Lessons Learned from Self-Publishing

I’ve recently moved into a new home in another state, and while I was packing, I found a copy of my very first book, a historic cookbook titled Anna’s Kitchen. I’ve learned a lot since then, and I’ve done my best to share what I’ve learned with the rest of you.

I published Anna’s Kitchen back in 2005, and I was such a smart-alec at the time that I thought I knew everything. Okay, maybe my having been a freelance graphic designer helped, since I already knew how to typeset and design an interesting cover, but I didn’t know squat about editing, distribution, or marketing. So, here are some of the lessons I learned from self-publishing.

  1. A spell checker is not a substitute for an editor, or a proofreader.
  2. If you want your book to be distributed, you really need Ingram.
  3. 500 books really does take up a lot of room in your shed.

A year later I met Linda Radke, owner of Five Star Publications, Inc. Linda published my second book, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: Luke and Jenny. Visit Tombstone. It would be the first in my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers. Not only was Linda my publisher, she was also a mentor. After publishing the final book in the series, Riding with the James Gang: a Luke and Jenny Adventure, I was ready to change genres and start writing novels for adult audiences. At the same time, however, Linda was changing her business model to specialize in publishing children’s books. (Her company is now called Story Monsters, Inc.) We talked it over, and she honestly thought I was ready to start up my own publishing company, which is how Good Oak Press, LLC came about.

Looking back, I must admit the lessons I learned with Anna’s Kitchen were most certainly a positive experience. I learned, firsthand, how much work goes into publishing a book, and I have no regrets. Oh, by the way, Good Oak Press later published a new edition of Anna’s Kitchen. Its new title is Rosie’s Riveting Recipes.

Gayle Martin 

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Rejection Letters Are No Badge of Honor

© Can Stock Photo / stuartmiles

I enjoy talking with prospective authors, but whenever a first-time author starts bragging about all the rejection letters he or she has received, as if it were some kind of honor, it gives me pause for thought. While they’re busy collecting all those letters, their manuscripts sit around collecting dust for months, even years, without being read.

As I often tell people, six-figure advances, and all the fame that comes with being an author, is more myth than fact. Unless you already happen to be a famous a celebrity, the odds of a major publishing house buying your manuscript, and you becoming rich and famous, especially if you’re a first-time author, are about as good as going to Hollywood with no prior acting experience and landing a starring role in a feature film.

This is why I never bothered playing the rejection letter game. Life is simply too short for that kind of nonsense. I’ve heard similar stories about trying to find an agent. While I’m sure there are plenty of good literary agents out there, far too many of them are full of more you-know-what than the Thanksgiving turkey. I hear the same story, over and over again, from other authors. “I emailed a query to an agent. They got back with me right away and wanted to see my manuscript, but it’s been ages, and I haven’t heard from them since. So when will they get back with me?”

Um…they’re not.

As I mentioned before, I have better things to do than waste my time playing games because I want to get my books into reader’s hands. So, when I first started out in the writing business, I began with partnership publishing.

Partnership publishing is when you take control and you pay someone to publish your book. You may be thinking it’s “vanity publishing,” but it’s actually not. It’s a business decision, and it means you believe in your work enough that you’re willing to invest your own money into it. Most importantly, you retain the rights to your work instead of selling them to a publisher. With partnership publishing, the publisher does the formatting, cover design, printing and distribution, much like a traditional publisher would do. However, your book is usually published in weeks instead of years, and a publishing partner won’t drop you if your book fails to meet their expectations.

Please be aware that there are good and bad partnership publishing companies out there, so it’s best to do your homework first. Writer Beware is an excellent resource for finding out whose business practices are questionable. You’ll also want shop around for the best price and be sure to ask about distribution. If they’re not distributing through Ingram or Baker & Taylor, or both, you may have trouble getting your book into bookstores or libraries.

And here’s a final thought. A reputable partnership publisher probably won’t accept a poorly written book, so please be sure you’re using proper grammar and punctuation, and that your story is well told. You’ll also need to have your book professionally edited.

So, it’s up to you. Do you spend the next few years collecting rejection letters while your book remains unread? Or do you want to take control of your destiny and get your book into the hands of readers? The choice is yours.

Gayle Martin

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Lessons Learned from Self-Publishing

© Can Stock Photo/ khunaspix

I still have the last remaining copy of my first book; a historic cookbook titled Anna’s Kitchen, which I produced and self-published back in 2005. I learned a lot from the experience, and since that time I’ve done my best to share what I’ve learned with the rest of you.

Looking back, I admit I was such a little smart-alec at the time that I thought I knew everything. Okay, so maybe having been a freelance graphic designer helped. After all, I was able to produce something that looked really cool. However, back then I didn’t know squat about editing, distribution, or marketing. So, here are but some of the lessons I learned.

  1. A spell checker is not a substitute for an editor, or a proofreader.
  2. If you want your book to be distributed, you really need Ingram.
  3. 500 books really does take up a lot of room in your shed.

Ah, I was so naive at the time, but it was a good, yet humbling, learning experience. The following year I wrote Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the first of my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers. That same year I signed on with a publisher, Five Star Publications, Inc. (Now Story Monsters, LLC.) Linda Radke, the company president, was an amazing mentor. I learned a lot about the publishing business from her.

After I finished Riding with the James Gang, the final book in the Luke and Jenny trilogy, I was ready for a change. I wanted to write full-fledged novels for adult readers. In 2011, I wrote my first romance novel, The Reunion, under the pen name, Marina Martindale. Linda Radke was also changing her business model to an exclusive children’s books publisher. However, we both agreed that I was ready to go out on my own. So, that same year, I founded my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC.

Writing novels isn’t a hobby. It’s a business. My advice to any novel writer, or prospective novel writer, is to treat it like a business. Kudos to you if you’re lucky enough to beat the odds and sign on with a traditional publisher. However, as I explained in my earlier post, The Three Options for Publishing Your Book, the odds of a major publishing house signing on a first-time author are extremely slim at best. Most of us will either sign on with a partnership publisher, or start up our own publishing business. This means you need to do your homework and learn as much as you can about the book publishing business.

I’ve learned a lot, and I have no regrets.

Gayle Martin

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Don’t Do the Project if You Can’t Pay Your People

It’s one of my all time biggest irks. Seeing so-called “job listings” for creative services with such caveats as, “we can’t afford to pay at the present time,” or, “no pay but we’ll provide food.” Then there’s my all time favorite. “We can’t afford to pay you but we’ll give you free exposure.”

Wow. Some things make me so angry it’s hard to find the right words.

I get it. We all have dreams. Whether it’s writing and publishing a book, producing a film or recording a CD, we all want to get the best professionals we can to give our project everything it needs to get it off the ground. But here’s the rub. These professionals spend years learning their craft, and, depending on the project, they may have to use their own equipment as well. So makes you think you’re entitled to get it for free? Think about it. Your doctor doesn’t work for free. The mechanic who works on your car doesn’t do it for free. So what makes you think your editor should work for free?

We don’t have the money because we’re just getting started.

That’s the same lame, tired, worn out and overused excuse that everyone uses whenever they want something for free. “We just don’t have the money.” Well, too bad, because in the real world people expect, and deserve, to be fairly paid for their time and labor.

Any kind of creative business venture, whether it’s writing and publishing a book, making an independent film, or recording a music CD is just that. A business venture. Any business venture, whether it’s creative or not, requires a certain amount of capital upfront. Fortunately, there are places where you can get the money. If you’ve ever registered a business name then you know your mailbox will soon be filled with all kinds of offers for business loans. Here’s an idea. Apply for them. Even if you can only qualify for a small amount, it might be enough for you to pay your people.

Same goes for grants. There are all kinds of grants out there for creative projects. Apply for them. Yes, it can be time consuming, but you just might get the funding you need to get your project off the ground. Another option is crowdfunding through Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or other crowdfunding platforms.

If all the above fails, then do it the way our parents and grandparents did it. Put a little money aside from each paycheck until you save up enough to pay for the services you need. Sure, it’ll take some time, and in the interim it won’t hurt to go out and start promoting your project. Who knows? You might get lucky and find yourself a sponsor.

Here’s the bottom line. Unless you’re a 501(C) 3 nonprofit, and the people providing their services can provide them as a tax deductible donation, then you frankly have no business asking a professional to provide you a service free of charge just because you want it. Not only is this demeaning to the service provider, it’s also insulting. If you can’t afford to pay your people then you can’t afford to do the project. Nuf said.

Gayle Martin

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The Three Options for Publishing Your Book

© Can Stock Photo/ Baloncici

So you’re a new author and you’ve just completed your first manuscript. Congratulations. This is a big accomplishment. However, it’s only the first step for getting your work out there, and one of your next tasks, if you haven’t done so already, is to decide how you would like to have your book published. You have three options; traditional publishing, partnership publishing, or self publishing. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

traditional publishing

Let’s begin with the option most people are familiar with, traditional publishing. Some of the most well known traditional publishers in the United States include Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House. No doubt you’ve heard of them as they’re part of a group known as The Big Five. This is certainly the big leagues, so you may be thinking, “Yeah, I’d love to have them publish my book. I’ll send them a copy of my manuscript and wait for them to call me.”

If only it were that simple. In reality, getting onboard with one of the Big Five publishers is about as easy as going to Hollywood, walking into a major motion picture studio and telling them that because you were the star of your high school play, you’re now ready to become a movie star, and would they please sign you up. Signing on with a major publisher, especially when you’ve never been published before, is a long, complicated and daunting process filled with rejection. Even if you have a good literary agent and a well written manuscript, there is no guarantee they will accept your work, and even if they do, they will drop you if your book sales don’t meet their expectations.

Partnership Publishing

This can be a viable alternative as partnership publishers provide many of the same services as a traditional publisher. They produce, format and distribute your book, and they pay you a royalty. However, unlike a traditional publisher, they don’t buy the rights to your book. You keep the rights, and you pay them for their services.

There is, however, a huge difference between partnership publishing and vanity publishing. A vanity publisher will produce your book, usually for a hefty fee. However, they don’t distribute your book, and your printed books are often poor quality. A partnership publishing company on the other hand will distribute your book, typically through Ingram. It is up to you, however, to do the research and find out if the company is indeed a legitimate partnership publishing company. Most importantly, before signing any contract, ask if they distribute through Ingram. If the answer is no, walk away.

For the record, I started out with a very reputable partnership publishing company, and my books did quite well. I did have to pay them for their services, and they took care of the cover design, the printing, and the distribution. Like a traditional publisher, they paid also royalties, but unlike a traditional publisher, I retained the rights to my book, and I could leave them at any time.

Self publishing

Self publishing has lost much of the stigma it once had, and, on rare occasions, a traditional publisher will pick up a self published author.

The big advantage to self publishing is that the author has complete control over all aspects of the publishing process. This includes editing, proofing, typesetting and ebook formatting, printing and distribution. In other words, it’s a lot of work. However, Amazon has made this process somewhat easier with their self publishing tools; CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. Even so, editing and proofing are still the author’s responsibility.

I was lucky. I was a graphic designer for many years before I became an author. In 2011 my partnership publisher decided she wanted to change her business model and specialize in children’s books, while I had switched genres and had started writing contemporary romance. She was, however, a mentor as well as a publisher, and I learned a lot about the publishing business from her. So I started up my own publishing company. For me, this was the perfect choice. With my graphic design background, I’m able to format and design my own books. My company is an LLC, registered in the state of Arizona, so I was able to distribute through Ingram. However, after I started up my own company, Ingram created a division called Ingram Spark, which caters to self publishing authors. That said, I still recommend setting up an LLC if you’re serious about self publishing. Not only will you come across as more professional, an LLC can help protect your personal assets if you should ever experience an unexpected legal challenge.

Marketing Your book

Please note that regardless of which option you choose, it is up to you, the author, to promote your book. While book distribution is the publisher’s responsibility, selling the book is not. That is on you, even if you’re a traditionally published author. Like publishing a book, marketing a book can be daunting, but there are resources out there to help you. Again, it’s up to you to find those resources and use them.

Good luck with your book. If you would like to see my company website please click on the link below. I’m including it as an illustration of what you can accomplish if you’re willing to invest the time and effort. Please note, however, that I am unable provide publishing services for other authors.

Gayle Martin

Good Oak Press, LLC

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Print Books or Ebooks?

The Amazon Kindle and other ereaders have certainly changed the way people read books. For a time ebooks were all the rage, and my sales reflected it. The vast majority of my books were sold as Kindle editions. However, it now appears that I’m selling more print books again.

Ebooks certainly have their advantages. They can be instantly downloaded. You can store hundreds of books on your smartphone or tablet. Ebooks were also more affordable. At least they used to be, once upon a time. When ebooks first hit the scene, they typically cost a few dollars. However, I’m now seeing skyrocketing ebook prices, but here’s the thing. I’m not going to pay ten dollars, or more, for an ebook. Period. If I have to spend that much money then I may as well get the print edition. That way I’ll have something tangible to show for it.

Along with rising prices, there are other disadvantages to ebooks. Those with vision issues may find ebooks too difficult to read. And who among us hasn’t been disappointed upon finding their device has a dead battery. Ugh! I’ve so been there and done that.

I publish a newsletter for my Marina Martindale fans, so I took a survey from my subscribers. Did they prefer ebooks, print books, or no preference? The results were surprising. While not a scientific poll, most of my newsletter subscribers preferred print books. No preference came in a close second, but only a few preferred ebooks.

Is the ebook fad finally coming to an end? Who knows. I’ll continue publishing both Kindle ebook and print versions of my books. In case you’re wondering, I personally prefer print books. They’re low tech, so you never have to worry about a dead battery.

Gayle Martin

P.S. If you would like more information about my newsletter please click on the link below.

 Marina Martindale’s Musings Newsletter

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Is Writing a Memoir a Good Idea?

© Can Stock Photo / khunaspix

Writing memoirs has become a popular trend. When I was publishing books for other authors, it seemed like most of my inquiries came from people wanting to write their memoirs. My advice today is the same as what I gave back then. Ask yourself what is it about your life story that’s so compelling that other people would want to read it. It’s a question you need to answer honestly before proceeding any further.

Our life’s journey is certainly interesting to us. After all, we’re the star of our own show, but I want to be brutally honest here. No one, other than your immediate family, and perhaps your closest friends, really cares about how wonderful your spouse is or how smart your kids are. Nor does anyone care about the details of everything you did on that cruise to Hawaii. So, the first thing you need to do is to check your ego at the door.

Have you overcome an obstacle that was beyond the ordinary? For instance, have you survived a violent crime? Did you survive an accident or horrible disease that would have been fatal to most people? Have you traveled to some faraway, exotic destination, such as Antarctica, which few will ever see? Were you ever a first responder? Were you ever in showbiz? Have you had some other extraordinary life experience which few people ever will? Most importantly, would your story be an inspiration to others? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then perhaps you should give some thought to writing a memoir.

People read books because they want to be entertained, inspired, or because they want to learn something new. In other words, there has to be something in it for the reader. Your memoir should be a story that inspires others, and perhaps changes people’s lives for the better.

Gayle Martin

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