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Independent Book Publishers Association

Connections

I enjoy watching interviews with actors on The Actor’s Studio, TCM, and other shows. The actors usually make two points. One is the importance of every member of the creative team. The actors may get most of the attention and the kudos, but they must depend on the director and all of the other people who make up the production crew.

The second is the importance of encouragement and support. As one actor said, “The director knows that if he wants the best out of the actors, he has to encourage, praise, and provide a safe environment for creativity. Threats, bullying, anger, sarcasm and putdowns will only shrivel and thwart an actor’s efforts. Most of us have had managers, bosses—and parents, too—who didn’t understood this, and we all suffered for it.

These two points apply to writers too. The popular image of a creative genius pounding out a best-selling classic alone in his garret is fish poop. Writers also need their creative team to produce a polished, error-free, literate book. That team includes readers, critiquers, agents, editors, designers, publisher, and marketing and promotional professionals.

Connections are important too. Connecting to other writers through writers’ associations helps develop the professional knowledge and network to advance in this highly competitive field. Association members set up critique groups as a step toward saleable work, organize meetings and conferences to share expertise, bring in agents and editors to look at our work, and offer their own experience to help the rest of us.

Publishers associations are useful too, especially if you plan to self-publish. What is required to publish a saleable book? What is an ISBN? LCCN? CIP? How do you get them? How do you get into bookstores? Libraries? How do you get reviews? Why do you need them? What kind of cover would sell best? What about subsidiary rights? Foreign rights?

Publishing has a steep learning curve. Many states or regions have state publishers associations affiliated with a national group such as the Independent Book Publishers Association (www.ibpa-online.com). Their websites are full of useful resources. They offer networking and information exchange, cooperative marketing opportunities, and low-cost access to national and international book shows, such as the Frankfurt Book Show and Book Expo.

You can’t afford to ignore these connections.

About Self-Publishing

I received a comment from a “rookie writer” who’s afraid to self-publish because she doesn’t have any money and because promotion is a dark mystery.

I think the fear is misplaced. The real fear should come from the act of self-publishing, not the cost, which can be minimal, or promotion, which is daunting. A self-published book means that it doesn’t have the approval of an agent, review panel, editor, and publishing house and, therefore, lacks credibility to the buying audience. The praise of friends and family doesn’t count.

When I self-published my novel, Shadow of the Rock, I met that fear head-on. I’d been working on the novel for years. Now I was throwing my baby out to the wolves. Was I going to be obliterated by the steel blades of heartless reviewers? Would a reviewer even notice? Would all my friends and family snicker about the book behind my back?

But I surged ahead, because I had years of the sometimes savage critiques of my novel from the two critique groups I belonged to. These groups, formed under the auspices of the Maryland Writers’ Association, helped me hone my writing, throw out the information dumps, kill the adverbs, delve more deeply into my characters, and refine the plot points. Sometimes the critiques were hard to take, but they were always valuable.

I self-published because I couldn’t get an agent. But I knew my book was a good read; that I had written it well, and that it provided interesting insights into Florida and Moroccan history. It also had the foundation of excellent and painstaking research.

I’ve received two positive reviews from the reviewing media (Midwest Book Review called it “a riveting story of time and humanity, highly recommended”) and positive comments on Amazon.com and from friends and family, I feel good about Shadow of the Rock. Most comments do say it’s a good read and hard to put down.

So my best advice is to write, write more, read books about writing, and join a group of writers to critique your work. That’s the way you’ll grow as a writer, become a good one, and self-publish with confidence.

As for the cost of self-publishing, you can learn how to format your book as an e-book and mount it on smashwords.com (which has a complete manual on formatting) and Amazon.com. This costs little.  You can also use a print-on-demand house to print your book, but your book needs a professional layout and cover. This can be costly (around $1300 for both layout and cover) although you could learn to do the interior layout yourself, but it needs to look like a book interior. It needs to look professional. You absolutely do need a professional cover design.

Caution: Don’t self-publish until you know what the business of publishing is all about. Join the Independent Book Publishers Association (ibpa-online.org) and your regional publishers affiliate. Read about self-publishing. Learn. This is a highly complicated business with a steep learning curve.

Promotion, aka, getting the book out of the basement, is another issue, for another time.

About Book Reviewers

As a self-published author (Shadow of the Rock, a historical novel), I eagerly seek reviews of my book to establish credibility and open the way to library sales. So I was pleased to receive a positive review from Foreword Reviews, which called my book “A bold adventure” that moves “quickly in a mixture of danger, excitement, and pure enjoyment.”

Great! Then I received a very positive review from the Midwest Book Review, which called my book “a riveting story of time and humanity, highly recommended.”  Hooray!

You may think this is a shameless bit of self-promotion, but actually I want to applaud James Cox, editor-in-chief of the Midwest Book Review.

We independent and self-published authors owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his support . First, his publications review our books when almost all the snooty major reviewing media  turn their backs, aggravatng an already hostile situation. This situation is becoming less hostile to small and self-published presses as print-on-demand, amazon.com, and e-books open the market to all of us.  But the major reviewing media like Library Journal and Publishers Weekly are still mired in tradition, insisting, for instance, on perfect-bound galleys three or four months ahead of publication date.  Ludicrous.

The big publishers, the agents, and the reviewing media try to keep the gates closed, preferring to hawk their established authors and cater to any celebrity whose book might bring in a buck.

Second, James Cox has come forward with his knowledge and experience to help us discern the difference between legitimate and predatory reviewers.  I’ve been an independent publisher and member of the Independent Book Publishers Association for a long time. It was through the IBPA and James Cox that we started questioning those terse, poorly written requests for review copies. We even succumbed once before someone  in IBPA (then Publishers Marketing Association) asked that memorable question: “Has anyone, anywhere, ever seen a review by …?”

Third, I have learned from and enjoyed the numerous panels on which he has participated at PMA and IBPA Publishers University.

Many thanks to James Cox for his years of impartial support to independent publishers and to self-publishers.

If you are considering self-publishing your book or forming a publishing company, join IBPA and the IBPA affiliate in your region or state. The information, education, and cooperative marketing opportunities you gain will far outweigh the costs of membership. This is a tough business. You need their help.

 

Barriers Still Tough for the Independent Publisher

Amazon.com and the Internet have opened up publishing, promotion, sales and distribution avenues for the small press, but one hurdle remains. That is the archaic and mostly inaccessible review system still in place today.

This system is so jurassic that prestigious review organs such as Publishers Weekly and Library Journal still require perfect-bound galley proofs. Galley proofs! Nobody’s seen an actual galley for 50 years. And they require these bound proofs at least three months ahead of publication date. Even the Washington Independent Review of Books requires bound galleys at least two months ahead of pub date.

If you’re a small or self-published press, though, you don’t have to worry about this because they aren’t going to accept your book for review. That’s because you lack the credibility that comes from acceptance by an agent and then an establishment publisher. Never mind that these people pander to anyone who has a big name regardless of the quality of their product.

One way you could get this credibility is through good reviews from respected media. And you ain’t gonna get that. See above.

The two or three month requirement before pub date also belongs in the same extinction barrel as the galley proofs. Books can be printed and available for sale in two or three days with current print on demand technology. If it’s ready enough for bound galleys, it’s ready enough for sale.

I suggest an easy answer. Review media should accept finished books when they are available and publish the review when it’s completed regardless of pub date. The publisher can launch the book’s publicity and promotion efforts in line with the review’s publication, but the book could be available before that.

The Independent Book Publishers Association has done much to even the playing field for small, independent and self publishers. Their publishers’ University and other workshops have improved the quality of the books so that many of these publishers’ books can compete on the same level with the big guys.

Reviews are the last hurdle. How can we open up or expand access to credible review media?

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