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Self-Publishing Emerges

25 Aug 2014
Are you are considering the self-publishing route for your book? If so what's holding you back? For some, it might be the cost; for others, it might be the overwhelming desire to see their books on the shelf of bookstores, before they all close down; but for most, I suspect, the problem is that they don't want to become publishers. They don't need the hassle. They just want to write, and see their writing in print. I can sympathize.

Five years ago I was hunting for a publisher for my then-new book, Tai Chi In Your Life . The timing was terrible, only a year after the big economic downturn, and no publishers were taking on new projects like this. Knowing that tai chi is a niche market and there are even fewer tai chi practitioners who will read about it, I saw the writing on the wall. I wanted to publish my book and move on. The traditional publishing route could easily take three or four years to complete, but I had a long list of writing projects waiting for more immediate attention, so I self-published.

Publishing isn't as new to me as perhaps to others. My bachelors degree is in journalism, quite literally a B.J. In 1980 I wrote a statistics guide commissioned by textbook publisher Allyn & Bacon. Because of the heavy reliance on mathematical notation, they gave me money to have it typed up, so I was responsible for page layout and design as well as the math and writing.

Fast forward to 2010. Self-publishing Tai Chi In Your Life through CreateSpace was a good experience; I enjoyed the full immersion in the publishing world. Soon I came to understand that the traditional publishing industry is based on a business model more than a century old. But as I networked with fellow writers I discovered that an awful lot of them are clueless about the process, and are unlikely to improve their lot to any great degree.

Following a hunch I created a business card to represent my writing activities, and included the designation Editor/Publisher. I handed out no more than a half dozen before writers and would-be writers began pitching their books to me. Most needed an editor first and foremost, so soon I was taking editing jobs; another hired me as a ghostwriter for his political polemics. Others, once edited, turned to me for assistance with the self-publishing process.

Then I took on a full editing/publishing project at no charge, to produce a personal memoir for a family member whose strengths do not include writing. He wrote the memoir in episodes, which were assembled into a whole presenting an interesting set of stories about boys living in the shadow of World War II, in a boarding school in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. One of the boys was my late father, his older brother, hence my interest.

Then the work began. My uncle would have been satisfied printing it as is without editing, but my father's name would be in it, and if I was to be involved I wanted to set a higher standard. It took three complete rounds of editing the 127,000 word manuscript before I was willing to move forward.

Editing inexperienced writers can be a real eye opener. They make all the mistakes you have ever learned about in a workshop, class, or writing book, and then they make up some of their own. For instance in every other sentence where someone spoke to the author, they always prefaced their remarks with his name, Pat. No one talks like that, but I happen to know that Pat really likes his name, a lot, so it was not hard to imagine him unconsciously conjuring words never spoken. No matter how much he insisted that his memory was superb and the details were intact, I was unable to ignore it when he got his own father's name wrong. But that's why we have editors! How good is your memory about things that happened when you were seven, eight, nine years old? For him that was more than seventy years ago.

There were plenty of run-on sentences, plenty of tangled clauses, and substantial overuse of indefinite pronouns. This is where the search features of Microsoft Word can be quite helpful. Before I was done I had created a long list of bad writing habits to watch out for in future work.

Now when I write I think of these many lessons. The result of the effort, Blue Ridge Boys, came to life on August 15; you can find it on Amazon, and soon on Kindle. To finally complete it was satisfying, but the lessons of writing and editing, in what seemed like a thankless task, I will take with me into every new writing project in the future. That's experience you can't buy no matter how many classes or workshops you take.

We all know that the publishing industry is in turmoil as technology changes everything. While I do not expect traditional publishing to go away completely, more and more writers will take control of their work as musicians have been doing for years. The trend to self-publishing, and the need for skills so lacking in so many writers, creates a market opportunity that blends the best of agencies and publishers, and tosses out the rest. I'm in for the long haul. Who will join me? Contact me at mastersoftmedia at Google's mail.

(Note: my self-published novel White House Storm, the story of a general attempting a military coup when he secretly discovers the President has Alzheimer's, should be in print by September 15. Watch for it.)

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