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.)
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.
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/