Monday, January 5, 2015

Publishing Advice for New Authors

BooksImageJW01If the past few years are any indication, we’ll see a variety of new Adirondack books by regional authors in 2015. For those considering writing a book, a family history, or perhaps reviving an old project like a cookbook fundraiser, a few pointers might well save you some headaches and dollars, especially if you’re planning to self-publish. (Self-publishing involves funding the production costs and then marketing and selling your own work—a tough job, but with far greater potential profit for the author than traditional publishing.)

As publishers, my partner and I receive queries on what we call “rescue projects,” those reaching us only after lots of mistakes have been made and lots of money has already been spent, but with poor results. We in fact started our business back in 2004 specifically to help others avoid the pitfalls we encountered while self-publishing. The way to prevent yours from becoming a rescue project is, first and foremost, do your homework.

Playing mechanic with your own car? Tackling a rewiring job at home? In either case, you’d consult friends and experts, and perhaps find some good books on the subject. Those steps help avoid unnecessary errors and expenses that might otherwise accumulate as you bumble your way through.

The same holds true for publishing a book. Rather than just jumping right in, seek the advice of a publisher. That’s what teachers, professors, and business people do, and it pays off. The average person is often less capable at writing than those professionals are, so there’s irony in the fact that in our experience, the less capable are more apt to forge ahead with little preparation. They often dig a hole that is costly.

A number of websites offer assurances that it’s easy to write and publish a book. Also common are claims that your book can be ready in a week, or even a few days. Hooks is what they are—promos aimed at getting your attention, the first step in making a sale. Those making such promises do so with certainty that virtually no manuscript submitted by individuals is actually ready for publishing, so only a miniscule number of projects will meet the “instant-book” criteria. The rest will go through some semblance of the nickel-and-dime process, where additional costs add up.

So if you’re thinking of publishing the next great Adirondack book in 2015, do yourself a favor. Talk to professionals and to friends who have published books. Learn in advance what software is best for preparing a manuscript, and what type of formatting should be included. Educate yourself on the value of proofreading and editing, and the realities of using friends, former teachers, and others to perform those services. (Their efforts should help some, but there will be plenty of errors left to fix.) And know in advance that poor editing and proofreading have been the death of many otherwise good books.

If you’re self-publishing, seek ballpark estimates on the overall cost of your project, and do it early in the process. Understand that in order to sell your own book, you will need to obtain a Tax ID number, which allows you to collect sales tax. Getting a Tax ID is fairly simple, but with ramifications … turning sales tax over to New York State periodically, and reporting business income on your income tax forms. Know that media exposure will help you succeed, but the sustained effort necessary for success must come from the author. Look into the cost of advertising in print and online, and compare risk versus reward.

Online research, friends who have published, and publishers themselves are sources for much of that information. Knowing beforehand what is entailed can save you time and money. It also lets you plan a path and establish goals, allowing a better chance for success.

And be sure to ask about the potential rewards, both financial and personal. The money part is more important to some than others, but the interaction with readers, historians, the media, and fans can make it a deeply rewarding experience for all.

Photo courtesy John Warren.

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.


6 Responses

  1. Ernest Williams says:

    Gooley’s column gives some worthwhile advice but doesn’t emphasize enough the primary problem with self-published books, which is that they have rarely been sufficiently revised (revised repeatedly) and edited. The real value of going through an established publisher, with experienced editors, is how much better the final product is. Of course sometimes there are good reasons to self-publish, but anyone who plans to do so should keep this comment in mind.

    • Ethan says:

      As someone who’s worked as an editor at several of the major houses, and as an agent: can’t agree with this enough.

      If you want to self-publish: hire a freelance editor! They’re out there and they’re good (hire someone who has experience at a major publishing house, ideally with books similar to yours).

  2. Self-publishing my memoir with Bloated Toe (wish they’d change their name) was a great experience. Larry did a wonderful job of copy editing, page layout, etc. The hard part is marketing, which takes away from the writing of my next book. But I understand from other writers that, unless you are an established, well-known author, the smaller publishing companies do little, if any, marketing. The most fun is interacting with readers.

  3. Hawthorn says:

    Many new self-published authors think the hard part is creating the book, but that is only half or less of the battle. The marketing and sales of books is hard work and time consuming, and profit is often much less than predicted. The reality is that most self-published books lose money. Actually, a high percentage of commercially produced books lose money too. Don’t plan on making a fortune, but be very happy if you make a small profit!

  4. Victor Forbes says:

    My book “The Sweetest Way Home” with a music CD + my narration has been receiving wonderful responses with very modest sales – every time we do a signing it does will. When you have a chance, visit the website — it will tell you the story, have ALL the music (for free) and even a full pdf of the book. Would love to know your ideas. I am editor of Fine Art Magazine, going into year #40!!!

  5. Larry says:

    Thanks everyone. You’re right, Ernest. I’ve emphasized that fact many times in past commentaries. Editing and proofreading are critical. I should be proud (I guess) that one pair of clients named a drink after me (thanks, girls, for the LPG Comma-Kaze) for pestering them about hundreds of text issues seemingly minor to most folks. It’s fun working with smart people who are good writers, and they qualify as both.
    I encourage clients about many things, but I also emphasize many warnings, including one mentioned by both Lorraine (an excellent author) and Hawthorn. That is, even with a good product, it’s difficult to sell books in appreciable numbers, and the marketing aspect is often the hardest and most time-consuming part of the process. You might feel certain you’ll sell 1000 copies easily, but be prepared to figure out how to do that if sales subside after the first 100.
    For perspective, I often refer to Canada, a nation of about 35 million. Putting aside the many variables involved and the types of lists, and speaking generally, 5000 copies constitutes a best-selling book in Canada, whether the sales occur in a few weeks or a few years. We’re a little shy of that population in the Adirondack region, even if you count tourists and visitors, but that’s just another roadblock to overcome.

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