Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Self Publishing: A First-Hand Account
We have a new member in our writers group! John Kershaw joined us a few weeks ago, and he's decided to write a post about his experience with self-publishing his book, The Farm at Novestroka. It's a novel inspired by John's time in the Ukraine as an English teacher.
John's not set up yet on Fiction Flurry as a contributor, so he e-mailed his post to me and I'm posting on his behalf. Here it is:
A generation ago, self publishing was much more expensive then it is today. Method of printing required that thousands of copies be printed in order that the price of a single copy could be low enough for the average reader. The usual vanity publishing company required the author to come up with the thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars needed to produce thousands of books. Most vanity publishers had little or no method for selling books so the author received at best a pickup load of books and a sudden need to become a book seller.
Electronic means of printing has eliminated the need to stock large quantities of books. Print on demand publishers can, in fact, print and sell a single copy at acceptable price. Today an author can self publish a book for less than a thousand dollars. There are some “Print on Demand” (POD) publishers that will publish books at no charge. Many of these are “not for profit” publishers organized for the purpose of encouraging local authors. Their only income is from the sale of the books they publish. A high percentage of these sales are to the authors.
In the year 2002, I decided to publish a book with the self publishing company, XLIBRIS. XLIBRIS mailed me a catalog that described two levels of service, BASIC ($500) and PROFESSIONAL ($800). I selected PROFESSIONAL because it allowed greater freedom with cover design, and it included Library of Congress and Copyright registration for which BASIC required additional charge.
I mailed them a check and a diskette containing the 85,000 word manuscript. Within a few weeks I received an email instructing me on how to obtain an Adobe Acrobat reader at no charge. Shortly thereafter the proof copy arrived in a PDF file. I was to examine it and make any needed changes. For changes correcting my goofs, there was a charge. I forget the amount, but it didn’t seem excessive at the time. For changes correcting their goofs there was no charge. While gathering information for the story I encountered two different spellings for the capitol of Ukraine , “Kyiv” or “ Kiev ”. I used both, thinking I would at some point decide which was the most common and use that spelling. The newspapers in that city used “Kyiv” so I decided to make it that, but I forgot to make the change before sending the manuscript. It cost me.
Xlibris used en dashes at every place the manuscript called for a hyphen. There were so many that I asked them to change them the modern way by using the word processor command “search and change.” They changed one of them. The others are still in the book.
For various reasons, I used a fictitious name for the village, “Novestroka.” While in Ukraine I searched for a village that was nearly like the one I described in the book. I found one that I could photograph from the top of a cliff.
A significant portion of the story involves a desperate effort to harvest a large field of winter wheat in spite of the fact that the Germans had destroyed all the modern harvesting equipment. The POV characters went to their junk yard and hauled out the old reaper-binders eventually producing fields full of sheaves. To get a picture of a field full of sheaves, I waited for the right time and went to Amish country and there they were. The subtitle in Ukrainian gave the designers more grief than anything else about the cover, but all told I am happy with the job they did.
I sent Xlibris the manuscript on February 15, 2002. Their memo congratulating me on completion of the book is dated August 9, 2002. It took less than six months and part of that was time I took examining the proofs.
The soft cover copies I received seemed as good as any found in book stores. I am particularly proud of my hard copy version. However, I discovered that XLIBRIS does not involve itself in the production of large orders of books. It contracts to other printing houses. On my order for 100 copies, the books came from a printer in Winchester , VA. Had this printer shipped me books of defective quality, as XLIBRIS put it, they would stand by my side in negotiations with the printer.
Now comes the key element needed for the financial success of the book, the means for selling it. Sad to say, the self publishing company of today is no better equipped than the self publishing company of a generation ago. Xlibris has slowly been developing the services for selling books, but they are at the author’s expense, and there is no guarantee of success.