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Named to "Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites," this #SharingwithWriters blog is a way to connect with my readers and fellow writers, a way to give the teaching genes that populate my DNA free rein. Please feel free to add to the conversation using the very tiny "comment" link. For those interested in editing and grammar, go to http://thefrugaleditor.blogspot.com.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Still Debating Self-Publishing?

I have had two letters this week from SWW readers who believe that because I publish some of my books myself that I endorse self-publishing for all books. Well, yes and no. I believe that there is a right way to publish any given title but not only one right way. And I think that an author needs to carefully weigh her dreams for publishing, the capacity of her pocketbook, the time and willingness she has to promote, and her skill set before deciding. Oh, yeah, and her personality. Think of that last part as a zodiac check.

And I believe that we should give readers the opportunity to read our books any old way they prefer (which means, yes, that all books should eventually be rendered as an e-book—by the publisher or by the author—for those who want to read it that way.)

But what prompted me to talk about self-publishing here is that a student at Rutgers University journalism department contacted me. Her professor said that I was the definitive person to talk to about publishing. I am flattered, but there are others who know a whole lot more about publishing than I do. Having said that, I think I am darn good at consulting with authors about their paths to publishing if only because I have personally done it every which way, including some combinations of ways.

Here is a bit of what I told her about my own paths to publishing:

My novel, This Is the Place, was published by a now-defunct subsidiary of a large publisher that specialized in literary novels and, back then, that subsidiary was more or less traditional. The year was 2001 and they gave their authors an advance (like traditional publishers), did the editing for them (like traditional publishers), and a little marketing for them (which I quickly became disillusioned with). But they published digitally (sometimes called POD), and that was something I was unfamiliar with at the time. I quickly learned there is something out there that I called "publisher prejudice."

I am happy to report that publisher prejudice is diminishing, but it still exists. Later my first chapbook of poetry was also published traditionally by Finishing Line Press, a press well-respected in poetry circles. Still I found little difference in terms of what they did in terms of marketing my books.

With backgrounds in journalism, publicity, marketing, and retailing (authors are in fact retailers by virtue of the fact that they at least occasionally need to sell their books directly to consumers at book signings, speaking engagements and writers' conferences), I quickly realized that I must do the marketing for my books no matter how I published. I eventually also realized that as long as I was doing all the work of publishing (true publishing includes the marketing of a book), I might as well do it all myself and reap all the profit and all the satisfaction.

The poetry chapbooks Magdalena Ball and I chose to publish ourselves are a little on the commercial side of poetry--not the poetry itself, but the concept of having a combination of greeting card and chapbooks for people to give away at holidays. That concept seemed only suitable for self-publishing because most traditional publishers interested in poetry are quite literary and most likely would not have been at all interested in selling Christmas chapbooks as holiday cards (see www.howtodoitfrugally.com/more_on_blooming_red.htm )! Further, with our two heads, we are a publishing/marketing whiz-kid team.

I do want to clarify, though. I think there is a right way to publish for every author, every genre. No two books or authors are alike. So what is right for me today may not be right tomorrow. What is right for one book may not be right for the next.

So, what is your publishing path? I’d be interested to know what you’ve done, how you’ve done it and what you learned from the path (or paths) you chose. 
Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog: