Patricia Fry, a frequent contributor, is a publisher from California.
Authors were once remote figures known only through the public eye. Now, almost everyone is acquainted with a published author. Instead of just talking about writing a book, more people are actually doing it. Consequently, the number of authors producing books has increased dramatically. While there's some confusion as to the actual figures, the R.R. Bowker Company recorded close to eleven thousand new publishers entering the field last year.
When thinking of a publishing company, one generally imagines a large office filled with printing presses working around the clock to produce hundreds of titles. Many publishing companies, however, are just business facades set up by individuals who have produced one or two books.
Who are today's authors? What motivates them to write a book and then go to the trouble of producing and marketing it? One factor is technology. No longer is the author at the mercy of traditional publishing companies. For example, he can create an entire book with his computer, print it out, and even bind it at home with a spiral binding machine.
THE PUSH FOR PRINT ON DEMAND
The cost of having a book printed professionally is considerably less than it was ten or fifteen years ago. There are also more options for those who want to see their story in book form: Print on Demand (POD), for example.
Elizabeth Laden publishes the Island Park News in Idaho and writes the "Pen and Mouse" column for the National Association of Women Writers. An expert on the POD phenomenon, she says that this is the fastest growing trend in publishing today. "Anyone can have a book published without lengthy waits, endless submittals, and rejection letters," says Laden. "The [setup] cost is $99 to $199 for a basic manuscript with up to twenty-five graphics."
Laden likes the idea that POD is environment friendly. "Ink, paper, and power are conserved because only books that are ordered are printed," she says, predicting that "POD books will soon be served up to readers in vending machines when they insert a plastic card into a slot."
There is a downside to POD. According to Laden, "Inaccurate, poorly written, and unedited books will be published by POD companies. This could stigmatize POD books." She says that some mainstream book critics refuse even to look at POD books, although several have achieved best- seller status.
Russ and Kathlyn Spencer of Oxnard, California, hired a POD company to produce their series of travel guides. As Russ says, "We can have as few as one hundred copies printed at a time and get books in just ten working days, with any changes that we might need since the previous printing."
For anywhere from $0 to $199, a budding author can jump on the e-book bandwagon. An e-book is a computer-generated book that readers can view on the computer screen, print out and read, or load into a handheld electronic reader to peruse at their leisure.
Larry Hagerty is a freelance writer living in San Diego, California. He says, "Until e-books came along, I'd given up on the idea of self- publishing because I didn't want to end up with a garage full of my own unsold books. E-publishing has opened a new world for millions of writers like me."
He says, "By testing the waters with an e-book, I established the fact that there is a substantial audience for my book, The Spirit of the Internet. I was able to justify making the financial commitment to publish it in paperback."
While Hagerty doesn't believe that e-books will supplant printed books, he agrees that they have their place. He explains, "I think we will see e-books becoming a very important segment of the publishing industry."
Joyce Jace used e-publishing to break into the writing business. "After quitting my full-time job to become a Web writer and author," she says, "I was in a hurry to become successful. I decided that I didn't have time to wait for a publisher to discover me, so I formatted my short how-to e-book and sent it off to several reviewers. When the reviews came in, I knew that I was definitely a writer."
There are two ways to e-publish--either use an established e-book publisher or self-publish. According to Jace, "If you have a Web site and can collect payment from your customers from that site, you will want to consider self-publishing. If not, you have other options. There are literally hundreds of e-book stores on the Web that will sell your e-book for you and give you a portion of the sales." As she points out, the royalties for e-books are higher than for hardcover books because e-books are cheaper to produce.
Is there a stigma involved with e-publishing? Sadly, yes, says Jace. "Many authors denigrate authors who e-publish. They believe that e- publishing is not comparable to hard-copy publishing. But many authors have e-published and marketed their e-books and are laughing all the way to the bank."
These are two popular forms of self-publishing. A third, of course, is to hire a traditional printer or book manufacturer to print and bind your hard-copy book.
Mary Embree is a professional writer, editor, and writing/publishing consultant in Ventura, California. She edits books for clients who have traditional publishers and makes books camera-ready for clients who plan to self-publish. She has also set up her own publishing company, through which she produced Author's Toolkit. She says, "Having my own publishing company has given me a new respect for book publishers. Now I understand why authors get such small royalties."
She explains, "Publishing a book entails editing, typesetting, designing both the interior of the book and the cover, and knowing how to do all of the paperwork involved, such as getting an international standard book number (ISBN), copyright registration, Library of Congress card numbers, cataloguing-in-publication number, and bar code. Printing costs can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. If you know what you're doing, this can be very rewarding. If you don't, you can make costly and possibly embarrassing mistakes."
While some authors produce their own books only after being rejected by numerous traditional publishers, others actually choose to self- publish. They like being in charge--having the freedom of choice in selecting a title, determining how the book will look, and so forth. Time was a factor for Embree.
She says, "I wanted to get the book out right away. I needed a text to use and sell when I teach classes and workshops. If I had chosen to find a publisher, it would have taken too much time to research appropriate publishers, send out query letters and book proposals, and wait for replies. If I'd found a publisher interested in it, I would have had to wait the 1 1/2 to 2 years it takes for a publisher to get it out."
There are disadvantages to going it alone. According to Embree, "It's often hard for a self-publisher to find a distributor. When you finally get a distributor, you find that it gets 60 percent of the cover price." When asked if she would self-publish again, however, Embree says, "Yes, if I thought I had a book that I could sell."
MARKETING YOUR BOOK
Another reason authors choose to self-publish has to do with marketing. It used to be that your publisher was also your promotions manager. Today, however, marketing requires the author's participation. In fact, the decision to publish a book is sometimes based on the author's connections and willingness to promote.
"Generally, I would like an author who is willing to jump in and get excited about his work," says Will Black, president of New World Publishers. As Richard O'Connor, executive editor at Renaissance Books, explains, "The content and writing come first. If those are in place, then the acquiring editor looks at the author's marketing ability."
It was, in large part, her marketing plan that sold Renaissance Books on Debbie Puente's first book, Elegantly Easy Creme Br?lee. She says, "I was working at Williams-Sonoma, an upscale, retail gourmet kitchen supply store in Southern California. Over the years, I had many customers ask if we sold a book that taught the secrets to making creme br?lee. Since we didn't, I began printing my own creme br?lee recipes to hand out to customers."
One day Puente had a conversation with Vicky, the book buyer for Williams-Sonoma. Puente asked if she'd ever seen a book about creme br?lee. "Vicky said she hadn't, but she felt there was a need for it."
At that point, Puente asked Vicky about the company's interest in a book on creme br?lee; she would include the information in a proposal to a publishing company. Vicky said she would do more than that--she would place an order for the books, sight unseen. "It wasn't long after that that I had a book deal," says Puente.
Her publisher has not been disappointed. Because of Puente's connection with Williams-Sonoma and the enormous amount of time, energy, and imagination that she puts into promoting her book, sales have soared.
While some authors are motivated by their desire to make money, become well known, or enhance their business through related books, others just want to tell their story. Ventura, California, resident Imogene Bercaw wrote the story of her life and extensive travels in 1996, when she was 89. She self-published this 783-page autobiography under the title Horizons Unlimited and had just 500 copies printed to satisfy family members and friends who had been hounding her to put her stories on paper. It took her a matter of months to sell or give away her supply of books.
STORIES TO TELL
New Yorker Arnold Franco hired a writer to pen his story. Like Bercaw, Franco was more interested in telling his story than in making money or becoming known as an author. He says, "My main purpose was to get the book published and circulated. The profit motive was secondary."
As he explains, "Arriving at that certain age (usually in the seventies), there is the recognition that one has a lot more to look back upon than to anticipate. As with many other vets, World War II stood out, for me, as a seminal event to recall. Additionally, as a historian, I felt the need to record what I did as accurately and completely as I could. It became clear that I really had to write the story of the Third Radio Squadron in order to encapsulate my history. Then things started getting more complicated and also more interesting."
Franco began searching for documents and gathering memorabilia. He also interviewed squadron mates, most of whom he'd lost contact with over the years. "Locating them was a big task," says Franco. "I traveled here and abroad to visit people and places. The stories of finding these people could be a small book in themselves."
His squadron mates were eager to tell their stories. "Since some were even older than I and suffering from various illnesses," says Franco, "I felt great pressure to speed up the process of producing this book." Soon, he had collected several drawerfuls of documents and data and about sixteen hours of taped interviews. He says, "As I was still in my business full-time, it was a daunting task to organize all this material. I needed help. I also felt I needed some assistance to avoid making this a history, rather than a story." So he hired a writer, Paula Spellman.
Franco did not want to publish his own book. He says, "Finding a publisher was a very difficult task." Eventually, someone recommended Sunflower University Press. "They publish most of their books on a cooperative basis," says Franco. "That's where I put up the initial funding, and they return a certain percentage as the books sell." He admits that he still has a long way to go to get back his investment, but the satisfaction he feels after having accomplished his goal is beyond measure.
"Shortly after Code to Victory was published, three of the important men in the book died. In each case," says Franco, "they had been well enough to read it." He has also received letters from family members of some of these men--in most cases, their sons--thanking him for helping them to know their fathers better. Franco says, "In retrospect, it has almost made me feel godlike to have been able to give so much satisfaction and peace to so many people when all I started out to do was just write my own story."
Washington writer Noel Murchie couldn't resist documenting a period in her life to share with the world. She wrote her book, Accidental Hermit, in hopes of providing valuable lessons for others. "Also, I thought the tale of living alone in the deep woods was a timely and timeless adventure," says Murchie.
Murchie dared to do what many think about, talk about, and maybe even experience for short periods while on vacation. She moved from Hawaii to a sparsely inhabited island off the coast of Washington, where she lived in seclusion for a full year with only her cats and a few wild animals as company. Murchie did this for herself, but when it was all over, she knew she had to tell her story. She says, "I was bubbling over and wanted to get it out of my system."
Murchie admits, "Publishing was a shock for me. I spent about two years sending resumes, synopses, and chapter outlines to publishers everywhere--the big New York types and the small Seattle ones. I also searched in vain for an agent." And then, as she says, "I decided to take control of the matter and self-publish."
Jim Lane of Sedona, Arizona, had something to say, and he became a writer in the process. Already a published author, he decided to get something off his chest with his third book. He says, "I wrote Duty because I was displeased with military justice and the part I was forced to play in it.
"As a Navy command legal officer, one of my duties was to function as an administrative prosecutor in cases that came before an Administrative Discharge Board. The board is essentially a kangaroo court that carries out the commanding officer's desires. The case that came at the end of my career had to do with a senior enlisted petty officer who had been accused by a very junior subordinate of attempted homosexual acts. I came to believe that the accusation was bogus, but my attempts to get the charges dropped failed and I was compelled to present the prosecution case regardless. The novel is based on this case, with some additional drama."
Duty was published by Bridge Works Publishing in 1998. Lane's latest book, Blindside, also reflecting the lack of justice in the military, was just picked up by the same publishing company.
Spike and Bo Loy are college students and award-winning authors. They're also highly respected by the families who have been helped by their practical lifestyle tips for diabetic children.
The Loys were each diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes at the age of six. As they learned to take some responsibility for their strict daily care, which included careful diet planning, physical activity, and multiple injections, they began documenting what worked and what didn't. Little did they know that their journal would someday become a published book.
According to Spike, "The book started out as a senior project. When I finished with the 50-page packet, we thought it might be helpful for a few local kids. The response from these families was so good that we kept working on it."
In 2000, they sent their manuscript, Getting a Grip on Diabetes: A Guide for Kids and Teens, to the American Diabetes Association. The ADA responded immediately with a publishing contract.
Spike speaks for both boys when he says, "The feeling that I get from helping little kids is really awesome. Take parents who have been struggling with their five-year-old's out-of-control sugars and who are completely overwhelmed by the changes that have come into their lives. When I see their faces after they've read our book, I feel we have done something worthwhile."
Karen Stevens is also interested in making a difference with her writing. It all started in 1994, when she found a stray cat in an abandoned warehouse in Santa Barbara, California.
She says, "The vet estimated him to be about ten years old. He had obviously been well cared for in his younger years, but he'd either been discarded or lost by his human guardians." She took the cat home and gave him a name: Cassidy. "This made me start thinking that there are hundreds of thousands of animals just like him who, through no fault of their own, find themselves homeless, abused, or neglected."
This prompted Stevens to start researching animal advocacy sites on the Internet. She says, "I've been a lifelong animal lover, but I had no idea about the abuses against animals taking place in laboratories, circuses, rodeos, and even in the animals' own homes. I found hundreds of sites with information on animal testing and every other type of animal abuse possible."
Stevens admits that it was extremely difficult for her to read some of the text and view the graphic pictures of animals suffering. It occurred to her that maybe there was a better way to present this information to people interested in learning how to be kinder to animals.
With Cassidy as her inspiration, Stevens started an organization called All for Animals. She designed a Web site where folks can learn not what horrible things are happening but how to do and support the right thing. Her site and newsletter were so well-received that she decided to write a book.
Like Franco, Stevens entered into a partnership with a copublisher. She explains what this means: "The author contributes money to have the book published, and the copublisher contributes time, staff, expertise, and distribution connections." Stevens says that "self-publishing seemed to be a daunting task for my first book. I felt that having a copublisher would be the perfect balance between a traditional publisher and self-publishing."
How does it feel to be a first-time published author and to have a book that can make a difference for the animal population? Though, according to Stevens, "It's an awesome feeling," it's also bittersweet. Her dear feline friend, Cassidy, died in her arms at the age of seventeen on the day that she finished the book that he inspired.
Some people author books to help others because it also helps to ease their own pain. Alice Wisler, of Durham, North Carolina, exemplifies this. She lost her four-year-old son Daniel in 1997 to cancer. "Ever since then, my writing interests have become an obsession," says Wisler. "The bereavement shelves are full of books on death, dying, and individual kids who have died. I wanted to do something different. So I compiled a cookbook.".
Slices of Sunlight: A Cookbook of Memories is a collection of favorite recipes and memories of children who have died. "Food is such an important part of our lives," says Wisler. "We remember each other often by our food likes and dislikes." She does not plan to stop there. Currently, while an agent is marketing her latest book, Writing the Heartache, she is gathering material for her next one, What Memory Looks Like.
These days, anyone can become a published author. All it takes is a little technological know-how and some money. While some self-published works are brilliant and worthwhile, unfortunately others are poorly written and inaccurate.
Will the prejudices against authors who come through the back door ever subside? Some reviewers still won't review self-published books, whether they're POD or traditionally printed. Major bookstores won't carry many of them, and it's often impossible, or at least difficult, to find a good distributor. Even fellow authors sometimes express animosity toward those who lack a traditional publisher.
Lane puts it this way, "I don't buy the idea that anybody who writes is a writer any more than I buy that anyone with an Instamatic is a photographer. The product, the result--how it stands up to critical evaluation--is what counts in making that determination. All of those millennium writers are not necessarily competent writers, whether they have published a book or not. There are avenues to publishing that impose no standards, like some online publisher and POD outfits. And there have always been the subsidy publishers, the vanity press, for those whose work might best fit the category of undisciplined amateur hobbyist. I think of them as literary pollution."
On the other hand, good self-published books that have proved themselves in the marketplace are sometimes picked up by traditional publishing houses. The work and the author are forevermore validated.n…