Getting into print

More and more authors are going the self-publishing route

Books

December 03, 2006|By Philana Patterson | Philana Patterson,Special to The Sun

For Toni Hatton, publishing her own book was more about providing encouragement rather than getting rich or gaining fame. To date, the Gwynn Oak mother of four has sold more than 200 copies of Don't Be Afraid: He's Preparing You!

The book is about her experience dealing with her son Kevin's battle with cancer of the eyes and his subsequent blindness.

At the time, she couldn't find any books that provided help with her family's challenge.

Her experience included educating herself and school faculty about tools that would enable Kevin to attend public school.

"My reason for writing was to give back what I didn't have," Hatton says.

Hatton is part of a growing trend of self-published writers who bypass publishing houses or become frustrated with them and decide to strike out on their own.

In the United States, 22 percent of books are published by large publishing houses; 78 percent are published by medium-sized publishers and self-published authors, says Dan Poynter, author of The Self-Publishing Manual (Para Publishing, 2001).

Many authors, like Hatton, aren't shopping their manuscripts to literary agents and book publishers because publishers don't spend much time or money to promote most books.

And for most writers, there's not much money to be made in getting an agent and going through a publishing house, Poynter says.

"They are saying, `Why should I have to deal with an agent? I am going to make more money (on my own) ... I know what my audience wants and what they need,'" he says.

The trend toward self-publishing is evident in Baltimore.

A few years ago, the annual three-day Baltimore Book Festival had about 10 self-published authors. This year, the festival featured 90 self-published writers selling their books - 30 different authors on each day.

Julie Williamson, who in March opened A Good Book store, 2101 Gwynn Oak Ave., is making the most of the popularity of self-publishing.

About 25 percent to 30 percent of her inventory is composed of works by local, self-published authors, she says.

"So many come that I cannot purchase every book," says Williamson, who sells Hatton's book.

In most cases, she works out a consignment agreement, with the author getting 60 percent of the proceeds when the book sells. In addition, Williamson holds frequent book signings with self-published authors and participates in the Meet the Author show, which airs on WOLB-AM (1010) at 2 p.m. every third Friday and features local authors.

On the Saturday after the show, she hosts book signings for the featured author at her store.

But she warns: "Just because you have a book on the shelf, doesn't mean it's going to sell."

Some writers go the self-publishing route after deciding that major publishing companies want too much creative license.

Carlos Muhammad, 34, published his book of poetry, Caressed Spirits, after experiences led him to the decision. His book tackles societal issues such as racism, suicide, single motherhood and healthcare.

One publisher told him the content of his book was too controversial and suggested taking certain poems out of the book and changing the lingo to a more mainstream language.

"I deliberately used slang to make it more marketable," says Muhammad, who teaches at the Community College of Baltimore County and advises two student organizations, including a poetry club. "After I saw that, I decided that I didn't want anyone controlling my expression."

Three years ago, after spending about $2,500, Muhammad printed 200 copies of the book, which sold out the first day thanks to aggressive marketing by him, his brother Dedrick and a friend.

"We had a little team selling books out of the trunk," he says.

He printed another 500 books and went up to his hometown, Niagara Falls, N.Y., where he sold all of them.

An aunt in Detroit sold copies at her church. Since 2003, Muhammad has sold 5,000 copies.

He now has a company, Luv4Self Publishing, and wants to publish other authors.

For some, getting the money to publish isn't easy.

Michelle Sewell, 38, raised the money for Growing Up Girl, a compilation of 80 stories and poetry published in April, in part from a $1,000 grant from the Prince George's County Arts Council. For the rest - $4,000 - she had to get financially creative.

"[The book] came out at the same time I refinanced my house, and I did not have to pay the mortgage for two months," she says. "That's the money I used to pay the printer. So without [refinancing the house], the book would have been in limbo, because I didn't have $4,000 to put it out."

Muhammad managed to make a profit from his book, but many self-published authors say that while you may achieve a certain degree of fame, if you are looking for fortune, publishing your own work may not be the road for you.

Hatton says writing her book made her realize there was a writer living inside of her. "Looking back on it, I was always a writer, I kept a journal or diary," Hatton says. "After I wrote the book, I realized I was always a writer and I never knew it."

unisun@baltsun.com

Do it yourself

The cost of self-publishing a 134-page, soft-cover book, with a four-color cover that's 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches:

Printing: 500 copies, $3.25 per book; 3,000 copies, $1.25 per book; 15,000 copies, 60 cents per book

Typesetting: $1,000; cover design, $1,500

Editing: $1,000. Self-published authors should also put aside money for postage to mail review copies.

[Source: Dan Poynter, author of "The Self-Publishing Manual"]

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