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How to Be Bookish

Jim Wasserman

BY THE TIME WE GET to middle age, we all supposedly have a book inside us. (Maybe that explains the weight gain.) We have a wealth of experience we want to share. Perhaps it’s about money. Maybe we want to tell the family history. Perhaps there’s a great novel we’ve been writing in our head for years. We finally sit down and hammer it out and, of course, edit and rewrite, rinse and repeat, until we have it ready to be published.

But what’s the next step?

Sending it off to a publisher is a longshot, especially if we don’t have an agent. We’ll probably never hear back—that’s a “no,” by the way. Even if we get published, we might receive royalties of just 8% to 12%, depending on the genre and whether it’s paperback, hardcover or e-book. The publisher will do the printing, but the author must do a lot—usually almost all—of the promotional work. I’ve gone this route with textbooks, and it can be disheartening to see successful sales but minimal royalties.

A route you shouldn’t go: vanity presses. Basically, if a publisher asks you for money, run away. Such publishers will compliment your book and tell you that it’s in your interest to pay because then you get 100% of sales thereafter. But as the publishing company is basically a printer, it has no skin in the game and the writer is often left with a garage full of unsold books.

As an alternative, I suggest self-publishing. I don’t like promoting a company that doesn’t need help, but Amazon has made it very easy to self-publish with its KDP program. You upload your manuscript, design your book cover, adjust as needed—et voila.

There are some twists, but it’s nothing you or your computer-savvy niece can’t learn with plenty of guides from KDP and elsewhere. You set your own price and see the effect on royalties. Amazon still takes a large chunk and you have to do all your own promotion. But on the whole, you get more than if you went with a publisher. You can publish your memoir, the secret to your financial success or your rage-against-the-machine manifesto. You can even write a story using your own children’s or grandchildren’s names, and then order just enough—at the author’s discount—to deliver it to them as a gift.

I’ve self-published children’s stories through Amazon, then promoted the books how and when I wished. Last year, I published a story about giving, with the proceeds going to a local charity.

Speaking of shameless self-promotion, allow me to tell you about my latest project. I used to teach public speaking, including how to think of a topic and create a speech devoted to it. After delivering a homily last October at a local school’s chapel, the priest was lamenting how kids and adults say they wouldn’t mind giving a homily or other presentation, but didn’t know how or where to start. After some keyboard pounding and a lot of editing, I stuck my thoughts on the topic between two covers.

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Sabine Nooteboom
Sabine Nooteboom
8 months ago

If one goes the self-publishing route one needs to find an excellent editor or editors who are not afraid to offer constructive criticism and suggestions for tightening up the writing, strengthening the plot, etc. It may help to join a writers’ workshop. Like a politician or CEO who surrounds herself with sycophants a writer who only has herself and uncritical friends and family as proofreaders and editors will not succeed in the long run.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
8 months ago

Jim, thanks for the interesting story. My uncle put together a short book of stories from his life. Many were form his time in WWII landing at Normandy and walking to Germany. Many were stories he had never told before. It was great for his children and grandchildren to have the stories in print. It is great to know about this capability for the average person.

Rick Thompson
Rick Thompson
8 months ago

This post reminded me of a wonderful line by Thoreau on the subject. Thoreau’s first book was “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.” Only 1,000 copies were originally printed, but the book did not sell well, so the 706 unsold copies were sent back to Thoreau, where they were stored in his attic bedroom. This led Thoreau to write: “I now have a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.”

John Yeigh
John Yeigh
8 months ago
Reply to  Rick Thompson

Like Thoreau, I too have a library of 100’s of books, with mine dedicated to helping parents and grandparents of youth athletes manage their sports journeys. Anyone wishing to deplete my library can check out the discounted offering at WinTheSportsGame.com.
Today’s book business is challenging – as an example: pirated, unoriginal, and unauthorized copies of my book were extensively available on the web the week before my NYC publisher and I could sell our original copies on Amazon, Simon & Schuster, the publisher’s and my websites.
As Jim points out, self-publishing is definitely a viable option to get worthwhile stories out, but it is unlikely a road to extensive book sales. One widely published author who provided a free seminar on book publishing indicated that the modern playbook has become like razors\razorblades marketing – give away the books to build the author’s speaking\social media\advertising brand.

Jim Wasserman
Jim Wasserman
8 months ago
Reply to  John Yeigh

You reminded me John, if my shock at seeing my book on resale (new) one week after it came out, and the anonymous seller lived in the same city as my publisher (just a little bit suspicious???). Also, people would be shocked at how cut-throat and dirty dealing the world of academic publishing is, with buying/selling/trading authorship credits and citations. One of my books on Goodreads was trashed by a user who recommended another book instead, only to find out the reviewer was an undisclosed colleague and collaborator with the other book’s author. It’s all too much for me now and I am happy doing my bit through scrupulous sites like HumbleDollar.

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