This Week's Lead Story
Everybodys got a story to tell.
And it seems that everyone is determined to tell that story to the world. In 2002, more than 150,000 new books were published. Even that big number is not enough. Would-be authors still lament not only the impossibility of getting a publisher to look at their manuscript but also the improbability of getting an agent to make the pitch for them. In the academic world, professors must publish frequently to keep their jobs. But every writer feels the compulsion to publish or perish.
Enter Technology. With a process called print-on-demand POD electronic technology is revolutionizing the publishing world. Instead of printing thousands and thousands of books, then storing them in a warehouse while waiting for buyers, epublishers store books on computer disks and print them one by one as readers place their orders. The cost is so modest that the authors have been freed from the tyranny and resources of the mainstream publishers. Many now take the direct approach: author to epublisher to reader.
Author Louis Llovio, who is also a Bay Weekly staff writer, is enthusiastic. I love this concept, says Llovio. If a reader reads my book and enjoys it, nobody cares who published it.
Author Austin Camacho of Washington is reserved about the new technology. Its important to understand that POD is a very new idea, he says. Theyre still making it up.
As for me, Im one of the thousands who find this techno-adventure compelling and personal. My first POD book is just out.
For the Defense
In one of my other lives, my art students often insist that they paint, draw or sculpt only for themselves. But I tell them the creative process is not finished until a work is out in public and garnering a reaction. It doesnt matter if you show your finished work only to your teacher and a few other artists. You have to get it out there. The same goes for authors.
K.S. Brooks of Cambridge on the Eastern Shore wanted to get her action-adventure novel Lust for Danger out there. For 10 years she pursued traditional publishers and agents. I got great rejection letters, says Brooks. They said things like: Your book is better than the stuff on the shelves but we cant take a chance on a first-time author.
After editor Marcia Yudkin advised that Finding the right agent or publisher is as hard as finding the right man, Brooks turned to print-on-demand.
iUniverse seemed above board, she says. They said they would review my manuscript, then accept or reject it. I wanted to vomit the whole time they had it. But the response was really quick: about two weeks. I now think they accept everything.
Still, Brooks got what she wanted: her book in print. It cost her $80, and she got a galley to proofread in just two weeks. There was only one glitch. Brooks had to provide cover suggestions, so she sent a photo of herself from my modeling days. She told them to use the tough-girl attitude that was a match for her heroine but not the photo itself.
On the proof, the cover was fantastic, she says. Then I turned it over, and there was this huge photo of me on the back with some leg showing. I made them take it off and then ordered a case of 20 books. Both covers looked great. With a habit from my Hebrew school days, I opened the new book from the back. Arrgh. They had moved the photo to the inside flap.
Author Cynthia Polansky, of Annapolis, didnt wait 10 years. After a couple of years trying to find a publisher through an agent, she was anxious to tell her gripping true story of a Dutch woman who voluntarily accompanied her six stepdaughters to Auschwitz concentration camp. I considered Far Above Rubies a story that needed to be told one way or another, she says.
Polansky learned about Booklocker at a New York conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I liked the fact that they are not subsidy or vanity publishing but a company that screens submissions, accepting only 10 percent, she says. I did my homework and submitted my book to them.
It cost Polansky $99 plus an optional $90 for a professional cover designer. Theres a charge of $18 a year to remain on the Booklocker website. There were no hidden or surprise costs, she says. I am extremely pleased with the results. The quality of Booklockers trade paperbacks is first rate.
Marlin Fitzwater of Deale has a different publishing story. A veteran of the pressure cooker of Washington politics as press secretary for presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior, Fitzwater had already published his memoir Call the Briefing!
I had a special situation, Fitzwater says. After three printings and sales of 70,000 copies for Random House, the book was about to go out of print. But he needed copies for students, journalists and audiences who attend his speeches.
Xlibris.com on-demand printing proved to be Fitzwaters solution. I gave them a copy of my book and they remade it, he says. Fitzwater redesigned the cover to his new purpose. The original focused on the press corps, and that focus was reflected in the subtitle: Reagan and Bush, Sam and Helen: A Decade with Presidents and the Press. The new cover enlarges Fitzwater and shows The White House seal behind him, making it more suited for personal appearances. So does the new subtitle: A Memoir: Ten Years in The White House with Presidents Reagan and Bush.
The beauty for me, says Fitzwater, is that the entire book is on a computer disk. It will always be available, even 100 years from now.
Bert Bruns is yet another story. Now retired to Salisbury, Brun worked as an oceanographer for EPA, U.S. Navy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Army Corps of Engineers.
I like to think my work is good enough to be published, says Brun. I turned to print-on-demand because, frankly, I couldnt get a publisher or agent.
Brun heard that Adventure Book Publishers in Calgary, Alberta, was looking for manuscripts. He was thrilled when Murder for Breakfast was accepted. It was not a vanity press, he says. It cost me nothing. It came out as an electronic book to download from the web, a book on disk and a print book. All on-demand.
Bruns delight was short lived. Overly optimistic about ebook sales, Adventure Book Publishers didnt make any money and went out of business. Brun is trying to get Murder for Breakfast republished by a small traditional press.
The second time around, Brun went to Xlibris to publish Cold Coffee, a 20th century tale of an immigrant family from Norway. It cost him $500.
This time, It was worth it, says Brun. They created a terrific cover based on young, beautiful photos of my mother and father. I have a slice of a pretty nice website with a chapter of the book that people can read free. And Xlibris is a viable company because theyve figured out how to make money off the authors.
As for me, I knew from the start that my book would not be right for just any publisher. I am an unknown. My subject spiritual discovery through the silent blessing of a beautiful young Indian woman whose powerful presence attracts people to Germany from all over the world is not tailored to a general audience. Still, I researched publishers, talked to agents and authors, attended conferences and networked. I learned many things, concluding that this is a niche-market book of little interest to American mainstream publishers, large or small.
Finally, made confident when I heard that Marlin Fitzwater had reissued a book with Xlibris, I made the decision to use them myself. It was good; it was bad; and there was a moment when the publishing experience was ugly. It took eight long months instead of the expected five. But At the Feet of Mother Meera: The Lessons of Silence is now in print, and its exciting.
Step Two: Working at Marketing
Okay, so the book is published. Your quest is finished at last.
Not even close. Remember that other step in the creative process. You still have to know whether your book is cause for worldwide celebration or painful rejection. You have to be brave enough to seek an audience.
Art can be hung in a window or on a wall. How can you get people to look at a book?
This is the challenge for any author, but for POD authors its like falling into the Internet soup. Who will point readers to your work? How can you get them to buy your book?
Technically, purchases are simple. Go to the publishers website, click a few buttons, pay with a credit card and wait for the package to arrive. Better still, go to Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, Borders.com, or up to 200 other on-line book sellers. Most POD books are listed there, too.
But and this is big how do readers know to look for your book? Its not on the shelf at Borders for anyone to chance upon. Few will stumble across it at Amazon.com or other on-line sellers. Almost no one will find it by accident at the publishers on-line bookstore even if theyd think of looking there in the first place.
Bad news. Its up to authors to publicize their own books.
It was a thrill to get that first book in print, but that wears off pretty quickly, Brun recalls. There was no promotion or effort by the publisher. It was so irritating. I got a slice of a fairly obscure website with maybe 100 books on it. There was a book excerpt and information about the author but no way to get potential readers to find it.
POD author Sabra Morgan, formerly of Arnold, published Great Mother Mountain, Valley Echoes and The Majesty of Trees with iUniverse. Shes turned the imagination that inspired three novels to attracting readers. The challenge is marketing, marketing, marketing, she says, but I like to think outside the box. I use Patricia Cornwalls model of writing in series to bring writers along to the next book.
Morgan has a built-in community of interest, which shes exploiting. My characters are gay/lesbian though theres nothing erotic so I market through a gay book club, she says. One book involves a womens bowling league, and thats an opportunity to market to a huge national group.
iUniverse helps, too. Readers can review my books in their entirety at the website, Morgan says.
Austin Camacho printed two mystery novels with Infinity Publishing: Blood and Bones and Collateral Damage. That publisher now offers a marketing opportunity with author workshops. It was even better for Camacho. Infinity wrote a book called Marketing Print-on-Demand Fiction to present at conferences.
I was invited to sign books in Infinitys booth at Book Expo America, says Camacho. It was a big moment when I sat with a line of people waiting for a signature. This is the way its supposed to be, and my wife was there to take the photo to prove it.
That appearance felt right, but it didnt sell many books. I work hard at selling my fiction books, he says. Working hard means spending up to six hours a week on promotion. He creates his own brochures and bookmarks. On his website, Camacho advertises with short stories and essays. Hes worked his way onto radio and cable access TV. He tries to speak on panels and teach classes at writers conferences.
Sales are slow but steady, says Camacho of his hard work. The effect is cumulative. Things dont always appear to work, but they add up.
Book signings are every authors first thought, but Comacho finds they dont do much. With fiction, readings wont do, he says, so Ive created a 40-minute talk about mystery fiction, using as examples my own books about hard-boiled detectives and strong female characters.
A local chain-store bookseller agrees that book signings are iffy for both mainstream and POD authors. Unless youve already got a name, a built-in interest group or a big family, audiences can be thin. Local author and small publisher Edward Allen Faine, of IMPress, leaflets the parking lot on the night of a reading to draw in listeners.
For chain bookstores, mainstream book signings are typically arranged by the publishing house, depending on the market share of each store. Independent authors are outside the system, says the bookseller. POD publishers havent created one of their own. An author is competing against over 100,000 titles. They must be prepared.
Some bookstores also schedule signings for local POD authors alone or in groups. Brun sold eight copies of his book at a Barnes & Noble group event all to friends he had invited himself.
A group brings in a larger audience, but you are still at the mercy of reader interest and the weather, says the book seller. Independents do well if they already have a well-known name like Marion Warren or Marlin Fitzwater.
Fitzwater admits his unique status makes selling books easier. Im already in a number of public forums where people want the book. I dont handle any sales myself. If my host wants books for a speech, I give them the Xlibris bookstore information. Or people in the audience buy it directly from Xlibris.
Llovio, who published Degas Street through iUniverse, had to build his own market. The book is a mystery/thriller, a quick read, he says. Im not mining anything special, so I hired a publicist. I got on TV and radio. Ive done book signings. But I think the secret is to get on the shelves. I want to buy a stock of my books and get them into independent book stores.
Getting books on the shelves of a large bookstore is not so easy. At least one independent author comes in every month, says an Annapolis bookseller. Most have no idea about marketing. You have to have an ISBN number. You have to have a perfect-bound book [as opposed to spiral, for instance]. You have to have your book with a publisher who will take returns. I dont know if they miss it or the publisher doesnt tell them, she says.
The truth is, its never occurred to most first authors that marketing is the second half of publishing. Nor do publishers, establishment or on-demand, tell them.
Morgan worked at Barnes & Noble when her first book came out, and she was allowed to stock it herself. I was working the cash register when a customer placed my book in front of me to ring up, she relates. It was a really rewarding feeling.
Independents attract independents. Camacho ranks the Hard Bean Cafe in Annapolis as one of the best places for book signings. Its an independent little place that put up some posters. In a chain store, people avert their eyes. They dont want to get snared. At Hard Bean theres a lot of traffic, friendly people.
Another truth, concentration-camp memoirist Polansky figured out for herself. Marketing is tiring, she says. You have to have a thick skin. A Washington, D.C., bookseller once said to me, I hope this whole POD changes because it makes people like you think youre published when youre not. That hurt.
But Polansky persists. I consider every situation a potential publicity opportunity. I take full advantage of the Internet. I even appeared on a game show once so I could mention my book during the meet-the-contestants interlude.
Hard Truths about Sales
How effective are POD authors at selling their own books? Our local bookseller says: There are Cinderella stories, and everyone wants that, but for most its a fantasy. For a POD author to sell 1,000 books per year is good. But you cant live on that.
At $1 to $4 per book in royalties minus endless opportunities to spend money on promotion no one we interviewed is getting rich. But our authors are mostly philosophical about their sales and their publishing adventure.
Fitzwater, who puts no emphasis on sales, has sold about 1,000 copies in two years. Xlibris gives him a regular printed report with a royalty check.
Camacho checked his sales on his private Internet account the day we spoke. He had sold exactly 1,314 of his two books as of that moment. That seemed enough, for now, I like having a book in my hands, he says. Its the best thing about being a writer.
But it isnt enough for the future. Camacho has already arranged that his next book be produced by a small press, Publishing Gold of New York state. He calls that a small step toward legitimacy. Theres no money out of pocket. It can be sent to a reviewer with a chance of being accepted. If the world sees you as a real author, you get treated differently.
Polansky has 2,000 sales to her credit. She wants more. She says, My goal is to have it picked up by a mainstream publisher. I think it would make a great movie.
Llovio has sold up to 600 books. Im rewriting my second book now, he says, after he finishes a days writing at Bay Weekly. Its the best book since the Bible, with a slightly smaller cast. The hero only gets crucified metaphorically. Im hoping to go mainstream this time. If not, Ill go back to iUniverse.
Morgan has sold 400 books. Though I havent made my money back, she says, I will leave my books to my niece, and they will live on for her.
Brun counts his sales of Cold Coffee at 20.
Me? In the first two weeks, Ive sold 35 from Carmel, California, to Hennef, Germany, even before book parties scheduled in the next week. Im as optimistic as any new author.
Advice from the Pioneers
Like guides leading expeditions along the Chisholm Trail to the dream of the promised land, POD authors are enthusiastic about sharing their experiences with other would-be authors.
My best advice for authors is Never take no for an answer, says Polansky, whose next book is a vision fiction novel about a woman who tries to be a control freak beyond the grave.
Remember this, says Fitzwater. The only people who come to book signings are your friends and acquaintances. I have done book signings in stores all across America, and 95 percent of everyone who comes to the store, and actually buys a book, already knows you. My point is, no matter who publishes your book, throw your own book signings.
Brooks says, Exhaust all the traditional paths first. Having the name of a big-time publisher on your book gives it all that clout with book sellers. But if publishing-on-demand is your path, she cautions that Its like buying a car. Compare publishers to make sure they offer whats right for you.
Depend on yourself as much as on them, she further advises. Some people send just anything to POD publishers. A lot of the books have spelling, punctuation and grammar errors. That makes it hard for those who are serious writers.
Camacho offers another tip. Involvement in a writing community helps a lot, he says. Maryland Writers Association [in Arnold] is geared more toward new writers and up-and-coming authors than some of the others.
Authors write because they love it. Thats the final truth.
The best thing is the actual writing, says Morgan, making words flow, tidbits of facts falling into place. The entire process refreshes me.
Polansky feels the same way. I vividly remember working on a particular scene that flowed so easily it stunned me, she recalls with pleasure. When I reread it, I got butterflies in my stomach. Something told me this book was going to be good.
Says Llovio, When it comes to authors, we love to write. We do it for ourselves. But if someone reads it, its nice when they say, Hey, I liked your book, Degas Street.
Writers publish for the sake of readers.
If youre a reader, if you enjoy a brain-twisting mystery, then pick up one of my novels, says Comacho.
Like the first, the last word goes to Marlin Fitzwater, whos seen the big picture, both sides: The only way to be really disappointed about publishing your book is if you expect to make money, he says. Nobody makes money writing books. The rewards are pride, satisfaction, publicity, lecture opportunities and fun. And those rewards are available to everyone who writes books.
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Call the Briefing
An insightful memoir of the Reagan/Bush years, the book provides a richly detailed account of both presidents, their lives and their power. Fitzwater, the only press secretary to have served under two Presidents, gave over 850 press briefings in six years, winning praise from the news media and the public for his honesty and good humor.
Murder for Breakfast
Currently out of print
The tale of Norwegians who arrive in the U.S. in 1918, make money and pour it into stocks, only to lose it all, is part memoir, part embellished family history. It comes to a bitter-sweet ending like many an immigrant familys Depression-era story. First of a trilogy, the story set in California and New York, wins praise from the news media and the public for its honesty and good humor.
Far Above Rubies
Based on a true story, this novel recounts the experiences of a Dutch woman who voluntarily accompanied her six stepdaughters to Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The author heard this compelling story from the heroines niece, Mieneke Gold, while volunteering as a docent for the touring photographic exhibit Anne Frank in the World. She wrote the story with Mienekes blessing.http://author40.tripod.com; www.publishersmarketplace.com
Drugs, prostitution and murder in Clearwater, Florida, keep readers turning pages to discover how 15-year-old Rebecca Madison will survive just one more night in the underbelly of paradise. With Paul Easterman, a young, once-promising journalist, Rebecca fights police, FBI, a sadistic hit man, a nurturing social worker and a pimp for a chance at life beyond the horrors of Degas Street. www.iuniverse.com/bookstore
Lust for Danger
She relishes an ocean breeze, the luxury of silk and the feel of a 9mm gun gripped in her hand. Suspense builds as Kathrin Night, special agent of a secret division of the United Nations Security Council, uses her FBI and Navy Intelligence training, her high-tech resources and when necessary her crafty, alluring ways with men to dig deeper into an investigation that threatens to expose scandalous political alliances. Defying death in situations all over the world, Night discovers a labyrinth of treachery leading to a plot to commit mass-murder on a chilling scale. Can she stop it before its too late? www.ksbrooks.com; www.iuniverse.com/bookstore
Great Mother Mountain, Valley Echoes,
The Majesty of Trees
Mattie Mason, better known as Great Mother Mountain, must rescue a member of her family, no small feat for someone whos in her grave. Merging the past and the present together, this feisty grandmother crafts a masterful rescue mission to save a three-year-old toddlers life. Espionage novelist Sidney Masons career is in full bloom, when the loss of her grandmother throws her into downfall. Sidneys literary agent, Steven Wade is convinced Sidney is headed for meltdown and encourages her to hire an assistant. Enter Parker Bannister, who hires on as Sidneys all-purpose girl Friday. Now Matties plan can go into action. Her rescue mission is about to begin. www.authorsden.com; www.iuniverse.com/bookstore
Blood and Bones,
Kyle, a teenage boy, lies dying of leukemia His only hope is a bone marrow transplant from his father, who disappeared before he was born. Police are helpless, so Kyles family puts their trust in a troubleshooter named Hannibal Jones. Warren Murphy, two-time Edgar Award winner and creator of The Destroyer adventure series says Blood and Bone is a hair-raising roller coaster ride of a story, and Hannibal Jones bursts into the world of the fictional private eye like a pack of high explosives. I cant wait to see him in action again. www.ascamacho.com; www.buybooksontheweb.com
forthcoming; Intrigue Books, an imprint of Publishing Gold
At the Feet of Mother Meera:
The Lessons of Silence
This non-fiction book tells of Mother Meera, a beautiful young Indian woman whose presence is so powerful that people from all over the world are attracted to her German home. It tells of the intimate blessing and grace of her silent look and her delicate touch, given one by one to hundreds who visit her each week.
The book tells of the impact of this silent blessing as lessons in becoming more truly alive, more inwardly calm no matter what hurricane may be sweeping through our lives.
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