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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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