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Every so often, I veer off the pet-focus path to make a point about something else about which I feel passionate. Oftentimes, that means plugging an independent artist like Christopher R. Mihm and his upcoming B-movie, “Attack of the Moon Zombies.” (Premiering May 25 at the Heights Theater and starring moi in the role of Administrator Ripley.)

This time, however, I want to talk (OK, rant) a bit about my own independent artist’s journey. I self-published my book “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss” in 2009 and have been blessed to receive much literary acknowledgment, including three major awards—including having it be named “Book of the Year in the Self-Help Category” by Premier Book Awards, and wonderful feedback from readers on four continents but, despite this and my daily marketing efforts, I am still a couple of thousand dollars away from paying off my initial investment.

I wrote what follow below in response to an editorial included in the current Reader Views newsletter regarding authors’ expectations of reviewers, as well as in response to a recent news article about an overnight success story I allude to in this piece. I find it frustrating that we only hear of people who either fail miserably or achieve wealth and fame unaccountably easily. What about those of us who persevere, despite having been born under an impatient star, trying to get noticed in a business in which 98% of independently published books released each year will sell fewer than 350 copies over their lifetimes? (Thank goodness, I’m well past that threshold.)

I readily acknowledge there’s no glamor in the story of someone who plugs away, diligently marketing to anyone who will listen, who, despite objectively knowing what he or she has created is valid and worthwhile, never seems to be able to break through the glass ceiling to bestseller status. To all of us who devote our whole selves to nonpaying or underpaying artistic endeavors simply because our souls offer us no other choice, I say, we’re the ones who deserve a bit of recognition once in a while. It takes no particular courage or fortitude to suddenly be handed success. We workhorses shouldn’t be made to feel inferior because Oprah hasn’t slated our work to be one of her book club picks…yet, anyway.

But then again, there are those whose personal estimation of the quality of their efforts just might exceed what professional standards dictate necessary to even be in the running. In those cases, it may be wrong to blame the reviewer, society, etc. As an editor as well as an author, I’ve seen both sides of this issue, and this is what I had to say about the topic. — Sid

In response to the current Reader Views’ newsletter:

All new authors need and deserve a dose of reality. I agree that a great many writers hold fast to the fairy tale of instant success and endless royalty checks. They cite an article they read of an author who self-published an ebook, sold copies for $2 apiece and made a million dollars as if it were the norm. Like those “I lost 42 dress sizes in three months” diet ads, such stories should come with the disclaimer, “Results extraordinary. Your results will vary.”

What’s more, any time you submit your work for a review, be it by an earnest lay-reader or a seasoned so-called “pro,” you are vulnerable to the possibility of receiving a less-than-flattering review. Yes, opinions are subjective and a reviewer you’re paired with could be prejudiced somehow or simply having a bad day when your manuscript crosses his or her desk, but often what is submitted has previously only been complimented by well-meaning friends and family members who couldn’t offer objective criticism for fear of making you feel bad. Because you’ve only received accolades, you come crashing down when someone deigns to find any fault whatsoever with your work.

Developing a thick skin and realizing this “biz” is relentless in its ability to devour egos are vital BEFORE one leaps into the fray. I am award-winning author (one of which was the 2010 Reviewers Choice award from Reader Views, thank you very much!—though, ironically, my non-contest-judging Reader Views reviewer gave me one of my only four-star reviews, among dozens of five-star reviews from other sources—not to whine at all, just to show how subjective the process is).

I am also an editor with 20+ years’ experience, and part of my job is to not waste authors’ time and money by giving them false praise and/or hope. I encourage what I believe are their strengths but do not hesitate to point out weaknesses and make suggestions of how to improve those areas. Many times, I’ve had to turn away authors, pointing out that their books are just not at a level of quality at which it will pay to hire a professional for a final edit. (I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve received books from authors who demonstrated no awareness of what a complete, non-run-on sentence looks like or even how to spell CAT, and yet they’re convinced they’re ready for the New York Times Bestseller List.)

Understanding how tight money can be—I’m a starving artist myself—I advise them that they’d be much better off going to a low- or no-cost option like a community ed writing group for lots of people’s feedback as they rework their manuscript before shelling out hundreds of dollars to someone like me. I know I’m being cruel to be kind. I cannot in good conscience cash their checks until I know they have a fighting chance to compete in the marketplace. It’s my reputation on the line as a “pro.” (There’s that word again.)

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Click on this link to watch a very funny short video about the travails of the new author out to promote his book! I know I can relate to his experience!—Sid

Signing in the Waldenbooks by Parnell Hall

<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZoJ5OKmEJY>

For anyone who’s ever considered independently publishing a book, I invite you to check out my article “Selling My Book Out of My Trunk” in the “View from the Loft.

Selling My Book Out of My Trunk

By Sid Korpi

a view from the loft

Cover: Good  Grief by Sid Korpi“I’m Sid, and I’m a self-published author.”

[This is where you all say a collective, “Hi, Sid.”]

No, there isn’t a 12-step program yet for those of us inspired (read: crazy), confident (naive), and ambitious (masochistic) enough to take on independently publishing a book. But maybe there ought to be.

How It Happened to Me

Following the losses, in too-rapid succession, of my mother, stepfather, uncle, two dogs, two cats, cockatiel, and 15-year marriage, I began drafting what would eventually become my book, Good Grief: Finding Peace after Pet Loss.
I’d been working on it on and off for about 18 months, when, on a single day in May 2009, I received two calls from people in different parts of the country (one here in Minneapolis and the other in Louisville, Kentucky), telling me they needed me to “teach a class on pet loss” and “speak at the Honoring the Animals Candlelight Vigil,” respectively, in September. I hemmed and hawed. “My book’s not quite finished . . .”

Quite uncannily, they both said, “Get it done!” (Verbatim quote here.) I figured that was the universe kicking my butt, using these two people for mouthpieces.

For a moment, I considered walking into Doubleday and saying, “You don’t know me, but I have somewhere I have to speak in a few months, so could you kind of put a fire under this book and publish it for me pronto?” But I figured that might not be my most effective solution if I were to meet that looming deadline, so I took the necessary leap of faith and got the process going myself.

Advice for Getting Started

Now, for those of you facing a similar situation, I want you to benefit from my experience. As you finish your first draft of your manuscript, be sure you have your “posse” assembled and available to you at all hours. For those of you not in the know, your essential posse must include the following: (1) a computer geek for the inevitable and frequent technical meltdowns you will experience; (2) a psychiatrist for the inevitable emotional meltdowns you will have; (3) a rich relative who’s willing to let you inherit his millions early to cover the debts you will incur; and (4) a Sherpa to guide you up the steep slopes of the mountainous marketing learning curve you will face.

Also handy to have in your posse might be a professional editor and/or proofreader—because anyone who thinks she can catch her own typos and grammatical gaffes after having read them 600 times needs her head examined (see number 2 above); a talented graphic designer for your cover and page layout; and a skilled webmaster—if you’re like me and can’t tell the difference between html and the Hubble Telescope.

Expect Unexpected Costs

You still want to publish that book? Aside from paying those aforementioned folks, you’ll need an assumed name for your new publishing company from the secretary of state’s office. You’ll need to publish that name in a legal newspaper. You’ll need to buy an ISBN and register it. You’ll need to reserve Internet domain names and secure a host for your website. You’ll need to pay fees to PayPal or another credit card processing company. And so on, and so on, and so on. Once under way writing those checks, you may imagine your pen’s black ink has turned to red—like an arterial spurt out of your bank account.

Press on with Presales

You can stanch the flow of funds a little by seeking presales. A month before my book was about to be birthed, er, printed by BookMobile in St. Louis Park, I began sending out e-mails to people I knew personally who might be willing to make a small investment in my work by reserving their copies and paying for them up front. That got me a little working capital to pay those ever-mounting bills.

This Little Piggy Starts Marketing

I did some research and instantly had my get-rich-quick-as-an-author fantasies dashed to smithereens. Turns out that, because I wasn’t born with my name on the New York Times best-seller list, even if a big publishing house had snatched me up, it’s unlikely I’d wind up eating bonbons while sitting on a comfy stack of royalty checks.

Simply put, getting a publisher won’t save you from having to shamelessly self-promote if you want to get your title (and yourself) wedged into the collective unconscious of your potential readership. The main difference is that if you have a publisher, it’s likely you’ll be doing all that hustling for maybe 10 percent of the money earned by your book’s sales instead of 100 percent. I figured if I were going to suffer anyway, why not reap the benefits?

I know I have a pretty specific niche market with a pet loss book, so I started brainstorming people and organizations to which I might direct my advertising, aiming to get whatever freebies I could through reviews. I targeted pet owners, veterinarians, rescue organizations, breeders, groomers, pet memorial makers, pet loss support groups, and so on. Some I approached for straight retail sales, others wholesale, and still others reciprocal links/referrals to my website. Kind of like, “You scratch my fleas, I’ll scratch yours.”

Media Interviews

I stumbled upon a really important advertising venue almost by accident: BlogTalkRadio.com. There are several hundred online radio shows out there, each one with hosts hungry for guests and interesting topics. I narrowed down the shows to include ones dealing with pets, self-help, grief, spirituality, and related topics, and sent the hosts an e-mail offering my services. The vast majority of those I contacted jumped at the chance to interview me! What’s more, unlike some live radio shows, these interviews will be available for eons through Web archives.

Case in point, I recently received a Twitter message complimenting my interview on Dog Talk Radio with host Julie Hill from four months ago. That show, by the way, is produced in the United Kingdom! I’ve sat in my jammies and chatted with hosts in Canada and points all over the United States as well. There’s really never been a better time for small/independent press authors to reach a wide audience. Thanks to these shows and my website, I’ve sold books to people on four continents so far. These BlogTalkRadio shows are available globally, and they’re free ongoing advertising—free, that is, except for the price of a review copy of your book sent to the host.

Giving It Away

Ah, freebies. As you research magazines and organizations you’d like to consider writing about your book, you’ll be sending out a ton of free books. (And, naturally, you’ll send one to Oprah, but please don’t hold your breath waiting to hear from her.) When money is not exactly gushing in and you’ve already accrued $10,000 or more in debt for even a small run of books, this can be hard to do, but it really is one of the best ways to create a buzz about your book. I found that although I offered the e-book version to these folks, which would have saved me a ton of money, they almost always requested a hard copy. Sigh.

Bookstores

Bookstores are the natural place you’d think of for marketing your book, but it’s not as easy to get into them as you might think. Some of the smaller, independent stores will give local or independently published authors a chance, perhaps through low-risk-to-them consignment sales (think Magers & Quinn, for instance—they rock!). But the bigger chains are going to require you to send them a copy along with an extensive marketing plan; then you have to sit and wait for them to decide. You’ll also have to establish a relationship with a national distributor such as Baker & Taylor, which will take a quick 55 percent off the top and let you pay for shipping. You’ll make almost nothing per book, but you hope you’ll get national exposure on their database so you can make up for that pittance in volume sales.

Do Some Good

It’s not all about making money for myself, however. Since I’m in control of this whole process, I put links on my website to several no-kill animal shelters and promised them each their share of $2 collected per book sold through my site. Using the dollar-doubling power of the Give to the Max program this past November, I was able to donate more than $750 to these nonprofits. It never hurts to collect a few karma points here and there.

Readings/Signings

I’ve set up book signings at pet stores, bookstores, pet-adoption events, holiday sales, and other events. For me, I always seem to do best where people bring their pets on-site. They’ll surely be in an animal-centric frame of mind, which is vital for my book to interest them. Be prepared for hit-or-miss situations with these. Sometimes, you’ll stand or sit for hours wishing you’d brought along your needlepoint because no one shows up. Other times, you’ll meet wonderful folks and have great conversations and, hopefully, make some sales. At one “reading” I had scheduled at Eye of Horus Metaphysical store in south Minneapolis, I had all sorts of sections in my book marked for a power-packed oration, but it turned out that all the audience wanted from me was tips on how they might get a book published once they’d actually written one themselves.

Nonstop Sales

I’ve always detested corporate-style schmoozing—it all seems so vampiric and insincere. If I sense someone is planning to hard sell me, I head for the nearest exit. So how was I supposed to sell this book successfully and not feel like a total hypocrite?

I had to realize that what I’d created was not some unnecessary piece of novelty nothing. I wasn’t asking folks to sink money into a Ponzi scheme, buy condos in Atlantis, or be fooled that they would become millionaires overnight. I’d been through a tsunami of loss and survived to tell my tale. I knew the pain of pet loss and how it was made so much worse by a society that fails to validate those feelings and withholds the support and compassion we’re freely given when the loss is of a human being. I’d created something to try and right a wrong, something to heal broken hearts, something to teach people how to move on from loss and love again. There were no gimmicks here, just a work from the heart. Time and again, I’d been told, “Thank you for writing this book. Its message is so needed.”

(BTW: To entertain, educate, and/or enlighten are also laudable goals of any writer.)

Armed with this perspective, I can offer my book without guilt or shame to those who may benefit from it. My book is need-based and the timing is crucial. For instance, if someone has just bought a puppy, he’s not thinking about pet loss. I know most connections I make are to plant seeds of awareness. I can only hope that when the need arises and people face the loss of a pet, they’ll at least vaguely remember that someone wrote something that could help them. It couldn’t hurt if they were good at remembering titles, too.

Right Feet. http://www.goodgriefpetloss.com/author.html

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