Navigating the Online Publishing and Promotion World

This is a special Edition article from Writing it Real: ARE YOU THINKING OF SELF-PUBLISHING AND WONDERING WHAT THE PROCESS IS LIKE? IT NEVER HURTS TO HEAR FROM ONE WHO HAS SUCCESSFULLY NAVIGATED THE PROCESS. WITH HUMOR AND SELF-AWARENESS, RHONDA WILEY-JONES TAKES US ON HER JOURNEY AS WRITER TURNED SELF-PUBLISHER. READING HER NARRATIVE IS LIKE SITTING IN THE CHAIR NEXT TO HER. WHEN SHE’S DONE TELLING YOU THE STORY, YOU’LL HAVE A CLEAR UNDERSTANDING OF THE UNDERTAKING, ITS TERMINOLOGY AND CHOICES.

My book, At Home in the World: Growing Up and Growing Away, was more than halfway complete and I had put off the pursuit of where and how to publish for some time, against expert advice to the contrary. In my folly, I accepted that I was not able to think about the publishing process before completing the book.

One day, though, when a pop-up ad appeared in the right hand margin of my email box, I considered it. The ad said I could request a free publication guide. I thought what can I lose? I clicked on “to learn more about self-publishing.”

Within ninety seconds, my cell phone rang. A representative from the company I had just ordered the publication guide from greeted me, “Rhonda, we received your request for a publication guide. Can you tell me about your book? Is it fiction or nonfiction?

I was flabbergasted to hear from a real person before I received the guide via email. I answered, “It’s nonfiction, my memoir.”

“Oh, so it’s a memoir. That’s fantastic. Tell me about your book.”

“Ah, I… it’s about my travels as a young girl and young woman.” I was not prepared to discuss my book. I had not figured out how to describe my book to others yet. In fact, I kept trying to explain it to myself, and was not having much luck.

Upbeat, cheerful, and insistent, the representative asked questions in that twenty-something, rapid-fire dialect of the young.

“How terrific! I’m sure it is interesting. Who is your audience for this book?”

Now that seemed like a kind of personal question to me. I thrashed about in my response to her, hoping to sound like I had a good answer. She fired more questions at me, questions in publishing jargon that I had trouble translating into plain English.

“Look, I merely ordered the publication guide to give me some things to think about as I finish my book. I’m not really ready to answer your questions. I will  read the material in your guide and get back to you.”

“Well, what if I call you next week and we can discuss these items in detail after you have given them some thought. Would next Monday work for you?”

I left the door open. She called the next Monday at 6:30 p.m.—a bad time for me. I felt like a car shopper, overwhelmed by a bulldog sales representative. Every time she called for the next several weeks, it was the worst possible time of that particular day. I started not answering. I did not like myself for doing this. After weeks of pursuing me, her calls ceased.

I forgot about the unpleasant experience until about nine months later, when I saw another similar ad from a different company and thought I would order their publication guide to compare to the first one. I compared costs for service levels, where I learned about book stubs, bookstore returnability, and the number of image insertions allowed at each level and the number of books offered free to authors for marketing.

Another immediate call came. I could understand this fellow. He was not as demanding as the previous representative had been. He conducted his obligatory follow-up call with more patience. I actually liked the guy, but I was still trying to figure out the theme and threads within my book.

All of this to say, I hope you have a better idea about your book than I did. I was writing to discover the meaning and message of the book. I will admit that it would have been helpful to have started my investigation of the publication process earlier. However, I refuse to name my delayed response to the representatives’ questions a mistake or failure.

During the time of my interactions with ultimately four companies, which each charge set-up fees for self-publication, I learned how to read their websites and compare levels of service. I discovered that these types of companies charge about $800 in set-up fees for the minimal level of their services all the way up to about $4000 when an author adds more products and services (this may be different if you look at different providers than I did) . I determined that if I hired a company, I wanted the medium range of services that would cost about $1500-2400.

This price point would have bought me layout and cover design; ISBN and copyright registration; editorial evaluation (limited big-picture assistance); some marketing materials, like BookStubs (plastic cards that display the full-color book cover on the front sides and on the reverse, ordering information and a scan-able quick response code), worldwide book and e-pub format distribution; a help-line, as well as subscription to help materials; and author discounts.

I found out that “bookstore returnability” was vital to helping bookstores want to buy my book. If the publishing company allows bookstores to return unsold books after a month or so, bookstores are more likely to take the risk to place them on their shelves. This level of service would cost me the top of the medium-range level of service—$2400.

Other small items jacked up the price of the publication package, some of which seemed frivolous, and some that seemed nice, but not necessary. A book signing kit seemed like something I could figure out for myself given time and research. I would enjoy professional book reviews intended to provide an extra boost to my book, but felt expensive to me. In the end, it would have been.

When the book was finished, I submitted the manuscript to an editor. I asked a local university English professor for a referral to students or recent graduates who she thought could edit my manuscript. She gave me two names and the first on her list was a recent graduate who had edited one full-length manuscript previously. I contracted for her services. With her services, I paid less than is standard in the industry, or $500 for almost 200 pages of copy.

Before publication and during the final edit stage, I sent the manuscript to writing instructors and writer friends, who had authored books themselves. I asked them to read it and if they felt comfortable doing so, to write a 2-3 sentence paragraph endorsing the book. I asked this favor from five people. Three responded with an endorsement; one of those three also wrote a full review of the book that I could use in the future in local newspapers or similar venues.

After I received the three endorsements from those I knew, I realized I wanted an additional endorsement. I had read a book by a pastor and theologian who spoke to the thread in my book about leaving the church of my youth, which had given me so much, but no longer matched my belief system. I found an email address for him on-line; he still taught at a university. I boldly wrote telling him about my book and admiration of his and asking if he might have an interest in reading my manuscript to comment on it. In a matter of hours, I received a heart-rending story about his being caretaker to his wife who was in late stage cancer and his keen desire to read my book. Although he did not have the time to read my book completely, he skimmed it and offered an endorsement I was free to use or delete. Are you kidding me? His comment leads my list of endorsements.

Now that I was ready, husband, Lynn, suggested I call his high school friend (and author) to find out how he self-published. The answer: CreateSpace. I also talked with a local author who had used both Smashwords and Lulu and had liked the way they each did business. All three do not charge set-up fees, but take a portion of the book cost after publication—much different from the previous companies.

Both types of services (fee for service upfront and royalty for service after printing) typically provide print-on-demand services, known as POD. Lynn’s high school friend told me CreateSpace seemed to get more positive press than others.

In the end, I decided I did not want to be out several hundreds of dollars to publish my book. I did not want to keep an inventory of books in my home, so POD made a lot of sense for me. I wanted friends and family to read my book and others who might hear about it.

On the other hand, I wanted to sell the book in bookstores, but could live without the option of “bookstore returnability,” I could always take books in to conduct a book signing or book-reading event and sell what I had with me. I could sell them at workshops and speaking engagements, if I took them with me.

I simply needed a way to get my book in publication format, printed on demand, and have an adequate supply when I needed them.

Once I made the decision to go with CreateSpace, however, I put off doing anything and started my next writing project. I am famous for not completing projects, before starting the next.

Then one day in late August of 2013, I told myself that Lynn wanted closure on my book project and I wanted it more than he did. This would be my anniversary gift to him August 30.

I stumbled around reading many of the tips and advice in articles about self-publishing on the CreateSpace website. I worked my way through most of the process, circled back around, and decided on a free assigned ISBN number by CreateSpace. Finally, I had a pleasing cover using a photo my cousin had taken of me when I was fifteen years old in front of the Trevi fountain in Rome. This was one of the trips highlighted in the book.

On August 29, I submitted my book for CreateSpace’s electronic check for major problems. I had only one problem in that I entered the ISBN number incorrectly. A simple fix!

In the process of making that correction, though, I discovered I had reported the same anecdote in two places. Yikes! I removed one of them from the manuscript and resubmitted again for CreateSpace’s electronic check. The book was ready. I held my breath, hit the submit button, and stared at the screen. I breathed and then waited two or three business days, until they said it was ready.

On September 3, I became a published author and Lynn received his anniversary gift only a few days late.

My advice:

  • Start earlier than you think you should.
  • Talk to other writers who have published and might be able to help, even strangers.
  • Determine what you want from the publication of your book.
  • Think through all your options.
  • Don’t be afraid to approach other authors you don’t know for endorsements.
  • BE REALISTIC! BE PRACTICAL! BE BOLD!R

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