Authors get the word out
Local writers turn to self-publishing to share their work with readers
Sunday, February 27, 2011
After 23 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, 16 of them as a motorcycle officer, Gary Smith amassed a cache of stories. He saw funny and touching incidents, and also examples of extreme brutality.
There are a number of companies offering print-on-demand options for authors looking to self-publish.
Author Solutions publishes under nine brand names in the United States, including Xlibris. With all of its brands combined, Author Solutions has released 135,000 titles from about 80,000 authors since its founding in 2007. Last year, publishing agreements were up 23 percent over 2009.
Author Solutions is print-on-demand, so while some packages include books, authors are not required to purchase a set number of copies in advance.
Author Solutions sees self-publishing as a democratization of the book industry. Keith Ogorek, senior vice president of marketing for the Bloomington, Ind.-based Author Solutions, likened self-publishing to indie music and film.
Another player in the self-publishing game is Lulu Enterprises Inc. (http://www.lulu.com). Since its 2002 inception, the Raleigh, N.C.-based print-on-demand company has published more than 1 million titles in more than 240 countries and territories.
There are no mandatory upfront costs to publish through Lulu, though authors can opt to purchase support services ranging from $80 to $10,000. When books sell, Lulu keeps 20 percent, and the author gets the rest.
The number of Vancouver authors publishing through Lulu increased 25 percent in the past year, and local book purchases through http://lulu.com were up 28 percent, according to AJ McDonald, Lulu’s director of public relations. The top 100 Lulu authors from Vancouver have all made at least $5,000 off their books, and the top five have made at least $40,000, McDonald said.
However, many people who self-publish never achieve that level of financial success, and profits are not always the goal. Lulu gets some authors who are making a book for a family member or friend, and the only copy that sells is the one they buy.
“The applications are really kind of endless,” McDonald said.<p>Amazon.com has gotten into self-publishing, as well. Charleston, S.C.-based CreateSpace, an Amazon company, allows people to create and distribute books, music and videos.
CreateSpace generally does not divulge financial or growth information but reported in May 2010 that it had more than 2 million books, CDs and DVDs in its Amazon.com catalog.
Amazon also offers people the ability to self-publish e-books through Kindle Direct Publishing (http://kdp.amazon.com).
CreateSpace royalties are 40 percent, 60 percent or 80 percent of the list price, less the cost of manufacturing, depending on which package the author chooses. Kindle Direct Publishing has 35-percent and 70-percent royalty options.
The only upfront expense to publish a book through CreateSpace is the cost of a proof copy, generally between $5 and $10. People can choose from a number of service packages ranging from $299 for the Author’s Express to $4,999 for the Total Design Freedom Marketing Pro.
“When I used to talk to people who weren’t involved with law enforcement, they said you should write a book,” said Smith, who’s now retired and resides in Vancouver.
So he did. Smith, 74, started working on “The BCMC: Big City Motor Cop” roughly a decade ago. He sent the manuscript to about a dozen traditional publishing houses but was discouraged by the response.
“They’d write back and say we like it, but we can’t publish it,” he recalled.
Publishers wanted a more sensationalized account of police work, but Smith wasn’t interested in straying from his personal experiences. He thinks that police work often is misrepresented in pop culture, and didn’t want to add to the problem. Instead, he looked into self-publishing, but back then it was prohibitively expensive.
Then, after moving to Vancouver in 2005, he revisited the idea.
“I found a lot had improved,” Smith said.
Advances in printing technology, plus a boom in Web-based publishers, have driven down the cost of self-publishing and given authors such as Smith more affordable options. So, in 2009 he published “The BCMC” through the print-on-demand company Xlibris.
Smith is among a growing number of local and national authors taking publishing into their own hands.
They’re in good company. Historically, famous authors such as Henry David Thoreau, Edgar Allan Poe and Thomas Paine have self-published.
However, a stigma rose up around the practice during the 20th century.
Big publishing houses became gatekeepers, determining what materials to print and then backing those choices with marketing dollars.
So-called “vanity presses” were considered a last resort for authors who couldn’t get their books published any other way. Authors would have to buy a number of copies upfront, and hope they could sell them.
Now, with the rise of print-on-demand, it’s possible to self-publish without any initial cash outlay. Self-publishing has become mainstream again — though getting noticed and making sales remains a challenge without the backing of a publishing house.
On the rise
In 2009, the most recent data available, 764,448 non-traditional book titles were produced in the U.S., according to the global bibliographic information company Bowker. This figure includes reprints and self-published titles and was up 181 percent over 2008.
Meanwhile, traditional U.S. titles dropped slightly from 289,729 published in 2008 to 288,355 in 2009.
There are a number of print-on-demand publishers out there, and each has a slightly different business model. Some have upfront costs, and others do not, and the percentage of sales they take varies. They offer various marketing, editing and design services people can opt to purchase.
Many self-published authors choose to go through these companies, though others work directly with a printer to produce their books.
Smith opted to go with a mid-range publishing package from Xlibris. For about $6,000 he got editing, marketing and cover design services, an International Standard Book Number and his book was registered with the Library of Congress. Xlibris takes a percentage of sales and sends him royalty checks.
“The BCMC: Big City Motor Cop” is available in print and electronic formats. People can find it on http://www.amazon.com, http://www.barnesandnoble.com, http://www.xlibris.com and through Smith’s website, http://www.bigcitymotorcop.com. It’s also available at the Los Angeles Police Academy, and Smith sells it at law enforcement reunions and events.
He’s close to breaking even, though publishing “The BCMC” was never about money.
“I knew it was not going to be a best-seller,” Smith said. “I’ve satisfied my goal. It’s been very gratifying to me.”
Smith is working on a follow-up, “Hide and Seek: The Warrant Game,” about his years serving arrest warrants for the Los Angeles Police Department. He hopes it will be out in the late summer or early fall, and is going through Xlibris again.
Options for various needs, budgets
Vancouver author Mike Chinakos chose self-publishing for a book he wrote a few years ago about an ’80s heavy-metal band and its encounters with the supernatural. Chinakos, who works in auto parts purchasing, had reached out to agents to help him pitch “Hollywood Cowboys” to various publishing houses. The feedback he received was good, Chinakos said, but the agents he approached either weren’t taking new clients or felt that his book wasn’t quite the right fit for them.
When he was laid off in 2009, Chinakos, 42, had time to investigate self-publishing.
“(The manuscript) wasn’t doing any good sitting on my shelf,” he said. “I wrote it so people can read it and enjoy it.”
Chinakos looked into various print-on-demand options before going with CreateSpace, an Amazon company (http://www.createspace.com). He felt that the Amazon affiliation added credibility to CreateSpace.
Chinakos did the cover design and marketing himself, and had a friend edit his book. His biggest upfront cost was about $40 for a wider distribution package.
It was fairly quick and easy to upload PDFs of his manuscript and cover through CreateSpace, though it might be challenging for someone with very limited computer experience, Chinakos said.
“Hollywood Cowboys” came out in October and is available on http://www.amazon.com, http://www.barnesandnoble.com, through Chinakos’s Facebook page and his website (http://www.mikechinakosauthor.com) and from major book retailers by special order. Chinakos also sells it directly to consumers at conferences and other events.
“I call that out of the back of my van,” he said.
So far, Chinakos has sold about 305 copies of his book.
“Way better than what I was expecting,” he said.
Chinakos is now writing a follow-up, with the working title “Kiss of the Traitor.” He plans to publish it through CreateSpace unless a traditional publishing house takes notice and snaps it up.
‘Humbling and rewarding’
That can happen, as former Vancouver resident Aron Nels Steinke can attest. Steinke, who graduated from Camas High School and Clark College and now lives in Portland, self-published an illustrated children’s book called “The Super Crazy Cat Dance” in 2008. Rather than go through an on-demand company, he worked with Pinball Publishing in Portland to have his book produced.
He paid for an initial run of 1,000 copies, then sold them locally. “The Super Crazy Cat Dance” sold so well at Powell’s City of Books in Portland that Steinke needed an additional run of 750 copies.
The success at Powell’s gave Steinke, a 30-year-old preschool teacher, the confidence to approach traditional publishers.
Blue Apple Books, a New Jersey-based independent children’s book publisher, picked up “The Super Crazy Cat Dance.” The original, self-published version was a black-and-white pamphlet book, but the Blue Apple Books product is full-color and hardcover. It came out in the fall, and is widely available. Steinke’s new book, “The Super Duper Dog Park,” also is being published by Blue Apple Books and will be out this fall.
Sales of “The Super Crazy Cat Dance” are up since Steinke teamed with Blue Apple Books. Part of that could be due to the revised book format, but it’s also because the title is available in so many more places, Steinke said.
“Self-publishing, your distribution channels are pretty narrow. It’s hard to get your book out and into major bookstores,” he said.
He continues to self-publish his comic book series Big Plans, working directly with local publishers such as Pinball and Brown Printing.
“There’s a lot more legwork to do if you’re publishing it yourself, but it’s a lot of fun,” Steinke said. “It’s humbling and rewarding.”
Local authors Linda Mobley and Ronald Carr also chose to work directly with a printer when they collaborated on “Blessed With Cancer,” about Mobley’s struggles with and triumph over breast cancer.
The title may seem like an oxymoron, but Mobley says life’s struggles are what you make of them.
“Whatever the situation is, whether it’s cancer or not, it’s what you do with it,” said the 49-year-old Vancouver motivational speaker.
Mobley teamed up with her friend Carr, a 61-year-old Vancouver resident with a background in nonprofit development, to bring her story to print. They looked into traditional publishing houses but were dismayed by the amount of time it would take and the number of doors they’d have to beat down, Carr said. They also didn’t like what a big portion of sales the publisher would take, Mobley added.
So, they worked with Lithtex Printing Solutions in Hillsboro, Ore., to publish the book themselves.
The book came out in June, and two weeks later Mobley learned that she had aggressive bone cancer and was given six months to live. She participated in a clinical trial exploring the use of an anti-estrogren therapy, and it seems to have worked.
“It’s a miracle,” Mobley said.
She is working on a second book called “Blessed With Cancer. Again.” about beating the disease a second time. She hopes it will be out by the end of the year.
Carr also is working on another book, a collection of autobiographical short stories called “Crooked Sidewalks” that he hopes to finish by late fall.
Carr said he’d probably self-publish “Crooked Sidewalks” the same way he and Mobley did “Blessed With Cancer,” though he would consider signing with a traditional publishing house if an offer were made.
Now that he already has one book out, it might be easier to attract the attention of a publisher or agent, Carr said.
“You kind of have to earn your spurs,” he said.
Mary Ann Albright: firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-735-4507.