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Why Do You Publish?

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The other day a reporter called our office and asked me, “Why have so many people decided to publish lately?” Well, I had some answers that I immediately quoted, such as, “They’re entrepreneurs…. They want immediate action…. They have information that they want presented in a specific way.” But I began thinking about the variety of people who do enter this arena, and decided to ask the question directly of them via the PMA-L listserv. (If you are not currently a member of this Internet chat group, I encourage you to visit the PMA homepage and go into the Programs area, where you will be prompted on how to join into this wonderful publishing support group.)
I had already written my column for February before asking this question, but based on many of these responses, my original column paled. So I scrapped the column and hope you all learn as much as I did from the comments from our PMA-L participants:

I don’t think I’m going to offer any big surprises here…. In a nutshell, we self-published because we:

  1. Get to keep all the profits.
  2. Don’t have to answer to anyone for the same amount of (marketing) effort!

Mary_Kalifon@cshs.orgVery simply, after I had written Handbook to a Happier Life, I decided that I could handle the book failing if nobody wanted to buy it or if the public hated it, but would not let it die just because someone at a publisher in NY did not want to publish it. I’ve been to NY. 🙂
P.S. I have a file folder filed with rejection letters-right next to the one with all the purchase gaters in it. 🙂

Jim_Donovan@erols.comOn a practical level, I self-publish because I have more control over how and for how long my books are marketed. Mainstream publishers usually spend no more than three months promoting a book, and then it’s forgotten, while I can promote my books until my dying days. On an emotional level, I publish because I have something to say that I believe people need to learn. My books will improve their lives and potentially save them from a lifetime of heartache.

–Lorilyn Bailey, author/publisher of The Little Book of Online Romance (How to Find it, How to Keep it) and The Original Lovers’ Questionnaire Book (A Fun Way to Compare Values)lorilynb@mindspring.comAs an expert in my field, I understood my market better than any publisher. I never sent the book out to the NY giants (or the Midwest elfs, for that matter) because once I had developed the concept, my sole intention was to self-publish. I had the advantage of developing similar types of materials/resources while safely employed at a job so I knew there was a market for my information. Things have worked out nicely….

–Connie Evers, 24 Carrot Press, Child Nutrition Consultant/Author http://www.nutritionforkids.com, eversc@teleport.comAt Scribes & Sage, the primary reason we are publishing our own work as a small press is that we want to protect the integrity of our work. The material we are publishing represents decades of research, development and personal expertise; we want to be able to control the presentation of our material, both textual and cover/illustrations.
The other reason we want to handle our own publishing is so we can reap the benefits of doing our own marketing. So many of the authors whose books I edit end up having to do their own PR and marketing because their publisher stops marketing their books after a few months. We’ve decided it’s best for us to face that challenge up front and plan for it, rather than counting on a major publisher to do it and having to eventually pick up the pieces anyway.

–Marsha Covington, Scribes & Sages Publishers, marsha.covington@synergex.comI receive a great reward from working with words, being creative, and sharing information. As a publisher, I can indulge in acts of self-gratification and still be proud that I am doing good for others.

–Robert Goodman, Silvercat, rg@silvercat.comI choose to self-publish some of my books because I can reach niche markets that conventional publishers don’t take the time to reach. I’ve been published by conventional publishers as well as self-published, and in each case, I had to do most of the press releases, marketing, publicity, anyway, so why not do it all myself? There are also the benefits of keeping all the profits when I do it myself, and I can keep my books in print as long as I want.

–Bobbi Chukran, Limestone Ledge Publishing, chukran@io.com 

  1. Economics. You don’t have to sell as many books to make the same amount as if you had a publisher.
  2. For a first-time author, getting a publisher is not easy.
  3. Publishers don’t always bring a lot to the table in terms of marketing. So if an author needs to do their own marketing anyway, there wasn’t a lot of sense going to a publisher.

–Matt Adams, Insider’s Guide: Hustlers, Escorts, and Porn Stars, BestofVGS@aol.com

I chose publishing to merge my avocation into my vocation. I now get to hike and bicycle then write about it. I see book publishing as a mix of project management and marketing, both skills I developed over years of working for major corporations. I have been able to make a nice living off of publishing regional books that wouldn’t appeal to major publishers and am fully enjoying the journey.

–Sue Freeman, Footprint Press, freeman1@frontiernet.net

  1. To provide enjoyment and stimulation to the kids who read our books.
  2. As a personal challenge, to enter one of the most difficult markets and make it work.
  3. For the thrill of building my own communication infrastructure, however small.

–Dave M., New Canaan Pub. Co. Inc., newcan@sprynet.com

I want to own the process! Major publishers move on to new books each time a new catalogue comes out! Just prior to publishing, I heard about three great books, all of which were in demand but out of print! I can promote and keep this life’s work alive as long as there is demand!
Mark Linden O’Meara, author of Here I Am: Finding Oneself through Healing and Letting Go, Mark_OMeara@bc.sympatico.ca

  1. To get the book out QUICKLY.
  2. I have to pay for my own promotional tours anyway.
  3. To have it all under my own control.
  4. :^)


…I decided to self-publish because I had more control. I could write what I wanted regardless of what NY considered the “now trend,” and I could get my books out faster.


…it’s infinitely easier to promote and sell a book to the end consumer than it is to sell the “idea” of a book to an unimaginative procurement editor at a big publishing company who is too busy covering his own ass to consider a book that doesn’t quite fit in any of his company’s one-size-fits-all boxes.
…I’m too smart not to.
…I skipped the part in Poynter’s book where he advises against publishing fiction.
…one of these days the kids down at the schoolyard are going to be sitting behind desks making decisions about the future of this planet and I wanted to give them something to think about before that day arrives.
…money comes to good ideas.

–Dale Smith, Deer Creek Publishing, deercrk@nccn.net

I published the first edition of my book back in 1993 simply because Lillian Vernon suggested to me (through her publicist) that I self-publish (even before I understood what it involved). Then I realized that since I am much more entrepreneurially minded than I am a writer (and all of my education is in business) that publishing my own ideas as books was the perfect business for me. BUT the most important reason is because of my passion for my book and business. I believe much of my message would have been lost, had I sought another publishing company to publish for me.
–April Rogers, U-Talk Publications, UtalkAR@aol.com

I became a publisher because the IRS labeled me as one, regardless of my protests. Also, I did it in self-defense, which may require more explanation than a three-sentence summary. But I’m continuing because it’s fun, and I’m learning so much from my listmates that I’m fascinated by the whole business.
Further explanation, beginning with the IRS problem: When the Naval Institute Press (who had held my manuscript for over a year) decided not to publish the World War II memoirs of my uncle, which I had edited, I turned to a small press to get it in print for the WW2 anniversary year of 1995.
In 1997, I was audited, and the auditor insisted that I was really in two businesses-one as a writer and the other as a publisher. My deductions were not questioned, but they said I had self-published this book because I had paid the printing costs and they don’t distinguish between subsidy publishing and self-publishing. They insisted I keep an inventory of this one book and deduct my expenses over several years instead of in the year I paid them.
Even after several IRS appeals, I had to re-do my bookkeeping system to keep track of inventory. I’m hoping writers’ groups will band together and end this ridiculous discrimination against those of us writers who subsidize printing costs, especially when we are trying to make a contribution to history!
But since I was branded a publisher, I decided to become one and learn whatever I could about this business that I had been shoved into kicking and screaming. About this time, I retired early to care for my husband, who has had several strokes. Because my time is limited, I’ve been able to publish only chapbooks so far, of poetry and humor. The response to these serendipitous ventures has been emotionally satisfying, and to my amazement the chapbooks are paying their own way.
Thus encouraged, I’ve also trademarked a word game that I plan to market internationally over the Internet. I’m working on a Web site and have become an Amazon Advantage customer. This step enables me to promote not only the memoirs, First Captured, Last Freed: Memoirs of a P.O.W. in World War II Guam and Japan, but also my historical novel that my first publisher did nothing to promote, Voice of the Vanquished: The Story of the Slave Marina and Hernan Cortes. Both of these books should stay in print for a long time because of their historical accuracy, their gripping stories, and their eloquent presentation.
My new publishing company, Anacade International, may also enable me to keep my own textbooks in print, because mergers within the publishing world have narrowed the options for promoting the five textbooks I have published through major publishers. Now I am in the process of getting the rights back because these books are very good and should be in print for a long time. Creative control is also a factor.
Sorry about the length of this. I’ve enjoyed all the others, but mine is a rather different story. Or is it?

–Helen H. Gordon, helenhgordon@reporters.net

Self-publishing eliminated problems inherent in the established publishing system.
First, speed. No wait to interest an agent, then an editor, then the publisher, finished off with the 18 months wait to publication. Second, control. I could design a great cover, and retain final decisions over editing and layout, and keep all rights to my book. Third, marketing. From everything I’ve read, first-time authors get stuck with all the marketing work and expense, so I wanted a chance to earn the publisher’s share of the profit.

–Suzanne P. Thomas, Gemstone House Publishing, patmich170@aol.com

We started our company by doing workshops to prepare students for state mandated tests in Ohio. The schools desperately wanted our workshop materials but did not seem interested in workshops. We turned our workshop materials into a student self-study book and continued to publish other titles as the school expressed the need for other materials. We had trouble finding a publisher that didn’t require us to pay up front so we self-published. We found McNaughton and Gunn to print, they were very helpful for a first-time publisher, and have been printing with them since 1993. We now have six books, twelve decks of flash cards, and three interactive software versions of our books for sale.

–Cindi Englefield Arnold, Englefield & Arnold Publishing

I became an independent publisher because I wanted to own the process from product concept to delivery. Now I’m able to leverage the professional skills I’ve acquired over the years in corporate publishing and marketing, while focusing on a subject that I’m passionate about.

–Karen Dowell, http://www.twodogpress.com

And, finally one which I think we can all relate to:

I love books. I love the smell and feel of a nicely bound book. Books were my babysitters; I grew up surrounded by antique books and university tomes and mildewy 20th-century paperbacks-each time we moved, the first thing we did was re-erect the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and fill them to overflowing. I enjoyed nothing better than spending my allowance on a crisp, wonderfully smelling new book at the local (independent) bookstore. Soon I had overflowing shelves too.
I love editing. I produced my first “newspaper” in second grade, carefully copied by a cadre of little “monks” and distributed to our classmates. It was a political sheet calling for Nixon’s impeachment. That’s what the grown-ups were talking about at the time. (Imagine what little kids are creating on their computers these days….)
I want some say over which books are printed. At Ye Olde NYC Publisher, even though I was promoted to Associate Editor and told this was an acquiring position, someone would literally have had to die at the company for me to have any real say. In the meantime, if I found a worthy title (I once spent two years working with an author on shaping her marvelous seed of a book into a fine novel), a senior editor immediately took credit for discovering the project, both publicly and with the company higher-ups. I or anyone else at my level could only be a “backup editor,” except for work on those rare unpleasant projects our imprint was obligated to publish but the senior editors didn’t particularly like. We drudges hardly ever got invited anywhere nice (restaurants, awards ceremonies … in-house meetings with the sales reps!).
I want the kudos (see above).
I also love storytelling. It’s the fundamental essence of humankind. I’ve been speaking with an author about her novel about an encounter with a species that has no stories, no fiction. They have no lies. They have no legends. They have no speculation and no great scientific leaps. They’re almost incomprehensible.
I do not like marketing and promotion. I approach this important task with enormous trepidation. I can honestly say working for Ye Olde NYC Publisher killed my ability to write promotional copy. The editor-in-chief’s way of teaching junior staff to improve their copy was to say, “This is bad, do it again. You should be able to tell on your own why it’s lousy.” I wish I could throw someone a lot of money, a copy of the book, and say, “You read it and make me a campaign. Thanks.” I will do my best.
(…I thought I could limit myself to three reasons, but I couldn’t, and this only barely skims the surface.)

–Carol Burrell, ByrenLee Press, logomanc@IO.COM









Whatever your reason is/was for entering the world of independent book publishing, I think the reason we all remain in this both joyous and frustrating profession is due to the fact that by publishing we all understand that we both influence someone else’s way of thinking and that we make a lasting comment to, and about, society during a certain time.
Kudos to all independent publishers, and let’s get ready to celebrate Small Press Month in March!





This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor February, 1999, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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