Christopher Meeks is the author of two self-released short story collections: The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea and Months and Seasons, as well as the play, Who Lives? – all with professionally-designed covers and well-reviewed. He can be reached at his site ChrisMeeks.com. Here he writes about creating his own self-publishing imprint, White Whisker Books.
While I’m self-publishing technically, I see what I’m doing on another level. My main occupation is writer, and my secondary business is publishing. I have a fairly good grasp at how the book business works, and one of the things is that for bookstores to carry one’s book, the book has to have a minimum 40% discount to the bookstore, which means a 55% discount to the distributor, who then guarantees the 40% discount to the bookstores. Lulu could not guarantee such a thing. I found that bookstores interested in my first book, “The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea,” would only get a 15% discount through Lulu. That is, a bookstore had to pay $11 to sell the book for $12.95–and the store could not return the book if it did not sell. That’s the second requirement to get into bookstores: the book has to be returnable. It’s old-fashioned, and books travel back and forth, but that’s the odd business of bookselling.
The way I look at it, starting my own company, White Whisker Books, has been beneficial in getting out my own work in a timely manner. There’s still no way I can compete with the big publishers, but I try to mimick everything they do, including hiring editors, book designers, video producers, and publicists, sending out ARCs, and focusing on quality to the fullest of my ability. I don’t want to be a publisher for much longer, but then again, I may be spoiling myself. I get exactly the look and feel of the book that I want. Marketing, though, is perhaps the toughest part for me, and one where I’d enjoy a big company behind me.
On the positive side, I’ve been getting some great reviews, and my play, “Who Lives?”, which I also published, is getting a production, opening in L.A. on March 12. The producers of the play have hired a marketing firm, so I may be getting some marketing there.
Most print reviewers require a minimum of three-month advance of the publication date. This is where most self-publishers fall down. They are so eager to be published, that they go to Lulu or elsewhere, upload their files, pay their fees to have global distribution, and their book can be bought on Amazon within a month. And who will buy it? Grandma and the old college roommate?
Movie distributors would not rush out copies of their films to theaters and THEN start advertising, but that’s what most self-publishers do. Hence, my advice for self-publishers echoes what I’ve seen on this website:
1) Put money into a good book designer.
2) Once the book is designed, add the words ADVANCE READING COPY to the front, and all the information that reviewers need on the back. That includes the following:
- Publisher and imprint
- Number of pages in the finished book
- 13-digit ISBN
- Month and day of publication
- Distribution arrangements
- Publicity contact information
3) Hire a publicist or have a friend act as a publicist for reviewers to contact.
4) Choose a publication date four months from the date that you expect to have your ARCs printed and sent to you. This is something I didn’t anticipate well with my latest book. The designer, the printer, and UPS all took much longer than anticipated. I started sending books out for review today, just over two months in advance of the publication date. That may cut me out of some reviews, especially the likes of Publisher’s Weekly (see here: Publisher’s Weekly Submission Guidelines).
My first load of Advanced Reader Copies came in yesterday at 4 p.m., and I’m sending them out to reviewers today. My last book, “Months and Seasons,” has received something like 25 reviews so far, most of them from literary blogs. With that book, I’d hired a New York publicist who sent the book out, which resulted in something like four reviews. On my own, I contacted many more reviewers and pulled in another 21 reviews. Thus, this time, I’m doing it all myself.