Think before you publish

Earlier this year, just after I began “the big transition” that defined 2012 for me, I told someone they should think about writing a book. Here was a person who was an excellent marketer, an entrepreneur, and someone I recognized as having the requisite skills and personality required to be the kind of savvy promoter that going the independent publishing route requires.

I think there are many people who are quite capable of writing and publishing their own book. In fact, I remain bullish on the idea that many are missing the boat when it comes to getting their expertise out in book form. Despite social media’s minimalist approach to every jot and tittle, there are still a wealth of niche markets for books and publishers who can spot them.

When my first book came out, a well-meaning colleague mentioned that she thought “each one of us has a book inside them.” I was polite and didn’t tell her what I thought about her nonsense.

As an author and independent publisher, I’ve been able to carve out a unique niche for myself. Part of that was born of necessity, a kind rejection letter validating my idea, and the courage to believe I had what it took to be successful going the solo route.

There are many fine writers that don’t have a book next to their name. I know many bloggers and others capable of generating the kind of content necessary for a book. Publishing on the other hand–especially the kind of publishing that has a goal of achieving more than stacking books in your basement that you’ll never sell–is an entirely different animal.

Whenever I see articles like the one that appeared in this week’s Maine Sunday Telegram (cannibalized from the McClatchy Newpaper chain), I cringe. Believe me, I laud anyone that has the courage to set out down the road towards bringing their own book to market. If you know me, you know I’m all about the DIY. RiverVision Press, the small micropress I began back in 2004 was inspired by this sort of punk rock ethic and its belief that not everything in life requires a Ph. D in order to get started.

My first time reading through the article left me irritated. I set it aside and came back to it trying to figure out what it was that wasn’t jiving with me. My second time through I knew what it was. Once again, self-publishing was being shown for what it has developed a reputation for–a shortcut for hacks who really shouldn’t have a book in print, but because they are willing to pay through the nose (in most cases), they get the privilege of seeing their name displayed on a dust jacket. This is nothing more than vanity publishing, through and through. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if that’s what your publishing goals are–just to have a book in print. But if you are looking to go head-to-head with legitimate publishers turning out quality products, there are alternatives.

Interestingly, this was the second feature on self-publishing in the news recently. I ran across a similar theme being covered by our local television affiliate about a week ago. Both of them interviewed writers that while sincere, didn’t know the first thing about publishing and what defines success. Of course, we all know the idiom immortalized about fools and their money soon being separated. Writers lacking savvy can get taken for quite a ride by companies that are well aware of another adage given to us by someone other than P.T. Barnum, often attributed with saying “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

If your goal as a writer is merely finding a way to bind your work in some kind of package that’s moderately professional in order to say, “I have a book,” then the examples cited in the article might inspire you to add your book to a mountain of other self-published books that you’ll be lucky to sell 50 copies of. If on the other hand you have something that you think is worthwhile and you’re open to taking it beyond the haphazard approach that most self-published authors settle for, then there are models that will point you in the right direction for a fraction of the cost of many of the self-publishing platforms. Too often these services are happy to take a substantial amount of money and leave you with nothing more than a perfect bound manuscript. Once you have your book, the real work is just beginning–like marketing and selling it.

Some lessons come the hard way–from real life experience. Back in 2005 when I published When Towns Had Teams, I spent more for the printing than I should have. Fortunately for me, I can market and I’m not afraid to pitch my product. I overcame my initial mistakes and that book has done exceptionally well. In fact, I’m most proud of the fact that my first time out of the chute, I won a national award from Independent Publisher, beating out a number of other better-known presses with a lot more resources than my mere pluck and belief in myself. I still pick that book up and marvel that I got as much right as I did the first time out.

Two more titles via the DIY route offered up other valuable lessons. Then, Down East Books validated my decade-long commitment to my craft as a writer when they offered me a contract to do a book with them and I got a break from wearing the usual twin hats of writer and publisher.

I’m ready to give it another go in 2013 with some new projects including entering the ebook market. In addition, if you’re willing to invest a Saturday to be put through the paces of my Publishing 101 Boot Camp in March and are willing to fork over $38 to Lewiston Adult Education, I can guarantee that you’ll now have the wherewithal and knowledge of independent publishing to do it the right way and I know you’ll make better choices than choosing one of a host of online options for publishing your book. Even better, you’ll come away with a whole lot more and will know what you should ask for if you still decide to choose one of the many self-publishing services that are out there.

2006 IPPY-"When Towns Had Teams"

2006 IPPY-“When Towns Had Teams”

4 thoughts on “Think before you publish

  1. Very helpful. I’m going to read this again, and maybe twice more, to be sure I absorb all. I wish I were able to make it to Publishing 101 Boot Camp. March is booked already.

    • Thanks, Robin. Glad you found my own publishing experiences worth reading, even a second time!

  2. Jim, there have been some well-publicised precedents where online publishing worked like indie records used to. Just like bands could demonstrate they had a following that would buy their music, budding authors have built up a significant audience online and then turned that into good book deals. In both cases, the bands and the authors made their mistakes when the costs were relatively low, and were in a position to negotiate a much better deal with the majors than they would have been able to otherwise. What do you think of that path?

    • I think ebooks are one way for the model you’re talking about to work.

      The indie publishing and the success I had with my first Moxie book got a larger publisher (Down East) interested in my writing, so in some ways, the independent route can work as a stepping-stone, or just another vehicle to get books to market.

      There have certainly been some success stories of authors going it alone and then signing a lucrative deal with a major publisher down the road.

      I continue to learn and grow in my knowledge of publishing and the market savvy that has to accompany any attempt to “go it alone.”

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