I’ll be passing on what I’ve learned about self-publishing, which I prefer to call “Independent Publishing” to distinguish it from “Vanity Publishing” which, at best, gives any profits to the publishing company rather than the author.
If you’re willing to undertake or subcontract the work of publicity, marketing, and distribution, as well as writing, your novel, you can revel in the experience of independent control and popular reception.
Feel free to email me with your questions, and come back to this page for more information about Independent Publishing.
Interview with author Margaret Doyle on Independent (Self) Publishing
You self-published your first book, The Fisherman’s Quilt. How does that feel?
After years of trying to interest others in publishing my book, I’m enormously proud of “doing it myself.” I am proudest of the process; that I’ve managed to live a good life, keeping a balance most days, and experiencing wonderful people and events while I had this goal. I came to realize several years ago that what I wanted from the experience of publishing my book was to have it well-read, and to have readers say, “That’s exactly what it’s like,” “I know just how she feels.”
The Fisherman’s Quilt is the first book I’ve actually published and marketed. The first one is always a little rough, a learning experience. Fortunately, I’ve always had a love of learning, and my experiences in computer, sales, and negotiating have been essential to pulling this off. I’ve had some corners knocked off, and know that there’s going to be some mistakes made along the way, some disappointments that you just have to get over.
After years of trying to interest agents and editors in my book, I decided in 2004 to publish on my own. I researched several self-publishing, print-on-demand companies, and realized that what publishing involves is the investment in time and money to bring your book to the public’s attention. Instead of a publishing company deciding to invest in my book, I decided to invest in myself. Fortunately, I had the time and the budget to devote to bringing my book to the public.
This decision wouldn’t have been possible without the events of recent years, and managing several large, multiple thousand-dollar projects, starting with my wedding and relocation in 2001; a four-month-long website project for my real estate employer; fund-raising for a 25th anniversary performance of The Celtic Mass for the Sea with the Orcas Choral Society, which involved a performance in Carnegie Hall on St. Columba’s Day, 2002; bringing all my children together for my son’s wedding in Massachusetts and subsequent reception in 2003; and participation with the Orcas A Capella Singers in Barcelona’s Europa Cantat in 2003. I could not have accomplished any of this without my husband’s whole-hearted involvement. He makes my dreams come true and I will never be able to fully express my appreciation.
So together we decided to invest in publishing and marketing The Fisherman’s Quilt. We have found marketing trips and other publishing people we meet as we bring The Fisherman’s Quilt to the public to be an undreamed-of benefit.
What are the mistakes and disappointments you’ve had in this process?
I believe the sooner you make your mistakes the faster you can learn. It took me a long time to come to this concept, growing up insecure made me always want to be sure of my steps before I made them. I had a paralyzing fear of “unintended consequences.” Parenting and community activism gave me the ability to trust in my instincts, and having a supportive husband really turned the corner for me.
Some of the obstacles I’ve encountered
1) The waiting process: when I started submitting queries and manuscripts to agents and editors, it was standard protocol to only submit to one agent or editor at a time; while on their end, they could wait weeks, and more often, months or years, before responding. And going the traditional route means less profit realized by you, the author/publisher. It also means sacrificing direction in your marketing and distribution schemes.
2) Editor’s criticism and lack of imagination: from “a housewife’s story, not very gripping” to “the main character will turn people off with her drinking. . .” to “not enough sex” and “not enough action.”
3) Salespeople’s misrepresentation of services offered. I was told by a print-on-demand company that my book would be available to the major distributors. What I wasn’t told was that the terms under which they were offered were below industry standards, making them unprofitable and unattractive to the distributors
4) Obtaining copyright permissions: with several companies, I received no response though they were contacted repeatedly. With some, I gave up and rewrote the quotation. The Hal Leonard company was the happy exception: they were great to work with.
Considerations before self-publishing:
How will the public get your book? Through bookstores, where you may be one in a million: concentrate on local bookstores and bookstores of the book’s locale
Pricing your book to afford discounts used by distributors: most charge at least 40% discount, it can go up to 60%. If you figure the standard royalty contract gives the author 10%, anything you make above that will be better.
How will people hear about your book? If you truly enjoy meeting people and telling them about your life’s work, you can count marketing as fun and well worth the energy.
What have been the benefits of this learning experience?
Starting my own publishing company, Port Gamble Publishing. I’ve always worked for someone else, and brought their ambition to reality. It’s so empowering and invigorating to own your own company, your own efforts
The inspiration of others, from James Joyce self-publishing to Paul Coehlo’s appreciation of his readers, to Victor Villasenor’s returning a $50,000 advance rather than cut his saga, Rain of Gold.
The connections with other writers and publishers: for the most part they are so willing to help, and excited to share their experience and contacts.
At the recent Pacific NW Booksellers tradeshow, talk circled around the difficulties of running a bookstore and achieving even the traditional 2% profit margin. With competition from online bookstores and the mega-mall stores, the need to provide more than just books is apparent to independent booklovers and booksellers alike.
The first time I went into a Barnes and Noble store, I had the impression of entering a “Book Cathedral.” As a longtime book junkie, of course the amplitude of books blew me away, but beyond that, the comfortable chairs for browser comfort and the aroma of coffee from the café made the University Village store in Seattle seem at first a welcoming place.
However, I soon came to feel that the armchairs and aroma aside, the sense of overwhelm, glut, and superficiality took away all the welcoming feel. The books I bought there may have been bargain-priced, but rather than providing a satisfying reading experience or a thought-awakening, usually these books were only home décor, last-minute gifts, or sops to my bargain-hunting impulses. In short, Barnes and Noble stores and the like encourage consumerism rather than thoughtfulness and connection.
Having said that, I’d like to share on this page my experiences at some of the bookstores where I’ve read from and signed The Fisherman’s Quilt.
This month I’d like to feature Parnassus Books in Ketchikan, Alaska. It’s a rambling bookstore on the second story of a building at the end of historic Creek Street. Last year, ownership was taken over by Maggie Freitag and Mary Guss, who had worked at the store for years since it was founded in 1985 by Lillian Ference.
True to the Alaska spirit of pioneering and going it alone, Lillian started this enterprise at the age of 64, after a career in social services. Lillian still comes to the store almost every day, and on Fridays, she often brings lunch.
Now, Owners Maggie Freitag and Mary Guss provide the personal touch that we all warm to. When I was signing my book The Fisherman’s Quilt last June at Parnassus, discussions about books were interlaced with comments about town, family, summer vacations, and business.
I was touched to see Maggie approach a young teenage girl whose name she’d remembered from the previous summer. The girl was up from Texas, spending the summer with her dad, and coming to a bookstore to find both literary and human connections. As she and Maggie talked about books and journals, Maggie suggested she may be able to employ the girl for some time during the summer.
Maggie made a lonely, possibly homesick girl feel like she belonged and was welcome. Although book-reading may seem like a solitary pursuit, the community of booklovers and booksellers, as evident at Parnassus Books make our rushed, techno-driven world seem warm, human, and comforting.
Coming events at Parnassus Books include a presentation by Evon Zerbetz, illustrator of the children’s book 10 Rowdy Raisins, and Nick Jans, author of the Timothy Treadwell story, Grizzly Maze.
You can contact Parnassus Books at www.KetchikanBooks.com . Tell them The Fisherman’s Quilt sent you!
Contact us at pub@FishermansQuilt.com or 360-317-7518