If you think self-publishing is for you, five veterans—Reg Green, Bernice and Andy Tate, Jennifer Bohrnstedt and Jerry Parks—offer advice for finding a publisher and then selling your work.
Finding a publisher
1. Have a clear idea of your goal: Are you selling to family and friends or do you want to get into your local Barnes and Noble? The costs of self-publishing vary according to your target audience. Publishing fees typically range from $600 to $2,000.
2. Research the companies’ publishing experience thoroughly. A company that publishes 1,000 books per month is generally more experienced than a company that publishes 100 books per month. Ask questions: How long has the publisher been in business? Can you talk to other authors they’ve published?
3. Be careful of companies whose promises sound too good to be true—because they probably are.
4. Decide the level of customer support you want: one-on-one support, plus expertise? Do you want a person you can talk to rather than an e-mail relationship?
“There are a lot of publishers out there,” says Andy Tate. “Beware of being sold what you don’t need. One pitfall is buying too many services. Be selective. Look for superb staff with lots of hands-on help.”
The next step: getting people to buy your book
“With self-publishing, the process is all in your own control,” says Reg Green. “You do as much or as little as you wish.” Nowhere does this apply more than in marketing and public relations.
1. Market by any means imaginable. “The proverbial cliche ‘thinking outside the box’ does not exist in our lexicon. There is no box! There are no rules!” insist Bernice and Andy Tate, who sometimes even stuff their book brochures into “annoying junk mail return postage-paid envelopes” to send back to magazine, insurance and credit card companies. “Somebody will see it! We actually got sales from a major bank credit card mailroom clerk,” they said.
2. The Tates developed a full-color, illustrated pamphlet that features their four books that they pass out everywhere: libraries, schools, airports, airline seat pockets, doctor’s offices, church pews.
3. Marketing also requires identifying key audiences. Reg Green started marketing his book about organ donations to hospitals and medical professionals, nurses associations, organ procurement groups and community groups. Though time-consuming, Green says, it wasn’t expensive with e-mail. Green also worked to get public speaking engagements through such groups.
4. Jennifer Bohrnstedt started her marketing with a small university-sponsored talk, where she presented her book to the widower of the woman who had given her the bulk of the material for the project. Local media came. Then she spoke at a local historical society and developed networks around the communities where the book was set. She also attended Book Expo—an annual book fair attended by many librarians and others in control of book selection and acquisition—and plans to attend the American Library Association annual meeting.
5. Media can be huge allies in the quest for customers. The Tates’ publisher provided—for an extra fee—a press release and placed it on PR Newswire, a service that distributes public relations around the world and is searchable by Web engines. This enables the Tates to get word of their children’s books to groups they were specifically targeting: moms, teachers, grandparents, children’s organizations and educational groups. Slowly, the Tates received invitations to appear on local cable TV, reviews in regional magazines and even an interview in an out-of-town newspaper.
The Web! The Web!
A presence in cyberspace is essential, all the authors think, though there are different ways to reach out through the Internet.
Jennifer Bohrnstedt created a full-content website that contains information about her subject, educational study guides, images and, of course, a way to order her book.
The Tates produced a similar site for their four children’s books that also includes an event schedule and a blog the Tates write themselves. They have a Twitter following, which helps their fans and interested parties stay updated.
Jerry Parks’ guide to self-publishing on Amazon.com gives him a searchable tagline on the Web.
Reg Green’s extensive website for the Nicholas Green Foundation, dedicated to the cause of organ and tissue donation, draws attention to his work as it draws attention to his cause.
Tom Lombardo is a freelance writer in Atlanta. He was the founding editor in chief of WebMD and editor of the anthology After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events.