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Jon Franklin has won two Pulitzer Prizes. His writing is used as a teaching tool on how to be a better writer. He has published several books through traditional publishing houses.
But for his next book, he might just self-publish.
Franklin, a resident of Sunderland, has been writing his entire adult life and does not have an issue finding a publisher, but he does take issue with what the world of traditional publishing has become.
He said during a recent interview that traditional publishing companies tend to stick with a formula and can rarely think outside of that.
“The problem is that publishers are certainly inadequate for anything that’s not part of a formula,” Franklin said. “They don’t know how to sell it.”
Also, when a book is sold by a traditional publisher, a small percentage of the money from the sale actually makes it to the writer. The sale price covers everything from the actual printing to bookstore fees, marketing costs and salaries at the publishing company.
Franklin hasn’t quite made up his mind to drift away from his old publishing house, but if he does self-publish in the future, he certainly won’t be alone.
With self-publishing becoming easier by the minute, thousands of authors are now eschewing the traditional and publishing their own work. Gone are the days of the self-published author being forced to order hundreds of copies of a book to justify a press run. Print on demand, or POD, allows books to be purchased one at a time, directly from websites like Amazon.com.
For Connie Reeves, that was a breakthrough. When she self-published her first novel, “Hawthorne’s Cottage,” she bought 750 copies at a cost of about $6,000. Then, she had to handle her own inventory and suddenly there were 30 boxes of books in her basement. If someone ordered her book on Amazon.com, she had to ship the book to Amazon at her own expense, and then the company shipped it to the customer.
“To keep that many boxes somewhere those boxes take up a lot of space,” Reeves said.
Now, Reeves uses CreateSpace.com, an affiliate of Amazon.com, which specializes in POD books.
A forced trend
S. Eric Briggs of Huntingtown would have loved to have a traditional publishing house for his book, “Signal 13.” He had written a fictional novel that was loosely based on his 26-year career with the Prince Frederick barrack of the Maryland State Police, and by the time he decided to self-publish it in 2008, he had been rejected 62 times by different publishers.
“If you ever had an ego, all you gotta do is write a book and try to get it published,” Briggs said. “That’s a rough market to get into.”
So in 2008, Briggs decided to self-publish. He went with a company called Booklocker.com, where his books are printed on demand. He’s sold about 700 copies over the years, and said he still sells about four books a month.
Richard Due of Huntingtown has a similar story. Due sent letters to 140 agents and 10 editors in hopes of getting his book published. “The Moon Coin” is the first in a series, “The Moon Realm” of 18 planned books, and Due spent years getting it ready to publish. Eventually, he published it himself as an e-reader, so while it is not a physical book, it can be read on Nooks, Kindles, iPads and smartphones, or any other kind of e-reader out there.
Both Due and Reeves have created their own publishing companies to go along with their books. Due started Gibbering Gnome Press, A Division of Ingenious Inventions Run Amok, Ink, and Reeves created Tannenbaum Publishing. Gibbering Gnome has Due as its only client, but Tannenbaum has five books from four authors available.
Reeves’ company is a very small operation that was originally started to give “Hawthorne’s Cottage” a more reputable feel. She said she wanted to have one step of separation between herself and the book, to give the appearance of more professionalism and make it seem that she was not just an author promoting her own book.
As it turns out, she’s not just promoting her own book anymore.
Reeves is in a writers’ club and started talking to another member of the club about a book the other member had been reading aloud at meetings. The member had sent letters to a small number of agents to no avail, so Reeves approached her about publishing the book. After that, Reeves gained two more clients.
The latter two clients’ books have not yet been published, so the company has not yet become financially lucrative. Reeves will be paid by her clients when their books start to make money.
So far, her job has been to edit, edit and edit some more, and when the books are published she will start marketing them. She said the advantages to the authors will be great, because when a book is finished “you want to be writing another book, not selling a book.”
Speaking of marketing
Writing a book might take anywhere from a few months to a few years, but once the book is written, it’s time to think about selling.
“The most important thing in marketing is to have a marketable product,” Due said.
From there, a writer needs to find a way to get noticed by readers, and that is where the real work often begins.
“There are 25,000 new e-publications every month,” Due said. “Once you have a product, you think you’re done, but you really have a whole new career.”
Kevin Grote of La Plata has released two e-versions of the first two books of his series, “The Letters of Fire and Sword.” The first was “Skye,” then “Tyburn” and soon “Tally-Ho!” will be released. Grote has been using social media to promote his books as well as sending press releases to local media.
“I hadn’t used any of the social media tools. I didn’t have a Facebook account until I started getting the books out,” he said. “Anything to get the word out. If I get my friends interested, they get the word out for me.” He also has a unique way of making sure people want to buy his books.
“I’m willing to write people into the books,” Grote said. “My sister’s a character. My hairdresser’s a character, but she got hung in the last one.” He was quick to clarify that she was not the only person to be executed in his novels.
Due’s e-book was published in early September, and in the weeks that have followed he had sold about 100 copies by mid-November. In that time, he has been pushing the book to online reviewers, which have become key to getting in front of readers. Six reviewers had picked it up in mid-November and he has another 64 lined up.
“For someone who doesn’t have $20,000 to market a book, you’ve got to take advantage of the grassroots book review bloggers,” he said. That doesn’t mean that every writer should just start sending out books to hundreds of websites that promise book reviews, though.
“You have to target the reviewer blog to the product you have. You’ve got to find somebody to review who is specific to your type of books,” he added.
Due doesn’t stop there. He is the co-owner of Second Look Books in Prince Frederick and has been using that venue to display posters advertising the book. When a photographer came to take his picture, Due was sporting a T-shirt with “The Moon Coin” on the front. He has a blog, a website for the series and is running a Facebook advertising campaign. He’s joined online forums and groups and agreed to be interviewed for discussion groups.
Competition for the attention of online reviewers has become tight as well; in some ways it’s as tough as finding a publisher. One person agreed to review “The Moon Coin,” but won’t actually do the review until July 2012.
Getting a review is akin to that statement Due made about marketing a marketable product: “I’ve been told that 98 percent of books being sent to review are basically unreadable.”
Don’t touch my precious words
Grote is lucky on several fronts. He has a technical writing background and has been using writing and editing software pretty much since it was invented, so typesetting and e-publishing come naturally to him.
But perhaps more important is that his wife is a teacher and “really good at English and grammar.” Also, he has a number of friends who are willing to read his books and provide feedback in a fairly short amount of time.
“You don’t see your own mistakes,” Grote said. “It takes another person’s hand to find that.”
Grote has extra editing requirements because he references historical documents, but the idea is the same for him as it is for any other writer: Good editing is an essential part of a good story.
“Grammar and punctuation do matter,” Due said. Also, listening to criticism can make a writer better.
“Not all criticism is valid, but a surprising amount of it is,” he said.
Franklin said no writer should publish an unedited work, even though listening to criticism can be difficult.
“A young writer does not want to be told when things don’t work,” Franklin said. “And nobody’s going to say ‘your baby’s ugly.’ But the most experienced writers, too, they need editors. ... After you write something, you have to face a lot of awful truths about it.”
Sloppy editing is, in fact, one bane of the self-published author. Direct publishers do often offer editing services, but the service comes at a cost that writers might not be willing to pay, so typos and errors can riddle a published work. Now, self-published authors are trying to overcome that reputation of poor quality.
“A lot of people don’t take the time to edit and polish, so there’s a stigma,” Reeves said. That stigma is one of the obstacles she wants to help her clients overcome by using her publishing company.
Due said he looks to his group of editors for help with content, continuity and pacing as well as finding typos.
“You’ve got to eliminate typos, spelling and grammar errors. It’s got to be perfect,” he said. When reading a book, “no one is going to read past the second or third typo.”
A little help
Author Richard Due had a few tips for self-publishing.
- Read the genre you want to write in until your eyeballs fall out. Then put them back in and read some more. Repeat.
- Make sure your novel’s word count matches the target genre you’re writing for. And remember, first-time novelists don’t — as a rule — get to break rules.
- If you think your novel is all finished, it isn’t. Get back to work. Repeat.
- When you finish editing it, and you’re sure it’s ready, print it out double spaced and edit it on paper. Repeat.
- Get thee to an editor, or do not pass go.
- Go to writers’ conferences and take advantage of their workshops and writers’ critiques with real, live editors and agents.
- Join a local writers’ group. Listen to criticism of your work. If one person in the group thinks you need to change something in particular, it’s probably fine. If three or more people in the group think it needs to change, you’ve got work to do.
- Get social: Goodreads.com, LibraryThing, Shelfari, Facebook.
- After you’ve published on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the iTunes iBookstore, submit your book for review with The Indie Book Blog Database: http://hampton-networks.com.
- If you thought having a printed book or e-book was the end of your journey, think again. Your next marathon is just starting. It’s called marketing.
Connie Reeves also has a list of tips, and the first one is that the author “go over and over your manuscript. You don’t want to send it off to anyone with punctuation, grammar, typo errors; unresolved issues; errors in fact, etc. If you haven’t done so already, then edit, edit, edit. Revise.”