Book Publishing: the ups and downs of Sherri's journey to self-publishing
I want to open this piece with a humble confession: I started writing with less than nothing. My writing skills were so rusty that it took me two years to work my way up to nothing before I could make any real progress. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and I have found that in the writing business fortune favors the persistent. The ones that get published might not be the best; they are the ones that refused to quit in the face of writer’s block, mediocre efforts, and scathing rejections. Who knows how many magnificent manuscripts languish in trunks because the writer gave up on publication.
I’ve always loved to write, even before I knew how to do it. In preschool I would draw pictures in the margins of my story books to make the story “better” the next time Mom or big brother read it to me. Once I learned how to write I added my own dialogue, plot and inspirations to my books. I thought everybody did this. It wasn’t until my mother started teaching preschool when I was ten that I found out this was not something most normal children did to their books. I remember one afternoon when my parents, my brother and I sat over one of my old books trying to figure out if I drew a walrus or Jabba the Hut. It had fangs, so we settled on the walrus.
I did some creative writing in high school but abandoned it when I started college. The demands of reading multiple chapters each night and writing papers all the time drained my creativity. It’s a shame I stopped, because I feel that I could have developed my talent and made great progress during those years. I have always dreamed of being a published writer, but I let life get in the way so it was relegated to a “maybe someday when I retire” goal.
My perspective changed when my husband’s grandmother died in 2001. It was two days before Christmas and bitterly cold. We were promised a brief graveside service, but were shocked to find a large crowed already at the cemetery. The previous service ran over. After it was over, I heard the funeral director apologizing for the overlap. It turns out the previous service was for a seventeen year old killed in a car accident. Several of his friends gave eulogies and his memorial service ran over.
For some reason, this hit me hard. All of us were there mourning the same thing: The loss of a life. For us, it was an elderly woman that lead a full. For them, it was for a life cut short by tragedy. The profound realization that life is unpredictable and fleeting hit me with a force that I have never forgotten. I realized all of those “I’ll do it later” goals could be wiped out in a heartbeat, leaving nothing but wasted potential.
A few months later, my husband and I bought a computer and I started writing again. My early efforts were pathetic, but I refused to quit. After two years, I finally found the courage to write the story of that funeral. It won a contest and became my first published piece.
Several postings on internet sites and in a few start up magazines followed, but I was still working on a manuscript for a book. I was writing inspirational and Christian self help at the time. It seemed logical because I am a lifelong Christian and have a bachelor’s degree in psychology. After three years and countless rejections, I finally found PublishAmerica on the Internet. They advertised as a Print-on-Demand publisher that charged no fees to publish your book and pay royalties. I sent them my manuscript in early 2004 and got an E-mail accepting my book a month later.
I was estatic, but wanted to make sure it was legitimate. I took the contract to an attorney for review and after confirming that it was a standard contract (with no nasty surprises), I signed on with them. It seemed the perfect fit for me. I have never been one enamored with large publishers. I prefer to work with smaller places that can give you more attention and dedication. Plus, I am not a person of extravagant means and can’t afford to self publish.
PublishAmerica did an excellent job with Battleground Earth – Living by Faith in a Pagan World. They were professional and courteous, and they left no stone unturned in making my dream a beautiful reality. While they did take on the production of the book and didn’t charge me, I did have a few responsibilities of my own. I had to register for the copyright on my own, and that cost $35.00. I also had to obtain permissions for all quotes I used from other sources that weren’t in the public domain, and provide them with a contact list so they could mail publication notices to family, friends, and any other contacts that might be interested in my book. I also had to read through the manuscript a few times to make sure the proofs were correct and do some minor edits. They have the book listed on their website, as well as on the websites for Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. It was on Amazon.com as well, but they had a contractual dispute with Amazon.com so it’s no longer available there. They also encourage you to build your own writing website where you can promote the book and provide links to it and other writing.
PublishAmerica provided excellent resources for selling my book on-line, but they did not provide any support for selling it by other means. They only provided two free copies of the book, so I had to buy any extra copies I wanted to give out, and any that I wanted to sell myself locally. They do sell those to authors at a discount and from time to time they run specials where you can get the copies up to 50% off, but that can still be quite a financial burden. I asked for their assistance in contacting bookstores and other outlets that might list my work, but my inquiries were ignored. I called the local bookstores and the chain retailers refused it because they don’t carry Print-On-Demand books. One small local bookstore did agree to sell it and was very helpful, but they recently closed their doors. I also managed to get write-ups in a couple of newspapers, which helped sales. I just wish PublishAmerica would have backed me more in some of these efforts. I was turned down by a lot of places because they never heard of me, and I couldn’t find a representative from the publisher to back up the fact that I was a legitimate author with a legitimate product to sell.
I was fairly successful in selling books on my own. I sold most of my books at my church. My great-great grandfather was the founding minister of the church, so they thought it was great that I had published an inspirational book and gave me a great deal of support. I was also going through a move at work, which gave me an opportunity to sell copies to a lot of co-workers. Family and friends were very helpful and supportative as well.
In the end, I made very little money off Battleground Earth. I just about broke even with the copies I sold myself, and the internet sales started strong but dropped off, which is typical. Overall I would say it was a positive experience and I learned a lot about writing and publication.
Since 2004, I have moved to writing fiction. I do have more work that I would like to get published, and I am currently querying and seeking publishers for it. I have not counted out PublishAmerica as a potential publisher, but they have grown and I would like to see if there is a press out there that might be able to offer more author support once the book is produced and available for sale. I understand that the author is the one that is mainly responsible for selling their book, but you need the support of your publisher to really be successful. I feel like I was forgotten once Battleground Earth was published. I would not discourage people from using PublishAmerica, but I would caution them that once their book is in print, they are likely going to be cut loose. They need to be prepared to do their own publicity and have the time and resources to make contacts in getting their book to sell.
I know I would probably benefit from finding a good agent, but honestly I am not enthusiastic about taking that course of action. I have not settled into writing one genre. Over the past couple of years I have written young adult, drama, suspense/mystery, science fiction, comedy, children’s, and I still write inspirational work from time to time. One thing I love about fiction is the variety of genres. I hate to be pigeon holed into one genre. I want to be a good, well rounded writer and to be able to tell stories that reach people at a number of levels. I would love to make the big bucks from my writing, but my primary goal is to tell great stories that people enjoy. If I could just make enough to pay off my mortgage, I’d be overjoyed. Whether I make another dime off my writing or not, I’m still a writer and nobody can take that away from me. Right now, querying my work on my own provides me with the freedom I long for in my creative efforts. I may have to alter that strategy in the future, depending on whether I find success in my current efforts.
My advice to authors pursuing publication is to never give up and do your research. There are so many ways to get published and sadly, there are a lot of scams out there. Keep your mind and your eyes open. Don’t let rejection get you down. If you buy a copy of the Writer’s Market Guide, you’ll see there are thousands of publishers out there, and it’s growing and changing every day. Remember: where writing is concerned, fortune favors the persistent. If you quit, you have 0% chance of getting published. If you persist, hope is alive 100% of the time. You never know when that big break will come.
Know your purpose for writing and the goals you seek for publication. This will help you determine what course of action works for you. If you favor one genre and have the inclination, seek an agent. They can be a tremendous help and you might find success faster that way. If you long for creative freedom and don’t want somebody dipping their hand in your cookie jar (creatively or financially), query your work on your own. If you have the means and the contacts, self publish. But above all else, be true to yourself. Write what’s in your heart and edit it to make it the best it can be. Post it here on Writing.com for feedback – that can be a tremendous help in tightening up your work. Revise, edit, and proofread until the story is the best it can be. Then write a book proposal and query letter that will make editors take notice. It’s a lot of work rt, but your dreams are worth it. Then celebrate. Even if it takes months or years to get that book in print, you have done one thing many have talked about but few actually do: You’ve written a book.