Saturday, January 04, 2014

A Self-Publishing Snapshot

Larry Matthews is not only a phenomenal speaker, he's a master storyteller--and he's got quite the story about his self-pubbing journey. Read on... 

I once thought “passive voice” meant timid conversation at the dinner table and “first person” had something to do with my sex life. Whatever I learned in Composition 101 escaped me during the years separating college from my life as a writer. So, when I scribbled a memoir about recovering from sudden cardiac arrest, I was careful. No fewer than four MFA recipients, a former newspaper editor, two physicians and a score of family and friends were invited to mark up my pages with red ink. After sending query letters to a hundred or so agents and publishers, I stopped to think. As a heart patient and retiree, I might have more money than time remaining. Self-publishing seemed appropriate.

I comparison shopped and ultimately selected the company whose representative seemed most helpful, professional, and gentle in steering me through their publishing packages.  Little did I know that once the contract was signed, I’d be handed off to someone else to guide me deeper into the dark world of bookmaking. (Double entendre intended.)

The Good
I was fortunate to be led into publication by a delightful woman who had considerable industry experience. She supported me through a cumbersome content edit, all accomplished via emails and labor-intensive spreadsheets. During correspondence back and forth with the editorial team, she was my solace.

Based upon my edited manuscript, I was granted “Editor’s Choice” status and then the coveted “Rising Star” designation, which I was informed might “improve marketability by designating it as a high-quality title.” Rising Star consideration required submitting a marketing plan, something I intended to complete anyway. The designation cost me final say on what my book cover would look like, but it included some perks that appeared appealing. I went with it.

The Bad
Just guessing here, but I suspect whether an author self-publishes or is at the top of the best seller list with a gaggle of agents and editors, disagreements arise. Below are some of the issues that arose for me.

My relationships with the two or three knowledgeable employees I encountered were short-lived. Over two years, I interacted with no fewer than ten different consultants, supervisors, associates, teams, and boards; plus a number of people who called to entice me to purchase more services. Most of the phone conversations seemed scripted, and many questions I posed were followed by a pause, then “Hold, please.” Moments later an answer was provided. People in the know were within reach, but I wasn’t talking directly to them. Whether this condition was due to rapid growth of self-publishing and necessary new hires, or driven by a business model (Perform each task using the least costly resources.), it was often frustrating for me the consumer.

An email marketing piece was included in my package, and I specifically asked to be involved in the selection of population groups to be included. I was not consulted. The email campaign occurred prior to my book going “live” and long before it was available in eBook format. This didn’t make sense to me.

I ordered books to begin my personal sales campaign and received high-quality copies. Months later, I ordered more books and received copies that were, it seemed to me, of lesser quality. I expressed my dissatisfaction to the customer service department and was informed that the latest shipment was produced by a different printer than the first and the differences were “not a printing defect or a case of quality deficiency… but more of a preference over a specific printer’s output.”

The Not So Bad
I have in hand a published book that won public recognition and reads better than the manuscript I toyed with two years ago. It’s available online through Barnes and Noble, on numerous other websites, and in eBook format. I have a respectable looking website and FB page. I have business cards, bookmarks, event posters, and post cards. Not including the additional books I purchased, the cost was less than four grand.

Would I self-publish again?
Take me back to when I was totally ignorant of publishing and I might say, “Yes.” I needed someone to teach me, show me the way. But keep in mind, I’m a long-time screenwriter with thick skin. And I’m a skeptic. I doubt what most people tell me until I’ve done my research. I don’t purchase anything without considerable study and thought. I try to understand systems and navigate them as best I can to accomplish what I set out to accomplish. I can imagine more fragile authors being torn to pieces by the self-publishing machinery.

But today I know more about publishing. I know I can have books printed on-demand for less than half what I’m currently paying. I know I can achieve more consistent print quality, and I can change the cost of my eBook more than “one time only.” I know it’s possible to meet face-to-face or converse by phone with an editor. I will continue to write. Time will tell how I get future works published.

Oh, and yes indeed, I know I wrote this in first person and that I have a propensity for passive voice.

Larry J. Matthews is an award-winning screenwriter, and a 2013 McKnight Fellowship finalist. He was selected in 2012 and again in 2013 to attend the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, Screenwriting Workshop. Larry’s self-published memoir, The Silent Heart: A Personal Journey Back from Cardiac Arrest, received 1st Place honors at the Midwest Independent Publishing Association (MIPA) 2013 Book Awards in the self-help category.  http://www.thesilentheart.com/

3 comments:

Michelle Griep said...

Thanks for stopping by today, Larry! Looking forward to reading your book!

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences, Larry. I think it's great that authors like you are willing to open up about the good and the NOT so good in their publication journeys. All the best to you as you continue to write, and hope your future publication paths are smooth!

Bob said...

This technically isn't self-pubbing. It's outsourcing the work to others. Which is form of publishing. But one of the keys of indie publishing is to keep creative and business controls. There are plenty of people out there willing to take advantage of writers.

I think an author needs one experienced point of contact who can answer all questions. And has the necessary experience. In fact, I don't view Cool Gus as a publisher but more a partnership with authors, where the author is in charge-- and no, I'm not recruiting. We actually have a couple less authors now than we did at the beginning of 2013 because you can really only focus on a handful of people in order for them, and thus you, to succeed. I think the rapid growth in numbers of these types of "self" publishing experts and companies is going to leave a sour taste in a lot of writers' mouths.