On producing a book.
Are you writing one? Are you thinking about writing one? Getting a book written is the first step. It may be easy or difficult or both. The next steps are hard to understand, and the publishing and book business is undergoing a rapid transformation right now. Here's one old guys experience with it.
The arrogant side of book publishing was never more evident than when I wrote and e-mailed publishers in Hawai’i. Kolea is a distinctly Hawai’ian book. I figured someone would want a novel based on Hawai’ian characters and if not, then rejection slips might give me a clue about improving, rewriting or even scrapping the project. I followed all the directions put out by the publishers and submitted a synopsis and Bio. What I found was a black hole. I didn’t receive even one acknowledgement for the submissions. Not a rejection slip, phone call or e-mail in this age of automated replies.
I looked into self-publishing. It turns out to be relatively simple. Amazon has made the process so easy that thousands of books are being cranked out. Some are good and some not so good. It requires an investment on the part of the author and a roll of the dice. Then there follows a lot of work selling the book. A couple of my friends published a really good cookbook. It was a slog, but it turned out good because the book was good and they worked very hard to sell it.
Luck has played a big part in my life. There have been downs, but the ups exceed them by miles. Here’s a short version of the publishing luck. I was having lunch at a favorite seafood diner in Aberdeen, Washington one Saturday when I spotted a flyer put up by the South Beach Writers Group. I signed up and got to pitch my book to Jen Gilbert of Booktrope, a Seattle publishing house with a new model for publishing. I wrote about the experience in an early blog. Now that the book is published I’ll give you a rundown on the experience.
I was told that book sales are largely done on line. Borders Books has gone under as have many of the familiar mall book stores. Independents like Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, Elliot Bay Books in Seattle and others have survived but the future is cloudy. Still, even though some “indies” have disappeared, others pop-up to replace them. Our local indie, Orca Books seems to do OK and Browsers Books on Capitol Way has started selling new books as well as their excellent supply of used volumes. And another bookseller has showed up in the downtown area at Last Word Books. But Amazon is the 800 pound Gorilla in all this and is the place to sell books.
As a member in poor standing of the anti-social media army, I was shocked to find it a requirement that I have a social media “platform.” Thus this blog, Facebook and twitter are now my companions. All this stuff is done on the internet. My editor is in Seattle. Proofreader is in Georgia. Book Manager in Ohio. The cover designer is in Red Deer, Alberta, and the guy who orders the books is on some farm somewhere in the Middle West. A Star Wars fanatic in Texas helps me out when I can’t figure out how it all works. The way this works is my guys all get paid out of the royalties. I may make the same as I would have by self-publishing but I don’t have to gamble 5,000 dollars at the front end. I’ve spent about a thousand, but I have 225 books to sell at signings and to send to libraries and reviewers to try to get some traction in a very competitive market. So financially it’s great. Currently there are eight reviews of Kolea on Amazon.com and they are largely positive. The criticisms are duly noted by yours truly, and are actually very helpful.
So far I don’t have any idea if this thing will get wings. My book manager, who lives in Ohio set up a “blog tour” in which bloggers review free E-book copies of Kolea. In a week it touched tens of thousands of potential readers but so far any resulting sales have not shown up. I took a copy to Orca and they assumed I was another self-publisher and said they’d take two on consignment. I went back later and explained the Booktrope system and that the book was out in markets already and they said they’d order two. My friend Margie went in and ordered 13 books for the book club and I became the local best seller that week, passing the late Harper Lee. Orca has now sold 40 or so, many of them to my friends who are buying them for gifts. Amazon has sold 25. I’ve sold that many myself.
My friends ask, “When’s the book tour?” Russ Cahill doesn’t have a book tour. Sarah Vowell has a book tour. Her publisher sets it up with speaking appearances all over the country. I will have to make my own. I wrote the nice folks at the West Maui Book Club and asked them to take a look at my book. They did, and I will speak to two of the clubs in Lahaina in November. (side-trip from a family reunion) I also have a signing at the Friends of the Maui Library book store the following day. It’s in a mall with lots of traffic. And my friends are holding a beer, wine, appetizers and book signing bash for me at their home here in Oly in a couple of weeks. My daughter Joan accompanied me to the big Hawai’ian event at Seattle Center last Saturday and we passed out one-sheet flyers about Kolea. I’ve sent copies to Hawai’ian cultural resource places and libraries and have given them to local libraries. King County Library system just ordered 6; a good sign.
The net result of all this is that I have to push this forward myself. I’m working on two other books at present and the writer gets interrupted frequently by the sales person. But Hey! I got the book out. Thanks for reading this. The Maui folks wrote a nice article about Kolea which you can read at http://www.westmauibookclub.com/WMBC.RussellCahill.htm