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Short-run and print-on-demand printing follows an entirely different business model from trade publishing—including quick turn-around times, more author control, no excess inventory, and fewer quality filters.
Some companies, including Blurb.com, distribute free software with all the tools to design and print a book. They can also help with sales and shipping. Gerald H. Robinson ’48 has published several books of photography using Blurb.com. He loves its speed. Upload the files, choose the number of copies, fill out a form to pay the printing, and press a button. The file is sent to Seattle, Washington, where the book is printed, shrink-wrapped, and in your hands in less than a week. For Robinson, the fun is in the process, not in promotion. “I’m not interested in making any money on it,” he says.
In the fall of 1865, Henry James Jr. finished reading the latest transatlantic sensation, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Aurora Floyd, and sat down in the third-floor bedroom of his family’s Beacon Hill home to sum up its dubious merits for the readers of the Nation.
Sarah Wadsworth ’86, In the Company of Books: Literature and Its “Classes” in Nineteenth-Century America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006)
LuAnn W. Darling ’42, author of Discover Your Mentoring Mosaic: A Guide to Enhanced Mentoring (BookLocker.com, 2006), turned to POD after several publishers declined to publish her manuscript. She chose BookLocker because it was small, inexpensive, and gave her complete control of the process. She put together a virtual team including an illustrator, editor, and indexer. She sells Mentoring Mosaic at her own book events and website, as well as through Amazon and BookLocker.
Despite the high cost and hard work involved, most self-published authors I interviewed (of the 12 authors I talked to, four were self-published) reveled in the control they had over the process—something trade publishing does not allow. The quality of the editing and production can be as high as you make it. Moreover, authors have the potential to earn more on each book sold compared to a trade contract in which authors usually earn about 10 percent on the sale of every book. Another consideration, however, is marketing. Print-on-demand publishing is built on helping authors find their market via the internet. However, if you want to see your bound book on the shelf of a bookstore, POD is not for you. Many bookstores will special order a POD book, but they won’t stock them.
For all authors, marketing is the biggest challenge—regardless of how your book gets into print. Self-published authors like Phoenix and Darling knew that they would be marketing their own books. But even those with books brought out by traditional publishers wished their publishers had put more effort into publicity. Jerry Kelley ’44, whose book Reaching For Manhood at Steamboat Bay (Lighthouse Press, 2005) details his experiences fishing in Alaska in the 1930s, found that his contract did not include book promotion. He knew that the Alaskan cruise ships would be an excellent market for his memoir, but had no way to capture it. “If I were lots younger, I would probably take on the marketing myself,” notes Kelley. “Fortunately, the number of sales is not an issue. But it is a fun read, unknown to many folks who would enjoy it.”
Many first-time authors don’t realize how much work it is to publicize a book. While self-promotion can be difficult, and uncomfortable, acquisitions editor Wapner advises that it is crucial to success. “Learn everything you can about marketing,” echoes Phoenix. “Unless you are fortunate enough to get a huge advance, marketing the book will likely fall almost entirely on your shoulders.” And having a platform through which you plan to promote your book can make the difference between getting a deal or not. LuAnn Darling created a mentoring website, and she conducts seminars and presentations. A chef with a new cookbook might use his or her restaurant as a marketing platform.
Megan Holden is a writer living in Portland.
Editorial Services, Book Packagers, and Agents
Debra Ginsberg ’85 is a memoirist. She offers a wide range of editorial services to both published and unpublished authors.
Nancy Osa ’88 is an award-winning author of fiction for teens who works with manuscripts at all stages of completion.
Ellen E.M. Roberts ’69 is a former acquisitions editor who owns Where Books Begin, “a well-baby clinic” for new book projects that assists authors with marketing manuscripts to publishers as well as books to readers.
David McCormick ’84 is a literary agent who owns an independent literary agency, McCormick & Williams, in New York City.
To agent or not to agent
Acquisitions editor Jenny Wapner ’99 works with agents, as well as with many authors who elect to shop their proposals around on their own. “I do think,” says Wapner, “that it requires some familiarity with the publishing world and the ability to ask hard questions—especially regarding money and better publicity—but it also gives the author greater control over their work.” Author Aliza Marcus ’84 suggests that some authors might even have better contacts than an agent; a reference from a friend who published at the same press is very useful for getting an editor to look at a manuscript.
If you decide to use an agent, find a multifaceted one. You need a versatile agent, believes author Benjamin Nugent, if you want to write for a living. Literary agent McCormick agrees: “Find a good agent, preferably one who went to Reed.”
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