By SUSAN JENNINGS
For the Daily Record/Sunday News
Once seen as a vanity project for writers who couldn’t get a book deal, self-publishing has grown by volumes. In 2011, there were more than 200,000 self-published books compared with 130,000 in 2010, according to Publishers Weekly.
Self-published authors are now routinely found on best-seller lists. A New York Times book critic even gave a self-published book (“The Revolution Was Televised” by Alan Sepinwall) a spot on his best books of 2012 list.
Plenty of York-area authors have joined the trend, citing things like creative control, the ease of the process and being able to spend more time on writing rather than querying agents as their reasons for printing their own work. The higher royalties don’t hurt either (self-publishing can net writers as much as 70 percent in royalties, compared with the 17 percent they might get through a publishing company).
Here, several local writers — Christine Kloser, Jack Dunn, Jonas Lau and Pamela Bender — share about their self-publishing experiences and offer tips to those who are considering trying it out.
Name: Christine Kloser
Lives in: York Township
Recent books: “A Daily Dose of Love: Everyday Inspiration to Help You Remember What Your Heart Already Knows” and “Pebbles in the Pond: Transforming the World One Person at a Time”
Genre: Transformational writing
Buy them: amazon.com and christinekloser.com
Platform she used: CreateSpace
Why she self-published: Speed, control and profit are among the reasons Kloser began self-publishing in 2004. “2005 in the publishing world was like barbaric times compared to where we’re at today,” she said. “It’s become easier; it’s become less expensive; it’s become more accepted as a credible, viable publishing option.”
Lesson learned: The biggest thing Kloser has learned is not to wait. “If there’s a book to be written and published and you haven’t done it yet, then now is the next best time. Because there are no hurdles in the industry that are stopping anyone,” she said.
Tip: Make sure to read the fine print with any self-publishing company you’re working with to make sure you understand what they’re promising, Kloser said. “I have seen companies out there who are saying they can get your book onto bookstore shelves. What they mean is that they can get your book listed on a catalog that if someone wanted to order your book from that store, they could.”
Name: Jack Dunn
Lives in: Pittston, Luzerne County
Recent books: “Home and Away: A Civil War Odyssey” and “Memorial Day”
Genre: Historical fiction
Buy them: Print copies of both books are available on barnesandnoble.com; “Home and Away” is available as an e-book on amazon.com.
Platform he used: Xlibris for the print copies and Smashwords for the e-book
Why he self-published: Dunn wrote frequently during the 35 years he served as the director for the York County Planning Commission. When he retired in 2000, he thought it’d be something he could do to keep himself out of trouble. After writing his first book, he spent a couple years looking for an agent but grew frustrated with the process. “You can spend hours laboring over not just your manuscript, but a query letter. You can Google literary agents and find tons of them,” he said. “You … try to get someone interested, and the great majority of them never even give you the courtesy of giving you a reply.” About a year ago, he decided to go ahead and self-publish to bring his projects to a conclusion.
Lesson learned: Dunn estimates he queried 15 agents about his work and heard back from only one who said she was interested. He paid her a large fee to edit the manuscript and felt she didn’t do a very thorough job offering constructive feedback. He also said she would approach six or seven small publishers about the book, but Dunn later discovered half of them were out of business. “I can’t say that I got a lot of positive learning experience out of the thing,” he said. He’s since joined a writer’s group that meets regularly to share work and offer each other feedback and support. “That’s been three times the value of anything I got from the professional agent.”
Tip: “My suggestion would be to try the e-book route,” Dunn said. Although he’s still learning the ropes of creating e-books, Dunn likes the fact that he didn’t have to spend a pile of money in order to get a finished product — just the $40 he paid someone to format the manuscript.
Name: Jonas Lau
Lives in: York New Salem
Recent books: “Solerra, The Lost Woman” and “Jacqueline the Elven Queen”
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Buy them: E-books and print copies are available on amazon.com. Print copies are also available for order through Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.
Platform used: CreateSpace
Why he self-published: Lau sent out some query letters to agents but ultimately decided to give self-publishing a try two years ago after reading about several authors who’d found success. In particular, he was inspired by J.A. Konrath, a mystery-thriller writer who decided to self-publish after his publishing company dropped his genre. Konrath has since sold tens of thousands of e-books and maintains a blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Self-Publishing (jakonrath.blogspot.com), which Lau follows. So far, Lau is happy with his decision. “It allows me to spend more time on writing rather than looking for agents,” he said. “I can change things whenever I want … I do like the freedom to play with the book.” He also likes that he’s able to sell books overseas.
Lesson learned: If he could do the first book over, Lau said he would’ve done more research on how successful self-published authors marketed their work. He’s contacted area bookstores and libraries to set up book signings, but the most useful marketing tool he’s found so far are the posters and bookmarks he printed and dropped off at libraries to hand out.
Tip: “The thing that I was told is be very careful with someone who’s asking you to pay money up front,” Lau said.
Name: Pamela Bender
Municipality: Springettsbury Township
Books: “Until There Was Us,” “Rising Up” and “Worlds Apart”
Genre: Historical fiction / family saga
Buy them: Available in paperback and in e-book on amazon.com
Platform used: CreateSpace
Why she self-published: More than 20 years ago, Bender had written a few books and had an agent, but never published them. She then spent two decades writing grants for the York City School District. After retiring in 2005, she decided to take up writing fiction again and got in touch with her former agent, but wasn’t happy when her agent starting giving her rules about what she could write and telling her she needed to stay in one specific genre. “Self-publishing fit me because I don’t have to limit myself to one drama,” Bender said. She also enjoys the challenge of learning about the different aspects of self-publishing: From designing covers to picking fonts; for her, it’s a hobby.
Lessons learned: Bender learned quickly that she wrote twice as long as she should when her agent told her she needed to cut 60,000 words from one of her first manuscripts. Now she focuses on writing concisely, giving each chapter about 10 pages and trying not to add fillers. “Another thing I learned is to never be afraid to tell your story and don’t be timid about what you’re saying because you wonder about how other people feel about,” she said. “You’ll always regret it if you weren’t faithful to your story.”
Tips: When trying to figure out the design for her book covers, Bender visited the Books-A-Million in Springettsbury Township and asked a clerk which covers tend to sell the best. He suggested she spend some time wandering the store to figure out which type of covers she liked — which helped her decide how she wanted hers to look.