Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The New Face of Publishing

I got a phone call recently from a woman who wanted to talk about publishing. She, like thousands of other folks, has written a book and wanted to talk to me about getting published. She saw my name in the ad for the Lyceum presentation of self-publishing at the library this coming Thursday night. We are living in interesting times as far as publishing is concerned. New digital technology has made it possible for anyone to publish a book if they can come up with the fees asked for by the dozens of author-houses that have sprung up. The big publishers now pretty much reserve their services for proven authors and you can't blame them. The cost of publishing is one thing but the cost of promoting books is quite another --- these days the rule is: Publishing is easy, promoting is hard.

The caller had already signed a contract with an author house that has long had a reputation as a “vanity press”. I was dumbfounded at the price she was paying to have her book published. I wish her well with ever making that back! But the desire to publish is very strong in many people and I am certainly supportive of giving it a go. Just be prepared for an uphill slog when it comes to selling those books.

I feel confident in saying these things because I've been at this boo writing/publishing business for 5 years now and have five books on the market. So far the only ones that have paid their own way are my first novel, The Old Mermaid's Tale, and the knitting book, The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties, which has actually done amazingly well. I am in the fortunate position now of having a regular income, though far from enough to live on, from my books. The cookbook, Fry Bacon. Add Onions” is showing signs of doing pretty well, too. Which brings me to a new development...

On Saturday I had a meeting with a woman who has my cookbook and has decided to do something similar. She asked me to help her with it and I'm excited about this. Her great-grandmother and grandmother were both incredible cooks who ran some inns and restaurants in the courses of their lives. She has all their recipes as well as wonderful photographs, recipe books, recipe cards, menus, newspaper clippings, labels, postcards, etc. from their various enterprises. I am working at collecting the images and recipes and putting them together in a book that I think is going to be gorgeous. I'm as pleased to be working on this as I was to work on my own cookbook. I think the concept of cookbooks as memoir is a winning combination.

I recently found the picture above in a book that belonged to another friend's grand father. He lived in New York, just outside NYC and was a grocer. She has a book that belonged to him, a grocer's reference book printed in 1911. The picture above was featured in the section on fish. She let me scan it to post. We've talked about her collection of family photos, articles, certificates, etc. and the idea of putting them together in a book for her nieces and nephews. I hope she does it, I think all that stuff is so important to families.

So Thursday night at the Sawyer Free Library I will be part of a panel talking about the new face of publishing. We'll be downstairs in the Friends Room beginning at 7:00. Please come if you are interested in publishing. There are lots of options on how to do it but there are also lots of businesses out there ready to take your money – lots of your money – for not much in return. We'll be talking about it Thursday night. Hope to see you there.

Thanks for reading.


  1. That all sounds like fun. Wish I could be at the library to hear what your panel has to say.

    I am so impressed with your independent success.

    I have been dealing with the "self-publishing" aspect of the music industry for years. For some reason, the minimum order is always a thousand, and the artist always asks me if I think they should go ahead and order the next price break up which is 2500. I encourage them to stick with the minimum (because they will probably want to make some changes on the next run) and never have the heart to tell them that I believe their kids, their parents, or their ex-spouse is going to be hauling at least 900 of those cds to a dumpster somewhere in ten or fifteen years.

    All I can do is encourage them to choose recyclable packaging.

  2. That's interesting. I wonder if that will change as MP3 downloads become increasingly popular.

    How are you involved in that business?

  3. I design the cd artwork. It won't change for a while yet; most of these people would prefer to press a vinyl album if they could. The idea of putting their music on the internet is pure voodoo. One guy was stunned to discover that both Facebook and myspace already had a Bob Smith and a Robert Smith*. Can you believe that there is another Bob Smith out there?

    *his real name is almost that common.

  4. Oh, of course. Your design work is gorgeous.

    There are so many misconceptions about publishing, whether it is writing, music, poetry, screenplays, whatever. Nobody seems to realize how stiff the competition is and how impossible it is to get the attention of mainstream publishers. It really is amazing.


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