Salami and Writing – to Self-Publish or Not

Barbara Custer enjoyed salami and cheese at the writing workshop.

Yesterday, I got to attend the Philadelphia Writer’s Workshop at the Sonesta Hotel. I began my day with salami and provolone cheese sandwich for breakfast; then I headed downtown. It was an excellent conference, but the classes that struck home related to the dos and don’ts of self-publishing (loved that class) and the advantages of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. I had my lunch over at De Bruno Brothers and took advantage of the opportunity to buy cheese. When you’ve tasted their fine cheeses, you’ll want to buy more.

Chuck Sambuchino discussed the advantages and disadvantages of both kinds of writing. With traditional publishing, there are no startup costs. The company will edit, handle the cover illustrations, and may even hire someone to provide marketing. Whatever money you get with your advance is yours to keep, and perhaps later, you might get film options. It carries an air of legitimacy; ergo people will be more agreeable to review your book and interview you.

Ah, but since the company is fronting the money, that leaves you at the whims of others. After the advance, the royalties run about 10 percent, and it takes a lot of time from contract signing to book release.  Assuming you get an agent’s attention right away, it could take several months before the contract between you and agent is signed; months before that agent signs you with a publisher; a total of two to four years before the book is released.

Self-publishing gives you control over the editing, illustrations, formatting, price, etc. The royalties are decent. The length of the book and genre don’t matter; self-publishing would be ideal for someone who’s focusing on a unique interest and has a ready market for their book. What’s more, depending on the company, you could have your book released in a week. It took me six months to a year for each self-pub work because the book went through an editor before I got into formatting.

The downside is, you become your own agent, editor, marketer, etc. or be ready to pay upfront fees for these services.  Self-publishing still carries a stigma; bookstores and reviewers will shy away from your book. There’s no help with marketing or subsidiary rights, and without a platform, promotion is an uphill battle.

The time factor mention hit me where I live, and that was why I self-pubbed many of my books. Up until February 2013, I queried agents and lined up at seminars for pitches, but in 2013, I had two admissions to the hospital for water on the heart. Last January my husband died, and recently the homeowners’ association discovered significant termite damage in my floors. I’m healthy now and have had no mishap with the floors, but my takeaway from these events is this: Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. With that in mind, I’ve had a rough time wrapping my head around the idea of waiting four years for a book to go live. Thankfully, I’ve found ways to work around some of the disadvantages of independent publishing. I’ve also published with small presses; this helps with the time element.

That’s not to say I’d never try traditional publishing again; I may change my mind years from now. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you feel traditional publishing is best or do you prefer independent publishing? What have your experiences been like?

In the meantime, there’s another salami and cheese sandwich with my name on it.

Romancing the Dust Jacket

When I bought my Galaxy with its Kindle App, I found that the print was much easier on my eyes than the kind in print books. With the NTD books, I’ve sent out my first team with eBooks, knowing that they were starting to outsell paperbacks. Once you know how, eBooks are easier to format than paperbacks unless you’ve got illustrations. Imagine my surprise when a couple of authors came to me and asked if their books were available in hardbacks. Apparently, people still enjoy hardback books and the dust jackets that come with them. Tom Johnson and I were talking on the phone when he mentioned publishing Cold War Heroes as a hardback. I remember smiling and saying, “Sure, no problem.”

Then he asked, “Have you ever published anything in hardback?”

“No,” I told him, “but if I go with a 6 x 9 hardback and use the cover I have for the trade paperback, I should have no problems.”

Well, a casewrap might have been almost that simple, but we went with a dust jacket. I needed a bio, photo, and a tantalizing summary / excerpt to go on the inner flaps. Those flaps gave me the biggest problem. I use CreateSpace for the print books and Lulu for NTD magazine.  As for the eBooks, I do my own formatting and submit to the respective distributors. Newsflash: CreateSpace doesn’t do hardbacks. Lulu does. I know of two other companies that print hardbacks – Lightning Source and I never used these other companies, so I went with Lulu.

First I re-sized the excerpt and bio. Because you need at least ½ inch margins on all sides, I had much less space to work with than I thought. Why the margins? During the manufacturing process, the edges get trimmed, and you don’t want your print or images to get cut away with it. Lulu has new cover formatting software that enables you to past in your excerpts, photo, and bio on the flaps. All well and good, but Lulu was having software problems.

So then I moved onto their software for a 1-piece wrap-around. I was able to put this all together on Publisher by using a set of images to meet the exact measurements. Publisher came through for me in a big way. I built up a jacket nice and neat, or so I thought. With one-piece covers, Lulu requires you to upload the barcode yourself. It sounded easy until I realized I had no barcode software. Okay. I downloaded Lulu’s barcode and tried copying it onto the Publisher image.  What I copied didn’t look like any barcode. So I printed out the barcode, scanned it to a JPG and then I tried copying it. It bumped the back cover image out of the Publisher file.

Back to the drawing board. I made another back cover file on Publisher and pasted in the barcode JPG. After making a JPG of this cover, I pasted it onto the big Publisher wrap-around cover. All up, I must have made about ten Publisher files. Finally I was able to covert the wraparound cover to JPG and upload it to Lulu’s software. The upshot was, I ordered a proof and had it sent to Tom. Tom had the patience of Job. Each night brought a phone call or a series of emails from me.  You can see how this cover came out below.


Tom has another book in mind for a hardback, but with a different cover. This time Teresa Tunaley is handling the job. She does most of the covers for the NTD books, and she’s a jewel to work with. She came up with a dust cover jacket, ISBN, and all within a few days. Three Go Back won’t be coming out in hardback for a while. I have to see how Cold War Heroes looks when Tom gets it. I was so pleased with the outcome, though, I had to display it.  It looks a great as any balloon tree I’ve seen at the Giant. I plan on using it for the paperback and eBook also. Thank you, Teresa!

What is your favorite medium for publishing – hardback, paperback, or eBook? I’d like to hear your thoughts, and why you would prefer one over the other.

three go back final

  • Subscribe to Blog via Email

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 35 other subscribers