Our RPCV Self-Publishing Guru, Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras, 1975-77), author of Peace Corps Experience: Write & Publish Your Memoir a How-To book published by iUniverse, has interviewed other Peace Corps writers about “how they did it” and given us a wealth of material here. Read on!
HIRE A PAID CONSULTANT?
Ninety percent of Peace Corps writers are self-published. There is an incredible array of companies that offer support services to self-publishing writers for a price. Paid consultants offer to edit, format, design and even market. Some of our own Peace Corps writers have commented on their experiences.
PLEASED TO USE THEM!
Will Lutwick (Fiji, 1968-70) author of Dodging Machetes: How I Survived Forbidden Love, Bad Behavior, and the Peace Corps in Fiji, a memoir published by Peace Corps Writers, utilizing CreateSpace services.
Developmental editor: I contracted a woman before signing with Peace Corps Writers. She did a very good job, particularly in encouraging me to use more dialogue and less narration.
Copy-editing: My package editor found a lot of grammar and style errors and always explained why she suggested a change. She followed The Chicago Manual of Style.
Cover design: My publisher offered five optional services at varying prices. One possible downside (and this is true of all their services) is you never actually speak with your designer; rather you talk with a member of your “Project Team.” They are very courteous and know their process well, but I found they generally do not understand the author’s needs when there is a problem and then they talk to the specialists, not you, and they get back to you in writing or over the phone. But you never have to wait to speak with a member of the Project Team (during business hours). You fill out forms, which I generally prefer, because it’s more precise than verbal conversations and you have a record of what you asked for. The company did two separate cover designs based on my ideas and was always very cooperative and professional about changes I wanted.
Formatting: They made several errors but were generally efficient and accurate when fixing them. I was very pleased.
Production: It took ten months to go through the publishing process, way longer than expected. If you buy the less expensive, simpler options, it will take less time. Every time you change the cover, interior, or press release you usually lose another 2-3 weeks on that process.
Promotional press release:The first press release writer just didn’t get what my book was about so I got rid of him and CreateSpace cooperated. They eventually sent it to three thousand “markets” but it got very little response. They give you the names of the markets, but not the contact persons or their email addresses. There is some statistical analysis a week after the press release, but it wasn’t very helpful.
Promotional Kirkus Review:If you want one, you have to pay big, but my publisher offered a discount package, cheaper than going directly to Kirkus. It’s a big gamble-if they give you a negative review (and they don’t hesitate to do so) you will have totally wasted your money.
Kindle Conversion: This cost me $69. There were some hassles and they gave me conflicting instructions for how to best review their work. They did not begin working on the Kindle version until the print version was finalized.
Website: I built it myself using Hostgator as the web host and WordPress for the actual construction of pages and other structure. This was my first attempt.
A USEFUL TOOL-THE EDITOR
Starley Talbott Anderson (South Africa, 2001) author of Lasso the World, a Western Writer’s Tales of Folks Around the Globe, a memoir self-published by Plainstar Press.
I have both self-published and published with a main-stream publisher. There are advantages to both ways of publishing. There are many fabulous stories that would never be offered to the public unless they were self-published.
Editing: I believe it is crucial to hire an editor for self-published work. It does not have to be an expensive editor. It can be a friend, but it needs to be a friend who knows what they are doing. I traded work for my content editor on the above book. I also paid a copy editor to do a final edit.
Cover design: I had an idea for the cover, but Publishing Pro was able to put that idea together and produce a cover I approved.
Formatting: Publishing Pro also helped design the interior format. I used my own photographs for the illustrations.
Production: Publishing Pro was in charge of the printing which was done in Denver, Colorado, taking around 60 days, including a final edit on the proofs. The books were delivered to me by Publishing Pro and included in the cost of their services.
Promotion: Promotion is mostly up to the author, whether self-published or with a regular publisher. The two regular publishers I have had on four of my books do an initial promotion and place books in stores, but I find the follow-up to be limited. For the most part I have arranged for book signings on my own. I have also designed and presented power-point presentations to many groups. I find belonging to a professional writer’s group also helps on promotion, and attending professional writer’s conferences is of benefit.
Summary: I believe if we want to elevate the status of self-published work, we need to approach it from a professional standpoint. Yes, an editor must be “hired” in some form or another. I have read some wonderful self-published works, but at the end I usually lament, “if only the work had been edited.” And, I’ve read some really awful works that have been published by main-stream publishers, and I also often wonder why they had not been edited more carefully.
TOO STINGY TO USE THEM!
Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras, 1975-77), author of Peace Corps Experience: Write & Publish Your Memoir,a How-To book published by iUniverse
Since my boots are creased and worn, my work pants frayed and my wallet near empty, all of my self-published books involved no paid consultants other than a printer and a binder. During the past four years, I have used Print On Demand for five books, paying the bare minimum without consultants. My publisher automatically creates an e-book as part of the contract and markets my books on Amazon.com.
Editing: All ten of my published books and seven pamphlets can best be described as range cooking. After many drafts, I recruit a volunteer editing team which usually includes a half-dozen people, working together like a band of round-up cowboys herding in my bad grammar, poor spelling and awkward sentences. A published poet and a professional editor always appear as the range foremen. The poet is a great ideas man while the professional editor offers ideas and line editing. The others change from project to project and normally proof read.
Cover design: Before book submission, my chores also include cover design which is usually done with construction paper, photos, drawings and scribbles. Later, my professional editor buddy helps me to create my cover design electronically before we open our guitar cases and celebrate with cowboy music, most naturally.
Formatting: Each of my books has some sort of interior ornamentation and illustrations, all of my making like whittled hair pins for that gal back home. Likewise, I create the actual interior format and note printing instructions.
Production: At this point, I sign a fancy contract and send the book, cover and printing instructions electronically to my publisher. Technically, the actual printing crew includes paid consultants who work with me on the requested format. From contact-signing to delivery of a finished book took an average of 60 days.
Promotion: Once the book is complete, I handle all promotion including press releases and efforts to garner book reviews as explained in my How-To book. Since independent bookstores are now so rare and electronic marketing is so important, I use as many free on-line sources as possible. These remind me of the volunteer fire department- neighbors helping neighbors survive. Peace Corps Worldwide has offered some great suggestions over the past few years.
Volunteers improve my books and are always cited on the Title Page Verso. They also receive a free copy. My projects are paid consultant-lite. The market includes hundreds of companies all pandering. This was even true before the advent of the personal computer. One company offers to edit your book into a Pulitzer Prize winner. Another company will format your book as if it were a Nobel Prize winner. There are specialists in cover design and artsy-fartsy interior doo-dads. Some folks promise to set your book up for electronic sale. Others will write dozens of five star reviews and post them on the internet. One company guarantees to manipulate the on-line sales rankings. The best dressed companies claim that they will put you in touch with the right people and organizations who will buy your book sight unseen. Some of these services sound silly, others unethical and they almost always appeal to greed and pride like a carnival barker. Why bother? Save 100% and do it yourself.
TOO MUCH TO DO ALONE
Jane Albritton (India, 1967-69); series editor for the Peace Corps at 50 Story Project (4 book set), including Even the Smallest Crab Has Teeth: 50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories-Volume 4, Asia and the Pacific, published by Traveler’s Tales
Many years ago, I worked for a disagreeable person with brilliant ideas on how to create powerful marketing materials for colleges and universities. For each project, she assembled a unique three-person team: a writer, an artist, and a marketer, which then boarded a little project skiff and sailed along from concept to conclusion. Together we tacked into the winds of deadlines and along the way learned how to talk to each other. Quite miraculously, we produced impossibly beautiful work. When it comes to the making of books, where you start to build a team depends upon your own inventory of skills and stamina, the time available and how much money you can scrape together. Choose carefully. Compatibility and trust make the journey fine.
Editing: That’s what I do, for students, clients, friends and family. So I was pretty sure that I could edit my book and back up the other three volunteer editors as needed. I will say that the task required every bit of skill I had honed over 40 years or so-and then some. The word daunting comes to mind.
Web and Cover Design: Most aspiring book creators will not need a website (but might want a boffo Facebook presence), but we did: both to receive stories from our contributors (who live all over the world) and to demonstrate our seriousness to the publishing establishment. I do not know squat about creating a website, didn’t have much money to hire someone, but did not want a rookie, either. I asked an old editor (turned marketer) friend if anyone in his company did side work. He did. A young artist not only created our site and story portal, but also went on to create our four covers, something he had never done before. He worked for Peace Corps wages.
Formatting and Production:I had a production manager because we had a specific target date for publication. A long-time production director for Travelers’ Tales books (my model for this project) knew the travel anthology territory by heart. Her presence on the team (and belief in the project) ultimately gave Solas House/Travelers’ Tales the assurance they needed to publish our books. Her value to the project far exceeds the pay she received.
Promotion: One reason I was so keen on having a publisher for the Peace Corps story project is that I wanted someone else to be in charge of basic marketing and shipping. I do not have the zest required to take that on. Because Travelers’ Tales published our books, we were represented by a marketing firm. Our rep hated our original covers. So we scrapped them and started over, snarling and snapping. It was absolutely the right call. Book Masters handles distribution (and has saved me from storing boxes of books in the garage and having to fulfill orders myself).
Peace Corps Worldwide has been endlessly helpful in broadcasting news of this project to the Peace Corps community. But I knew from my years of reviewing books for the Dallas Morning News that paperbacks do not get reviewed. So I drove across the great American West to Sacramento to present our books for sale at the state fair. I have done readings at the several bookstores and even recruited two young actors to read stories from the collection in their young voices at a museum. I entered (for a fee) our books in the literary competitions (2 silvers!) and arranged for the books to be represented (for a fee) at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, the oldest book fair in the world.
RECENTLY HIRED A PROMOTER
Bryant Wieneke (Niger, 1974-76), author of several political suspense novels including Priority Onepublished by PeaceRose Publishing
In 2010, I established PeaceRose Publishing with my wife, Elvira Rose, who also sells crafts through our business. I sell my books in person locally and online through our website, PeaceRosePublishing.com. This arrangement allows me to have complete control over every step in the production of my books.
Editing: I have a copy editor, a local consultant.
Cover design: I do my own cover art and author photos.
Formatting: I format my books using Microsoft Word.
Production: My primary paid consultant group is a book printing business, Mira Digital Publishing, in St. Louis. I send them the content for my books, including the text in Microsoft Word and the cover photo as a jpg file, and they put it together. They have charged me $7-$10 per item to produce paperback copies of my novels, for at least 50 copies. Of course, the price per item goes up as the length or complexity of the book increases. Recently, I have decided to produce electronic copies of my books, a process that will reduce the cost of production.
Promotion: I have a domain name, self-designed website, seller’s permit, PayPal account, bank account, and P.O. Box for PeaceRose Publishing. I have purchased and assigned ISBN numbers for all my books. I hired a consultant two months ago to begin the process of promoting and marketing my books using social media. I am asking everyone who reads this article to log onto Facebook and “like” my Bryant Wieneke author page. It is only through expanding circles of Facebook friends that I can get the word out about my writing.
I have never found a traditional publisher for my novels, but you know what? Maybe I don’t need one.