Adventures in self-publishing

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I’ve recently been in e-mail contact with Capital Region novelist and musician J. Peter Yakel, whose recent book is “The Legend of Juggin Joe,” which he has self-published through Lulu.com (his Web site is www.lulu.com/yakel). His book is described as follows:

J. Peter Yakel spins a fine country yarn in this hilarious hilltown tale. Somethin’s brewin’ in Westerlo, an’ it ain’t Doc Jeckel’s still full ah “Oh Be Joyful.” When a boy discovers he’s possessed with a rare musical gift, “Juggin Joe” is born! On the road tah international stardom, love blossoms betwixt Joe an’ a l’il mountain flower, Florentine. But her daddy, the Parson Sheppard, disallows the courtship, endin’ the romance, an’ leavin’ both young’uns with heartache bigger’n the Heldeberg mountains. Tarnation! In a moment ah angst, Joe sets aside his jug, an’ sets off with the Army. Overseas, fate crosses the greenhorn soldier with the President, an’ Joe’s musical prowess is called tah duty once ‘gain. But is it strong ‘nough tah alter the global balance ah power? What about Florentine? Will Joe find love ‘gain? Follow Joe’s knee-slappin’ journey, written entirely in J. Peter Yakel’s unique style ah “country-speak”, an’ see what real legends are made ah! http://www.lulu.com/yakel

I asked him about his experiences with self-publishing, and he responded with an informative and insightful and, from what I’ve read elsewhere, a not untypical account of what self-publishing is like. Take a look, and feel free to respond with your own experiences – whether self-publishing or self-promoting – either by responding to this blog or by e-mailing me at mjanairo@timesunion.com.
I should say here that with all the books being published these days (Publishers Weekly said about 172,000 titles were published last year), the Times Union (in continuing its role of filtering through the media landscape for its readers) does not review self-published books, though that doesn’t mean the newspaper doesn’t run event listings, news and features stories about self-published authors and their works.

Yakel describes his self-publishing experiences as follows:

As far as working with Lulu to get my books and music published, I have been very happy with the company. It has met my expectations in most ways. Lulu touts itself as a technology company; not a publishing company. They leave the role of publisher to the individual. There are no set-up fees; no minimum orders; authors keep control of their products and all rights to them; you set your own price; items, like e-books or music can be downloaded directly, and hardcopy items are printed on demand, so there is no excess inventory. The book quality is very good. Their customer service is also decent.

click “more” to read more.

The upside of Lulu’s service is all of the above. You have complete control over your works and you handle everything the way you want to.

The challenge, of course, is that for the most part, you handle everything by yourself. You don’t have the backing of a traditional publisher, so you wear many hats – author, editor, sales, promotion, etc. To an extent, you must be a jack-of-all-trades to publish this way, and you need to be disciplined to do so – perhaps even more so than an author who doesn’t do everything on his own. As a self-published author, you really have to keep the book’s ‘total package’ in mind.

The actual process of self-publishing through Lulu is fairly easy. You upload your edited and formatted manuscript to the Lulu website, determine the book size, binding, color or b/w graphics, etc. You can choose to use free cover images provided by Lulu, or upload your own cover art. (I commissioned an artist to create my Juggin Joe book, as I had a specific idea in mind for my book, and wanted it to be as professional looking as possible).

When you’re finished processing your creation, it’s copyright protected, and available immediately for sale. You have the choice of selling your items as downloads (e-books or audio files), or as a traditional hardcopy book or CD. You set the price as well. The books are very nice quality finished products.

You also have the ability to purchase an ISBN for your books if you want to. An ISBN is not necessary to publish, but I recommend having it if you are really interested in getting your book in a brick and mortar store.

Lulu makes its money by receiving a small portion of the royalties when an item is sold. The company also offers some other paid services, such as graphics, pre-publishing help, distribution, etc. There is no upfront costs to create and self-publish, so this is great for people who don’t want to spend a lot to make a book.

It is a bit more costly to produce books and CD’s through Lulu than I would like, which makes it tougher to promote in local stores. Reason being is that I also have to pay for shipping and then deliver my books directly to the store. When I promote my books locally, in order to keep the shelf price reasonable, and allow the store some margin of profit for carrying me, I make very little-to-nothing for the opportunity to be on their shelves. That said, I am very pleased that some local stores (The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, I Love Books, Inc. in Delmar, and Borders Books on Wolf Road and in Clifton Park) have given me their consideration as a local author. Other large chain stores have not been as welcoming. This is what goes with the territory of being a self-published author…(However, all bookstores can place orders directly from Lulu, either to fill customer requests, or simply to add a local author’s works to their shelves).

People define success in any number of ways. For one person, it may simply be to create a book mainly for personal reasons, with no expectation of selling any copies. Lulu offers this means to success. For another person, success may encompass something much more – creating something that you really believe in, and thinking that others would find value and enjoyment from it, but not finding any doors open with traditional publishers to make this a reality. Lulu offers an avenue for some success this way as well, but it may not be the easiest road to travel. I’m more of the latter. That said, I think people like myself wouldn’t put so much effort into our creations if we didn’t feel we were up to the myriad of challenges that self-publishing entails. I’ve always been a go-getter and pretty much set my own course to accomplish what I set out to do.

With respect to my fiction story, “The Legend of Juggin Joe,” I’ve had it reviewed a couple dozen times at least, here in the US, Canada, England, Wales and Ireland. Virtually all of my book reviews have been good ones, except one – some have been downright excellent. My writing style in Juggin Joe has been compared more than a couple of times to Mark Twain’s hand in Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. That’s quite a compliment, considering Twain’s stature in American literature, and something I’m personally proud of. What it tells me is that a varied audience – international – men and women – different ages and backgrounds – find something connectible in my writing. That’s very satisfying. My work has been reviewed by reputable, legitimate literary entities, but they are not mainstream, like the New York Times, USA Today, or even the Times Union. I made the promotional pitch to all of these entities, but the mainstream media generally won’t look twice at a self-published author. Even the TU and other community papers have discounted local authors like myself. This is especially disappointing, because I subscribe to the paper for it’s local content and connection to what’s going on around me in Capitaland.

I’m also a musician, and I play a variety of original folk/blues/bluegrass style songs. All of my music is copyrighted and registered, and I’m an active member of Broadcast Music Inc. Since last September, I’ve had a handful of songs that are being played on some licensed bluegrass radio stations. However, I’m not heard on any local stations. My book has been read and my music played on a couple of other continents, but my neighbors and most people in the Tri-city area haven’t read or heard much about me…how’s that for irony?

Actually, that irony brings us full circle back, with the use of a technology company like Lulu to help people self-publish. Lulu is basically a cyber-company, so authors and artists who use Lulu to create and distribute their works, essentially use the Internet as the means to remove the geographic barriers between them and a global audience. This explains why people know of me in Australia, Ireland, and England, but maybe not in Albany, Schenectady or Troy!

I plug away with my writing and my music because I love both things. I enjoy creating something out of nothing. In the end, I think that success with my music and books is incremental. I don’t need to experience huge gains all at once. If I sell a book copy, I hope the reader enjoys the story. If someone taps their toes to one of my songs on the radio, or when I play in a local spot, I feel good that I’ve reached out to a few more people who weren’t previously touched by my creations. Who wouldn’t be happy about that?

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