PART 2: GET IT OUT THERE!
In Article I of this series I mentioned that I am currently seeing the doors opening to one of the most exciting era’s of writing the world has known since the invention of the printing press. Those doors are opening primarily in the area of publication.
In this day, writers have so many avenues to choose from for the publication of their work. We are no longer constrained to grovel at the feel of the “big name” publishing companies, who periodically throw a bone out to one or two new writers, but who demand such absolute control of the work produced by those writers that the original creator of the work has very little – if any – say in how it is produced and marketed He also receives a mere pittance for his share of the profits.
So many of those houses have genre molds that they use to produce their books, and no matter what an individual author is capable of writing, he is forced to make his work fit that mold. Moreover, almost every one of the mainstream publishers has closed their doors to communicating with individual authors on a personal basis (unless those authors have already produced a couple NYT best-sellers for them). Authors must now hire agents to do the communicating for them – and to take part of the profits.
Now, for writers who have no problem with being pressed into molds, or with putting some of their hard-earned money into the agent’s pocket, or with waiting at least a year to see their book published, that avenue is still an option. But for those writers who believe their work is worthy of being produced at the length and in the format that they choose personally, and who don’t want to pay a third party to talk for them, there is an ever increasing number of options that are just waiting to be accessed.
For example, there are very small, independent publishers all over the world who can offer writers high quality products and help with marketing, but who often get overlooked in the rush to get to the big names. There are university presses that are also a good possibility – especially if your work is in any way academic in nature. And there are numerous channels for publishing your work independently.
Author published books were once looked down on by the market place, but not any longer. In fact, during the last decade, independently published books have made their way to the top of the charts in the marketplace. Author-published books are claiming spots on the best-seller lists and raking in tens of thousands of dollars for their enterprising authors. Of course, books published by the authors must also be marketed by those authors, but it’s also common for authors of books published by the biggest publishers in the country to have to do a large amount of work to promote and sell their own books.
In recent years, one of the biggest markets in the world, Amazon.com, has established programs through which they offer modern authors the tools with which to put their work into book format and the platform from which to sell it. Their original program was CreateSpace, which offered both a free publishing program and one that allowed authors to pay a moderate sum for publishing help. It grew into a very successful venture – both for Amazon and for authors.
Then Amazon created the Kindle Direct Publishing program, which offers publication in digital format – and an accompanying program called KDP Paperback Beta, which offers publication of paperbacks. The KDP programs give authors a choice of using a free program, in which the authors do all the formatting and cover creating personally, or using Amazon’s editorial and production help, which costs a fee. This year, Amazon has discontinued the CreateSpace program and merged it into the KDP programs.
E-books, in general, have become the most popular thing since ice cream, and there are numerous online programs — other than Amazon — that allow authors to format their work into that highly-marketable form. A few of those are also free. And, yes, there are multiple authors who have independently published their own e-books, marketed them, and started raking in enough money to quit their “day jobs.”
Amazon is not my favorite company in the world, but let’s face facts: it is the biggest marketplace. If the company is going to offer an author a chance to put his book into print (or digital format) and then offer to put it in the online store, what does any author have to lose? Even authors who still want to search for agents and publishers who may like their books and agree to publish them, can still make use of Amazon or other free programs while they’re waiting. They will get their names into the marketplace, get their books read, and get great experience in dealing with the market and with the reading public, and that’s never a waste of time or energy.
I would suggest staying away from most of the vanity presses out there. If you’re not familiar with the term “vanity press,” I’m talking about those publishers who ask you to pay them to publish your book. I have more than one friend who has been badly burned by such companies. Now all of them are not a bad choice. But many of them are, so you want to be very careful. You want to be sure, first of all, that the price they charge is not going to force you to price your books so high (in order to recoup your money) that they won’t sell.
Also, vanity presses tend to take the money and give you a stack of books, but that’s where they stop. If they are not going to help you market the finished product, then you are better off to lay out your own material in the format you choose and simply pay an independent printer to print up however many copies you want to start with. If you think your work needs more editing first, but you can’t afford a professional editor yet, try hiring a college student who is majoring in English or journalism. They’re less expensive than professional editors, but generally quite knowledgeable, and usually very careful because they love composition.
Often, depending on what kind of look you want your books to have, you can even purchase very low-priced equipment that will allow you to produce your books entirely on your own, using a staple-stitch, a coil, or a plastic comb for the binding. Those bindings are becoming more and more popular. And when well-done, some of those bindings actually hold together better than many of the cheaply produced “perfect-bound” paperbacks.
One other thought worth mentioning here is that collaboration can be a wonderful thing. If you find yourself just too timid to step out in the beginning — or if even the lesser expensive channels are just too much for your pocket book right now — you might consider combining your efforts with those of a fellow author or photographer. A combination of photographs and inspiring words that match them makes a pretty impressive book. Or a collection of short stories from the pen of two completely different kinds of writers offers readers a greater variety in one book than one writer alone can offer.
Now, obviously, once you have copies of your books in hand, you must think about marketing. If you choose a program like one offered by Amazon, it comes with a package deal that automatically markets the book via their own webstore. If you have your own copies printed, you will have to do the leg work contacting bookstores and other retailers. But that part is often great fun and can make you many new friends in the book world. Offer book-readings and signings in local libraries, local stores, community events, etc. Even an occasional ad in a newspaper is not super expensive and can pay off well. And, of course, all social media platforms offer access to thousands of people who just might be interested in learning about your newest book.
I should mention that there is one independent publishing cost that is somewhat exorbitant (at least in my opinion). That is the cost of ISBN’s. In the U. S. we must order them in sets of at least 10, and that, along with matching bar codes, can get a little pricey. However, remember that ISBN’s are not mandatory – at least in the U. S. (Check your own nation’s laws on this one.) They are extremely helpful in marketing books, but many local bookstore owners prefer adding their own bar codes to the books from their own accounting system, and will often willingly offer a local author’s book as part of their stock without an ISBN. There are definite advantages to having the ISBN, of course, especially as it allows your books to be listed in a huge directory of books available to the general marketplace. If you choose to work with a publishing house or one of the programs offered by Amazon, those publishing platforms will take care of assigning ISBN’s for you if you wish.
Another publishing avenue that has worked for some authors is to offer their work (whether short stories, essays, poems, or novels broken up into chapters) to periodicals. Many a great novel has seen its first audience via the pages of a magazine or newspaper that offered the story one chapter at a time, and then went on to win itself a place on the best-seller lists. There are also multiple online magazines that offer stories/articles by free-lance writers, and like e-books, online periodicals are definitely here to stay.
Personal essays and memoirs have reached a new level of popularity in the last decade, and the marketplace has a healthy list of periodicals – both in print and online – that are open to submissions from unknown authors. Many are even seeking new authors to add to their list of contributors. Then, of course, there are all the specialty periodicals like travel journals, food journals, home improvement journals, and magazines that focus on sewing, hunting, social/political issues, etc, etc. The list is almost endless, and a few searches online for “periodicals currently accepting submissions” will glean several sites to check out.
What about copyright? Most people are not aware of this fact, but in the U.S. (Check your own nation’s laws) as soon as you complete a work, that work is considered under copyright to you. There is no need to send copies anywhere or pay any government office to file the work and send you a verification. The work is copyrighted, and it is your responsibility to post the copyright emblem and date with every published copy of that work.
Now, you can send your work into the copyright office and have it registered for a fee. When you do that, the office then has a record of the date they received it, and should you ever want to take someone to court for infringement of your copyright, the copyright office can supply documentation of your authorship from that date. Some authors choose other ways to document their authorship. For example, they mail themselves a copy of the manuscript so that it is postmarked with a certain date, and if unopened, they consider that to be valid proof of their original authorship. Whether or not a court would allow that kind of “proof” remains to be seen.
But the point here is that you do not have to “pay” for the copyright privileges for your work in the U. S. They are automatically guaranteed by the government upon the moment of completion of your work. One other point of note: In the U.S., there is a law requiring every author (or publisher) to send two copies of any work published in the U. S. to the Library of Congress. There is no charge for this action, but it is technically required by law and can result in a fine if the author does not comply with it.
One other note concerning copyright is important to understand. If you are hired by a newspaper or other periodical to write a specific article/essay/story, that periodical generally considers the copyright for that piece to be theirs. You are actually doing what is termed “work-for-hire,” and because you have been specifically assigned to write that particular piece for that specific publication – and are being paid to do so – the publication owns the copyright. So if you decide to write for any periodicals, be sure to find out ahead of time what their policy is concerning the copyright of your material. Even if their standard policy is for them to maintain the copyright, you may be able to work out a deal for specific articles if maintaining the copyright for those particular pieces is important to you.
Of course, the publishing ideas and suggestions presented here are just that: ideas and suggestions. You may have other ideas of your own that work just as well or better. The main purpose of this second article in the “Year of the Author” series is to get you started thinking about getting your work “out there” for people to read and enjoy.
If you prefer a mainstream publisher, by all means, contact them, but if you find yourself waiting for years — or wading through a pile of rejection letters — you might consider starting with one of the other publishing alternatives. (And by the way, just because some people say your book is not acceptable for publication doesn’t mean that it isn’t. Some of the most-loved and best-selling novels in the world were rejected multiple times before they ever found a place on the bookstore shelves.)
But whether you lean toward the big names in publishing houses or not, get rid of the stigma that used to be attached to author-published books. Many of the best-known authors in the world published their own work at one time or another. And many of the best-selling authors on the market today began by publishing their first books themselves. In fact, a few who are already published authors are now moving in the direction of publishing independently because of the greater control and greater profit that method offers.
For other information about the various open doors to publishing go online and type in a couple well-worded questions about the subject. One place that generally has a plethora of information is the Writer’s Digest website. That might be one of your best starting places.
Bottom line here: Get your work out into the hands of the public! I’m encouraging each and every one of you who knows you have something to say, through words or pictures or both, to share it with the rest of the world. Dig out that manuscript that has been collecting dust — or pull together several dozen of the stories/poems you’ve posted on your blog – or assemble a collection of your best photographs along with inspiring captions — or sit down and finish that novel you started two years ago – and get it out there! Your readers are waiting!