Archive for the ‘Adventures in Self-Publishing’ Category

The Real Argument Against Self-Publishing (sort of)

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Why you really shouldn’t self-publish:

It is a full-time job.

CreateSpace produces the book  (…  Love Like a Dog), but I have to build a marketing plan.  Sure, I’ve pruchased the press-release packet they provide.   But no book comes into the world kicking and crowing because of a press release.

Marketing starts with: what is your “target goal?”  Mine is to get my book read by pit bull owners and rescue shelters.  It’s a novel about a pit bull rescue that changes a family.

Know your motive:  I came to write it because, years ago, I started volunteering at C.A.R.E., an animal shelter in Evanston, Illinois.  There I discovered pit bulls.  This led me to
D.A.W.G’s court advocacy program, where I followed a core of ardent volunteers who track animal abuse and dog fighting cases.  I interviewed police officers working Chicago’s Animal Care & Control (then headed by Sgt. Steve
Brownstein), following them on raids of suspected dog fighting rings.  This is how I became obsessed with telling a story about the ends to which humans will go against, and for, this misunderstood

First Mistake: My tag line is: “This is a novel about a boy, his single dad and the pit bull they rescue.”  In describing the upcoming book to my doctor I use this line and he says: “I’ll give it to my eight-year old daughter.”  OMG!  It has dog births and human sex and violence!

Much Research: I buy and read every dog magazine I can find.  I clip and copy names of dog networking sites and writers who write about the bully breeds, and record the addresses of professors who teach texts in which animals are the subjects in Animal Studies programs and departments.  Two favorite students help me for low wages.  We troll the Internet for advocacy sites.  We email, seeking URL links, and offer future copies of the book as donations.  Getting any reply back is super good luck.   I am glued to the computer from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.  And I’m not writing.  Fiction, I mean.  I’m emailing, list-making, letter-writing, and phoning contacts.  I have done this for four months straight.  First between classes.  Now that it’s summer, I’m a full-time publicist.

Though I am grateful for every single person who replies (each actually a huge gift, an important connection to these misunderstood dogs), I feel self-indulgently sorry for myself for not being able to write.  When you self-identify as a writer and have been alone for so many years, dependent on the habit of solitude, that meditation practice of sorts which is writing, it is hard to dislodge yourself from seeking that “signal” instead of scurrying about in the ‘noise.”  I feel thin (not physically unfortunately), but mentally.   It feels lonely to talk/write/email to a lot of people you don’t really know, day after day.  This is my writerly defect.   Salesmen have a gift for talking to people that I lack.

Event Planning: Also known as Experiential Marketing.  Also known as Getting the Word out.  Being There.

We have decided that if art is political, then it’s gestures matter.  So we, my student and I and husband and son and a friend, and a talented film maker are going to film the stories of people who have rescued dogs, especially pit bulls.  If Love Like a Dog’s rescue story has relevance it is because it is shared by the greater world.  Yes!  Unite!  Join!   This way, the chorus of voices will grow a bigger song, better, broader, and more complex and shared and fun.

Just that getting this organized involves:

Finding the film-maker

Setting up a “call for rescue stories ” email address

Creating flyers for vets offices and pet supply stores

Lining up interviews (an average or 3-6 calls/emails per story, a bunch of which fall through when the person finds out they have to go somewhere to be filmed)

Selecting a date & site (and an alternate date/site

Reminder calls

Objects to bring to the event: (which we hold outside the entrance to Montrose Beach Harbor)


(Ugly old) folding Table

Tablecloth (elegant disguise)

Large scotch tape dispenser to attach flyers of the book & story sharing to the tablecloth

(Promotion! Visibility!)

Books (one donated to each rescue story-teller)

Easel; (to display a book upright)

Plexiglass Flyer holder: (why do they cost so much– $8 minimum!!!)

Rope Tugs with little tag: (to give away; note it took hours to prep these)

(the tag says: Let a Dog Tug @ your heart

Nothing says Love like a dog.

Share your story at:

Dog treats (to entice stray dog owners & help dogs stay still 7 concentrated)

Icebox & ice: (it’s July in the Midwest; water & root beer & some goodies)

People food & blanket to sit on:

(Chips & salsa & more, because it’s my student’s birthday)

Raffle Box: (for dog owners with a spirit-of- gambling

Folding Chairs: (so the interview subject can sit down & help their dog sit, too)

Film-Equipment: (provided by the film-maker)

What Happens:
On the day of filming, none one of the ten people scheduled shows up.  It’s well, almost exactly like the publication ratio of  to non-fiction (one book of fiction is published for every ten books of non-fiction, if you remember).  One person calls to re-schedule.

Another lonely moment.

What You can’t Plan On: But, but, but because Thomas Wolfe is right and magic is always ready to happen, we start talking to any stranger with a dog, asking for their stories, and these people leaving the beach with their wet, tired, happy dogs, say, “Sure I’ll talk!  And we get seven interviews in the next couple of hours.    Carpe Diem!  Oh we seized the day.

Favorite Create Space Feature

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

CreateSpace has a menu bar with the link: Contact Support.
Hit it and you get: Request for Member Support.
Then this text:

Talk to us!
We’ll call you.  Right now.  Really.

Below which is a button:
Call me.

You type in your phone number and they call you right away.

Because I have lived a long life with its attendant struggles I am not used to such expediency and politeness.  I don’t have to press “1” or “3” or give a secret code number and wait 10 minutes before speaking to someone.  I can hardly believe it each time.

I have phoned about my proofs, how to navigate their site and understand their stages of production, how royalties work, the time frame for the press releases, the process of expanded distribution to bookstores. Usually, I’m given a pleasant but firm prognosis of a certain number of weeks a particular task completion.   And every single time, they have not only met, but anticipated their deadline.  Maybe I’m lucky.


Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Guess what? I’m in love. With CreateSpace.

I can’t swear to this but I think the CreateSpace big-wigs studied the Apple store model. Have you ever noticed how many people crowd each and every Apple store? It’s like a festival in there. But what is the big turn-on? Incredible staff support. Personalized staff support. When things go all monolithic, the deep-seated hunger we have to feel loved and cared for comes raging into full focus. Monolithic = alientation. But if a big organization hires a large service staff, and someone approaches you the minute you enter the door or the portal or whatever, you forget the size of the enterprise. You, the individual, are being listened to one on-one by someone whose entire mission is to grant your wish. Disneyland! Cinderella’s fairy-godmother is alive! This is great! One-on-one connection is big niche self-publishing is filling. They say: have a can-do attitude.

How To Degrade Any Writer

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Publishers and authors know how many writers suffer deep-seated fears and insecurity in regards to their work. I, like many others before me, invent a place peopled with characters I must grow to trust more than life itself as I write. Steering them on the crazy ship of imagination. But for all humans, much of what we trust is invisible, trust is a wing and a prayer, a faith that you will walk and talk for at least this day; that your soul’s instinct is a voice to listen to; that the love of another for you actually exists. Life is a huge guessing game. Frail tottering.

When any publisher says; “Without me you won’t know who you are,” it is easy to believe this. Because it’s hard to know anything for certain. Many, many, many of us want to be told what to do and how to do it. We want to be wanted a lot. We want to be saved from pain or trouble. But the truth is, if I can’t begin to save myself who can possibly help? I trust that I should write because without that trust I can’t write very well for very long at all. It doesn’t help when outsiders start swinging their wands around like nun-chucks. Let’s say publishers reject one thousand books for each book they accept is that proof-positive that 999 writers suck?

An Argument Against Self-Publishing: the Authors Guild Bulletin, Spring 2010)

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Meanwhile writers cluster together to henpeck any changes in publishing.  My instinct is to blame the slothful permissions people, the terrified publishers, the gated bookstores, but writers are turning stingier, instant by instant, scrabbling over loose straws.   The inarguable fact is: the music, TV, radio and film industries have completely revolutionized in the last decade.  So why do writers believe publishing houses should remain unchanging verities, even as there are fewer and fewer publishing houses, all of them with shrinking staffs and budgets.  Keep that make-up on, baby, and no one will notice you’re getting older!  What???

I am a proud member The Authors Guild.  But recent viewpoints of publishers, agents & writers, at an Authors Guild roundtable turn my stomach:

Audience: …As publishers, what can you really do for us as authors?

John Sargent:… actually, the more clutter is out there, the more we actually do for you….If you have a world where there are no barriers to entry to publishing a book… — I, as an author can put my book up directly… – there’s a huge amount of what…technology guys call signal vs. noise, right?  We’re in a world full of noise and all we want is a signal….Our job… has always been to look at a vast supply of manuscripts and figure out which ones are salable or worthy.…

Susan Cheever: The goal for a writer, at least for me, is not to get the book published; it’s to get people to read it.  It’s becoming easier and easier to get a book published…

Jan Friedman: That’s… right. ….We’ve been cutting through the clutter forever, but now there’s even more clutter because there are so many people publishing their own books. ….last year there were more titles self-published than were produced by traditional publishers…. it’s.. going to be about marketing…

Next, the Reality TV show “Hoarders,” will be replaced by dramatic Reality Scenes of “Incredible Self-Published Author Clutter.”   The high drama will highlight SP authors laughing at the desert basin of a recently dessicated East River.  This precious old waterway will have lost its waters to the porous pages of truckloads of overstocked S-P books desperately being tossed from the bridges of a once proud literary Manhattan.  Ports and sidewalks have become un-navigable.  Forget BP, forget 9/11: SP Authors are the Ultimate Destroyers.

There’s a right-wing anti-immigrant sentiment to all this; “Those new arrivals are taking away our history of promised jobs!”

The roundtable group’s mentality is; anything we haven’t vetted is clutter.   Let me share a memory.  In NYC, years ago, my girlfriends & I religiously went out dancing.  We’d approach a club, like CBGB’s, where a crowd huddled outside hours, with no promise of getting in.  People who arrived in limos were let in immediately.  And so were we, young girls in short skirts, juicy fresh meat.  We were vetted.

It takes hubris to declare you own the magic wand that separates value from clutter for the world.  The over-packaging of our lives has created the slow food movement and the growth of small organic farms. Does anyone think the food is poorer at Farmer’s Markets BECAUSE it is locally made with less packaging?  No.  The overdetermined, even frightening, hospital business is taken to task in Ricki Lane’s documentary “The Business of Being Born.”   Women can opt out of the Big Hospital House to fulfill a private Self-Directed home birth. Going your own way is neither bad morally nor an inferior choice.

Read the history of stupid publishing choices and outrageous rejections to know that publishers are not saviors.   Like everyone else, they are good sometimes.

The RH editor who tried to buy my book, but was denied by higher-ups, is the same editor who tried to buy what became a favorite best-selling novel Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen.  Chiefs at RH said “no” not because their magic wand was better; it was just bigger.

I say beware of false prophets.   And the writers who believe them like cult followers.