“Why did you publish your book yourself?”
I’ve been asked that a lot. My answer: Impatience. That may not be the best reason to do it; in the end, I think it worked out for me. Not perfectly. Didn’t quite make the New York Times’ Best Sellers list. Wasn’t invited to Oprah. (Yet.) Still, I don’t regret my choice.
The impatience thing is true. This book was not planned. It came to me out of the blue. I wrote the first draft in seven days. The first full draft was done in two. By week four, I was looking for someone to agent the book...but they were all on summer vacation. How about meeting up in September? Please. I wanted to keep the pace. Since this wasn’t a novel but more of a niche book, I believed it could find its own way. That’s when I started looking into doing it myself.
But, doing it “myself” took help. My friends played a big part. They, and some of their friends, were kind enough to read the book, make notes, and provide important feedback. Wine and free eats surely helped them feel motivated. My point is: You can’t do this in a bubble. After the comments party, I went through another edit, proofed it, had two other people proof it, and then the real work started.
I got super lucky by having a dear friend, who is a fabulous graphic artist, offer to do the cover. That saved me a whole lot of headache. Then, I spent many agonizing hours formatting it in Word. I still have a few things to learn there, but I would sure like to teach Bill Gates a lesson or two.
Eight weeks after pen hit paper, the book was at the print company. After killing a few gremlins in the proofing process, the book was available on Amazon eight weeks later. (Amazon US and UK, which I think is so cool.) So, sixteen weeks from concept to selling is pretty damn quick, if you ask me. Not that you did. But others have. Who had time for query letters and lunches and waiting for calls to be returned?
And that is why I independently published my first book.
Notice the use of “independently published” rather than “self”. I’ve learned to use that terminology in order to help my chances of getting into stores and gaining interest from the press. “Self-publishing” implies a vanity press company was involved. Not something a “serious” writer would use, right? I almost did. Those companies offer ease and the allure of promise. Some make it sound like they could really do something for you (get you into major retailers, get you press and notice from traditional publishers, etc.). Then you read the blogs about them and hear stories of other people’s experiences, and start thinking twice.
If you are considering self-publishing — or just really want to get a book out there and have something bound with an ISBN number on it — there are a few things to think about before you decide if you are going to be “self”-styled or “independent”. I would suggest looking at the service packages they offer and find out just what in those bundles you really, truly need. I already had a cover, and people to edit and proof. When I started going through what I would pay for but wouldn’t use (they don’t offer a la carte), I took pause and made some calls. I did my homework and realized publishing on my own was doable for me. And, thus, my imprint, SAME Ink, was born.
Perhaps you don’t have a fabulous, graphic artist friend to help you with a cover, and maybe you couldn’t format your text out of a paper bag, let alone into a book. Then hire someone. It might work out to be cheaper than the packages offered by the vanity pressers, anyway, and you’ll have more control. I’m an A-type personality, so that’s kind of important to me. But, if you feel you are really in need of those services and don’t want to bother with trying to hire someone (reliable) to help you, then read those contracts very, very carefully. Look at all of your options (I even found a division of Random House for self-publishing), compare and contrast the companies, and talk to them. Make sure they can give you everything you want and need without hidden costs lurking. And make sure they can (and will) list your book with Amazon and major retail distributors. That can be tricky, so you may need some help from them. (By the way, Amazon has their own self-publishing division. Hello, two birds, meet one stone.)
Getting into stores takes some shoe leather and moxie. Being polite, professional and persistent is a must. I was turned down by Barnes & Noble stores at first. But, I my staggeringly well-composed second letter got me a yes. (I also might have had the nicest person working at B&N get my requests. Who knows?) The book’s not in all 300 stores (yet), but it feels good to be in a retail chain. The punk rocker in me just died a little when I wrote that. But, that’s part of the game.
Now, here’s where I dropped the ball: Press. Kind of a crucial thing to not do, right? For me, it’s hard to be both the madam and the call girl. I can pimp any one or any thing else to anyone, but I can’t do it for me. That’s not false modesty; it’s just something not in my DNA, like water skiing. Can’t do that either. I did get some press, but nowhere near the coverage I dreamed. So, if you are going to go out on your own, might I suggest that you be really honest with yourself about all your strengths and weaknesses first, and know who you will need to call on to help you on your way.
Going through various blogs and chat rooms, there seems to be a lot of mixed feelings about the independently published route. Will it hurt or help in the long run, especially if you do want to end up with a book deal at a huge publishing house? I don’t know. I don’t think it will. Print on Demand is, as Lloyd Dobler would say, the wave of the future. Since my first book wasn’t the genre I typically write, I didn’t mind taking a risk. With my first novel making the rounds now (keep an eye out for Chain-Smoking Vegetarians and Other Annoyances in L.A.), we’ll see what the response is and if A Sassy Little Guide will serve as a factor, one way or another. I’ll let you know.
No matter how I got here, I’m thrilled to be a published author and a part of Redroom.com. I look forward to connecting with you more.
Causes Sandra Miller Supports
American Indian College Fund
The Global Fund
Challenged Athletes Foundation