By Rich Garon
Author Rich Garon muses on things he learned from his first self-published effort and how his books benefit causes like hunger and homelessness.
As I plan to release my second book, Lee Fitts, in January 2019, I’m grateful I know a bit more about what to expect than with my first release, Felling Big Trees.
During my first go of it, I considered traditional publishing because I was overwhelmed with all the production considerations related to self-publishing. Get a format person, then a cover designer, then someone to post to online outlets; I knew nothing about these things. However, I remember my editor telling me about all I’d have to give up if I went the traditional route, including decisions about release dates, editing, and cover design. I didn’t want to do that. I was working with a hunger non-profit in New York to which I would donate all royalties. I wanted the flexibility to choose my platforms and timing to showcase themes in my story tied to raising awareness about hunger. I was pleased with what I had written as it was.
I had heard good things about BookBaby, and it seemed a beacon to me in an otherwise confusing morass of options facing a first-time novelist. Everyone I spoke to there was patient and knowledgeable and it wasn’t long before I had a product in my hand of which I was very proud. My son coordinated our efforts to create a professional-looking website and establish a presence on Facebook and Twitter.
The book was set up on the important retail outlets and I was ready to go. Almost. I still had to market the book — not just offer it for sale, but have it as a vehicle to initiate talking about hunger. I worked with Smith Publicity and they crafted a campaign that, over a few months, provided a greater platform than I ever anticipated. I had three TV interviews, more than a dozen radio appearances, a well-coordinated blog tour, and placement of two articles I had written in support of the book.
I had the opportunity to speak about my book, about which I received a good measure of compliments, and I shared my thoughts about the need to intensify our effort to combat hunger. I also remember the image of my book next to a flower vase on the table in the TV studio. I was really proud of how it looked when they did a close-up. During a time of growing strident tones and lack of basic civility, the book spoke of the need for tolerance and compassion.
I believe tolerance and compassion are integral to any approach hoping to resolve some of the tough problems facing society. We need leaders and spokespersons willing to come to the table for sincere policy-development and retreat from the battlefield of strident media campaigns. This won’t happen overnight, but proceeding under my website’s banner of “Writing for Change,” I’m ready to begin the second go-around. I’m buoyed by the thought that every little bit – including my own efforts – may move us in that direction.
There are two things I’m focusing on for the second book: writing and developing themes, and the actual launch of the book, including production and marketing. Concerning the first, writing involves the continuous process of improvement. Completing my debut work — after all the editing, brooding, and deep sighs — I came away with a feeling that I had done my best. Readers register their own conclusions. The second book made more demands and I was carried by the thought that if I’m to progress as an author, the work of developing characters, dialogue, plot, and themes had to be carried to the next level. There could be no resting on what I characterized as achievements in the first book.
Perhaps the most recent book should have been out some time ago, However, not certain I had put together the best I could do, or in any event, better than the earlier work, I drifted. For a while, I avoided the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-stay-at-it wrestling with words that can bring such satisfaction when you win. I was tinkering; then I won a few matches and things started to fall into place. If you don’t have that feeling that you’ve done your best with your writing, it makes little sense to focus on matters of production and marketing.
Regardless of what you hope to accomplish with your book – and making money may not be the prime motivation – you have to have a good piece of work. You have to survive the churchwomen’s book clubs. You have to pass the test of bloggers and reviewers over whom you have little control. And you have to hope that people whose writing skills you admire let you know that your book is good: a late-night call from someone who says “I started your book this morning and couldn’t put it down, it was excellent,” or a three-page letter noting the things a reader liked about the book can do wonders for your writer self-esteem. (Sometimes they’ll read something unintended into the book, but sometimes that works in a way you hadn’t considered. Readers own their interpretation of your book).
Through trial and error, and there was a lot of it, I learned some valuable lessons during the launch of my first book. Most important, I realize I rushed things. While I had established a presence on social media – website, Facebook, Twitter – and Amazon, I thought things sort of happened automatically. I know now there is a lot of preliminary work to be done.
I saw the potential benefit of Advance Review Copies (ARCs) only after the book had been printed. I know there is some difference of opinion about the effectiveness of ARCs, but still, I’d like to try them. I need also to get the word out better to those friends and acquaintances to be prepared to write reviews and help with other means of promotion. I read recently about an author purchasing recording equipment and doing readings of his chapters and placing them into a podcast. I have recording equipment, and that sounds like fun. I also need to more sharply define those audiences I believe will be most receptive to the book and the message with which it travels.
There are many things to attend to in the next six months or so. BookBaby is one of my first calls. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be dealing with a publishing partner that can turn images of what you’d like to see into exactly what you’d hoped for. I’ll be working again with the professionals at Smith Publicity to help give wider visibility to my book than I’d ever be able to accomplish on my own. These are my investments in a novel I hope people will enjoy for whatever literary merits it might possess, and will reflect on its positive themes as they consider helping out on that issue about which the book seeks to raise awareness: homelessness. Royalties from Lee Fitts will be donated to a local homeless shelter with which I work. The shelter focuses on helping those living in the woods.
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