When publishing is personal

Books: For some writers, smaller is better.

September 29, 2001|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

It took Karen Glooch eight years, numerous publisher rejections and five rewrites to finish her novel, so when she was sure it was done, she published it herself.

Glooch, 42, of Severna Park, always wanted to be a writer. In 1993 she sat down to write her first novel, Twenty-Nine, about a woman dealing with the direction of her life and alcoholism. After writing her first version over a year and a half, she received rejection letters, took breaks and made repeated changes. Finally, she decided to try writing it in the style of a journal.

"I got a feeling this is it ... this is going to work," she says.

In March she was happy with the result and sent it to a company called iUniverse.com that provides print-on-demand services. Now she has copies of her book to sell and other people can buy it online or order it in bookstores.

"My goal is to get my book out there as much as I can and start to develop a reader base," she says.

As technology has made printing high-quality books in smaller numbers easier and less expensive, and as the Internet has offered new means of distribution, more authors are becoming their own publishers. Others have turned to small, independent presses that tend to be more flexible and open to new authors.

A number of regional writers who chose these routes are sharing their work at the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend in a new feature called "The Next Really Big Thing Tent."

Writers of self-published and small press books receive less attention and respect than authors of books from large, well-known publishers. Often readers and reviewers don't want to sort out the hidden gems from the poorly written, poor quality books, preferring to let known publishing houses do that up front.

But the gems are there, says Gregg Wilhelm, president of MidAtlantic Publishers Association, which is sponsoring the festival tent. "People think you are self-published because no one else will have you," he says, but that's not necessarily true. Many people self-publish because they believe they can market their book best, and even with big publishers, authors have to do a lot of their own publicity.

"If no one knows the market better, if no one can do better, why give up 10 percent" of the profits to the publishing house, he says. Many authors also want to keep control over their books' content and design.

A division of Simon & Schuster published Allegra Bennett's first book, Renovating Woman: A Guide to Home Repair, Maintenance and Real Men in 1997. She got the contract after an agent became interested in the home-improvement stories she told in a weekly radio spot.

But when she was ready to write another book, she decided to publish it herself, seeking more creative control and more return for her marketing efforts.

When A Woman Takes an Axe to a Wall Where is She Really Trying to Go? focuses on the emotional aspects of women facing home maintenance chores alone, often after a divorce or widowhood. Bennett, 54, of Canton, believes she can make the book a blockbuster. She teaches a few writing classes at Towson University, but otherwise is making self-publishing her full-time job.

But with the freedom to make decisions comes the responsibility for every aspect of the process.

Design, printing and publicity can cost several thousand dollars; more like $25,000, Bennett believes, if the author wants great results. She hired an editor to offer objective criticism and paid a consulting firm, run by Wilhelm and a partner, to advise her on design and marketing strategies. She is also getting a Web site and plans to go to book parties and readings as much as possible.

During the most recent printing, when a preliminary copy revealed that the page numbers were missing from half the book, she was the one taping a note to the printer's door at 1 a.m.

"The siren song is the ease" of self-publishing, she says. "You can't be seduced by that. You have to pay attention to the details."

Authors selected by independent presses have more guidance and help, but they still have to do a lot of legwork. Karen Chiao and Mariellen O'Brien were excited when their book, Spies' Wives: Stories of CIA Families Abroad, was accepted by Creative Arts Book Co. in Berkeley, Calif., after 45 rejections. They found the staff helpful and receptive, but much of the legwork was their responsibility.

"You have to be prepared to put out a certain amount of money, especially on book signings," said Chiao, who lives in Montgomery Village. And, "If you sell 10, you feel like you hit the jackpot."

Without the means to buy expensive advertising, the publicity from events is important. Chiao and O'Brien, both 61, were fortunate, sparking an article in the New York Post and appearing on Court TV. They have sold 5,000 copies, and still hope Spies' Wives can become a best seller.

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