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Dorothy Jane Mills' Self-Publishing Tips 

After several years of sending out sparkling but fruitless query letters and having unpleasant experiences with agents, I decided not to wait any longer for a commercial publisher. When I discovered that I could self-publish on the Internet, I decided I'd found my outlet. |Distributors| |Some Internet Publishing Resources|


The Painful Pleasures of Self-Publication

By DOROTHY  JANE MILLS
READ

For 15 books, she did as told. Some of them are still making money -- but not for her. Book #16 is her own business.

Her 15 Books
Tips for Self-Publishers
Self-Published Hits

'Net Selling

Mike Ashley of FirstBooks Library contacted me before I'd heard of the company. A real go-getter, Mike wrote to ask for the names of any of my editorial clients who might be interested in placing their books on the internet with FirstBooks. I gave Mike a list, which included me, and after asking a lot of questions I decided to go with the company myself. FirstBooks placed my book on the web within a few weeks of the time I submitted my manuscript in the summer of 1998. 

I liked the way FirstBooks included the cover I'd commissioned an artist to paint for my book, and I liked the consideration given me on the company's site. I paid extra to obtain materials about registering the book with the various standard services (copyright, ISBN, CIP, others) and copies of books on self-publishing, like Dan Poynter, The Self-publishing Manual (Santa Barbara: Para Publishing, 1997), now in its tenth edition; Tom and Marilyn Ross, The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing(Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1994), in its third edition; John Kremer, 1001 Ways to Market Your Books (Fairfield, IA, Open Horizons, 1998), in its fourth edition; Joe Vitale, Cyber Writing (New York: Amacom, 1997. 

All these books gave helpful suggestions, although I had already done so much promotion work on my earlier books and on my husband's books that not a great deal was new to me. Kremer and the Rosses direct their help specifically to self-publishers, while Poynter also addresses small companies who publish the work of others. Kremer operates Open Horizons Publishing in Fairfield, IA, and Poynter runs Para Publishing in Santa Barbara, CA, both of which offer materials and personal consulting on publishing.

The Rosses operate About Books, Inc., from Buena Vista, CO, and they do consulting as well as operating a trade association, Small Publishers Association of North America. Another source of help in publishing is The Jenkins Group, Traverse City, MI, whose head is Jerrold Jenkins, author of books on small press publishing; he also operates a trade association, Independent Publishers Network. Source: Michael Alesko, www.gohome.com/Sections/Marketing 

Net Support

FirstBooks did send out some releases, although the releases gave more information about FirstBooks than they did about me. But, in my experience, even commercial publishers perform only a limited amount of promotion, and authors really need to do much of their own, using their special knowledge of the book's subject for possible tie-ins, locating clubs that might be interested in the subject, and thinking of ways to get their message to the right readers. 

Sales of the internet version of my historical novel, The Sceptre, were negligible, but they gave the book some exposure and got me some columnist mentions and interviews. 

Net Plus: Print-on-Demand

Then I discovered Xlibris, an internet company that not only puts authors' books on the web, it prints them in hard copy, too, for very much less than vanity presses charge because of efficient electronic preparation and storage of these books. 

Remember that FirstBooks and Xlibris are technically not publishers; they're distributors of authors' works. The authors themselves are the publishers. So because authors of internet books retain the rights to their work, I didn't have to withdraw from FirstBooks, or get the permission of FirstBooks, to use another company as well. I could retain Xlibris, too. (This situation doesn't apply to all ebook vendors; if you choose another one, check the agreement you sign with that distributor.) 

Xlibris uses on-demand printing and charges about a fifth of what vanity presses do, although authors still pay for the books themselves, buying them at a discounted price. The books that Xlibris produces are indistinguishable from any of the good-looking paperbacks and hardcovers you purchase at your corner bookstore, complete with barcode. Xlibris gives authors and their books a nice presentation on their site, complete with an excerpt from the book itself. 

Drawbacks

Working with Xlibris proved slower than expected (the company is being swamped with requests). And I was disappointed in one editorial policy: contracting all of the ellipses in the text so that they failed to show the standard spacing I was used to editing into my own clients' work. But putting standard spacing back into these ellipses might have delayed publication another month, so I decided to forego that change. The foreign words in my story that contained diacritical marks caused some problems, too--one diacritical mark on the first page of the book is still wrong--but most of the typos got corrected when I received paper proofs and worked with the typographer on the phone. 

Also slower than anticipated is Xlibris fulfillment. The company collects orders and sends them to its printer once a week, then has the books printed and delivered to its own office, where they are checked before being mailed to buyers. (Occasionally, the printer puts the wrong jacket on a hardcover.) Sometimes six weeks elapse between the date of the order and the delivery date, so I warn bookstores to order early. And some store managers balk at the Xlibris policy of giving bookstores only twenty percent discount instead of the more usual forty percent. 

On the whole, Xlibris gave me a good experience with internet-company publishing of hard copies. The book looks beautiful in both softcover and hardcover. 

Of course, you could always hire Lightning Print, a division of Ingram, to "print on demand" and ship books to stores within 48 hours, but to use Ingram's service you need a minimum of 25 titles. 

Edit, Promote and Publicize

Xlibris does no editing, but since I have for more than thirty years been a professional editor, that policy posed no problem. Xlibris also performs no promotion or publicity, but I'm used to doing it myself. 

To promote the book I had thousands of postcards printed and sent to bookstores I thought would be interested in my work, using address stickers purchased from PCS Mailing List Company in Peabody, MA. The stickers were expensive, and many addresses proved to be out of date, but I received enough interest to set up a summer book-autographing tour of stores that responded to my cards. I wrote and sent out many promotional pieces describing the research, the background, and the story line of my book, and as I collected endorsements from friends in the publishing business and reactions of thrilled readers, I collected and summarized them for promotion purposes. 

Because the book's main setting is in Ohio and I am an Ohio author, I was able to arrange a formal presentation in the Cleveland Public Library's new auditorium and other presentations to groups at my two Cleveland universities. The rest of the action takes place largely in Austria, where I did considerable research and interviewing, so I capitalized on my Austrian contacts. Now I'm searching for a European publisher to buy foreign rights. 

To keep myself up to date on current possibilities for promotion, I subscribe to Book Marketing & Publicity, a newsletter that suggests journals, media, and other resources for promoting and publicizing. It's costly, but it's useful. To keep up with industry changes I have long subscribed to Publishers Weekly, and I study the New York Times Book Review as well as checking various internet sites that sound as though they might offer help. 

Summary

I recommend Internet-plus-hard copy publishing by a electronic company that uses on-demand printing. 


Some Important Book Distributors


Ingram Book Company, One Ingram Blvd., P.O. Box 3006, La Vergne, TN 37086-1986, Ph. 615-793-5000, www.ingrambookgroup.com. Ingram states that it is "a leading national wholesaler of trade and professional books."

Baker & Taylor Books, 44 Kirby Avenue, Somerville, NJ 08876-0734, Ph. 908-722-8000, www.baker-taylor.com. B & T claims it is "the largest book wholesaler in the world."

Bookpeople, 7900 Edgewater Dr., Oakland, CA 94621, Ph. 510-632-4700, www.bponline.com. Bookpeople is employee-owned and operated.

BookWorld Services, 1933 Whitfield Park Loop, Sarasota, FL 34243, Ph. 941-758-8094. www.bookworld.com. BookWorld says it's "one of the top three American distributors."

Independent Publishers Group, 814, N. Franklin Avenue, Chicago, IL 60610, Ph. 312-337-0747.

National Book Network, 4720 Boston Way, #A, Lanham, MD 20706, Ph. 301-459-3366, www.nbnbooks.com. Specializes in general interest or trade books. Claims to be "the fastest growing national book distributor in the United States" and declares that in Publishers Marketing Association's 1998 survey, it came out the highest-rated book distributor in North America.

Partners Book Distributing, 2325 Jarco Road, Holt, MI 48842, Ph. 517-694-3205, http://bookexpo.reedexpo.com. Distributes for independent presses.

Quality Books, 1003 West Pines Road, Oregon, IL 61061, Ph. 800-333-4241.

Small Press Distribution, 1814 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702, Ph. 510-549-3336, www.spdbooks.org. States that it handles poetry, innovative fiction, and "cultural writers." Distributes to libraries as well as bookstores.


Internet Self-Publishing


Besides FirstBooks Library and Xlibris,  other internet companies offer to list, publish, or distribute books on the internet. Some will merely list the manuscripts and/or classify them by genre; others sell or permit free downloading of all or parts of the listed manuscripts. Technically, authors who use these services become the publishers. These companies prepare the work as a "virtual" book and host a site where the book can be offered for sale or sold. Some also publish in hard-copy.

World Wide Weblications, www.weblications.net. Postings include author bio, synopsis, writing sample, and author's email address. Potential readers or conventional publishers contact author directly.

The Writing Mill, www.writingmill.com. Posts a 400-word synopsis but offers no writing samples. Heavy with playwrights' scripts. Primarily a listing site, a showcase for author materials available to commercial publishers, who can download a book for $12.00.

Light Communications, www.light-communications.com/author. Mainly published and self-published books categorized by genre, but some unpublished manuscripts are posted.

Pure Fiction's Electronic Slush Pile, www.purefiction.com. Excerpts from selected unpublished manuscripts are posted, at no cost to the author.

Author's Interface, www.authorsinterface.com. Restricts queries to agents and editors via a password. Writers can include lengthy excerpts here. Requested manuscripts are mailed out.

Authorlink! www.authorlink.com. Some of the 200 titles published have already been self-published in hard copy.

Lonely Blue Coyote, www.lbcoyote.com. Writers featured on web pages with bios, photos, and excerpts.

Online Originals, www.onlineoriginals.com. Selective about what's published. Here's where the Booker Prize winner appeared.

Hard Shell Word Factory, www.hardshell.com. Charges no fees at all, and does some editing. Fairly selective: likes authors to have some publishing credits. Publish "quality" and "finished" work. Ask for "exclusive rights" to publish and sell in digital format. Offers 25 per cent royalty but only on net earnings.

Boson Books, www.cmonline.com/boson/authors.html. Currently not accepting manuscripts; has enough.

Buy Books on the Web, www.buybooksontheweb.com. Besides offering the service of preparing and presenting books on the web, this company offers a great deal of helpful technical direction, so even if you don't select this service you should look at the site. Performs some promotion and advertising, and offers 200 printed postcards free.

Trafford, www.trafford.com. A Canadian site, in Victoria, British Columbia. Emphasizes on-line services and on-demand publishing. Presents a "talent pool bulletin board." Some of its services are made available via software. Sells books for $10.00 Cdn.

WritersNet, www.writers.net. Inclusion is restricted to published authors, and each entry contains a listing of published works as well as a bio and contact information.

Source: Writers' Journal, March/April and May/June, 1998.