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This is a guest post from Andre Gerard, author of Fathers: A Literary Anthology. It's a lovely story of how self-publishing can be a rewarding journey, which I have also personally found to be true.
When I first started thinking about editing an anthology I was fifty years old, and I knew absolutely nothing about the book trade. I had a decent idea for an anthology, a deep belief in the importance of my subject, a marathoner's tenacity, and not much more. While I had heard of slush piles and rejection slips, I didn't even know about query letters or query packages.
Four years later, I knew far more than I wanted to know about query letters and rejection slips. I did not, though, know much more about the book trade, other than it was frustratingly opaque. Unable to interest an agent in my project–anthologies are not money makers and agents don't seem to like to work for free–I was still wasting inordinate amounts of time and emotional energy sending off packages and waiting for replies, which, more often than not, never came. Occasionally a kind, small publisher would offer me a crumb of encouragement. All I had to show for four years of work was half a manuscript.
But several small publishers had told me that my project was worth doing, and their words strengthened my self-belief. Also, because of the effort and time I had invested–easily some four thousand hours –my project had become an obsession. If I could not find a publisher, I would simply have to become one.
Becoming a publisher is surprisingly easy. Because of vanity presses, Espresso Book Machines and print-on-demand services, almost anyone with a manuscript and a few hundred dollars can self publish. There is a massive industry which preys and feeds on the hopes and dreams of unpublished authors. By way of proof, just cut and paste this paragraph into Gmail, and read the targeted advertising bar which forms to the right of your newly created letter. But if you are serious about publishing, there is more than enough genuine help available.
The problem is one of efficiency rather than possibility. How do you publish a book without spending thousands of unnecessary dollars? How do you publish a book you can be proud of? In my case, I started by taking a couple of university courses. Very quickly I knew about freelance editors, proof readers, layout services, and graphic designers and publicists. I had not only other writers to talk to, but also small press editors and even agents who would answer my questions.
Networking, of course, is not enough. You also have to take your time. Keep asking questions, keep learning, keep making contacts, keep building intangible resources, and move forward slowly, very slowly. In this respect, I was lucky, very lucky. I took my time because I had no time. I was so busy working on my manuscript, so busy working at my regular jobs as tutor and apartment manager, and so busy as father, husband, friend and community member, that taking my time was all I could do. My transition from editor to publisher evolved over months and years rather than days and weeks.
One consequence of my glacial movement was that I had time to think things through. Moving slowly gave me the luxury of revisiting and rethinking past decisions at every stage of the process. Take for instance, my decision to sell only on the internet. As my book moved into the final stages and as I started to work with Lightning Source, my print-on-demand host, I came to feel that a “brick and mortar” presence in bookstores was also very important from a marketing perspective, and so I initially decided on a thousand copy print run. After considering the price breaks for printing larger orders, after extensive number crunching, and after a careful analysis of costs, that one thousand eventually became five thousand.
And now the process continues with the marketing. How much money do I allocate to internet publicity? How much money and time do I spend on tours and public events? I've even gone as far as to buy space on a bus stop billboard. If anything the marketing process is even more challenging than the earlier stages of the publishing process. The options are far more numerous and the guides much more ambiguous. In the early stages, at least, you have to feel your way forward without much tangible feedback. Establish a budget, allocate the budget carefully and then move forward in a disciplined way. Stay open to ideas and opportunity.
And success? Patremoir Press is a triumphant success, a success which exceeds my wildest dreams. Fathers: A Literary Anthology has only been out for a little over a month, over five hundred copies have been sold and sales are building rapidly. While I have to sell over eight thousand copies to break even, financial success seems possible. The real success, though, as with so many other things in life, lies in the journey. If I had the money I would gladly pay ten times the money to participate in a journey as rich as this one has been and continues to be. My publishing journey is a Homeric epic, and already I have stories for a lifetime. Budget wisely, keep your eyes and ears open, love the journey, and emotional success is inevitable.
Andre Gerard identified and named the patremoir (pa-tre-mwär), a “book, essay, poem, play or film built around memories of the author's father.” In his new Fathers: A Literary Anthology, essays and poems from literary legends like Alice Munro, Franz Kafka, E.E. Cummings, Sylvia Plath and E.B. White explore the concept of fatherhood — the admiration and the conflict, love, loss, and everything in between.
Fathers: A Literary Anthology is available from Amazon and IndieBound and from more and more independent bookstores in the US and Canada every day. For more information, visit www.patremoirpress.com.
Top Image: Flickr CC Long and winding road by Romeo66