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From the Periodical Writers' Association of Canada

Want to Get Published?
Doing it Yourself is Easier Than Ever!

By Kate Langan

It's Monday morning and the mail brings another rejection slip from another book publisher with, if you're lucky, a personal note scribbled on the bottom of the form letter: "interesting subject, nice presentation. Unfortunately the subject is too regional." Back in the office you pull out the manuscript-marketing list - carefully compiled months before after frequent visits to the bookstore where you combed the shelves for books similar to yours, noting who published them - and prepare to pitch again. You polish your resume, print a clean copy of the proposal, dig out an envelope, labels, return postage, and run down to the post office with early-in-the-week enthusiasm.

And then you wait. Fingers and toes crossed. Surely this time…

Been there. Done that. Decided I should look at alternatives.

So while my manuscript was out and about I looked into self-publishing. Not online publishing. Too head-in-the-clouds for me - I like to keep my feet on terra firma and my books in my hands, pocket, beside table or wherever. Fortunately others like me had begun to gather here in Halifax, and formed a self-publishing society. From them I've learned a lot.

Self-publishing, for those who don't know, is a business. A product is made, distributed, and sold, and for the business to succeed, each element must be successful. Some authors hire a graphic designer to help them with the package, some don't. Some go for a distributor, some don't. That's the beauty of self-publishing, you retain control.

So, let's say your proposal returns once more, rejection slip enclosed, and you still have enthusiasm for the project.

The first thing to do is design your product: choose your paper stock, binding type, cover colours, retail price, page lay-out, use of black-and-white or colour photographs, plus the size you want your book to be. One way to do this is to head for the bookstore and look at books; alternatively, find a graphic designer with experience and ask a lot of questions. Once all these decisions have been made, make an application for an ISBN. You can get the info and forms you need for this at www.nlc-bnc.ca/window/

Meanwhile comparison-shop for printers.

David Barron, who self-published The Complete Atlantic Diver's Guide, offered some advice on timing: "You want to have the print job completed at least six months before Christmas, but be aware that April is a busy month for printers," he explained. "And don't go to Hong Kong for printing unless you can run a year or two in advance." Fortunately there are some good Canadian printers, although prices vary considerably.

Now is the time to get creative with funding. Granting bodies are open to applications from self-publishers ("Funding Sources for Canadian Studies" is available from the Canadian Studies Program: 819-994-1544.) But, as Barron found after going for Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Millennium Fund grants, "It was much simpler to go out on my own." He approached the people who had an interest in purchasing his book and asked them for loans.

So you've got the money together, sent everything off to the printer, waited, and finally received 500 copies of your beautiful book. The next ingredient in the recipe for success is marketing. Zany promotional gimmicks, energy and imagination can play a great role here. Garvie Samson, author of a series of Atlantic Canadian golf guides, created a book launching pad for the maiden voyage of his first book. He landed himself a spot on the local breakfast television show and proceeded to launch, literally, his books at the audience. He also spent some time designing a display case for his four books, which gives them prominence in the bookstore. Barron hit the road with his books, mapping where he was going, and keeping careful files on each store visited. He recommends staying in university residences when travelling around - they are cheap and meals are provided. Barron also stresses the need to "set up a Web site, register it free with ebay.com, the list your book there for the maximum time. Cost is $2.00 for 10 days, and keep renewing it."

Douglas Wayne Coldwell, author of The Love of Tollers, set up a Web site (www3.ns.sympatico.ca/little), and the owners of Toller sites around the world offered him links and free ad space. (The Duck Toller is a retriever breed which originated in Nova Scotia.) Eric Gingles, author of North of Lucky, which is about his nine years teaching in Japan, contacted his local Honda dealer and suggested that he stock a few copies for his Japanese-motorcycle-loving customers. The dealer ordered a hundred. Joan Payzant, author of Who's a Scaredy Cat?, a child's view of the Halifax Explosion, contacted the local school board; they have continually ordered 800 copies a year since she self-published seven printings ago.

The message here is be bold and creative.

If you decide to hire a distributor be aware that most self-publishers I've spoken to are disappointed by the work they've received in return for the 10 to 35 per cent the distributor takes. So use with care, perhaps for only part of your distribution campaign.

The third ingredient is sales.

Barron sets price using a simple equation: "Retail price should be four times the cost per book." (As long as you're not pricing yourself out of the market.) Payzant's husband did extensive market research to calculate what her book might sell for, and when the Canadian Authors Association gave her a Best Book Award, she invested in the gold seals they offered, only then putting her price up 5 cents (half the cost).

Whatever the price, you must calculate whether it is possible to give a discount over and above the 40 per cent bookstores require. Barron gave early bird discounts and had several orders - with post-dated cheques - in his file before he'd even finished creating his book.

So let's see, 40 per cent for the bookstores, 10 - 35 per cent for the distributor. The remaining 25 to 50 per cent is yours - to pay for the printer, designer, travel expenses (keep all those receipts!), rent, power, food, and of course, champagne to celebrate the creation of your book. It's a heck of a lot more than the publisher is willing to offer, plus you've retained total creative control, all rights, and have the experience to join the self-publishing society and share your expertise with those fellow authors who dream of seeing their book on the bookstore shelf.

Kate Langan writes stories about good people doing good things. She has been published in over 2 dozen magazines, both national and international, has written and produced half a dozen radio documentaries, and is currently wrapping up her first book (publication date: January 2002. Nimbus Publishing Ltd.) She moonlights as an assistant Boat Builder with the Nova Scotia Sea School, and designs and hand knits unique home furnishings.


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