Back in the late 1980s when I was in writer infancy, I massaged a plot for a mystery novel. I did the submission two-step, sending out query letters and sample chapters only to discover literary agents weren’t sure what to make of what I was writing. I combined genres which was a no-no back then. “Write mystery or science fiction, but don’t combine the two.” I had read once to write what you like to read. I liked to read mysteries, but I always like to read Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Not to be discouraged, I kept trying to find that elusive agent who would take a chance.
I did find a publisher in Canada but upon reading their contract realized they expected me to pay a share of the cost. I then tried finding an agent who wasn’t in New York, thinking an agent in a western state would be more interested in a series with some Native American characters. I found an agent in New Mexico only to lose her in three months when she decided to close up shop to take care of an ailing husband.
After rewriting my first book four times in an attempt to appease agents who couldn’t agree on what I needed to work on (“the plot is great, but the characters are cardboard” vs “the characters are great but your plot needs work”), I decided to look into self-publishing. I read a book, “Publish Your Own Novel” by Connie Shelton and started taking notes and crunching numbers. I continued to send out query letters but also researched publishing. I attended a one day seminar at Columbia College in Chicago on publishing. I joined Publishers Marketing Association and Small Publishers Association of North America. PMA conducts four days of publishing seminars every year prior to the Book Expo. I attended various seminars on cover design, selecting a printer, creating a marketing plan, submitting to wholesalers, getting reviews, etc. My husband and I toured a printing company in Michigan.
After setting up a marketing plan and budget, I acquired a business license in 1998 for Full Moon Publishing LLC. Two main points I had learned in the seminars were to identify my target audience and set my goals. I knew I wanted to focus on libraries. Many readers rely on their local libraries to obtain books to read. Libraries prefer hard covers, although they do carry paperbacks. I also knew I didn’t have the time or inclination to travel a lot so targeting mainly libraries was perfect. This was another reason I decided against a traditional publisher. Traditional publishers like you to go on book tours, travel to signings. I had a day job and didn’t have the time nor desire to travel outside my comfort zone.
When I looked at my budget I knew I could afford a 3,000 hardcover print run. I selected an order fulfillment house to handle orders and billing since I wouldn’t have the time to handle this on my own. I had to leave time for my day job and to write.
For point number two, my goals were to get reviewed by reputable reviewers and sell sub-rights. Most of my books have been reviewed by Booklist, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. I have sold large print rights and audio book rights. The only other right I am still striving for is screenplay rights.
In 2006 I realized the costs to my fulfillment house were taking a huge chunk out of my profits so I started researching POD (print on demand). This seemed to fit my budget and marketing plans best. I would no longer have to pay order fulfillment charges, insurance, returns fulfillment, administrative fees, etc. I just had to rent a small humidity and temperature-controlled facility to house my books. And since I use Lightning Source as my POD printer, they are owned by Ingram which is one of the major wholesalers to book stores and libraries. With POD if someone wants one copy, they print one copy. The quality of a Lightning Source POD is equal to any traditional run trade paperback and another advantage is that LSI handles the orders and shipping. The hard covers are four-color laminate with the option of a jacket cover. I wanted to price my books wallet-friendly for the average consumer. Since the cost to produce with POD never changes whether I print one or one hundred books, pricing proved to be a challenge. In order to achieve my objective, I would only be able to give wholesalers a 50% discount instead of the customary 55% discount and I would make the hard covers non-returnable.
Technology keeps changing. With the advent of eReaders, I now realized I had to take another step to reach more readers. Smashwords.com has what they call a “meat grinder.” After massaging the text file of my books according to their simple guidelines, I was able to upload each book onto the Smashwords web site and they convert them into a number of different eReader formats, whether for Amazon’s Kindle or the Sony Reader, the Nook, pdf, and many others.
Smashwords also started a program last year for our military. Through Operation eBook Drop members of the military can download free eBooks from participating authors. Details about the program can be found at http://blog.smashwords.com/2009/09/ smashwords-supports-operation-ebbok.html.
eBooks have another advantage of reaching readers across the pond. Purchasing books oftentimes includes steep shipping fees, especially for those living in Europe, New Zealand or Australia. But with eBooks, it’s a simple download to a computer or eReader.
For those who still like the feel of a “live” book, through LSI my books are also available in the UK, EU and Canada. Lightning Source has print facilities in Europe. And if you live in Australia you just have to walk into participating book stores, select a book and wait while it is printed and bound with the use of the latest technology -- Espresso Book Machine.
I will still continue to produce hard covers and trade paperbacks since not everyone owns an eReader nor wants to own an eReader. But having my books produced in various formats allows me to keep up with changing technology and reach more readers.
Sandra Tooley is the author of the Sam Casey series, the Chase Dagger series (written as Lee Driver), and the Remy and Roadkill series (for readers age 11 to 111). Web site: www.sdtooley.com. Her eBooks can be found at www.smashwords.com/profile/view/tooley and www.smashwords.com/profile/view/leedriver
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