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VOL. 36 | NO. 21 | Friday, May 25, 2012

A different type of book deal

Authors, especially first-timers, are finding self-publishing to be an easier path to success

By Hollie Deese

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When Mark Trogdon lost more than 100 pounds in just 220 days, his doctor encouraged him to write a book about it his experience.

“I didn’t think anyone would be interested in hearing my story,” Trogden says. “But he told me I would be an inspiration because of what I accomplished and the age I accomplished it.” Further encouraged by his wife, the lifelong banker wrote 100 After 50 about his weight-loss journey.

But when the book was complete nine months later, Trogdon didn’t try to shop it around to a traditional publishing house. After some advice from someone in the industry, he knew that probably wouldn’t work.

“I would not be able to pitch it because I’d never sold a book,” he says. “I knew pretty quickly I needed to find a way to get this thing self-published.”

He went through Xulan Press, a subsidiary of Nashville-based Salem Communications, which does print-on-demand, Christian-based books. He got a print package that included 50 free copies of his book, and now orders more as he needs them.

“I researched several companies like that, and many of them have the same packages,” he says. “You can get just prints, a print and digital package, or just digital.”

Trogdon is certainly not the first person to write a book. After all, everyone has a story to tell.

For Tim Ghianni, it is his experience in the newspaper industry for When Newspapers Mattered.

For Patricia Leonard, it is how to help others realize they have control over whether they achieve their dreams for Wearing High Heels in a Flip Flop World.

And for Betsy Phillips, it was a bone-chilling local ghost story for A City of Ghosts.

Disparate ideas for different niche audiences, but these people all have something in common. All of their stories are published, available for purchase in stores and online, and they have only themselves to thank.

“I think publishing is going the same way as the music industry in that you can be big on your own,” says Amy McIntyre, who has self-published two fitness books in the last four years. One of them, Fitness Attack, was an Amazon bestseller in 2008.

“You don’t have to be signed to be successful, and that is what is so awesome about it. However, you are in control of your destiny in that situation and, if you are not going to sell the book, then the book is not going to sell. It just kind of sits there.”

Marketing is a role traditional publishers have filled, although less and less as budgets shrink. Authors who have been picked up by a publishing house must do much of their own marketing, and for those who publish themselves, the responsibility falls solely on them.

“You have to create your own marketing plan,” says Kia Jarmon, a branding professional working on self-publishing her first book, Learn How To Be Selfish. “You have to create your own publicity, and be in line with your own budget. If someone is willing to do that and understands the publishing process, they should do it.”

Many authors find marketing the finished book is much more difficult than actually writing it in the first place. Many print-on-demand services will offer marketing services as add-ons to their packages, but if the author doesn’t push it to the right audience, sales will stagnate.

“One of the add-ons was a $500 package where you would get 30,000 banners on Xulan’s website, and I did not think that was a good use of marketing dollars,” Trogdon says. “I thought I could take that elsewhere and get better results.”

Setting up speaking engagements and pushing through free social media outlets has been the best way for many to market. But it can be a tough role for a creative person to take on.

“Unless you have already an enormous, built-in market, or the ability to hire a publicist, I think it is really difficult,” says Phillips, who also is the marketing and new media associate at Vanderbilt University Press. When she published her ghost story, she made a list of all of the media outlets in Tennessee.

“I got a really good response,” she says. “I got a nice review in the Memphis Commercial Appeal and got to read one of my stories on NPR one afternoon, and it was really great. But I still only sold 400 copies, which is 350 more than I thought I would sell.”

As hard as marketing may be, for some it is easier than playing the usual waiting game with publishers.

Ghianni, a regular contributor to the Nashville Ledger who spent about 3½ decades as a columnist and editor at daily newspapers in Nashville and Middle Tennessee, had gone to publishing houses for years with books. The results were frustrating.

“One time one of them sat in an office in New York for six or eight months until they made up their mind if they wanted it,” he says. “Then there was one accepted by a small publisher who was going to do it, then backed out because of the economy. Another one was going to be published with a small publishing house, but they folded.”

This time around, Ghianni and co-writer Rob Dollar took the book to Westview Publishing. For a flat rate, Westview handles page layout, cover design and secures an ISBN number so the book can be sold in stores and online.

Westview is then listed as the publisher, but the author retains all the rights to the work and can even take it to a bigger publisher later on with no problem.

“These days you may not be able to get a mainline publisher to pick you up if you haven’t sold 30,000 copies of something,” says Mary Catherine Nelson, owner of Westview. “You can’t prove you have an audience unless you publish somewhere. We had one author who came in and wanted 500 copies just to send out to mainline publishers to see if he could get anyone to pick it up.”

Bob Hutchin’s first book was published by John Wiley and Sons in New York, but he knew he wanted to publish his latest book himself after realizing the whole industry was shifting. The owner of marketing company BuzzPlant, he also compares it to what happened to the music industry a decade ago.

“We saw the music industry go through the major change with Napster and digital downloads and everything that went along with that whole model being turned upside down,” he says. “Obviously a lot of the labels were hurt very hard by that, and a lot of the smaller, independent labels went out of business because they couldn’t sustain the old model anymore.

“A lot of them are still kind of holding to the old model that has been around for 80 years, that they are the bastions of control and have exclusive relationships with the retail chains, but that whole model is kind of crumbling,” he says.

“Today, you have access to all kinds of information. You can locate a printer, but you can also publish them digitally for little or no cost. You can get the word out through social media. You can get your physical book in the stores. So it has really leveled the playing field in a lot of ways.”

Odd are against any of these authors getting rich from their venture, even when using a free service like Amazon’s CreateSpace.

Trogdon, for example, makes about $4 every time he sells his book. But money is not really what drove any of them to do it. It is the love of books, the connection they want to make with an audience or even seeing a project through from beginning to end.

“Right now is a really interesting time for people who love books,” says Stephanie Pruitt, poet-in-residence at Vanderbilt University and self-published author.

“We can love them in so many different forms, and there is no one complete, absolute right or wrong way to get your work out there because we have a lot of options. Literally, if you have the money and the time you can put a book out. It gives space for new voices to come through.”

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