Self-Publishing and Chocolate

- by Barbara Keiler

When I was about twelve, I was ready to publish my first novel.  I hadn’t exactly written it yet, but I knew I wanted to be a published author, and I read in a magazine about this outfit called Vantage Press which, for a four-figure fee, would publish my book for me.  I figured that if I saved my allowance and baby-sitting earnings, I would eventually be able to afford Vantage Press’s price.  And by the time I’d accrued the necessary sum, I would probably have completed writing what I was sure would be the first of many bestselling novels.  Given that my allowance was fifty cents a week and my babysitting wage was fifty cents an hour plus all the M&M’s I could eat, I would have had plenty of time—years, decades—to write that first novel.

As it turned out, I finished writing my first (unpublished and never-to-see-the-light-of-day) novel when I was nineteen.  By that time, I’d realized that the concept behind being published was not that I should pay the publisher to publish my novel, but that the publisher should pay me. I put aside all notions of vanity publishing and self-publishing and set my sights on finding a publisher willing to pay me.

Which, eventually, I did.

That was then and this is now.  I still believe, fervently, that vanity presses are vultures that prey on the fragile egos of desperate wannabe authors.  But self-publishing is a whole nother thing.

I currently find myself with the rights back to a stack of my out-of-print backlist romance novels.  These are good books.  Forgive my immodesty, but some of them are great books.  They are not particularly trendy books; no vampires, erotica-intense sex scenes or handsome but surly Greek moguls grace their pages. My publisher apparently assumes it has already wrung from these books every penny it is entitled to (which, in most cases, was quite a lot of pennies.)  So my publisher has ceded the rights to these books, and now they’re mine to do with as I wish.

What I wish is to publish them as e-books.  To self-publish them.

This seems like a win-win situation for me and for readers.  Despite the trends, there are still many fans of romance fiction who aren’t particularly enamored of vampires, Greek moguls or erotica.  A good book is a good book, even if it was originally published ten or fifteen or twenty years ago.  And with the exploding popularity of e-readers, self-publishing no longer means contracting with an outfit like Vantage Press, forking over an absurd amount of money and winding up with cartons of unsold, unsellable books that take up the space in your garage where you used to store your snow-blower.  E-books don’t take up space in garages.

Like many other members of Novelists, Inc. who attended the organization’s annual conference in October of this year, I learned a whole lot about e-publishing.  After the conference, I flew home and learned a lot more.  And now I’ve published three of my backlist books.  Three great books.

The process has been educational and exhausting.  I’ve discovered that I’m not only a writer—I’m a publisher.

Over the years, I’ve attended dozens of workshops where novelists were exhorted to think like independent business owners.  I’m a whiz at the accounting; I know my Schedule C.  But I’d never actually wanted to be a business owner.  If I had, I would have gone for an MBA instead of an MFA.  I’m an artist.  I’m a writer.  Do I really have to obsess over production, placement, packaging and promotion?

Now that I’m a publisher, I do obsess over those things.  Dealing with the e-book distribution sites currently carrying my books—Amazon’s Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store and Smashwords—can occasionally be more frustrating than dealing with print publishers.

But the bottom line, for me, is the books.  I love the out-of-print novels I’ve been bringing back to life, and when they were first published, readers loved them, too.  The best way to honor and serve these creations of mine is to make them available to readers again.

The good news: despite the frustrations, reviving my older books has been fun.  It’s gratifying.  Unlike vanity publishing, I’ve had to pay only the cost of new cover designs and modest promotional efforts.  Oh, and I’ve had to pay for my M&M’s, which are not magically waiting for me in a bowl the way they were during my career as a baby-sitter.  Self-publishing does require a fair amount of chocolate consumption if, like me, you choose to reward yourself with something dark and Godiva-ish for each hurdle surmounted and each difficult goal achieved.

But the real reward is not chocolate.  It’s the knowledge that novels I struggled and sweated over are once again alive, finding readers.

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