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working writer wending her way through the labyrinth that is self-publishing

Thursday, January 13, 2011

interview with Judith Allen, author of "Looking Through Water"

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself. Are you a full time writer? What type of books, poetry, or stories do you write?
~~I'm not a "full time" writer, though it often feels like it. I do try to write at least a couple of hours a day, sometimes a lot more. I have published a non-fiction book (by starting my own publishing company in 1992, which also published two other authors), and textbooks, but this is my first fiction. The stories I write are about women/girls and my memoir in progress is themed around Women's Lib and my adventures in the professional world in the 60's 70's and 80's.

2. I understand you went with one of the "hybrids" for publishing your book. Can you explain what this is and how it works?
~~I went with the hybrid, Virtual BookWorm, based on their high(est) marks from the websites and agencies which evaluate publishers. They share the costs and the profits. I purchased the basic package for $360 and provided my own editing, cover, and advertising. They would do any of that for additional fees. For an additional $60 (or was it $80?) they format it and upload to Amazon and Barnes&Noble, for downloading on Kindle, IPad, or Nook.
~The way it works is: I sent the manuscript as a Word attachment to an e-mail message, and ten days later I received a message that said they had had 3 editors read the entire manuscript, and all gave it extremely high marks. I chose VBP because they reject "dreck" or poorly written/poorly edited/bad story manuscripts which can be up to 80% of their submissions. That message arrived on 11/11, and within 7-8 weeks of back and forth they announced publication and had placed the book with Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and distributors Ingram and Baker&Taylor. By then I had corrected proof copy, approved the final proof, uploaded the synopsis and bio and a photo, and the cover art. People were reading the book before 1/11, and sending me e-mails about it.
~I got 3 author copies and ordered my first 50 at 50% discount from the cover price. After that, 30% (I believe).

3. What made you decide to pursue this route to publishing?
~~I chose this route for several reasons. First and foremost, I saw the reprehensible way two accomplished author friends had been treated by agents, and, just to be sure, went to Willamette Writer's Conference last August to see if my experience would be the same. It was worse. One took the first chapter but never got back to me. Another asked for the synopsis, Another asked for the complete manuscript. The first agent was unspeakably rude--during the 20 minutes I "bought" with him, he spent several minutes texting without looking up or acknowledging me in any way. When I introduced myself, he interrupted my pitch after about 30 seconds:
"Do you have a chapter with you?"
"Give it to me."
(I did) "I also have a synopsis..."
"Psssh. Anyone can write a synopsis. I don't read those. Thank you." And he went back to texting. I was dismissed. He was very young , but based in New York.
The second agent didn't get back to me at all. The third one fired back an e-mail a few hours after I sent her my manuscript, saying: "I couldn't do anything with this no matter how much I like it. It's at least 37k too long. Your manuscript needs to be at 100k or under to compete in this market. If you are able to trim it to 100k, feel free to re-submit."
I did trim it to 120k words, and realized that to trim it further would necessarily eviscerate some essential aspects of the story. So I gratefully abandoned that demeaning and futile exercise, and looked for a hybrid publisher.

4. What has your experience been? Was it a difficult process? How did you mange the marketing of your work?
~~The process at VBP has been smooth and easy (for me). They assigned an editor to me immediately, set up a personal web page with an outline of tasks and schedule, pre-pub and post-pub. I have sent numerous e-mails to my editor and he responds ( usually) promptly with a satisfying answer. The downside of POD is that it takes longer (sometimes) to get books, especially if its a large order. Several people have ordered directly from VBP, and delivery seems slow. However, Amazon always has 3-6 in stock, no matter how many orders have been placed. Likewise B&N.
~Re marketing: I'm in the process with that. I am setting up an author page at Amazon, have taken my flyer to bookstores in the area to line up book signings. The first launch party is in Portland 1/23 on "Pie Day" with pie and books at 890 C Avenue in Lake Oswego from 2-4:30. The local launch will be in our local Art Center 1/28, and I expect a big turn-out. I'll do a book blog for my title, and am still working on "what else" I need to do. I've heard I should ask everyone to order the book at Amazon on the same day to flood the ratings and move it up so an agent might take notice. but I'm still leery of dealing with an agent at all.

5. Have you been satisfied with this choice?
~~Yes, I've been very satisfied. I would choose them again, and recommend them to writer friends. But to submit, one has to be prepared for a possible rejection.

6. What advice would you give those writers trying to become published authors?
~~I guess it would be, "don't give up." Get up to speed on Web and Word. Get help with that if you need it. Hire a professional editor if your own skills or your readers' skills aren't in that area. Hire a professional cover designer. These services are all available at a hybrid publisher, including marketing if you pay extra. My experience with publishers is that for most authors, marketing is your responsibility, and agents will usually want to know your "platform" up front to be sure you can do your own marketing. That goes for the big six as well, unless you're John Grisham or Barbara Kingsolver. Authors are even asked to pay their own way to book signing events, and schedule them themselves.
~Since word got out about this novel, I've been getting calls from people around the area who "have a book" and want to learn how i did it. So I'm working on a guide to publishing without a big (or small) traditional publisher, or agent.

Judith Allen may be reached at: judithbelle@nehalemtel.net. Her blog is:http://judyallen.wordpress.com

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