No matter how you feel about self-publishing, it’s undeniable that there’s a bad way to do it—think sloppy covers, poor binding quality and wild spelling. And a good way—like Daryl Pinksen’s Marlowe’s Ghost, the grand-prize winner of WD’s Self-Published Book Awards this year. After hearing that agents liked his project but didn’t believe he had the platform to make it salable, Pinksen then ruled out university presses (the book was too unorthodox) and small presses (his audience was spread too far) and decided to go the independent route. I interviewed Pinksen for the March/April issue of WD to see how he went about it. Here are a few of his thoughts on what makes for a solid self-published text.
All told, what have you learned from self-publishing this book—and what are the top lessons you can share?
Remember that you are writing for readers; you're expecting them to pay hard-earned money. You owe them a good book. Solicit help before you submit the book for self-publishing. Ask people, friends, family, acquaintances—anyone who will agree—to read your manuscript and tear it apart. Get used to criticism, relish it, learn to receive all of it as a gift. Every person who read my manuscript helped make the book better.
This one is tough: Once you decide to place your trust in a self-publishing company, you have to trust them. Listen to the advice, swallow your pride and take full advantage of the expertise that you are paying for. You will retain control and make the final decision at all times, which means you can ignore their recommendations if you wish. Try to remember that while you know your book, they know the industry and what the market responds to. They prepare books for publication for a living. If you don't trust their judgment, you shouldn't be in business with them.
What should writers bear in mind when selecting self-publishers?
You get what you pay for. Sure, you can get your book printed for a low, low price, but not if you want it done right. Good editing takes great skill, careful attention and time. If you want a proficient, experienced editor to go through your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, it will cost you. But it's worth it. When I submitted my manuscript to iUniverse, I thought it was in near-pristine condition. It was sent back to me with thousands of recommended punctuation and grammatical changes. I was mortified, but, my editor reassured me, it really wasn't that bad. There were few structural problems to address, she reassured me, leaving her free to focus on the details. There were further rounds of editing to refine the manuscript after I had made the recommended changes. These additional rounds cost money. Indexing costs money. Competent interior and cover design costs money. If you want your book to meet industry standards, you have to pay to get it to that condition.
What do you see as the biggest upsides of self-publishing?
It's fast. Communication is all done electronically. No paper. Word and PDF versions of the manuscript are e-mailed back and forth. The practices of many mainstream publishing houses seem archaic by comparison. For a generation that does everything online, the thought of single-sided, double-spaced paper copies, mailed in brown envelopes by regular post, annotated by pen, and weeks waiting for the mail to arrive, comes as a bit of a shock.
Print-on-demand makes sense. There are no risky and expensive print runs piled in boxes, lying in warehouses. If someone, anywhere in the world, wants a book, it can be printed and shipped to them in days.
You have total control. You retain all rights. All the decisions are yours.
What about the biggest downsides?
The stigma. Magazines and newspapers shut the door on self-published books. Getting reviews is nearly impossible. Getting the book in bookstores on your own is an uphill battle. In their defense, bookstores and media do need a system of vouching in order to know which books are worthy of spending their time on.
You have total control. They can dispense good advice, but you can choose to ignore it, and the book may suffer. It's your choice.
To read more from Pinksen, check out the March/April 2010 issue of WD (on newsstands Feb. 23), or click here to read the online-exclusive extended interview from the piece.
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WRITING PROMPT: Stolen Dialogue 2 (from a recent café trek)
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble with the captcha code sticking, feel free to e-mail your story to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll make sure it gets up.
“Do you have anything real? I’m tired of all this fiction.”
“No. No way.”
Great Creative in 2010: Tap into inspiration. Learn strategies for making time to write. Plan your own low key writing retreat. Check out 26 writing contests that can get your book published. Create a book trailer with cinematic flair. Learn Sue Grafton’s writing secrets. Click here to check the February 2010 issue of WD out!