Independent Success! Breakthroughs in Publishing
What Does That Book Got That Mine Donít? A Conversation with Award-Winning Authors - PART ISo you think you can write a book, huh? According to a survey by Jenkins Group and IndependentPublisher.com, 81% of Americans think that they have stories, thoughts and memoirs that can compete with the likes of King, Higgins Clark and Hemingway. Once shut out of traditional publishing by a maze of slush piles, gate keepers and submission guidelines that rival the IRS, the Internet has made it possible for anyone to become a published author with click of a mouse. Are you afraid yet, moguls of Traditional Publishing? You should be! Self, online and independent publishing is evolving at lightening speed and the "Great American Author" will never be the same.
The 2001 Writer's Digest National Self-Published Book Awards celebrated this spirit by choosing books from the evocative to the humorous and the mainstream to the memorable. Most of all, the awards give credence to the movement of self-publishing as an industry. It recognizes authors who are making strides, making waves and making money. However, this is not good enough.
Don't get me wrong! I think it is great that, due to the success of last year's winners, a spotlight is strongly shinning on this year's winners to track future success stories. Self-publishing is being recognized and writers are breaking out from the tyrannical hold of traditional publishing.....yeah, yeah, yeah.
But, dear readers, I hear ya! What about me and my book? Could we focus on us for just a second here? How do we stand out in a crowd of millions in a cold and crowded cyber world? I mean, just what does that book got that mine don't?
Well, lets find out. I cornered some of these shiny, happy award-winning authors and demanded to know their secrets of success (besides finishing the book and entering the contest, of course). But this is only half of what you need to know, so be sure to give the judges equal time and check back for part 2 of this article in December and then follow up on their advice and check out Independent Publisher's annual IPPY Awards 2003 and get in on the action. Authors can't go wrong, with 52 categories to compete in, cash prizes and the prestige of being a winner in one of the most respected competitions around.
The Winner's Circle
First Place Children's Winner: Matthew Gollub for The Jazz Fly
The Jazz Fly is the story of a Fly who "speaks" through the universal language of jazz scat music and was inspired by Gollub's experience with various languages and cultures and his frustration with California's "English Only" ballot proposition. The book is illustrated and comes accompanied by an audio CD. www. Matthewgollub.com; www.tortugapress.com
First Place Cookbook Winner: Jody Hirsh, Idy Goodman, Aggie, Goldenholz and Susan Roth for Tastes of Jewish Tradition
This is the simple case of a fundraiser gone wild! What started with 15 mothers putting their heads together five years ago has evolved into a combination cookbook/activitybook/Jewish holiday history book. www.Jcc-milw.org/tastes.html
First Place Genre Fiction Winner: John F.X. Sudman for Acts of the Apostles
Take a two-decade veteran of the computer industry, give him 24-hour access to a Ph.D. in molecular genetics (his wife), a wild imagination for nanotechnology and you get the inspiration for his Acts of the Apostles.
www.rolsalitassociates.com; www.wetmachine.com/links/index.shtml; www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/4/12/223216/520
A conversation with the Winners:
Independent Publisher: So, Winners, what's your book got that so many out there don't?
Gollub: I think what makes my book so unique is the integration of all the parts: the storyline, musical narration, artwork and design. Very few children's books come with their own musical narration. When they do, too often, the music is uninspired. Aside from the CD, The Jazz Fly looks distinctive. The artist, Karen Hanke, not only illustrated my intent, but also added scores of her own tasty embellishments.
Hirsh: Originally it was "just" a cookbook-a project similar to cookbook projects in communities around the world. However, there are no books with the scope of Tastes of Jewish Tradition. It combines history, ritual, holiday information, crafts, family activities, stories and recipes. It is perfect for the person who has no background and wants to celebrate the holidays. All-in-all, there is nothing like it and it is for everybody.
Sundman: My book is a technothriller about computers, biotechnology and nanotechnology. A very high percentage of my readers come with high-tech backgrounds and they all comment positively that I did not "dumb down" those topics. On the other hand, I tried to make it so that a smart reader without a technical background could understand it as well. Basically, the book takes a skeptical look at our unquestioning faith in technology. Readers seem to like having their assumptions tested in this way, it challenges them to think.
IP: Ok, so you think you got something special....and so does Writer's Digest, but how do you get the word out? What is your marketing strategy?
Gollub: I submitted it to major library reviewers (as a rule major newspapers won't look twice at small publishers). I marketed it to teachers through reading and librarian associations, submitted the book to various award committees. I also performed the story everywhere that I spoke, thereby selling quite a few copies direct to end customers. Finally, since the CD introduces jazz to young people, I sent the book to jazz radio stations and arranged interviews whenever I could.
Goodman: What started as a cookbook grew into a vehicle promoting one of our main missions: the transmission of Jewish traditions, values and rituals in the home.
Roth: Our story is different from other publishers because we are a non-profit. Over 200 people in Milwaukee contributed their talents for no fee or worked for a small fee. We hired a publicist when the book came out and we entered two contests and won both.
Sundman: As for marketing the book, I've done basically four things:
1) I've written to reviewers.
2) I go to conventions where computer people hang out and I hand-sell my book there.
3) I try to establish personal connections with reporters in the traditional media.
4) Finally, and perhaps most important of all, I put the first 1/3 of the book up on my website for people to read for free.
In addition, I've made friends with clerks at a few bookstores and they push my book for me. However, my book is not available in many stores so this is not a major focus.
IP: What are your plans? Will you seek an independent publisher or a large traditional publisher? Will you pursue the vast possibilities of the Internet, or is Hollywood calling you?
Gollub: I already am an independent publisher. I plan to continue to develop my own projects. In fact, I just released a second book with a CD titled Gobble, Quack, Moon -- a top ten recommendation among independent booksellers nationwide. I didn't decide to self-publish because I couldn't sell work to a "real publisher." I self-published to have greater equity and control over my career. Given all the marketing and promotion authors must do anyway, I'm surprised more established writers don't choose this route. Sure it's a ton of work to self-publish, but I consider my books assets which will sustain my family over time. Hollywood is yet to call but one can always dream. Catalog companies, new wholesalers and cyber-entities do call. I'd have to get an awfully big advance from a traditional publisher to accept just a simple royalty on this book.
Roth: A publisher has contacted us to purchase the book, but at this point we're not interested, but we will be in the future.
Sundman: I've just published my second book, Cheap Complex Devices, which is kind of a postmoderny-artsy thing. You can read the first 1/3 of this on my website as well. I've started work on a third novel, which will be another thriller like the first one. I did not try to sell CCD to a traditional publisher, but I will try again with the next one. I would prefer to be a self-publisher, but given my finances, if somebody will give me a good advance I'll take it.
IP: Now that you've had your taste of victory, can you give a next year's hopeful a word of advice?
Gollub: Be business-like in terms of production; make the content a labor of love. Try to say something uniquely you, something by which you'd like to be known, something on which to hang your hat. Treat your collaborators warmly and as wonderful human beings. They call this self-publishing, but no one does it alone. I feel so celebratory upon receiving a new book from the printer that I immediately send signed copies for my art director, print manager, typesetter, proof reader, sound engineer, warehouse manager and their kids! Finally, and this is the hard part, market and promote with ingenuity, push with kindness and for all you're worth. Only then can you cut through the mountains of books which were produced as simple "next projects."
Goodman: Put your heart into your work, depend on others for advice and collaboration. Don't be afraid to edit, and lastly, dream.
Hirsch: Do what you love to do, and write about it.
Sundman: My advice is that you find at least one close reader to critique your outline and drafts. You want somebody who is a stickler for good writing and who is a cold-blooded, heartless, son-of-a-gun who will tell you "not good enough" again and again until, at last, it is good enough.
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Next month: More of the conversation with Writer's Digest National Self-Published Book Award winners.