If you consider going the self-publishing route, do your research and find out what has worked for different people. (There are a plethora of options I will discuss in a later post. Lulu.com is not necessarily a fit for everyone.) Self-publishing is not necessarily a fit for everyone. Your personality may not be suited for the self-publishing route. Then again, more and more publishing houses are leaving so much of the marketing to the authors themselves. If this is the case, why not consider self-publishing? My friend, Tom Rivers, never even considered finding an agent or a publishing house for his book.
Tom Rivers is a reporter for a small-town newspaper in western New York. In 2008, he wrote a series of articles about farming within the local region. Tom strapped on some boots, prepared himself for grueling work, and harvested cabbage, apples, cherries, and other produce alongside local farm hands, and then wrote about it. The series won both state and national awards for superior journalism.
Because the series was so well regarded, it made sense for Tom to compile the articles and sell them as a book, thus Farm Hands: Hard Work and Hard Lessons from Western New York Fields was born. Because the series was so popular with his newspaper’s readers, he felt fairly certain that locals would buy the book.
Instead of pursuing a self-publishing company, Tom hired a local printing company to put together his book. He initially ordered 1500 copies of Farm Hands, hoping to sell them at local farm gift shops and bookstores. The first 1500 sold quickly. He acquired an ISBN for his book and began selling it on Amazon. Word got out, and the book began garnering a lot of praise (including a fantastic review from a national agricultural publication, AgWired.) A local assemblyman bought 212 copies of Farm Hands and distributed the book to all of New York State’s legislators. Since sales were going so well, Tom hired distributors who helped him get his book into local Barnes and Nobles and Wegmans (the major supermarket in the region) stores. Meanwhile, Tom has done numerous book signings and has been a speaker at conferences and literary events. There isn’t a bookstore in this area that does not carry Farm Hands. It is now in its third printing.
I asked Tom why he thought self-publishing was the best way to go. Here are his thoughts:
Creative control: His wife, Marsha (also a writer), says Tom has a “rogueish independent streak.” The thought of having to adhere to a publishing house’s format for HIS book rubbed him the wrong way. Self-publishing meant he was able to include what he wanted where he wanted it; he was able to oversee every tiny detail.
Working with a local publisher further enabled him to personally oversee the process. He liked being able to stop in the print shop and see how things were going, and to sit down and actually talk with the graphic designer.
He got to name his own price: Tom felt $15 or $20 was simply too much to ask people to spend. He priced his book at $13.95, and is convinced the low price has helped the book to sell.
Immediate distribution: The original series of articles was published in 2008. Waiting who knows how long for a publishing house to finally get his book out might have hindered book sales. He wanted his readers to “get ‘em while they were still hot!”
He cut out the middle men: Tom is used to doing grunt work (what with being a farm hand and all.) He was able to save money by marketing the book himself. He says footing the printing bill, though scary, has forced him to get out there and sell his work. It has only been since the book has become so popular that he has hired distributors.
Avoided rejection: Because rejection is highly overrated.
What YOU can learn from Tom:
Tom’s book was heavily edited. He went over his columns (even though they’d already been published!) with a fine-tooth comb, and so did his wife and reliable friends. Publishing your own book does not mean you must publish a shoddy product. Taking the necessary time to make sure you present a polished work to the public is worth the effort. Edit, and then edit again.
Tom already had a solid platform for selling his book: his newspaper column. Therefore, he began selling his book to local markets: small-town bookstores, drugstores, and farmer’s markets. Though the book has regional interest, the subject is universal enough that anyone, regardless of their location, would enjoy the material. Now that the book has a solid regional base, Tom has been able to expand interest beyond western New York. (Soon, people in Switzerland will be reading it and wondering why Americans don’t pay migrant workers better.)
Even if you decide to try a traditional publishing route, establishing a solid writing platform is prudent. This is an art within itself: now is the time to learn how to become your own publicist. Participating in local literary events, maintaining a website, getting your name out (even in small publications): all of these seemingly small things make for a solid writing platform.
I want to thank Tom for his helpful insight into the self-publishing process. It’s people like him who are making self-publishing a respectable way to get a great book out into the market.