Today my guest is Sheila Deeth, who's discussing some of the alternative roads to publications.
We used to travel on trains, back in the age of steam, and my Gran would teach me to listen to the engine’s refrain, “I think I can, I think I can…” I’d watch the slowing countryside from the window. “I hope you can.” Then at the top of the hill, the engine would always speed up. “I said I could, I said I could,” I’d sing, running up and down the aisles while Gran tried to keep me in my seat.
In life, in writing anyway, I guess I’m still thinking I can, though I wonder sometimes what made me decide to self-publish.
I tried looking at real publishing houses first—ones I’d heard of—and they said no un-agented submissions. So I tried the agents—again, ones I’d heard of—who said no unpublished writers. Then I tried the internet and searched for publishers and agents that I hadn’t heard of. The smoky clouds of too much information surrounded me, and I soon became expert at knowing why my work wasn’t suitable without even trying.
Afterwards I looked at the houses that publish “for a price. We expect our author’s to invest.” But I’m investing time, and I haven’t got a job, so I invested more time and found Lulu. FREE! It said, and that was enough to hook me.
It really wasn’t that hard to get started with Lulu. I panicked when the “upload” button mentioned pdf files, but then I realized I could just use Microsoft Word documents and Lulu would convert. I even learned to format my Word docs to the right page size and pagination (File>Page setup…). It was easy, apart from the pages that required endless re-edits and re-uploads when they didn’t quite fit, and the sudden crash when I changed an x to a y. It turned out Lulu didn’t like the font I’d used.
Soon, I had a genuine downloadable pdf file. For someone who’s never created such a thing, that felt pretty good. And when I said CONTINUE, Lulu took me to its book cover page. I checked the size requirements for an uploaded picture and typed them into Microsoft Paint (Image>Attributes). I like drawing on computers. The fact that the resulting page went from my computer’s windows all the way out to the back yard was a bit of a problem, but I remembered those old drawing games I played as a kid, and sketched pieces on a grid.
Meanwhile Lulu kept saving my unpublished project till suddenly it declared that I was DONE! Price setting came next, and that was really a pain. All those happy dreams of selling on Amazon disappeared when I realized I’d have to set the price so high even my best friends wouldn’t buy. So I couldn’t get free distribution after all, just a Lulu storefront to keep the prices low. (Nice storefront though.)
“I think I can,” I said, in happy delight, imagining my writing in craft stores and book stores and Christmas fairs and markets. But books aren’t crafts, and self-published books aren’t quite accepted as real; even the library wouldn’t look.
If I’d known then what I know now, I might have saved up my money and gone with a company that gives you some help selling. Lulu’s great quality, easy and cheap to use, and has really incredibly wonderful customer support. But if the books are priced too high, or aren’t offered to Amazon and bookstores, sales are hard to find. And if you have to buy your own stock, mail your own copies to reviewers at your own expense, pay for copyrights, send “best versions” to the library of congress, advertise, pay for stalls at Christmas fairs, etc, pretty soon you’re already spending several times what you’d planned.
One day, this train’s going to reach the top of the hill and I’ll sing “I said I could.” But for now, “I hope I can.” And I’ve got to admit, thanks to Lulu, I do have real books on my shelves (and on some strangers’ shelves) with my own name as the author. It may be rather small as triumphs go, but I still think it’s worth running up and down the aisles while my family tries to keep me in my seat.
Sheila Deeth finally took the plunge into self-publishing just one year ago, so Terry’s guest-blogging invitation seemed like the perfect excuse to assess where her adventure’s taking her. Sheila just attempted to turn her blog into a website and would love to have some visitors.