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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Article posted in 10/10/2012

Self-Publishing: A Personal Journey

Phyllis Palm coped with her husband’s illness by writing a book; marketing is an uphill battle.
Phyllis Palm at BookExpo America, where she found her distributor.
Phyllis Palm could no longer ignore the changes in her husband Bob’s behavior. “Forgetfulness, mood swings, a growing dependency on me—for three years I pooh-poohed them all,” says the 74-year-old psychologist, who denied that anything was amiss in their 20-year marriage that had brought her such joy. But something was terribly wrong. “Bob has dementia, possibly Alzheimer’s,” said a neurologist six years ago. “I was floored,” says Phyllis, because at times Bob’s behavior seemed normal. But there were times when Bob screamed at her: “You whore! You nasty bitch!” Or accuse her of stealing his money. On a lawyer’s advice, Phyllis created an account of everything she was spending. She also began to record her emotional journey.
“It sounds funny, but instead of judging myself harshly like Bob was judging me, by writing things down I was able to understand: This was coming from his illness, his paranoia, and he was projecting his negative feelings onto me,” says Phyllis. “The journal became a saving grace for me.” It also became the basis for her book, Put That Knife Away: Alzheimer’s, Marriage and Transformation from Wife to Caregiver, self-published early this year.
The book happened gradually. Seeking a diversion from the chaos at home, Phyllis signed up for a class in memoir and nonfiction writing at The Writer’s Voice program at the Westside YMCA. “The instructor, writer Mindy Lewis, assigned us to write five pages a week, and so that’s what I continued to do, all summer long,” Phyllis says. “When class resumed in the fall of 2010, I handed Mindy eight chapters. Encouraged by her support and positive comments, I began to think that my story and coping strategies could help other caregivers. As I got more and more into the writing, Bob got worse and worse. At one point, he had a psychotic episode and smashed my computer. I had to call the police. Bob entered an assisted living facility in March 2011. I had tried to keep him healthy and independent for as long as I could.”
Phyllis next signed up for a seminar on writing a book proposal, researched literary agents, and sent the proposal and sample chapters to twenty agents whose names she found in literary magazines. “Nobody was interested,” she says. “A few packages were returned unopened, one came back with a very nice rejection letter, and that was it. So I put the manuscript in a drawer and forgot about it for three months.” In November of 2011, Phyllis decided, “I’m going to do this myself,” and she began to investigate options.
Marketing the Book
According to R.R. Bowker, which tracks the publishing industry, 211,269 titles were self-published in 2011. Some writers choose this as a way to capture a legacy—to produce a memoir or family history in a limited edition. Others view a book as a professional credential. Some authors cross their fingers and hope their book will make it to the best seller lists. And there are those, like Phyllis, who believe they have something to say that will help themselves and also others. All quickly discover a growing community of consultants and companies, each one claiming they’ll get the job done cheaper, sooner, better. It’s easy for a novice to feel overwhelmed.
“Decide what your goals are and then do your research,” advises Kevin Weiss, president and chief executive officer of Author Solutions, whose self-publishing companies include AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris and Booktango. “The beauty of Google is that you can search just about everything and everybody that’s out there, and then ask your friends. Self-publishing can be completely free or you can spend a lot of money, depending on how much you do yourself and the services you contract for. You should ultimately talk to the companies about what you need and what they offer.”
Phyllis chose Amazon’s CreateSpace and carefully followed the instructions on its website. “When things got too technical for me, I turned for help to my cousin Nora in Switzerland,” she says. “Then Nora and my daughter Linda, who’s a graphic designer, created the cover. Everything went quickly. Nora and I uploaded the manuscript. On December 11 we uploaded the cover and printed a first proof. I was jumping up and down with excitement. A third proof, on January 12, 2012, was perfect. I had a book! So far, the cost to me had been zero.” Had there not been a cousin Nora, Phyllis could have paid for a designer from Create Space, which offers services for every step of the publishing process. “Also important is the fact that I can order as many or as few books as I want at a time,” she says.
CreateSpace is only one of several companies that offers Print on Demand (POD) and lists the book on its online site. Per-copy cost to Phyllis has been $5.95 plus shipping. She’s priced the print book at $15.95, the Kindle version at $9.95. If she sells a book on Amazon, she nets $5.08.
Marketing the book turns out to be much more of a hit-or-miss affair. How do you get people to know about your book? “I was told I needed a Facebook page and a website,” Phyllis says, “so I now have both. I also created a blog:
Then she paid CreateSpace for a press release that went to 1,852 sites. But none of these efforts have helped. She then made cold calls to community centers, active adult communities, churches and synagogues, resulting in fourteen speaking engagements. “I was selling 6, 10, 12 books at a time.” By September, she’d sold only 325 copies, and knew that there had to be a better way. To get some wider coverage, she spent $1,800 for a booth at BookExpo America, the largest publishing event in North America, held at New York’s Javits Center, hoping to interest a media person in the book or find a distributor who would promote the book, store it, take orders and ship it. And I did.”
She signed on with BookMasters, a medium-size printing company that offers a variety of services to authors who pay a $495 application fee plus $40 monthly to maintain an account. She is considering a program in which BookMasters reprints the book (at $3.86 per copy if she orders 1,000 copies). Atlas Books, a division of the company, promotes and sells it.
“The title will appear in its catalog and salespeople will pitch the book to bookstores and libraries. Atlas also presented me with a multifaceted marketing plan to help me get on TV and radio shows. They want to do print advertising with three other books that they represent. They have a whole range of things that they’re willing to do, each at a different cost. It comes out to about $3,000, not including printing.”
If she sells 1,000 copies, she’ll probably break even for the ongoing costs of storing, shipping and printing, but not advertising or marketing. “I will get 10% of the cover price for every book that Atlas sells through a bookstore,” she says.“Do I go along with the plan or do I increase my own efforts—try to get more speaking engagements, put more effort into my blog? I think I’ll try that first. My goal for the book has never been to make a profit but to reach other caregivers. Still, I can’t spend all my retirement money to make that happen. For a first-time, unknown, self-published author, it’s an uphill battle.”
Claire Berman has written nine books on such topics as caregiving, divorce, step parenting, and adoption. She was a contributing editor at New York and has written for The New York Times Magazine, Parade, Reader’s Digest, and other national magazines.

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