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Number 1 Shimbun

Self-publish Your Book! Say Sayonara to Rejection and Hello to Self-Publishing

Self-publish Your Book!
Say Sayonara to Rejection and Hello to Self-Publishing
by John Boyd

Back in 1859 Charles Dickens penned a cutting-edge tale that began, “It was the best of
times, it was the worst of times.” When he wrote those famous words, he had a different
revolution in mind than the one disrupting today’s book-publishing industry, but they
describe perfectly the transformation that’s changing how books are now published, bought
and read.

Driving this change are self-publishing or indie (independent) authors who are exploiting the
technologies of e-books, e-reader devices and online bookstores. As a consequence, the
means of publishing is shifting inexorably from the publishing houses to those who actually
create the novels and non-fiction we read – the writers.

Yet until recently, the efforts of the vast majority of authors to get published never produced
so much as a flicker of light – unless it was the burning of an automated rejection slip. Their
attempts were extinguished from the get-go by the industry’s gatekeepers: the literary
agencies with their slush-pile junior readers, then their mentors the literary agents. The
fortunate few works that were accepted for representation went on to face the toughest hurdle
of all: the acquisition editors of publishing houses who mostly say nay rather than yea to
agents’ pitches.

In some cases, the gatekeepers toss manuscripts because the writing or content doesn’t pass
muster. But as often as not, reasons for rejection include the reading tastes of individuals,
agents’ workloads, the publishing needs of the moment or season, market trends, distribution-
channel capacities and marketing budgets of publishers.

Examples? Top selling author J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame and fortune told fans on
Twitter she had been turned down by agents “loads” of times. Stephen King had his first
novel, Carrie, rejected over and over. John le Carré when he first shopped around The Spy
Who Came in From the Cold was informed he didn’t have a future in writing.

To the joy of millions of readers, these authors did not give up. However, we can only
imagine how many great stories have been lost to us because so many rejected writers
became discouraged and quit after trying in vain to get published.

The situation began to change in 2007 when Amazon released its Kindle electronic books
reader. Despite the $399 price tag and low-resolution (800 x 600 pixels) screen, it sold out in
less than six hours, and would-be buyers had to wait five months before more became
available.

Yet Amazon was not the first with such a device. Three years earlier in 2004, Sony unveiled
its LIBRIé e-reader in Japan and began selling it overseas a year later —albeit to little
fanfare. In 2014, acknowledging the dominance of the Kindle e-reader, Sony said sayonara to
the market.

Why? Well, Amazon began life as an online bookseller. It understood from the start that the
reading device was the razor while the books it sold were the blades. So alongside its e-
reader, (which has been regularly upgraded, refined and reduced in price), Amazon opened its
complementary Kindle eBooks store.

Authors found it relatively easy to self-publish their works through the store. And because
there were no costs for paper, warehousing or distribution, Amazon paid the creators
handsome royalties compared with those from traditional publishers. Amazon also made it
super easy for readers to buy books: literally with one click. What’s more, the books came
without the limiting digital rights management software attached. DRM is supposed to stop
pirating but ends up turning frustrated customers into pirates – as Sony found out to its cost.

In addition, Amazon added what has become its signature ingredient, neatly summed up here
by Indie author and industry guru David Gaughran in his Let’s Get Digital book on self-
publishing, now in its third edition.

Amazon … show[s] you the book you are most likely to purchase, not what the [traditional]
store manager thinks you should read, or what that big publisher is paying to push, or what
critics think is “most important.” Amazon looks at your purchase history, browsing history and
reading activity, and then suggests books it thinks you will like…. And Amazon is completely
agnostic not just to the type of book or who published it, but also the price. Amazon’s
recommendation engine will recommend a book by someone like me over one published by
Simon & Schuster if it thinks a reader is more likely to purchase my book, even if my book is
significantly cheaper.

As a result of these moves, Amazon is now the largest online bookstore in the world, and its
Kindle arm accounts for a guesstimated 70 percent of the indie market in English, with
Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Google Play vying for the remainder.

This change is proving to be a bonanza for many mid-list authors – sellers but not bestsellers
– who are frustrated with the poor terms offered by the traditional publishers. And it presents
an enticing new opportunity for previously unpublished writers. The result? A publishing
revolution is underway.

According to the latest Author Earnings market report, US online sales of print and e-books
for the last three quarters of 2017 totaled $4.4 billion. Indie-published books accounted for
roughly $1 billion of these sales and their share is growing.

Hence, even successful traditionally published authors are choosing to self-publish. One
example: Barry Eisler, author of the Japanese-American John Rain assassin series, made
headlines in 2011 when he turned down a $500,000 deal with St. Martin’s Press for two
books. Instead, he preferred to self-publish. He cited creative control of his works (titles,
book covers and book descriptions) and the belief he could earn more as his reasons.

With the bona fides of indie publishing now established, we’ll take a look at how you go
about self-publishing based on the experiences of three FCCJ members: Charles Pomeroy,
Bradley Martin, and yours truly.

• Charles Pomeroy had written Tsunami Reflections – Otsuchi Remembered, a memoir on the
devastation caused in the town of Otsuchi by the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in
March 2011. Otsuchi is the hometown of his wife and the place where they had built their
retirement home.

Pomeroy turned to self-publishing after “finding it almost impossible to attract the attention
of a traditional publisher without a literary agent.”

Upon investigating indie publishing and e-books on the Internet in 2012, he found
Telemachus Press, a publishing services company. It took care of the editing, cover design
and book layout that included a number of photographs. “So I became a micro-publisher
operating under its imprint,” Pomeroy explains. He receives 70 percent of the sales price:
$5.99 for an e-book and $14.99 for the print-on-demand (PoD) paperback version.

“Not offered, however, are marketing and promotion services, a major drawback,” he says.
“The author is stuck with that responsibility.”

Telemachus uses Amazon and Smashwords to distribute the e-books, and Ingram Content
Group to produce and distribute the PoD books, which are available in North America, the
UK and Australia. As the micro-publisher, he had to arrange things with these companies
himself, something of a headache until Telemachus helped guided him through the process.
In total, Telemachus’s fees came to just under $4,000.

• Bradley Martin actually got his foot in the door that bars the way to traditional publishing
when the agent for his nonfiction book took on his Nuclear Blues, a suspense thriller. “But
before he could make a sale, he fell ill and died,” says Martin.

After querying other agents without success, Martin decided last year to self-publish. Upon
researching the subject, he chose BookBaby, a publishing services company like Telemachus.
He found they had a good reputation for producing quality PoD books.

“And I was also attracted by the percentage of the book’s price that BookBaby promised,
especially those sold through its own store,” says Martin. “I also liked the idea of leaving the
company to handle my digital distribution, first with Amazon for a 90-day exclusive, and
then also with Barnes & Noble, Apple and the other online stores.”

Martin did not avail himself of all of BookBaby’s services. He found a Seoul-based
cartoonist to produce his book cover, and he took care of the interior design and editing. “I
also did all the promotion myself,” says Martin. “So I had quite a feeling of accomplishment
when the thing came out. Publishing was a lot easier and a lot more fun than I had imagined.”

BookBaby did the digital formatting and distribution to the online stores. And as part of the
$3,600 deal, it shipped 100 PoD books to Martin in Japan. He recently ordered 25 additional
copies sent to his US address for book signings. The bill including shipping was $354.29.

• In my case, I turned to self-publishing after my suspense thriller Killing Time in Tokyo was
rejected by over fifty agents. My first simple query letters frankly deserved to be rejected, but
as I honed my presentation skills and refined the novel, the automatic rejection letters became
personal and encouraging with words like, “This is not for me at the moment but you should
try a different agent.”

Still, after 50 such efforts …

Not having the financial means or desire to use a service company, I did everything
myself—except for designing the book cover. For the latter, I went to Pinterest, an online
social network pinboard site focused on collecting images, photos and the like. I searched for
“Asian book covers” and found a premade cover that appealed. However, the background
was of a Chinese city, so I paid the designer extra to change it to a Tokyo cityscape. Total
cost, a very reasonable $100 in 2016.

I worked with the same designer, BeetifulBookCovers.com, to custom design the cover for
my second suspense crime novel, The Girl Who Danced Her Tears Away. It took five
attempts to produce the cover I wanted. Cost: $300.

As for layout, I use Scrivener for word processing. This has a feature that converts content
into Mobi files used by Amazon, and ePub files used by all other online stores including
Apple, the second largest store after Amazon. This feature does have a steep learning curve,
however.

Note, though, you may not need anything more that Microsoft’s Word. Amazon has become
more flexible of late and now accepts a variety of file types it will automatically convert
including docx files. So if you have everything laid out as desired, Word will suffice.

Publishing your book on Amazon’s Kindle store is straightforward. You fill out a typical
online form and are given a Your Books page where you are invited to Create a New Title.
Simply upload your book cover and content file to get started.

Next, choose from a list two categories you want the book to appear in when readers search
on Amazon for book genres. I’ve checked Fiction > Mystery & Detective > International
Mystery & Crime; and Fiction > Thriller > Suspense.

You are also given a choice of adding seven keywords to optimize the chances of your book
being found. Choose words or phrases readers may use to narrow down their search. For
example, three of my choices are Japan and Asian crime fiction, sexual seduction and
blackmail, and revenge and retribution.

Next, you choose what territories you want to sell your book in, and then add the sales price.
Between $2.99 and $9.99 Amazon pays 70 percent royalties. Below and above that range,
you receive just 35 percent of the sales price.
Then you hit the Publish button and that’s it!

I began this article saying these are the best of times and the worst of times for the publishing
industry: for as we’ve seen, Indie authors now have a way to bypass the gatekeepers, while
traditional publishers wring their hands as their control over distribution withers away.

Nevertheless, it’s by no means happiness and high-on-the-hog living for all published
authors. While tens of thousands are making a living from self-publishing, hundreds of
thousands are struggling. The bad news is that, given anyone can now publish, zillions of
authors are doing so. But after family and friends have bought copies of your masterpiece,
how do you get anyone else to even see it?

The answer is to put on your marketing hat. Begin by making sure your cover is professional
and tells the reader at a glance what you book is about; ditto the title and book description.
Search Amazon Best Sellers to see what’s successful.

Consider advertising. Targeted Facebook and Amazon ads are popular, but you need to study
how to make these effective. Google such subjects and do the necessary research. There are
also a number of online sites that will charge fees to advertise your book to their subscribers.

For more help search for online sites catering to indie authors. Do searches for “20 books to
50K,” “Kboards” and “Reedsy” to get started and to stay clear of scammy “service
providers.” Podcasts are another rich source of information. Check out my Medium review of
best podcasts for authors: http://bit.ly/2I0bvmx. You can also email me at
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have a question.

Good luck!

 

Published in: June 2018

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