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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

interview with self published author, Gary Corn

1.Please tell us about yourself--full-time writer? fiction
or non-fiction? 

I've been a writer since I wrote a story called "Audrey
Alligator" when I was in a fifth-grade creative writing
class. Most of my writing until my first book self-published
recently was non-fiction, since I was sports editor of my
high school newspaper, editor of my college paper, and a professional
newspaper reporter and editor off and on for several years
after college, including as a "stringer" for the Oregonian.
In my early 20s I moved to Alaska for a couple of years, but
returned to become a single parent of a young child I had
left with her mother (that daughter, Megan, is 31 now and a
graphic artist. She designed the cover of my book). I moved
back to Oregon in 1980 in the middle of a recession and
couldn't get a decent job for a year. Eventually, I passed a
test to become an office worker for Clackamas County and
became a receptionist in a community mental health program.
That's how I came to give up being a journalist and spend
the next 28 years in mental health. I retired in July 2010
from Lane County, and also worked at Klamath County in the
middle. 

During those 28 years I continued to write -- for my work,
op-ed pieces, mostly about the crumbling public mental
health system, letters to the editor, the occasional
personal essay that was published.  I saw early on that my
work in mental health exposed me to lots of people,
situations and events that might make a good stories in a
book someday. I collected material -- much of it scribbled
on sticky notes so I wouldn't forget it -- for 20+ years.  Finally about 3
or 4 years ago I decided to go to a writers' workshop on the
coast and in preparation for that I made up a 4,000-word
story about a homeless mentally ill man who lived along a
creek in the fictional liberal college town of Callamette
Falls, which sounds a lot like Eugene, where I live. That
story is now chapter 5 in my book, "Crashing Through the
Underbrush."    

I had been intimidated by the idea of writing dialogue,
having never done that as a reporter, and working full-time
in a stressful job also gave me lots of excuses to postpone
serious writing. Now that I'm retired from full-time work I
can tell people "I'm a writer" when they ask what I do,
though I don't do it full time yet. I've started work on a
second book, about a cab driver who works graveyard in
Anchorage, Alaska -- something I really did -- and I hope to
make a lot of progress on that project when I go to a
writers' workshop in May that involves cruising across the
Atlantic in a ship. 

2. What prompted you to use LuLu?

I started writing my first book 3+ years ago and leaned
pretty early on toward self-publishing versus traditional
publishing.  I joined writers' groups and went to workshops
where I heard repeatedly from people who should know that
you can't get a publisher if you don't have an agent and
it's really hard to get an agent! I heard about lulu.com and
other similar companies along the way, and had a friend here
in Eugene who self-published using lulu and was happy with
the experience
and the result. I also visited lulu's website several times
and liked what I saw. 

3. How has it been? difficult, easy?

It's been challenging at times because publishing a book, no
matter how you do it, is a complicated process, with lots of
potential barriers to overcome.  I was frustrated at how
long it took, about three months from start to finish, but
in the grand scheme of things, I guess that isn't that long!
I have no significant complaints about lulu or it's process,
and I thought the pricing was reasonable.  Once I bought a
"package" I was assigned to a "services coordinator" (same
job title I had for a time when I worked with disabled
people).  She worked with me every step of the way via
email, to accomplish all the tasks, edits, formats and
reviews, uploading this and that, etc.  Probably the most
frustrating part was the never-ending process of finding
more mistakes and typos and getting them corrected, after I
thought I'd found them all.  I learned that it's harder to
spot typos and mistakes on a computer screen that it is when
reading them in an actual book.  When they sent my first
"galley" to read I thought I would just skim it and see that
it was perfect and tell them start printing. Instead I found
35 more typos! Virtually all of them were very minor, but
there
were too many to ignore so I had to pay an additional $60
for another set of errors to be corrected, since I had
already used my two permitted "alterations" that were part
of my package to fix earlier typos. 

4.  What is your marketing plan? 

Early on I made a comprehensive list of all the things I
could do to market my book -- start a website and blog,
contact book stores, contact local newspapers about reviews,
develop a "platform," try to get the local country radio
station to plug my book because one of its themes is the
inspiration of country music, scheduling an author's event
at the local library, etc.

Once I was close to having actual books -- about three or
four weeks ago -- I fine-tuned the marketing plan and
changed it from a list to spread sheet on my laptop so I
could track the dates I did various things, indicate who the
contact person was, what was the outcome, what still needed
to be done, etc.  A related issue is that I've started
another spreadsheet to track expenses associated with
marketing the book, information I will need at tax time next
year. This morning, for example, I spent $3.67 to ship 4
books to the bookstore in Prineville for consignment.

I've heard repeatedly at workshops about the importance of
having a "platform," especially if you're self-publishing. 
My platform is my connections in the Oregon mental health
community, built over 28 years.  Those are the people that
will be interested in what I have to say, will buy my book,
and give me opportunities to speak. Just yesterday, for
example, I scheduled a book release party at the main local
bookstore that is carrying my book, Tsunami Books here in
Eugene. I told the owner I thought I could get 50-75 people
there, most of whom will buy books. These are former
colleagues, people who work at non-profits that I worked
with, family members from the National Alliance on Mental
Illness that I've known for years.  I've also been giving
"teasers" on Facebook for 2 or 3 months and updating my blog
subscribers regularly.  I just hope the book lives up to all
the hype!

I've been disappointed at how hard it is to get one's
self-publised book into stores, but I saw that coming, so
know I have to be assertive and persistent. Haven't been
able to get a single bookstore in Klamath Falls, for
example, to carry my book, though much of the action takes
place there and I have many former co-workers who would buy.
Can't get the local newspaper to do a review either. Am
thinking about placing a small display ad in the paper.
Gotta be creative!

5. For those who are trying to decide between
self-publishing and traditional publishing what advice
would you give?

Last August I went to my first ever Willamette Writers'
Conference in Portland. The first words out of the mouth of
the first speaker on the first day, an agent, were: "I get
10,000 manuscripts a year sent to me. I choose to represent
25."  It confirmed my belief that self- publishing was best
for me. In fact, later I wrote a blog post, the headline of
which was: "25 divided by 10,000 is a really small number!"
People close to me encouraged me to try to find a
traditional publisher, but I held firm and have not
regretted self publishing. Having said that, I would never
discourage anyone from doing their own research into both
ways of publishing before deciding what's best for them. 
I've heard more than once that there are really good books
that never get published because their authors are not
sophisticated enough, or assertive enough, or knowledgeable
enough to garner themselves an agent so they can get
published in traditional fashion.  At this years Willamette
Writers' Conference I may even "pitch" to an agent. It would
be good practice, even if I decide not to pursue traditional
publishing.  

Probably the most important thing to remember if you're
thinking about self-publishing is that ALL the marketing is
on you. If you're  not up to it, you won't sell many books.
Of course, there are some people who are self-publishing
mostly to tell their stories for their families, not to sell
a lot of books, and there's nothing wrong with that either. 

1 comment:

  1. thank you Gary for sharing your experiences with us!

    ReplyDelete