Friday, October 15, 2010

By Sidney Allinson.
“Hundreds of self-published books keep flooding into my office, in hopes of getting a review” says Liz Pogue, Books Editor of the Times Colonist newspaper. “But they seldom do. We simply haven’t the time to read them, nor enough free page-space available.” Despite that, Pogue does manage to occasionally include brief summaries of a few self-published titles, but she is forced to re-cycle most to the blue-box. “We can’t even give them away!”
These facts of editorial life seem to baffle many self-published (SP) authors all across Canada who frenetically pursue reviews in newspapers as publicity for their books. Many cannot for the life of them understand why most of the time that does not happen. After all, it costs periodical cash money to have a review written, either from a staffer’s salary or to pay a freelance reviewer. A conscientious review can take an entire day to write, not including the time also needed to thoroughly read the book first.
The recent explosive urge for author blurbs stems from computer-generated print-on-demand (POD) technology that has the power to transform manuscripts into book form, and enable anyone to become an instant Gutenberg. The greatest advantage of POD is that an author-publisher no longer has to gamble her savings in advance on hope that the book will become a bestseller. Its other big plus is the push-button ability to print one or a thousand copies whenever required, which avoids being stuck with the dreaded garage-full of unsold books. No more need to be continually packaging books and humping them to the post office or courier service, either, as POD suppliers also fulfill orders and deliveries. Maybe best of all, self-publishers are freed from the hassle of collecting money owed by slow-paying buyers.
Dazzled by this easy speedy print production, many author-publishers pay scant attention to learning the various other vital steps involved in the publishing process, such as writing ability, editing, marketing, financing, and distribution. So thrilled are they by holding their own finished book and dreams of instant bestsellerdom, their next reaction is the urge to immediately share the news of its literary perfection and availability via glowing reviews.
Judging from the experiences of a few typical SP authors’ quest for reviews, there are equally slim chances of editorial mention whether for novels or non-fiction. One author, Bill Branley, told me, “I started my own publishing company to produce my midlife romance novel, “Seachange” in July, 2006. Following the trade rules of the game, I printed galley proofs six months in advance of release and mailed them to the major reviewers: Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, and other book review publications. But despite all this, I did not hear back from a single one of them, not even an e-mail, and none reviewed my book.”
Motivational counsellor Timothy Warneka has a similar story. “To help promote my “Leading People The Black Belt Way” and two other books on leadership techniques, I mainly approached print media -- newspapers, magazines, and their on-line versions, contacting editors and reporters who write on my topic. I contacted these folks by e-mail, snail mail, and phone calls, offering complementary review copies. About one quarter of the media pros that I contacted refused to even look at a self-published book, though many others did ask for a free review copy. But I got zero media coverage from all these attempts.”
Some SP authors are prepared to put up serious cash to support their promotional efforts, as Brandon Christopher explains. “After ten years of submitting manuscripts to traditional publishers -- and collecting hundreds of rejection slips -– I decided to try self-publishing my first novel. The actual publication process was simple, but I found that the marketing and promotion of a self-published novel is literally a full-time job. I sent out 80 signed copies to every newspaper, magazine, and website reviewer I could find. Between the cost of the books, shipping fees, and return postage, I spent about $1,800. Additionally, I bought advertisements in local newspapers, announcing the release of my novel, which cost me another $2,000. Since its publication, I have spent over $4,000 promoting it, and all I have to show for my hard-earned money and time is one bad review and 79 missing sample books.”
Professional reviewers are bombarded with thousands of requests from authors, making them understandably selective about what they decide to review. So do not be disappointed if you get a rejection, or even more commonly, no reply at all. During my time in the public relations business, I learned it is much more effective to get a newspaper reporter to do a story about the author herself, and plug the book incidentally during the interview. However, the most effective marketing of your book still demands some face-to-face selling.
It may seem obvious to make your first approaches to local bookstores, but do not hold your breath expecting much of a welcome there. Author-publishers are anathema to most bookshops, whose staffers usually look down their noses at SP books as being without literary merit, because of the genre’s reputation for unprofessional writing. Another reason for refusal is that retailers are used to being able to return any unsold stock to mainstream publishers. Even if a store does take a small batch of your books, it will require a discount of 40 to 50 percent discount, and only on a consignment basis. Meaning, you will not get paid until after they have been bought by customers, and it will be left up to you to keep calling back to check. Public libraries are more congenial prospects to approach, but even they are leery of author-published works, with the notable exception of local histories.
These hard realities make it more rewarding to instead concentrate your time and sales efforts on some more lucrative non-traditional outlets related to your topic. These non-book trade markets include specialty retailers, museum bookshops, chain-stores, local schools, fund-raisers, professional associations, university departments, export markets, military base libraries, and government agencies. Compared to traditional bookstores, selling to these specialty outlets can be a pleasant experience. They often buy in larger quantities, pay promptly in 30 days, seldom haggle for unfair discounts, and rarely demand refund agreements.
Still, despite all odds, some Canadian self-publishers have made astounding profits with their books. Ontario writers Janet and Greta Podleski's “Looneyspoons: Low-Fat Food Made Fun!” quickly sold over 800,000 copies, becoming one of the fastest-selling books in Canadian publishing history. Kitchener-born David Chilton’s “The Wealthy Barber” has sold over two million copies, and is claimed to be the most profitable book in Canadian publishing history.
Another spectacularly effective promoter of a self-published book lives right here in Victoria. Michael Losier is author of the best-selling self-help book, “Law of Attraction.” Since he first produced it as a 142-page paperback in 2003, it has been regularly selling 600 copies a day on Amazon, and there are now close to 250,000 copies in print. Much of this also comes from back-of-the-room sales during the inspirational seminars that Losier presents to audiences world-wide. His positive message led to Oprah Whimphrey inviting him to be a repeat guest on her radio show four times.
Losier’s advice to ambitious self-publishers is: “Remember, recognized experts are the ones who make money. To establish yourself as one, write ‘how-to’ non-fiction. Create books that provide practical advice applicable to personal growth, life skills, or business success. Present your material in a form that appeals to all learning styles. Use short chapters that include personal anecdotes and real-life examples, with helpful charts, graphs, and illustrations to clarify your information.” The wide popularity of Michael Losier’s book recently gained the attention of media conglomerate Grand Central Publishing, which paid him a high six-figure deal for rights to “Law Of Attraction” in a new hardback edition translated into 28 languages.
Dazzling financial successes such as these are rare, but Brandon Christopher probably sums up the real motivation of many self-publishers by saying, “Although I haven't gotten any real reviews or sales yet, publishing my novel myself was still the best thing I've ever done. Seeing your book on the shelves of a bookstore is more than enough payment for a decade of trying.”

Resource Books:
Self Publishing in Canada, Suzanne Anderson
How To Publish Yourself, Peter Finch
The Self-publishing Manual, Dan Poynter
Self-Publishing For Dummies, Jason R. Rich
The Complete Guide To Self-Publishing, Tom & Marilyn Ross
1001 Ways To Market Your Books, John Kremer
A Writer’s Guide To Book Publishing, Richard Balkin

Famous Authors Whose First Book was Self-Published:
Margaret Atwood
John Grisham
Virginia Wolff
Jack Canfield
Ernest Hemingway
Beatrix Potter
Deepak Chopra
Rudyard Kipling

Some Originally Self-Published Bestsellers:
The Bridges Of Madison County, by Robert J. Waller, 50 million copies
What Color is Your Parachute?, by Richard Nelson Bolles, 5 million copies
The Beanie Baby Handbook by Lee and Sue Fox, 3 million copies
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield, 6 million copies
In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters, 10 million copies
The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton, 3 million copies
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans, 5 million copies

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