Posted by StreetWise in Magazine Articles
The accessibility of today’s self-publishing allowed five writers to tell five very different stories. A victim of sexual abuse who was a grade school dropout and drug addict, Denise Jones hoped her story of redemption would inspire others in similarly dire circumstances. Susan Brauer uses her experience as a victim of domestic violence to educate and motivate other women. Steven Veatch simply wanted to tell the story of his grandfather, a self-starting entrepreneur who invented coin operated kiddie rides. Michael Monet Walker combined art and poetry in an autobiography that encourages social reform while Susan Hanes sought to create a “visual essay” of heart photographs taken around the globe.
These authors have little in common except their need to tell their story and their decision to self-publish. However, their individual processes – from writing to editing to distribution – are remarkably similar.
Female Comeback Stories
Denise Jones began writing as a means of coping with the emotional fallout of her troubled upbringing.
“I began to write on pieces of paper, and I put these pieces of paper in a brown paper bag,” she said. This was in 1993, the first step in publishing Who Said It Couldn’t Be Done, which came out in 2010.
Jones worked with an independent editor for six months, organizing the scraps of writing and compiling legal documents to add credibility. Then she worked with two writer friends to expand her story even further.
“We talked about the incest piece, the molestation piece, how my mother introduced me to sticking a needle in my arm at 12 years old,” said Jones.
While Jones edited her book and even designed the cover independently, she outsourced the printing of the book to AuthorHouse, a self-publishing service. She estimated that it cost around $3,000. At the time AuthorHouse did not provide any marketing or promotional guidance.
“This is not a cake walk, being a self publisher,” said Jones. “Writing a book is the easy thing, but marketing it and pushing it that’s another thing.”
Jones completed her GED and a master’s degree and reconciled with her mother. She said she hopes her story can be turned into a movie.
Susan Brauer’s story is also one of strength and recovery. A mother of six, Brauer endured 12 years of abuse from her high school sweetheart before leaving him to pursue her own education. A community college advisor encouraged Brauer to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering. Brauer went on to work as a manager for Motorola and as a dean for DeVry University.
When Brauer decided to share her story, she received around 20 rejection letters from large publishing houses: an impetus to self-publish, although she also wanted to maintain control over the rights of her story.
She began the creative process by recording everything she remembered about her 12-year long abusive relationship during her commute to and from work. After six months, she created a timeline and filled it in using the recordings.
“People know truth when they read it so I wanted to stay as close to the truth as actually possible,” said Brauer.
She followed the advice of Stephen King from his own memoir On Writing. She asked 14 people – close friends, family, mere acquaintances – to edit the book for grammar and content.
When it came time to lay out the book, Brauer and her second husband Art used the Internet to learn the basics of publication software. After this process, Brauer created her own self-publishing business Dreamers Tapestry Inc., to help other, similarly ambitioned writers.
“Anything you can do to get it written and get it out is better by far than sitting on it, and rejection letters, and not getting it out,” said Brauer. “We want writers to be able to get their stuff out there instead of dying with the manuscripts.”
However, Brauer chooses not to work with writers who need extensive editing.
“I prefer that the manuscript not need editing. I will read someone’s manuscript that’s edited and in the final stage. I’ll read it and give my opinion,” said Brauer. After this, Brauer and her husband print the order from the press in their basement.
Brauer noted that the credibility of self-publishing is on the rise.
“People are not turning their nose up at a book show because [a book] been self-published.”
Technology also allows an increasing number of writers access to the tools and programs needed to self-publish a book.
“Face it,” said Brauer. “It’s because of the web that Art and I learned how to physically make our own book.”
Steven Veatch’s story is a bit more lighthearted than Jones’s and Brauer’s, but his process was strikingly similar. Over 20 months, he wrote everything he could recall in three notebooks about his grandfather’s process of developing coin-operated merry-go-rounds, which stood outside entrances to mall stores. When people wrote his grandfather about having problems with the rides, the elder Veatch personally refunded their quarters by mail.
Veatch used his grandfather’s work ethic to tell “an honest, heartfelt, and sometimes heartbreaking account that provides a lesson in the virtues of a dying breed—the American family-run business.”
Veatch asked a friend to help him clarify his story. He admitted, “I showed it to my fifth grade teacher Sister Marilyn and she went through the whole manuscript and corrected all the grammar and punctuation.”
He used the manufacturing and editing services of Amazon’s CreateSpace, which offers assistance from editing to marketing with a variety of standard to comprehensive packages. Editing services range from $160 to $280, but are included in larger packages that range from $948 to $5,120. Authors can have an editor review anything from grammar to broader issues such as structure.
Last year, Ingram, the largest book distributor in the U.S., launched Ingram Spark, a self-publishing program that competes with Create Space but with the advantage that independent bookstores can order those titles through Ingram.
“Most indie bookstores won’t order from Amazon, as they are our biggest competitor, and even if Amazon’s self-published titles are available through Ingram, they are often short-discounted and/or non-returnable, terms that are unsustainable for small bookstores,” said Lynn Mooney of Women & Children First Bookstore in Andersonville.
Nancy Rohlen, Ingram regional sales manager, said that initially, the company was not thinking about individual self-publishers but about publishing companies who might prefer to control costs by keeping less inventory. “We’ve taken that print-on-demand capability and made it more accessible for authors to print their books.”
Authors can upload separate PDFs of their manuscripts and their covers. Within a day or so the PDFs are set up in the Ingram system as a book and available on their data feed to 38,000 independent and chain bookstores, libraries and retailers around the U.S. in multiple formats, including e-books. There is a set-up charge of $49 and a market access fee of $12 as well as an initial required order of 50 books.
Later, however, bookstores can order even just a single copy and receive it within three days.
Ingram does not offer editing services but encourages local bookstores to keep lists of editors and graphic designers in order to refer them to would-be authors. Self-publishing programs available today are a long way from do-it-yourself books made at Kinkos, she said, which bookstores would not carry because they were spiral-bound.
“The quality of our print on demand has increased dramatically to the point that I feel confident if I put a ‘traditionally printed book’ in your hand and also a print-on-demand paperback you probably couldn’t tell the difference.”
Michael Dion Walker’s autobiography Tiny Pebble, Holy City incorporates art into a personal narrative. A graduate of Lakeview High School, he majored in fine arts at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. Later, he journeyed across country to become an ironworker in San Diego and then in Chicago before working as a taxicab driver in Waukegan, where he met his wife, who changed his life. As a result, he changed his middle name to Monet, her last name.
Over a six-month period, the couple wrote and illustrated the book. Walker’s work includes sculptural nudes while his wife created line drawings of his journey: in school, as an ironworker, traveling on Amtrak across the U.S.
Walker also used AuthorHouse. He sent them a Microsoft Word document embedded with the pictures. Walker has marketed the book himself at media outlets and churches and is now paying for advertisements.
During 30 years of travel on five continents Susan Hanes had shot photos of hearts: a wooden wall in San Juan, stone pavements in Vienna, a man’s embroidered shirt in Romania. Because it made her happy to look at the pictures, she had long thought of making them into a book.
Hanes’s gift book, Hearts: Timeless, Universal, Transcendent, was entirely self-published, although she says she benefitted from an editor and a designer.
“It’s essential to use an editor no matter how good a writer you think you are because you get too close to what you are writing,” Hanes said.
Hanes was already a librarian and president of the Caxton Club, founded in 1895 to support the history and preservation of books and to heighten appreciation of outstanding design, content and production. She had also written a non-fiction book, Wilkie Collins’s American Tour, which was published in 2008 about the mystery writer’s trip to the U.S. in 1873-74.
The designer was particularly important, Hanes said, in helping her to execute her vision. She had conceptualized two photos of hearts on each pair of facing pages, along with descriptions of where they were taken.
Hanes took her laptop with 650 photos to visit the designer. He suggested that she categorize them: “found” elements, nature, architecture, graffiti. Together, they began to match up the 150 selected photos, whether by color, style or context. “Sometimes it was visceral. I didn’t know why they went together, but they did.”
“We tried not to be too obvious in creating a match, but to show a kind of flow of the heart image throughout the world,” she said “I wanted to show the heart as universal symbol.”
Besides choosing a slender typeface for written parts of the book, the designer kept the final product from being too “maudlin,” she said.
The designer uploaded Hanes’s photos and descriptive text and also helped her to get estimates from printers. They found one in North Mankato, MN that was cheaper than those overseas. She was able to get a book that was bound so that it stayed open, with a proper dust jacket, on glossy paper to showcase the photos.
Her costs for the designer and the printing were $10,000, which she has already recovered since the book came out last November. She has marketed the book through visits to independent shops and bookstores that do not rely on distributors. Friends also had book-signing parties for her. She put a story in her sorority magazine because she anticipated that college-age girls would buy the book for their friends or mothers, and she set up a page on Facebook. Next weekend she will be among authors at the Illinois Woman’s Press Association tent during the Printer’s Row Lit Fest.
“It was a labor of love that came together and at least I didn’t lose my shirt,” she said.
StreetWise Editorial Intern
Suzanne Hanney & Mariah Woelfel contributing