Adventures in Self-Publishing

When I wrote my first novel, Love Like A Dog, I entered into new territory. For anyone who has considered self-publishing, read the tips and insights here.

Collapse of the Publishing Empire

It starts like this. You’ve worked 6 years on your manuscript because you CARE insanely, illogically, deeply about telling this story. Every author you’ve ever admired glares (symbolically, psychically) over your shoulder, checking to see if you’ve really got the goods. Okay. You sweat. But this manuscript gets you a new agent, a man you actually believe is human, which seems remarkable because almost every agent you’ve ever met or worked with has a strange reality show TV quality of — let’s say — non-humanity. So now you have a human agent, a person with a sense of humor even. Within a couple of months, your manuscript is with the editor of your dreams. When you graduated from college you read the biography of Maxwell Perkins, editor to Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe. From then on in you have dreamed about the relationship between an editor and an author, understanding it can be one of the deepest love stories possible.

Your dream editor pushes further, asking many probing questions, over a precious phone conversation. You must edit your book again; you, her adoring lover. Four months later the manuscript is immeasurably improved. It has the shine of hope. This fantastic editor convinces the editorial board (in and of itself a heroic feat) to accept the book. In a stroke of genius, she finds the perfect publicist who cares about your subject matter. While in negotiation with your agent, she begins everything necessary to creating a “buzz.” But, a bolt of lighting strikes. The head of the RH publishing house now suddenly says: “No!” Perhaps in preparation for the fact that, over the next 2 weeks, almost 50% of this major publishing house will be laid off, including the chief and your beloved editor. A publishing crisis. You can’t take this personally but you remain devastated for weeks. As my sister says, “You must remember life is random.”

From here on in, other editors become interested, but the publishing industry seems to be crashing faster than you can blink. “No! No! No!” is NYC’s editorial password. I am devastated.

From Publishing House to Self (Independent) Publishing

I am embarrassed, self-pitying, furious, befuddled. My agent suggests I write a blog. I have nothing to say. Or go the ebook route, maybe with Smashwords , which cost nothing up front? No, I’m hell-bent on having a book I can hold like a baby. I read articles in The New Yorker & The New York Times & Poets & Writers about changes in the digital age. Musicians, writers, filmmakers, artists all, take heed; this is a brave new world and the old rules do not apply. Wake up or sink over the horizon at sunset. Doing-it-yourself, going independent, it’s the new way. And then, In April of 2010, John Edgar Wideman, MacArthur Genius Fellow, a writer I revere, publishes his new short story collection Briefs: Stories for the Palm of the Mind with Lulu.com . Why I am waiting?

Well, for one, because when I Google self-publishing, the first author blog on the subject is “spacejock.com” who says:

Fiction Writers: You’d have to be mad to self-publish fiction…First, agents and publishers will sign you up if your book is good enough. Having self-published 3 titles I know something of the pitfalls…and I don’t want anyone wasting a lot of money on a fruitless endeavor.”

I don’t want to be mad.

But I AM pissed off.

Print-on-Demand & other Independent publishing Options

Well for one, who says he’s right? Did he convince John Edgar Wideman?

Still, did anyone say this would be easy? Just because it is another option does NOT make it easy. Do I choose from places like 48HrBooks.com // MP Morris // Network Printers, better defined as production warehouses. You give them your manuscript as a pdf file; they will efficiently print your book and ship it to you. They are not in the business of adding an ISBN registration, or of building you press kit packets or of connecting your title to book distributors like Baker & Taylor. Think of your book as a product. They print the product for you. They are the production department. This is an economical and solid option to see your book in print.

But you can’t get it into libraries without an LCNN Assignment (a 10-digit Library of Congress Control Number). Or into bookstores, or to the other distribution channels without an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). I am of an age attached to libraries and bookstores.

I scour garage sales for books; the first thing I do is read the copyright page. My God, published in 1922!! Feel the paper! I want — no, I must have — the multi-departmental publishing house experience. I need a Lulu.com or iUniverse or CreateSpace. But which? Here is how I make up my mind. It is nearly impossible to form any sort of contact with Lulu.com. I’d have to be a misanthrope/ mute/ one self-sufficient tech genius/ to choose them. When I finally score their email address, no one replies. I just know they treated JE Wideman differently. iUniverse instead is very responsive; a polite young man emails me immediately, then phones me; I feel courted which I no longer imagined possible. iUniverse has all the support packages I could wish for. BUT they take 6-8 months to publish a book. Like an old-fashioned publishing house, except I have to pay out of pocket for this. It’s depressing.

Until I discover CreateSpace , a new merger owned by Amazon.com. Boy do they have a communications strategy!

CreateSpace

The minute I introduce myself to their site, I get a phone call & an email from a warm cheery sales rep, Nicole, who actually asks me what my novel is about. She suggests I speak with an Accounts Manager and immediately set up a phone appointment with this person for the next day. The Manager phones, outlines different opportunities, some free, some not (author support, member forums, press packets, sign-up with amazon.com, expanded distribution listing for bookstores). I am giddy with hope. This new world, it is transformative and fertile and open to me. When I ask to see their books, I am mailed one with a black and white on ivory paper, one with a colorful cover on stark white paper. I sign up.

My novel, by the way, is titled LOVE LIKE A DOG. It’s about a struggling family transformed by the pit bull they rescue.

(Publishing Central, an online site devoted to helping writers says: “If you are writing a blog…just remember that every few posts, you should mention your book.” So there it is.)

Pleasure Before Pain

Let me recommend you enjoy the giddy moments before you actually try to submit your book. Because unless you are technically evolved, or under sixteen, you might find that transforming your word document to pdf files is an intricate, highly evolved, exacerbating, mind-blowing process. And no one at CreateSpace can now offer you any support here because Microsoft Word is not their property. Dear writer, you need friends, computer savvy friends. Or, in my case, a husband. Though it becomes clear soon I have put my marriage on the rocks with this pdf file conversion situation. But I am a true artist and, like Mailer and Hemingway and Richard Ford, the real princes of literature, I will hurl people I love over cliffs, in front of moving trucks, or chain them to a computer, to get my manuscript prepared in pdf format.

(Only too late do I discover www.zamzar.com, a free online conversion system. Go for it!)