Writers on a budget find fitting publisher

Service: A growing number of writers use print-on-demand publishers that work through the Internet.

March 01, 2001|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Author Diane C. Hundertmark struggled for years to get her book published before she tried one final tactic: She turned on her computer.

With the release last month of her book, "The Dragon and the Rose - Part 1: The Turning Point," the Clarksville resident became one of a growing number of people who are using the Web to get their books in print. Several Web sites offer print-on-demand services where customers can publish their writings - sometimes for less than $100.

"It's really a great way for new authors to get published without having to go through the agony of dealing with the professional publishing world," Hundertmark said. "It's also good for authors who have gone out of print and want to republish their book."

It's a new twist on the old process of self-publishing. In the past, those using the "vanity press" system typically had to purchase a minimum number of books in order to have their manuscripts printed. With print-on-demand, there is no minimum, and the books are printed as they are ordered and paid for.

The Internet offers several ways for writers to get their work published. In addition to print-on-demand services, there are "e-books," which can be downloaded onto computers or special reading devices. Best-selling horror author Stephen King made headlines last year when he released a book that was only available for download on the Web - only to pull the plug after some readers failed to abide by the honor system of paying before downloading.

With print-on-demand books, a writer sends the manuscript to the publisher electronically or by mail. Copies of the book then are printed and sent to the author or whoever else wishes to buy a copy.

Several companies offer services such as cover design, editing help and information on marketing and book promotion. Hundertmark, who searched several of the sites, said she finally settled on iUniverse.com because it also had a strong sense of community, with message boards and chat rooms for writers.

"I found a lot of good information," said Hundertmark, a 46-year-old projects manager with the U.S. Customs Service. "There are so many sites out there, but none of them had that same sense of community."

Carol Kluz, an author and literary agent in Wyoming, has published four books using the Internet and said her clients now publish exclusively that way. Kluz said that while some booksellers are leery of stocking print-on-demand books because publishers will not accept returns, there are several benefits to the service.

"Your books don't ever go out of print," Kluz said. "You just keep on marketing them and have them printed on demand."

And while some people may worry about the literary quality of such books, Kluz said, that is a concern in the publishing world in general.

"My thought is that those books just won't do well," she said.

Bradley Kirkland, a Northern Virginia-based writer, started a writers' club on America Online in 1989 that offered advice and online writing courses to would-be writers. Kirkland, who sold the group to iUniverse.com in 1999, has since published two books using print-on-demand, and said writers also learn how to market themselves using this method of publishing.

"Unless you are a big author with a big publisher you are going to be doing a lot of your own promotion anyway," said Kirkland, who has published a nonfiction book on writing and a coming-of-age novel. "The main advantage to printing on demand is that the books aren't printed until they are bought, so there is no huge outlay of cash."

Hundertmark, originally from Providence, R.I., has been writing since high school. A voracious reader of the fantasy genre, she said she first wrote her book in 1995 when she was living in Boston, dashing off pages and then handing them to a fellow train commuter who would read them.

"I was trying to find an agent, but it was the same old problem. You can't find an agent without a publisher, and you can't get a publisher without an agent," she said.

Hundertmark said that once she found iUniverse.com, which has a partnership with Barnes and Noble bookstores, it all happened fairly quickly. She sent in her manuscript in November along with $99 for the fee, received proofs of the cover art to approve in December and was holding her book in her hand by mid-January.

"It was surreal," said Hundertmark, who estimates that between 10 to 20 books have been sold.

Hundertmark is scheduled to do a larger book signing from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on March 24 at Books-a-Million at Arundel Mills. For now, she is basking in the glow of being a published writer, the praise of her husband, Peter, and her 13-year-old daughter, Alison - and is looking forward to publishing the next story.

"I had a co-worker who read it storm my desk and say, `How dare you end it that way?'" Hundertmark said. "I thought that was great because that's just what I wanted, to leave them wanting more."

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