Authors reveal tips and tricks at roundtable

Avid readers and wannabe authors gathered at Books & Books last Wednesday evening to learn more about the world of publishing (or, more accurately, self-publishing) from three local authors.

Chelsea Rivers, Murali Ram and Catherine Tyson have all recently released books that they produced through self-publishing, which is a process that avoids the use of major publishing houses or literary agents and involves the author orchestrating the book’s publication themselves.

As the authors explained, once the writer has chosen a publisher, they pay anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 for a package that includes editing and preparation for printing. Once a book is ready to be printed, most self-publishing companies will sell the book to the author at a per-copy price, which will be considerably lower than the book’s shelf price, and will be heavily discounted if the author buys a larger number of copies.

When asked why they chose the route of self-publishing, Mr. Ram, Mrs. Rivers and Ms Tyson all had a different reason to give.

‘I felt this was a story that needed to be out there,’ Ms Tyson said of her non-fiction book, I’m Somebody’s Mama, about her trials and tribulations as a single mother.

Mr. Ram had prior experience, after he had a book he had written 10 years ago self-published.

‘Back then it really was self publishing,’ Mr. Ram explained. ‘I was in the print shop watching the copies go through the press. You did everything yourself.

‘I tried to get an agent with my first work. I gave it to a client of mine who is in publishing, and after he read it he fired me as his lawyer. So I knew if I wanted it to be published I would have to do it myself.’

Mr. Ram’s first book was banned in Singapore due to its controversial content and his second self-published book, the recently-released Book of Walla in which a man sues God, is banned in Malaysia, Mr. Ram’s home country.

Mrs. Rivers did not even contemplate going the traditional route of submitting her book, a fictional account of four families’ experiences in Hurricane Ivan, to agencies and publishing houses.

‘I was just on a website one day and saw an ad for a self-publishing company, clicked on it, chose their 90-day package and within three months I had the books in my hands,’ she said. ‘I had a self-imposed deadline; I wanted the book out on the shelves by the hurricane’s fifth anniversary.’

For Ms Tyson, the process took a little longer. ‘It took about two and a half years,’ she explained, adding that the book went through many edits before she was satisfied with printing the manuscript.

For Mr. Ram, the self-publishing process took about a year. ‘You can do it faster,’ he said, ‘but it’s whether or not you’re ready for that.’

Other questions the audience wanted to know was which self-publishing companies the authors had chosen and why. Mrs. Rivers opted for Xulon Press, Ms Tyson chose the well-known Authors House, and Mr. Ram chose a smaller company, ‘so I can call them and speak to someone’, when he opted for Lumina Press.

Despite the fact that self-publishing guarantees the printing of an author’s book, it was apparent after the roundtable that writers have to be willing to put in the time and effort to publicise their book if they expect it to sell well.

‘Writing is a quarter of the work, pushing it is a lot of work,’ said Mr. Ram. Ms Tyson agreed.

‘[Self-publishing] companies don’t do the active marketing for you,’ she said. ‘I sold 12 copies of my book on a plane ride to Cyprus – one woman who bought it and loved it was from London, her daughter’s friend worked for PRIDE magazine, and now I have a review in PRIDE magazine.’

Mr. Ram personally recommended hiring a publicist.

‘It began affecting my work,’ he said, of his marketing efforts for The Book of Walla. ‘I realised even publishing houses use publicists. They have the contacts, you don’t. [Since hiring my publicist], I have had interest from CNN, I’ve done radio interviews in Florida and Vancouver. I might be reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.’

‘I spoke at an event in Maryland,’ said Ms Tyson, ‘and afterwards the manager of the local Borders came up and asked how he could get my book in his store. Now my book is being sold in a Borders in Maryland.’