Lessons Learned from Self-Publishing

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

I published Anna’s Kitchen in 2005. I was such a smart-alec at the time that I thought I knew everything, but it turned out to be a very humbing experience. I did have one advantage though. I’d been freelance graphic designer for years. Therefore, I already knew how to typeset and how to design an interesting book cover. Unfortunately,  I didn’t know squat about editing, distribution, or marketing. So, here are the lessons I learned from self-publishing.

  1. A spell checker is not a substitute for an editor, or a proofreader.
  2.  You need to work with Ingram if you want your books distributed properly.
  3. Five-hundred books takes up a lot of space in your garage or storeroom.
The Luke and Jenny Series

The following year 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. Linda was more than my publisher. She was also a mentor. The final book of the series, Riding with the James Gang: a Luke and Jenny Adventure, was published in 2010. I was now 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 I did. It’s called, Good Oak Press, LLC.

With Anna’s Kitchen I learned, firsthand, how much work goes into publishing a book. Good Oak Press later published a new edition of Anna’s Kitchen titled Rosie’s Riveting Recipes, along with new, updated editions of the Luke and Jenny series. I’m also writing, and publishing, contemporary romance novels as Marina Martindale. Looking back, I can honestly say I’ve learned a lot, and I have no regrets.

Gayle Martin

UPDATE: Since writing this post I have ended my business relationship with Ingram. I’m now using a new distributor I wasn’t aware of at the time I wrote the original article. Draft2Digital distributes ebooks and print books, and unlike Ingram, they don’t charge a hefty fee to upload your files.  

Rejection Letters Are No Badge of Honor

© Can Stock Photo / stuartmiles

I enjoy talking with prospective authors. However, when a first-time author brags about all the rejection letters they’ve received, it gives me pause for thought. While they’re busy collecting rejection letters, their manuscripts sit around collecting dust. Months, even years may go by without them ever being read.

Don’t be a naive newbie

As stated in my article, The Author Myth, six-figure advances, and becoming famous, is more myth than fact. The is especially true for first time authors. About the only exception is if you already happen to be a famous a celebrity. Then the publisher will not only publish you, they’ll hire a ghostwriter to write your book for you. However, if you’re an unknown, you’re out of luck. The odds of a major publishing house buying your manuscript, and you becoming rich and famous, are about as good as going to Hollywood with no prior acting experience, walking into a motion picture studio, and landing a starring role in a feature film. In other words, it’s not happening. 

This is why I never bothered playing the rejection letter game. Life is simply too short for this kind of nonsense. I’ve also 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 are full of more you-know-what than the Thanksgiving turkey. I hear the same story, over and over again. “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 in reader’s hands. So, when I first started out in the writing business, I began with partnership publishing.

What is partnership publishing?

Partnership publishing is when you take control and pay someone to publish your book. You may think it’s vanity publishing, but it’s actually not. It’s a business decision. 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. 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.

What about self publishing?

Self publishing is certainly a viable option. However, there is a lot of work involved. You, the author are responsible everything. Writing, editing, proofreading, cover design, the ISBN number, publishing, ebook formatting, distribution and marketing. If you know someone who knows the business and is willing to mentor you, great. Otherwise you really need to do your homework. I self published my very first book. I’d never done anything like it before, so let’s just say it was a very humbling experience. I used a partnership partner for my next book, and it was money well spent. Working with her taught me the business. Later on, when I was ready, I created my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC.

 

And finally

A reputable partnership publisher probably won’t accept a poorly written book, so make 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? 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

Don’t Do the Project

if you can’t afford to 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 need professionals to get the project off the ground. But here’s the rub. These professionals spent 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. Your car mechanic doesn’t work 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 lame, tired, worn out and overused excuse that everyone uses whenever they want something for free. “We’re just getting started so don’t have the money.” Well, too bad, because in the real world people expect, and deserve, to be paid for their time and labor.

It’s a business, so treat it like a business.

Any kind of creative business venture, whether it’s writing and publishing a book, making an independent film, or recording a music CD, is 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 may 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 may get lucky and find yourself a sponsor.

The bottom line

Unless you’re a 501(C) 3 nonprofit, and the people providing their services can use 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. Period.

Gayle Martin

The Three Options for Book Publishing

© 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 in reader’s hands. Your next task, if you haven’t done so already, is to determine how you want to publish your book. 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 certainly is 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’s 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. Yes, I had to pay them for their services. In return, they took care of the cover design, printing, and distribution. Like a traditional publisher, they paid also royalties, but unlike a traditional publisher, I retained the rights to my book.  Most importantly, if for any reason I wasn’t satisfied with their work, I could cancel 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. Amazon has made this process somewhat easier with their in house self publishing tools. 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 to change her business model and specialize in children’s books, while I had switched genres and 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. We both agreed that I was ready to start up my own publishing company. For me, it 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, book distribution is the publisher’s responsibility. Marketing your book your responsibility, even if you’re a traditionally published author. Book marketing 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’ve included 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

Print Books or eBooks?

The Amazon Kindle and other ebook readers have certainly changed the way people buy books. Ebooks certainly have their advantages. They can be instantly downloaded. You can store hundreds of books on your smartphone or tablet. Ebooks are 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, but not so much anymore. In fact, nowadays some eBooks cost almost as much as print editions. 

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. I was told that when if comes to fiction, most readers prefer ebooks. However, 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? Somehow I doubt it. There are still plenty of people out there who prefer ebooks, so I’ll continue publishing both Kindle ebook and print editions of my books. And 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

 

Is Writing a Memoir a Good Idea?

© Can Stock Photo / khunaspix

Writing memoirs has become a popular trend. Back 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 really care about the details of every little thing you did on your cruise to Hawaii. That’s what journals are for, and a journal isn’t a memoir.

What’s the difference between a journal and a memoir?

A journal is a personal diary. They’re typically written by hand in specially made notebooks called journals, and they’re written for the author’s own enjoyment. For many, their journals are both private and deeply personal. A memoir on the other hand is a personal story written to share with others.

So who should write a memoir?

Have you overcome an obstacle that was beyond the ordinary? For instance, have you survived a violent crime? Did you survive an accident or 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 or 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