Recently, a columnist in the San Francisco Chronicle, my local newspaper, wrote an article titled “Is it worth paying $7,500 to have your book published? Maybe.”
That “maybe” doesn’t indicate how little research she did. As a reader as well as a freelance book editor, I found that lack disappointing. For many reasons, it’s definitely worth paying to have your published.
We all understand that it’s ever more difficult to get your work, particularly fiction, accepted by a mainstream publisher. Happily, there’s an ever-growing indie-publishing world out there, one that has nothing to do with the ancient, disparaging term “vanity press.” Even so, this writer—and many others, of course—still seems to think that “if your book is any good,” one of the “reputable publishing houses” will want to publish it. Anything less, she implied, is either intended for family only or the work of a vain and talentless hack.
That kind of thinking, however, is completely outdated. I’ve worked with dozens of self-publishing authors, from well-known writers to first timers. So it grieves me that people—especially like those browsing this site, putting so much time and tears into their writing—aren’t getting good information.
The truth is, more and more published authors are choosing to keep more of the process, and all the royalties, in their own hands. And like any writer, the first-time novelists, memoirists, self-helpers and others feel passionate about what they have to say and want to get it out there. Investing in their own work, perhaps instead of taking a vacation or buying a new car this year, is a way to make that happen.
Some writers don’t care about earning the money back; they’re glad to have produced their one novel or memoir. And yes, every once in a while, a traditional publisher happens on a “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “The Martian.” That occurs, by the way, with less blockbusting books, too. Just thinking of my clients, Kevin McLean’s memoir “Crossing the River Kabul” was picked up by a university press and received excellent reviews.
Literary agents are more hesitant to take on mid-list or less-commercial-seeming books these days, but that’s no reason not to persevere. Several of my clients have done just that and never looked back.
“When It’s Over,” historical fiction by Barbara Ridley, was a finalist for six indie-press awards. Christine Volker’s “Venetian Blood” won the (May) Sarton Women’s Book Award in contemporary fiction, the Independent Press Award for Mystery and First-Time Published Fiction, and a Pinnacle Book Achievement Award for International Mystery. You can bet that this recognition, as well as their good reviews, will help both when their second novels are done.
Ego had nothing to do with Therese Crutcher-Marin’s persistence in getting her heart-felt memoir out. While Kirkus gave “Watching Their Dance: Three Sisters, a Genetic Disease, and Marrying Into a Family at Risk for Huntington’s” a strong review, she has focused on selling it at HD fundraising and other events. So far, she’s made more than $20,000. Imagine how much she’d earn if she tried to reach a wider audience.
The figure in the Chronicle headline came from She Writes Press, a hybrid press in Berkeley. When She Writes, which published the two novelists I’ve mentioned, accepts a manuscript, it does beautiful work for a fee of, yes, $7,500; but if the book requires editing—and what work doesn’t?—that costs extra.
And She Writes keeps 40 percent of the royalties. That’s much less than the mainstream publishers take, but 40 percent more than if you become your own publisher, as Therese did.
After getting professional editing, many authors work with a graphic designer, who creates the cover, interior design, and print and e-books and—almost as important—gets their book into the IngramSpark catalogue. A longtime, well-known book distributor, Ingram added this excellent print-on-demand feature several years ago. Once bookstores know about your book, they can order copies through Ingram, just as with any other title. (Lots of companies can help you create your book, but they won’t distribute it. You could work with Amazon’s KDP, but most independent bookstores won’t stock books created through Amazon.) Doing your own marketing is key, but that’s true whether you have a traditional publisher or not.
And now there are sites like this one, and people like those you’re reading here, to help you, from getting a topnotch editor and design to marketing your now-professional-quality book.
Honestly, I could go on and on in exasperation that more hardworking potential authors haven’t explored this ever-improving option. I’ve worked with so many happily self-published authors. It’s a new world out there! Why not take a little time to explore it?
After working in the magazine world, most recently as a senior editor at San Francisco magazine, Pamela Feinsilber has for more than a decade been editing books. She’s at www.pamelafeinsilber.com.