• Tell us about yourself--full time writer? Fiction/non-fiction?
I have been a writer of stories since I was eight or nine years old. The passion to create characters and tell their stories is something that has always just been there for me. What I’d give to have that little theme book in which I wrote my first story—something about a cowboy, as I recall.
Over the years I continued to write; I even had a goal of being a successful writer of novels—self-supporting yet—by the age of 35! Many, many years past that, I looked back at a closet of manuscripts, of the novels I hammered out to learn my scales, of hundreds of unsuccessful queries to agents, and decided now was the time to make it all work. That was in 1993-94. Eleven years later I began bringing out my own novels, first in 2005, then 2006 and 2007. My last novel came out in 2009. I have a new novel in the works for this fall.
So to answer your question, yes, I consider myself a fulltime writer of fiction—at last.
• How did you choose this particular way to publish your book? Did you try the traditional method first?
I have had my own tiny publishing company since 1991. My career was in the not-for-profit sector and after 26 years with the American Lung Association of Oregon, my wife and I formed a firm to consult with not-for-profit organizations. I was advised by a consulting guru to enhance our practice by publishing books and other support materials. Thus began C3 Publications.
I wrote and published books on management and board development, produced a national subscription newsletter for not-for-profit executives; even wrote a weekly column for the local journal of commerce called “The Social Agenda”.
Of course I did try the traditional avenues to getting published for years. Like many who write, I sent out reams of queries to agents, And like many came close so many times, but in the end came up dry. Persistence was my middle name. But finally the odds were too long and the studies of what got published proved that the chances of being picked up in a waning market were so slim that unless I sucked it up and did it myself, it wasn’t going to happen.
• Have you been satisfied with the outcome?
Have I been satisfied with the results? Yes and no. The one thing writers need to know when they choose to go it alone, bring out their own books, is that the whole process will be on their shoulders: writing, revision, getting the work properly edited, finding a good book designer, locating a printer (I use a print broker), funding everything yourself, creating a marketing plan, getting a distributor, arranging for inventory storage (my garage), setting up a book tour, creating a media kit, contacting the media when you have something happening, being able to stand up and deliver a talk, creating an interactive website where people can buy online, etc. And now getting a book formatted for e-books will soon be a given.
I’ve been able to do most of that because of my former career where I had to market soft news, write news releases, do public speaking, and ask people to do things for the good of the cause. That all helped in promoting my books.
The outcome has been this: If you apply yourself (after the book is in your hands) and realize that you have to keep on marketing, every day, every week, and that no one is going declare you a bestseller, you will do okay. Otherwise you will have a garage full of books that will never leave. The writing eventually is over, the marketing never is.
• Has the expense been reasonable, in your opinion?
Going in alone is expensive. You have to front everything and hope to earn it back. Editing costs – and you need to get a good editor. Book designing, printing, making copies of your manuscript, it all costs. The good news is that you have total control. The bad news is that you have total control. When you have total control, you have to have high standards. Cutting costs on editing, for example, is deadly. Your cousin Ruth may be an English teacher, that doesn’t mean she’s a good editor. Your neighbor’s son may be a whiz on the computer and designing his own website, but that doesn’t mean he’s a book designer. The way the book reads and looks is key to reader interest—and thus sales.
Be ready to spend money for a while. If you plan a book tour, other than right in town, it will never pay for itself. On the other hand, how else are you going to introduce yourself to booksellers and a potential reading public if you don’t go out and meet them? There aren’t as many touring authors these days, so you may have more of a chance at getting bookstores to schedule your for an author event. But like I said, you will sell some books but never enough to cover the cost of gas, food and lodging. Consider a book tour to be an investment in marketing your book.
• How do you market your book? Has this been difficult/easy?
First off, you must create a marketing plan: How and where are you going to launch your book? Use postal mail and email to let bookstores and libraries know of your new book. Get extra covers printed when your book is being produce and use them in your marketing. Put together a marketing letter to booksellers, fold your extra book covers and stuff them with the letter and mail it off. Thus the bookseller is seeing the cover and getting your pitch and being told where to order, same with libraries.
Create a database of bookstores, readers, and libraries. Each will be an essential niche to ongoing e-marketing.
If you plan a book tour, do it strategically, don’t run from one corner of the state to the other; work with the bookstores and other venues to do a tour chronologically. Create a database of friends, family and eventually readers who buy your books, and let them know when and where you will be appearing. I put together a monthly E-Book Letter, a short piece about how my writing is going, news about books and publishing, and again reminders of when I will be doing an event. Although I’m not yet proficient at social networking, that too is a method to reach potential readers: Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, etc.
These days, as much as I support independent bookstores we are losing many of them. That means self-published writers will have to find a variety of outlets for their books. Nonfiction books may have special niches where their book would be a natural. A book is about fishing in the northwest would fit nicely in an outdoor store The idea is to think about all of the possible sales venues other than bookstores where your book could be a fit. And then, don’t be bashful, go in and market the book.
Book clubs can be another great place to get your book in front of a focused group if you can find and interest them. Ask around among your friends and others if they have a book club and offer to attend a meeting. Do a reading, do a Q&A, give club members a discount, sign books, and have fun.
Once again: Marketing never ends. If you stop, so do sales.
• What advice would you give those trying to become published authors
If all that I have mentioned above turns you off, then keep plugging at getting an agent. It may happen for you. The odds are long, but if you have the right project, who knows. Nonfiction books have the greatest chance of getting an agent, as there are many times more nonfiction titles than fiction titles published by the mainstream publishers. You could be one of the lucky ones to break through.
If you want to do your own publishing, everything and much more than I have discussed here will be required. But if you are passionate about seeing your work in print, go for it. There are several ways to go about it:
• POD: The easiest way to get into print is to go the “print on demand” route. You can print only as many copies as you want, (5-50+) though each book will be more expensive per unit than creating your own little publishing entity and getting books printed (however you would have to have a fairly large print-run to get the cost of scale factor in your favor). Say you only want to print 50 copies of a memoir and give them out to your family and friends, then POD is probably the best route for you. Caveat: Do your research to find out the most credible POD outlets. Some take advantage of authors. Ask friends and others who gone the POD route which company they used and if they would recommend them. You can also do research of POD companies on the Internet and find who is naughty and nice.
• PRINTERS: Use actual printers that do short run books. There are many printers, especially in the Midwest, who specialize in perfect bound (paper) books and excel at high-tech, high-speed processes of doing short runs, both in offset and digital. I use a print broker because he scouts out the best printers for the price and handles everything for me. But authors can do inquiries of printers, get quotes and make their own choice of a printer. However, if you are a first time customer, you will have to put up half or so of the total cost. With a broker you have more time and usually are billed after you have the books. Plus the broker handles all of the details and gets his payment from the printer not you.
E-BOOKS: I haven’t gone this route yet, but hope to augment my paper books with e-books. If you want to get published the easiest way, I suspect going the e-book way is best. The trick is in knowing how to do it in a professional way. I’m hoping that credible e-book vendors will crop up soon, much liker my print broker. Maybe some of you know about such folks and can share that with your fellow authors. Like my print books, I want an e-book of mine to be well designed, properly formatted and entered into the various platforms professionally. However, the mantra will be the same with e-books: Unless you market it hard and continually, no one will know to buy it in paper or online.
George Byron Wright is the author of four novels and two nonfiction titles. You can view his books on his website: www.c3publications.com.