Friday, January 23, 2015

Wonderings on Wanderings: Publishing a Travel Memoir: Traditional, Self, or Absolute Self?

It took me quite a while to make a decision as to how to proceed in this area. Of course, I had hoped that I would be discovered as “the world’s best kept secret, a new best-selling author”! I must have pitched my work to about twenty agents that I found in the Net and in the magazine, Writers’ Digest. Alas! Nobody saw my potential. I can imagine how much more difficult it would have been long ago when the Net wasn’t as savvy. But it was still heart-wrenching to be turned down so many times.

Traditional publishing gives an author three tremendous boosts: the publishers’ big marketing muscles, its deep bench of seasoned editorial staff, and an authoritative dive into publishing. The publishing House may so like your work or the idea you would like to write on that he invests in it by even giving you an advance on future royalties to be earned.  But the author has to surrender his rights to the book. The House owns it. And your book may be unrecognizable to you in the end.

But then not every author is skilled or lucky enough to be chosen by one of the giants. But I happened to write at the time self-publishing had come of age. As the term implies, the author himself is the publisher and thus retains all rights to his book. This used to be a difficult option when print-on-demand technology was not a choice. An author had to decide how much to print and, if he makes a mistake while balancing costs vs. potential, then he may end up with a roomful of unsold books.

But the technology has changed and so self-publishing has become a viable option. As a matter of fact, two kinds of self-publishing are available: one where “houses” also help an author through the publishing process and one where “middle-men” just distribute e-books to online distributors or print them on demand. The first gives the author a guiding hand and takes away much of the technicalities of translating the book into correct formats away from the author. But it also means more money.

The three deciding criteria in the choice between traditional publishing and self-publishing are: time, money, and control. The traditional path takes a long time and you lose total control but is quite remunerative at once. Self-publishing takes a short time and you retain total control but is quite expensive at the start. Nothing can be as opposite as that! Since I am now 66 and no longer have the time, I like being in control, and it is about time I spend some money on myself, guess what I chose?

I compared five self-publishing “houses”: Outskirts Press, AuthorHouse, iUniverse, xLibris, and Archway Publishing. I constructed a decision matrix with the following criteria for choosing: technical (what technical parts of the publishing work will they do and how many formats will they provide), editorial (how much editorial help is included), add-ons (what additional help are they giving), intangibles (what other benefits will arise from working with them), reputation (how solid are they in the self-publishing business), and price. I was lucky because at the time I decided a competitive promo was going on. I decided on iUniverse because, although they were the second most highly priced, they were the only ones who offered an editorial evaluation, not just assessment, as part of the package.

Actually, a third kind of publishing has emerged, what I will call absolute self-publishing. Many software packages have become available to help authors convert their manuscripts into e-book formats and sell those using their own platforms. Companies are also available to print on demand. In other words, the author has even more control by breaking up the work of publishing into pieces and work with whatever and whoever is available for a piece. Many are opting to go this way. It is a virtually free way to start, write a few quick books on topics you are an expert in, market with titles that are Google-friendly, and proceed to print options for those that really do well.


I think I will try this last approach for my next two books: How to Catch a Partner in the Net or Cooking for Two…Old Folks!