are traditionally published by publishing houses that pay the author instead of the author paying to publish.
Now, a disclaimer. I am no expert on self-publishing (I prefer the term indie-publishing, and will use it from here on out in this post). But with two books out, a decent level of distribution, and plenty of experiences with author fairs, library readings, book clubs and presenting featured programs, as well as a couple decades worth of indie-published books crossing my desk at the newspaper, I for sure have some thoughts on the topic.
I’m currently developing a new program for libraries and other interested venues discussing an overview of this topic. The program will be, “So You Want to Publish Your Book.”
I can’t tell you how to get an agent (but I have a couple of tips that involve diligence and luck), but I can offer some insights into indie-publishing. In short, I’ll share what I know now that I wish I had known before I started this journey. Someone attending should go away knowing what questions to ask or “where to start” on the journey.
The idea for this program came from a friend and marketing professional who told me that such a program – one that helps, educates or includes others – would be a potentially good way to get bookings –yes, to promote my work. You give something, you get something. So there you have it: a tip right there. If you are going to get your indie-published work out there, and for anyone to see what you’ve got, you have to find creative ways to get yourself out there.
And guess what? When I pitched the idea the first time to a librarian, along with the separate program topic that directly relates to my new book, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, she chose the indie-publishing program. AND … she said she’d like to have me give the other program for a different group she has in mind. Both venues will be opportunities for distribution and possibly include stipends for my time and effort. That’s my payoff.
Here’s another tip. If you would love to publish a book, think you have something to say, but balk at the idea of self-promotion, and don’t really want to put yourself out there, preferring that others will simply find you, I have a suggestion: Get a diary instead.
This new program will debut in August. If you are interested in having me present it to your group, let me know. And, if you are an indie-published author and would like to offer some of your insights on this topic, I’d love to hear from you. Email me: email@example.com. Or, respond with comments to this blog. I’d love to keep this conversation open ended.