Saturday, October 08, 2005

"Self-Publish" Isn't Always a Bad Word

Whenever anyone asks me if they should self-publish, I always tell them no. There are numerous reasons why this is true, the all-encompassing one being a learning curve.

I believe that getting published is something you earn, not something you buy. Searching for an agent and an editor, getting rejected, learning about the business, understanding the importance of structure, rewriting, and editing---all of that helps writers grow. Plunking down 400 bucks for a POD press is like giving a ten-year-old a Driver's License. Things worthwhile in life should be difficult to acheive.

But there are exceptions. Sandy Tooley is one of them.

Sandy began her own publishing company, Full Moon Publishing, and she works harder than most writers who are published through the big houses. Her books are attractive, professional, and damn good reads.

I caught up with Sandy at a recent event, and asked her about what it takes to be successully self-published. Newbie writers take note--this is a far cry from Xlibris, and proof that there are no quick-fixes to making it in publishing.

JA: Tell us a little about your books.

SANDY: I combine mystery with paranormal, fantasy, a little sci-fi, and sometimes horror. My Sam Casey series features a Native American detective who can hear the dead speak. My Chase Dagger series (written as Lee Driver) features a hottie male detective assisted by an 18-year-old shapeshifter. She can shift into a hawk or wolf. Shapeshifting is part of Native American mythology.

JA: Why did you create Full Moon Publishing?

SANDY: Fifteen years ago agents weren't too comfortable with cross-genre plots. I was told to pick one--mystery or fantasy--but don't combine them. I couldn't pick, didn't want to pick. After doing the query letter two-step for five years and rewriting my first book three times, I started researching self-publishing. In order to write my kind of book it was evident to me I would have to publish it myself.

JA: What are the differences between starting your own publishing company, and using a POD press like PublishAmerica or I-Universe?

SANDY: For starters, the first is the true self-publisher. A writer who goes with a POD publisher pays a set-up fee but that is as far as his monetary investment toward the publishing phase goes. The writer who owns his own publishing company obtains a business license, purchases a block of ISBN numbers, obtains a Library of Congress number for each book, decides which printer to use, what type of design to put on the cover, whether the book will be a hardcover, trade paperback, or mass market paperback, and determines whether to use a distributor, order fulfillment house, or handle his own stocking, orders, and invoicing. He basically is a small business and operates as a small business whether he is producing widgets or books.

JA: What are some of the challenges of running your own press?

SANDY: Getting the books into the stores and promoting the titles are the two challenges. A couple years ago Ingram, who is one of the major wholesalers to bookstores, decided to cut out most of the small press accounts. A small press had to have a certain minimum amount of sales to Ingram to be in their system. Many of the large chains order only through Ingram and if your book isn't in their system, you won't find it in their stores. A small press usually means small press run. I have a 3,000 press run on hardcovers so it is logical that I am not going to have a $250,000 marketing budget. I have to be careful where I spend my dollars, what ads to place, what mailings to conduct. I knew early on that I wasn't going to be able to travel the country to promote my books so I focused most of my marketing efforts toward libraries.

JA: How much of your time do you spend writing vs. publishing and promotion?

SANDY: I use an order fulfillment house so I don't receive the orders nor do I process them or chase people for unpaid bills. They handle it all. Months before a new title comes out I do a lot of work getting my mailing lists targeted, ads produced, postcards mailed. I try to keep my publishing expenses separate from my author expenses (conferences, travel) so I haven't quit my day job. I work three to four days a week at a retail store. If I could take that 32 hours and donate it to writing, I'd get a lot more books written. Unfortunately, I spend more time at my part-time job than I do publishing, writing, or promoting.

JA: Your books are very attractive, on a par with the major publishing houses. How do you handle layout and cover art?

SANDY: When I was researching self-publishing, I visited bookstores, checking out the display books, determining what motivated me to pick up a book. Was it the color? The design? The title? I knew I was going to publish hardcovers so I focused on dust jackets, the layout, how the plot was described on the inside flaps. I also knew I was going to write a series so I wanted one constant on the jacket that would tell people this was a book in the Sam Casey or Chase Dagger series. Enter my graphic designer in Santa Fe, NM. He chose a medicine bundle for the Casey series and a dagger for the Chase Dagger series.

While I looked at books that attracted me, I also looked at books that didn't thrill me, trying to determine if the color was unappealing or the cover art too graphic, not graphic enough. Just by looking at the cover the reader should know a book is a mystery, not a travel guide.

JA: How do you go about getting reviewed?

SANDY: Connie Shelton has a great book titled, Publish Your Own Novel. She had a list of the major and secondary reviewers. Some of the major reviewers only review hardcovers, which also helped in my decision to publish hardcovers. Also, Connie stressed the importance of getting the review copy into the major reviewers hands at least four months prior to publication date. This is probably one of the major mistakes made by publishers. They fail to adhere to submission deadlines. There are many great secondary reviewers who only want the finished copy. I usually do a 100-200 print run of POD trade paperbacks of the new hardover which I send out to reviewers and independent mystery bookstores.

JA: Why do you publish under two names?

SANDY: Another suggestion Connie made in her book was to use a fictitious editor name because authors don't usually send out their own review copies to the major reviewers, nor should correspondence to Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and other vendors come from the author. And there are one or two of the major reviewers, mainly large newspapers, who will not review a self-published book.

JA: Have you ever thought of giving up the press and going the traditional publishing route?

SANDY: I keep making a plus and minus list. On the one hand it would have to be enough of an advance so I can quit my day job. The one book a year is a tough pace to keep if you still work 32-40 hours a week. I know some people do it and I'd love to know how (must only be men), between the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry...and I don't even have kids to take care of. On the other hand, I own all the rights to my books. I have sold the audiobook rights and large print rights. There are writers I love who have been cut by their publishers. It's frightening knowing if those great writers can't survive the budget cuts, how would a newbie fare?

JA: What's next for S.D. and Lee?

SANDY: I need my head examined for starters. I'm working on the fourth book in the Sam Casey and the Chase Dagger series plus I'm working on a new young adult mystery series, all simultaneously. Being a gemini, I keep thinking I can split myself into two or three people and still keep my sanity. I am entertaining the idea, though, of sending out my young adult mystery to a traditional publisher.

JA: Thanks, Sandy!

If anyone has more questions, contact Sandy through her website, www.sdtooley.com. And be sure to pick up her books to see how to do self-publishing the right way.