Sunday, October 23, 2011

Taking the Plunge: Self-Publishing

By Kathleen B. Jones

Last week's story in the New York Times about Amazon's decision to enter the arena of publishing with a number of books in several genres sent the publishing field into a state of heightened anxiety. As for me, it had the opposite effect. I've been hovering on the edge of a decision to self-publish my latest book, and every time I thought about it I began to tremble. But when I read author Laurel Saville's story in the NYT article, my anxiety abated and I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders.

Like me, Laurel was an experienced writer with a memoir she'd been shopping around to agents and publishers with little luck. As the New York Times reported, with New York publishers as the gatekeepers, she'd been "locked out of the game." Not that they thought her book was unworthy. Quite the contrary. "I got lots of praise," she was quoted as saying, "but no takers." I've had exactly the same experience with this latest book, Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt, also a memoir.

My book cuts across genres, blending scholarly commentary with personal narrative. It tells the story of how studying one woman's ideas (Hannah Arendt's) about what makes ordinary people behave badly unexpectedly launched me on a "thinking journey" past islands of uncertainty about decisions in my own life toward the shores of responsibility and forgiveness. I try to bring complicated concepts in political theory down to earth and make these ideas meaningful for thinking about difficult decisions we make every day in our lives.

I've sent the book around to loads of agents and gotten lots of praise for the concept and the writing. But no takers. What to do? I decided to write to Laurel Saville for advice.

She'd been lucky. She'd published her book with iUniverse and then spent a little money to be listed among self-published authors on Publisher's Weekly, a major source of information for authors and all those connected to the publishing industry. Then someone wrote a review of her book and it caught the attention of Amazon. The rest, as they say, is history. I didn't expect to have the same experience as she, but I wanted to hear more about her experience and see what she recommended. So I told her a little about my book and my experience. "I'm standing on the edge of the self-publishing pool," I wrote in an email, "about to plunge."

"Do it," she wrote back almost immediately. "Now there are many more avenues than when I came out with my book. There's CreateSpace and other modes that give you lots of distribution options. Just make sure you watch the whole process of production like a hawk. And hire a publicist. I found one who gave me great coverage for not a lot of money."

I thanked her for providing further support for my decision and started researching self-publishing options, along with publicists, including Laurel's own recommendation, Ann-Marie Nieves, who operates GetRed PR in New York.

So far, I'm leaning toward CreateSpace for production. And since I was heading to New York for a conference, I made an appointment with Ann-Marie Nieves of GetRed to begin to think forward toward marketing and publicizing my book.

I've mapped out a calendar for the upcoming months: finish final edits on the manuscript by January, find a cover designer--I have loads of graphic design contacts--upload my manuscript, and start the media and networking (including social media) blitz to get the word out about my new book.

Looks like I didn't have to wait for New Year's this year to be resolved!


Laurel Saville said...

Congratulations on taking the plunge! I didn't realize you were in San Diego. There's a good chance I will have to be in LA within the next month -- if so, I will let you know and maybe we can meet then or I can address your entire group. Please keep me posted on your progress and be patient with the journey. It's taken me almost a decade to get here, from starting the book in my MFA program, to getting an agent, through a thousand revisions, a dozen publishers, etc. You have to keep putting yourself in the position for luck to find you.

Laurel Saville, "Unraveling Anne"

wellywood woman said...

There are so many options now, aren't there? And they all involve hard work. I just published my "7 Risks for Single Mothers; & the Art of Managing Them" on Blogger, where their new Dynamic format allows writers to publish books more easily than in the past (although the format also has drawbacks). "7 Risks" is based on my own experience and stories single mothers told me, and to support other single mothers to manage risks, it offers a framework that I developed with art students. I'm happy not to sell it because I want it to be accessible, and have been very happy with the feedback I've had. But I use other strategies for other projects. Lots of good luck with yours! I hope you post again about your progress.

Kathi Diamant said...

I'm excited for you!

Laurel Corona said...

Kathy--be sure to put your name in the post so people know it's you who wrote it!

Sky of Red Poppies said...

Good for you, Kathy. I enjoyed your article and forwarded it to friends. I have obviously been very happy with self publishing, but you should prepare for tons of work and the fact that none of the big publications will review it. Apparently it's their going rule!

Kathleen B. Jones said...

Thanks for all the comments! Am continuing the research behind this step and will keep everyone up on my progress. How silly of me to forget to put my name in the original post. Will correct that!

After talking with Ann-Marie Nieves about the self-pub route, the comments Laurel and Zohreh made above about the obstacles ahead have been confirmed--major publications have a "policy" not to give air time to self-published works. That's a downer I have to consider.

And, in the mean time, research into archives at the Schlesinger library at Harvard bore a lot of fruit. I will be deepening the narrative in unexpected, exciting ways.

I might just make one more stab at Harvard U Press, which was originally interested in the book, and would be more interested, given the new materials.

Laurel, I hope you make it to LA, and let's see if we can figure out a way to get you before our group.

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