Writing a book is kind of like having a child. The gestation period takes as long as it takes, and when it is good and ready, it comes out. The editor is like the midwife or birth coach, helping the author produce healthy offspring. Friends and family, help too, offering encouragement. Maybe self publishing is akin to home birth, offering more control over the process, but with more risk. Traditional publishing might be more like a hospital birth; lucky for those who qualify, but they miss out on some thrills of complete ownership of the process. And there is no greater thrill than the first moment you hold the little darling in your hands, hard or soft cover.
But you have to let go and send your darling into the world. So maybe your first bookstore is like preschool. You get your book in there, marvel to see it on the shelf, and if you are lucky, some stranger buys it and takes it home with them. You check back often to see how it's doing, and then try to figure out ways to let more people know about its existence.
There are a lot of hats to wear as an independent author. First you have to find something to write about, something that will keep your interest for the years it takes to write a book. Then you have to find the time and the discipline to actually write it. In 2002 I took a long car trip to Palm Springs, and I got the inspiration to write down everything I knew about health in one place. I wrote my book in 45 minute segments over six and a half years. That was as long as I had to myself before my daughter would usually demand my attention. I am a massage therapist and I had a client who had a friend who was an editor. The editor had back pain so we traded massage for editing. We would do an hour of editing and then an hour of massage. She told me about the San Francisco Writers Conference, and we both attended in 2006. It was there that I first found out about BAIPA, the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. I was thrilled that there was a way for me to get my book out there, for as an unknown first time author, the odds of getting published seemed mighty slim.
I attended my first BAIPA meeting, and Vickie Weiland was very kind to me, and helped me get my SF business license and my tax resale certificate, so I could be a legitimate small publisher. I decided to go with CreateSpace, a division of Amazon, since they provided the ISBN and access to Amazon, and it seemed easy and user friendly. Aside from difficulty in uploading the cover, it was pretty easy. And what a thrill it was holding that first proof copy in my hands! Of course I made some rookie mistakes like publishing in November, so my copyright date was only current for two months. I threw a launch party at UCSF and invited all my colleagues from The Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. I catered it with Mediterranean food, fitting with my theme of healthy food.
In January of 2009, I went to the Yoga Journal Conference at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco and I met Neil, the owner of Bookshop West Portal who had a booth selling books at the conference. I asked him if he would carry my book at the conference and he said no, but I could bring the book by the bookstore and leave it there on consignment. My book was so short that it didn't have a title on the spine, so I brought a small stand so they could display the book face out. They found a little niche for it in their health section, and the book started selling. A high point for me, was the time the manager called me to tell me they had sold out and needed more copies. I was in LA, outside of the lobby of the Hollywood Hills Hotel, and another guest, smoking a cigarette overheard my conversation. He said, "I'm an author, too! You just sold out your book! I have to have your book!" I took out a copy and asked him his name and signed it for him, and then he said he didn't have any money. He ripped out a blank page from the back of the book and wrote down his address and said he would send me the money. I pondered what to do for a moment, and then I said to him, "I'll make you a deal - I'll give you the book, if you consider quitting smoking." He hesitated, and then agreed. I put the piece of paper in the pocket of my coat, and then I lost the coat on the way back to SF, so I'll never know if he kept his part of the bargain.
I was able to get my book into the gift shops of UCSF, and I think hospital gift shops are a good place to sell books about health. There is an association of hospital gift shops and someday I will contact them. I was able to get my book into a conference in Napa due to some connections at UCSF and the bookstore associated with that conference was that famous bookstore in Corte Madera, so they carried my book for while, but it didn't sell well there.
I came to the point where I realized that to do right by my book, I had to get some help, namely a professional design for the cover. It was at a BAIPA meeting that I saw some promotional materials from a fellow author, even though his book wasn't finished yet. I really liked the design, and he put me in touch with his designer, and we worked together over the phone and email, and we still have not yet met in person. The other big change I made was to add a couple of chapters to the second edition, so the book would be big enough to have a title on the spine. And I went with Lightning Source as the printing company, instead of CreateSpace because of their distribution with Ingram. It was a much more complex process, as I had to get my own ISBN and I had to purchase new software to get the right kind of PDF that LSI requires. But it has made all the difference, to be able to walk into a bookstore and say to the book buyer you can order my book through Ingram. It also helps to make it returnable, and at full discount.
It was at a BAIPA meting that I heard about The Mechanics Institute LIbrary Book’tober Fest. Authors, independent publishers, independent bookstores, and beer! What could be better? I met the managers of Books,Inc and Green Apple Books. And they both agreed to order my book. At Books,Inc they displayed it on a table face out, and it sold! And then I was able to contact the other Books,Inc stores and say it was selling at Opera Plaza, and some of them also agreed to carry it. It sold out in Burlingame.
And now I’ve come full circle, back to the San Francisco Writers Conference, 2012 volunteering at the BAIPA table, with my independently published book in hand, and selling at bookstores. It all comes back to the personal connections that you make, to the people who help you on your journey, and being able to lend a hand to your fellow authors.
Marcia Degelman’s book, “Explaining Health: what you need to know to stay healthy” is available at Bookshop West Portal, Books,Inc, MT. Zion Gift Shop and Kaiser’s Health Education store, 4141 Geary St. in San Francisco. And through her website www.explaininghealth.com and through amazon.com http://preview.tinyurl.com/4ykbba2.