Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Westside Writer's Schmooze Interrupts Your Traditional Ideas on Publishing With a Look at Non-Traditional Publishing Paths

We like to think of ourselves as a family here at the Westside Writers Schmooze. So when it came time to chinwag about the new ways of getting your book out there in the Alternative Publishing chapter of our Ground-Breaking Year-Long Concept-Schmooze Experiment: The Journey Of Your Book:, we looked within.

We started with ol’ Grandpa.  Ten years ago, Writer-Actor-Westside Schmoozer Eric Drachman began publishing his own picture books with audio (apparently they came with something called “CDs”). And when we say publishing we mean really publishing: He wrote, edited, designed, hired and directed artists, found cheap high quality printers for the book, and took care of all the promotion and distribution himself, as well as producing, directing, casting and acting in the audio versions of each book. 

These truly beautiful picture books sold really well (700,000 and still going—you can still get them here: When asked what possessed him to take on such a gargantuan and seemingly impossible task (keep in mind, this was before “Print-On-Demand” was even a twinkle in Jeff Bezo’s eye), Eric said he did it because he felt the audio part of his books was integral to his vision and the publishing world wouldn’t have been interested. Now Grandpa Eric was a tough ol’ bird; not everybody has the stamina or the talent to just up and turn themselves into a full fledged publisher. But back in the late 80’s, that was just the way his generation was raised.

Lazy Cousin Greg is another matter. Also a longtime Schmoozer, Greg Pincus was more interested in getting his poems out there than in becoming another Simon or Shuster. In 200,6 he started one of the early literary blogs for his whimsical funny poems (gottabook), releasing one a week. He soon developed a following big enough to draw the attention of the New York Times. They did a feature article on him that got the interest of Arthur A. Levine, who then signed Greg to write a novel (the recently released The 14 Fibs of Gregory K). 

During the long process of birthing that book, Greg felt a need to also release a book of his poems. Greg wanted to see how e-books and self publishing worked, so he chose the poems he wanted to release, and then went to the website “fiver.” There, he hired someone to help him format his book. Not long after, he released The Late Bird. Greg said it was a great experience and hopes to do a few more poetry books in the next few years. He loves that its price is just $2.99 and that it will never go out of print!

Every family has some crotchety old kook building who-knows-what in his barn, and the Westside Writers Schmooze is no different. Cranky Uncle Jeff Cox decided he wanted to make an e-book from his picture book story Myna and Tumbu. He had already found an artist he loved to illustrate his book, and he knew it would be hard to find a publisher with an artist in tow. But instead of using the half-baked pre-made software tools available at the time (a few years ago), Jeff decided to learn Kindle’s programming language and do it himself. 

That journey was full of challenges (including Kindle’s changing their whole language a week before his book’s original release date) but he now not only has a great book out on Amazon (buy it HERE), he knows how to program any book for it. Just like Grandpa Eric used his acting chops to set his books apart, Uncle Jeff used his nerdtastic computer skills to take on the publishing world.

Half-Brother Joshua Hauke used to be a constant presence at the Westside Writers Schmooze but we don’t see him as often anymore because he’s so busy servicing his Tales of the Brothers Three online comic empire. His story started when Charlie’s agent at the time (more years ago than Charlie cares to remember) rather rudely dissed Josh’s first attempts at a comic book.  Rather than get depressed and take to his bed (Charlie’s preferred response to adversity) Josh just decided, “Screw her!” and began putting his comics online. 

Josh dove headfirst into promotion including social media, comic conventions, school visits and even stalking events with similar audiences to the one he was seeking. His ultimate goal was to “create an audience” for his comic, and it must have worked because now he has three print-on-demand books (order them at  ) as well as a huge following online. For his part, Charlie has no book and his former agent and he have parted ways. But he’s not bitter. Because that would be wrong.
The one negative(ish) story of self publishing from the night was from recent addition Schmoozer, Long Lost Sister Jodi R. Moore ( Jodi decided to self-publishing her book Let’s Face It when her agent didn’t feel it was ready to go out yet. At the time, Jodi disagreed and decided to release it herself. Looking back, she wishes she’d been a little more patient.
That said, she did open up a venue for her work (she’s self-published a second book, Dallas Lalone: In Our Words as well) and has learned about the publishing game from the inside out. In addition to learning to wait until the book is truly as good as it can be, Jodi questions whether it’s harder to sell YA books independently than it is picture books.

Our longtime Hippie Cousin, Paula McMath (paulamcmath.comcouldn’t make it to the Schmooze (she was off hiking the Appalachian trail with some primo bud—her husband), but she sent a wonderful explanation of how she took her birthday song, Very Happy Day, and turned it into an app! It started as an idea for a book with audio, like Grandpa Eric used to do.

And, like he did, she found traditional publishers were put off by the audio component. But instead of tying her wagon to the old world of paper, Paula moved on to the world of apps where she found a slew of exciting of possibilities. Now she could allow the user (what app people call readers) to choose the gender of the main character, play the song with or without vocals, record their own vocals over the music, and even play interactive games. Her takeaway: “In a nutshell — a seeming ‘limitation’ has sent me into a more interactive and multi-layered approach to realizing the project.”  You can’t get her app yet, but it will soon be available at the apple App store for iphone and ipad.

Lastly, little sister Cassandra Federman who couldn’t stay up late enough for this month’s Schmooze, sent us a passel of great links for more info on alternative publishing:

A comparison of Amazon’s Create Space with Ingram Spark Print On Demand and Author: -
Some great Joanna Penn Podcasts interviewing self published kid-book authors:
NOTE: the first podcast is a bit of a downer. The second one gives us all hope!

And so much more. But Crazy Cousin Karol, the Cat lady who lives up the block, and spent the whole night fuming about these kids with their newfangled ideas, ended the evening sticking up for the power of traditional publishing with a surprisingly powerful and emotional note. She said she’s holding out for a traditional publisher for her YA novel Cursed, about a thirteen year old girl newly diagnosed with a painful, embarrassing chronic illness, because she wants the book’s audience to know that “their story” is important enough to merit a “real” book. 

That made a lot of sense, even to Charlie. His takeaway was that the value of publishing, whether self or traditional, really depended on what you were hoping to get out of it. Book writing is rarely lucrative, so authors should follow their own unique paths to their audiences.

Whew! That’s it. As well it should be, don’t you think?

Except - we just HAVE to share this awesome notes + sketch by Schmoozer Carol Green, who co-coordinator Karol thinks captured her likeness marvelously!

Be sure to join us Wednesday, May 13th as The journey continues with From Book Launches to School Visits, Promoting and Supporting Your Book.

Until the, keep passing the open windows!
Charlie & Karol