Features

Do it yourself

"Do it yourself" Continued...

Issue: "2009 Books Issue," July 4, 2009

Whitener admits he didn't even know there was a difference between conventional and POD publishing. He saw a couple of ads in the back of WORLD magazine, compared the packages, and chose one of the companies to publish his book, The Grace of Losing Your Job. He based his selection on the recommendation of someone who had used the same company and was satisfied with the results.

Nemo, author of two self-published novels, The King's Game and Miller's Miracle, tried the conventional route with both of his books. He says he came close to snagging a deal, but when it fell through he turned to self-publishing. He now teaches classes on the topic to other aspiring writers and says, "There are an insane amount of options out there. You can waste thousands of dollars paying self-publishing companies for things you can do yourself. In my opinion, you're far better off using a free self-publishing website like CreateSpace or Lulu to get your books up and selling online and available for order by traditional bookstores."

Farmer Burns turned to Sally Stuart's Christian Writer's Market Guide for help in sorting through the options. "After examining what many different publishers had to offer . . . I came up with three viable candidates but narrowed it down to Winepress Publishing (Pleasant Word division) due to excellent recommendations from Ms. Stuart."

Authors have to decide how much of the work they want to do themselves. Redlin chose to do it all. He functioned as a general contractor, hiring the subcontractors, including a printer and designer, and paying them in money, books, or a combination.

All writers need editors, but many writers view them with suspicion or eschew them altogether. Although editing won't be as visible as a flashy cover, it's crucial. Whitener hired a freelance editor to copyedit and restructure his manuscript by "getting rid of rabbit trails" and making sure the manuscript, drawn from Bible studies and journals, flowed coherently. Nemo chose to rely on friends and relatives: "You need them to be honest and not worry about hurting your feelings." Forbes "was glad to get an editor close by. We met every week for five or six months. . . . We got along well."

Pastor Redlin, the poet, credits his granddaughter Rebecca "for diligently doing the greatest share of the proofing." For those who don't have in-house editors, the self-publishing companies all sell editing services on an à la carte basis. They also include some editing as part of their packages: The more you pay, the more help you get.

Author Solutions is one of the major players in self-publishing. Its imprints include Xlibris, AuthorHouse, iUniverse, and Wordclay. According to The New York Times, an average Author Solutions book sells only 150 copies-mostly to the author and his circle of acquaintances. So in one sense a cover doesn't much matter; friends will buy it regardless of its aesthetics. On the other hand, those who persevere in writing and publishing a book want it to look good. As Nemo put it, "You really do judge a book (even online) by its cover, and so I invested in a professional designer."

Whitener received custom cover design work as part of his package. He ended up paying about $3,000 up front, which included some books, some marketing and editorial help, and five hours of a designer's time to come up with an appropriate cover. Forbes used one of his wife's watercolors, painted after her diagnosis, for his cover. Redlin "chose a professional graphic designer for the cover, illustrations, and layout work. I worked with him directly as we pulled it all together in a reasonably pleasing fashion."

None of the writers I talked to published their books primarily to make money-and that's a good thing, because unless the writer gives speeches or teaches workshops, selling books is hard work.

Theoretically, these self-published books could be carried in bookstores. All of them, except for the poetry book, have ISBN numbers and barcodes. Bowker is the exclusive U.S. agent for the 13-digit number that identifies uniquely each book and publisher, and also gets the book into Books in Print. Self-published writers can either order the ISBNs directly from Bowker or use a POD company that includes it as part of its fees.

As Nemo put it: "Bookstores almost never carry anything not put out by a traditional publishing house. . . . The self-publisher puts your book into the same gigantic electronic database with about a zillion other books the bookstore buyers have never heard of. For that and a few other reasons, they are highly unlikely to put any copies of your new book in their stores."

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