It was your basic itch just begging to be scratched. You know–the kind you can’t quite reach so it keeps demanding your attention. Finally, in order to appease the little beast, you have to twist and turn until at last you find just the right spot and–ah, relief! This itch of mine, however, was clearly intent on attaining total satisfaction. After attempting to ignore the vexing sensation for years, I succumbed to its irrepressible demands and decided–I will write a book!
I had owned a graphic design business and generated the contents of a full-length manuscript–now contained in piles of artwork and copious notes–however I wasn’t able to visualize how the elements might be transformed into a cohesive whole. But then my unconscious mind rewarded my newfound willingness with a dream. In it, the book’s framework was clear and the interlocking pieces seemed to fall naturally into place. Fortunately, my conscious mind retained many of the details of my dream experience, and so, the following day, the writing began in earnest.
Three months later, I had written Kaleidoscope: Artistic Techniques for the Creative Soul, and my itch was living in a state of bliss. This stage prompted me to realize that the next phase of the process was about to begin. It was time for a publisher.
The Hard to Sell Syndrome
Now I acknowledge I sometimes long for that fairy tale existence where good things inevitably happen to good people. This wasn’t one of those times. After a thorough investigation of the publishing industry, I could see that the probability of my manuscript connecting with just the right publisher was slim, and this would be increased only with a sizeable investment of time and effort on my part and more than a bit of cooperation from the powers that be. So, I reasoned, it might be wiser for me to secure the services of an agent.
The very first agent I approached offered a warning of what was to come. Her response to my book proposal was a handwritten note: “This is all quite lovely but would be difficult to sell to a publisher. You might want to consider self-publishing.” Pshaw!
Needless to say, over the next few months, innumerable dry responses from agents informed me of the unsuitability of my proposal. Then, just as my patience and persistence were beginning to wear thin, I happened to attend a writing conference. Lo and behold, seated directly behind me was the owner of a publishing company. Oh, the beauty of serendipity!
This publisher agreed to review my book over the weekend (a copy was my usual appendage) and reportedly liked what she read, while I liked that she liked it. Over the next few weeks, we conversed frequently and negotiated the terms of an agreement. It was with a humungous sigh of relief that I signed the final contract. Hallelujah!
Just two days before the book was to be delivered to the printer, Chicken Little was proven to be right. That morning’s mail brought a letter sent by my publisher informing me that “unfortunately the company’s doors were closing as a prerequisite to the immediate need to file for bankruptcy.” Our contract was, in three words, null and void. So I did what Chicken Little always did–I looked to the sky for answers.
I was utterly perplexed and befuddled. Amazingly enough, though, I was also still willing to persist. I simply resolved to pay attention to anything and everything that came my way and go with the flow.
Somewhere during one of my sojourns along the information highway, I found myself at a Web site for independent publishers (yep, you got it, PMA). I joined the association because I recognized its obvious value as a source of information on all aspects of publishing. These included legal issues for the self-publisher, such as applying for a fictitious business name, obtaining a seller’s permit, registering for a copyright, acquiring a UPC symbol, and cataloging one’s book according to Library of Congress guidelines. Although I hadn’t yet decided to self-publish, I began filling out the various forms and applications required–just in case–and sending them on to their respective homes.
Thanks to my relationship with the now-defunct publisher, I had a written bid on my book from a large American printer. So when it came to my attention that many books like mine, featuring color illustrations, were printed overseas, I met with one international printer to review samples and got a competitive bid from him.
Still my quest for a publisher continued, and I even got an interview with the President of a publishing company whose list seemed perfect for my book. Within the first few minutes of our meeting, however, came the revelation that his company didn’t, in his words, “do color.”
I knew the scenario–it was time to make lemonade. I applied for a business loan for more than actual printing costs would be if I did, in fact, self-publish. Much to my consternation, as well as to my surprise, the loan was approved the following day.
Moving into Marketing
So barely a year after surrendering to that infernal itch, I became the proud publisher/owner of 5,000 books. In all honesty, the presence of 125 boxes in one’s garage can be somewhat intimidating, especially if you have the propensity, as I do, to view each and every book as a reminder of the work still to come.
The next several months entailed not only physical backbreaking work but also the overwhelming sensation of being completely lost in uncharted territory. Marketing and promotion had never interested me. But once again I made a conscious decision to simply put one foot in front of the other, and to stay focused on the task at hand. I just kept reminding myself that if I had gotten this far, I could certainly go just a little bit further. (This continues to be a daily reminder!)
I read every bit of information I could get my hands on regarding other publishers’ experiences. With time, I began to get a sense of how my 5,000-books-on-the-wall might become 4,799-books-on-the-wall. To this end, I sent a review copy of my book to anyone who I thought might have an interest in it, using the Internet as my directory. I even caught myself, on a few occasions, viewing the world through “marketing eyes.” You know, that’s when anything and everything you come into contact with is immediately sized up as to how it might be used it to promote THE BOOK.
Over time, I became more and more of a marketer, utilizing any available tool to further my cause. For instance, I am the type of reader who doesn’t simply browse through a PMA Newsletter. I read each and every word, extracting all the bits and pieces that work for me, and then immediately applying that information to my own concerns. One article I explored to its fullest potential explained the BookSense Program and how it could be used to help any publisher–no matter how small.
The response to my BookSense blurb from interested bookstores was terrific, and it helped whittle down that number of books still propped up against the wall. Upon learning that my book had been nominated for the BookSense 76 Booklist, I was ecstatic, of course. But more than that, I was extremely grateful that a program based on the premise that “Every book deserves a chance” even existed. Kudos to Carl Lennertz!
BookSense Booklist boosted sales but it also, I found, boosted confidence, both in the publishing world and within myself. Following that success, I applied to and was accepted by Baker & Taylor for distribution through their agreement with PMA.
The Pleasure Payoff
Now, don’t get me wrong. I realize a nomination to the BookSense Booklist isn’t quite the same as riding high on The New York Times bestseller list, but hey, it’s a start. And it did induce me to initiate an intensive marketing campaign using myself as my
best advertisement. I hired a publicity firm to help me, fully aware that the quiet, shy person I normally think of as myself was on her way to showing up for more than 30 radio interviews, making several television appearances to demonstrate her art, speaking regularly with interviewers, and actually enjoying the entire experience! In fact, when I finally stopped to take a breath, it occurred to me that I owed a big debt of thanks to my blasted itch.
Elisabeth Keely Wilson is President of Brookside Press, and the proud publisher of “Kaleidoscope: Artistic Techniques for the Creative Soul.” She has inspired others to reclaim their innate, artistic ability through her radio interviews, television appearances, and experiential workshops. For more info, visit