For those who are considering self-publishing but might be intimidated by writers organizations which berate it, I want to say something positive about one category of books: those with time-sensitive topics.
If you have a time-sensitive topic that you haven’t been able to sell to a traditional publisher, or that you don’t have time to send on the submission rounds, should you simply shelve that book — or should you self-publish it?
Let me use my own experience as an example.
About seven years ago, I started to write a nonfiction book for ages 10-Up. It was the story of Jack Graney (left fielder for the Cleveland Major League team from 1910-22), and his bull terrier, Larry, who became the official team mascot, appearing in all team photos.
For a while, I struggled with how to tell this story. After stumbling through a few prose versions, I started to tell the story in free verse. Instantly I felt this was the best way to bring the story to life for the reader. The story came to me through old newspaper articles, and I gave it back to the reader through free verse, which seemed very fitting because both short articles and short poems often capture the essence of a moment: a sensation, a feeling, a conflict.
Once I had my story written, I began submitting it to editors at traditional publishing houses. In four or five years, I submitted it to maybe a dozen editors, most of whom said they liked it but, for one reason or another, turned it down.
The largest number of editors turned my story down because they felt the story had to be either Jack’s story or Larry’s story, but not the story of both. One turned it down because, she said, stories about a Cleveland team wouldn’t sell a lot of books. Another turned it down because Jack Graney wasn’t the star of the 1920 World Series.
As the rejects slowly came in and the manuscript went back out, the 100th anniversary of Larry joining the Cleveland team loomed nearer. And nearer. And then — an editor I knew of and highly respected appeared to be interested in the book. I thought she might even make an offer on it. She asked for a marketing plan and back-cover-testimonial suggestions from me, and I wrote these up and emailed them to her. I was hopeful, and I like to think that she was, too.
And then — the large publishing house that owned the imprint I had submitted to dropped the imprint. Also dropped the editors who worked there. Amongst the human casualties were manuscript casualties, Jack and Larry among them.
At this point it was impossible for a traditional publisher to buy my story and have it out in 2012, the 100th anniversary of Larry joining the team. I had tried my best. I had written and rewritten and rewritten, listened to editorial suggestions, listened to my critique group’s comments, always rewriting, always honing the material. I believed I had a good story and I believed it was well-written. And time-sensitive. Let’s not forget time-sensitive.
I wondered what to do. Should I self-publish, or should I keep trying for conventional publication, even though it would mean that, should one accept, Jack and Larry would come out after the 100th anniversary.
I called my agent and we discussed it thoroughly. Her parting words were: “What are you going to do, wait for the 125th anniversary? Go for it!”
And so I did. I made plans to self-publish through CreateSpace, with Jack and Larry coming out in January 2012, one month before pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.
Was this the right decision?
The answer is a resounding Yes.
Not only am I thrilled to have a great-looking book that has already touched the hearts of those who have read it, but I’m excited that the book has already been reviewed by baseballreflections.com, and that review has been picked up by scores of other baseball sites. And it’s now being picked up by dog-related sites.
In addition, the American Kennel Club’s magazine, Family Dog, will carry a one-page feature on Jack and Larry, and that will also appear on their web site. The Canadian Review of Materials (Jack Graney was Canadian), which reviews literature that can be taught in elementary and high school, will review the book.
But there’s more. Soon after my book was published, the Cleveland Indians announced that on August 11, 2011, Jack Graney (who was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986) would be inducted into the Cleveland Indians Distinguished Personnel Hall of Fame. My book in no way caused this well-deserved honor for Graney — but what a wonderful, fantastic, incredible example of serendipity.
You can bet that I’ve been calling Cleveland area bookstores and newspapers and lining up autographing events and announcements and interviews for August 11, 2012. It’s 300 miles from Chicago to Cleveland, and I’m lining up autographings en route, too. I plan on doing everything I can to publicize the heart-warming story of Jack Graney and his bull terrier and the Cleveland team.
Do I wish that a traditional publisher had taken my book? Yes, I wish a traditional publisher had taken my book. A traditionally published books gets into the hands of more reviewers and it also gets into more bookstores. And traditionally published books qualify for more awards than do self-published ones.
Am I glad that all the self-publishing options of today exist and that I went ahead and self-published Jack and Larry: Jack Graney and Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog?
As Larry might say, Woof, Woof!
Chris says: Thanks for stopping by, Barbara. As I said on my guest blog post for Darcy Pattison last week, Dodging Trends: Why I Turned to Self-Publishing, self-publishing can be a good option if you have a book that isn’t “big” enough to attract a large publisher but still has an audience. This is a great example.
Barbara had a fresh product that wouldn’t get buried among thousands of similar books (easier with nonfiction). She had niche markets (baseball fans, dog lovers, Cleveland) that were big enough to support the book, and she figured out how to reach them. Note that she’s had several valuable reviews, despite the complaint that self-published books don’t get reviews. She’s not getting into the New York Times Book Review or Kirkus, but the smaller, focused publications are probably better for sales anyway.
She’s running her business like a business, which doesn’t stop when the writing is done. And perhaps most important of all, she knew she had a quality product, because she’d gotten positive professional feedback.
If you’re considering self-publishing, stop by my website to download the “Indie Publishing Worksheet” I developed to help students decide whether or not self-publishing is right for them, and if so, what steps to take.