Stacey Lynn Newman (author & self-publishing coach)

Born in Pte. Claire, Quebec, STACEY LYNN NEWMAN grew up in the Toronto area and in Ottawa. She attended Sheridan College and the University of Toronto where she studied History and English. Stacey began her freelance career in 1997, and worked as editor-in-chief for a small press for five years as well as founding a literary journal, Regina Weese. She is a member of the Canadian Authors Association, the Canadian Booksellers Association, and the Canadian Association of Journalists, and has worked with a number of writing organizations in Canada over the years on a volunteer basis. Poetry and short stories are her first loves, which she pursues along with magazine writing and novel writing. She is author of the novel The Beauty of the World.

Briefly, can you describe your experience in writing and publishing?

I have always known I would be some sort of writer, but choosing the type of writing was a challenge. I knew fiction was my preference, but when I began freelancing, in practice, I was doing a lot of nonfiction, articles and business materials. My first jobs in the “real world” included producing technical writing and marketing content. When I finally went freelance full-time ten years ago, I quickly reverted to prose and poetry, my first loves. But then found I was struggling with the format I preferred. I still love the short story and poetry, but novel writing really became my focus after working on my first book. It was my third novel that was published by a small press in Ontario, The Beauty of the World. I worked for the press and was therefore very much involved in the process of the book’s production. For me this was essential. The cover, the content, the editing, I was very fortunate to be involved every step of the way and in control of the final product. The book then went on to receive great reviews, which didn’t help sales a whole lot, but which opened doors to greater publishing potential on my next book. My first book put me very slightly on the periphery of the map, LOL.

Do you feel that self-publishing can be a good route for a first-time writer? What are its advantages over looking for an agent or approaching publishers?

I believe that self-publishing is a very good option for a first time writer. However, I can’t stress enough the importance of producing a PROFESSIONAL and quality book. Self-publishing is a tough road: you’re not taken as seriously and you have little marketing know-how or budget. Therefore, I would suggest working with someone who has successfully self-published, or educating yourself as much as possible as to the production aspects of your self-published title and the marketing strategy you plan on taking. I can’t comment on working with an agent as I have yet to do so, though I am marketing my next book to agents and would work with a good agent. As for approaching mainstream publishers, I can only comment regarding fiction. Fiction is the toughest, most saturated area of publishing. Publishers have to pick winners and market the heck out of them. I believed in my first book, but having worked in publishing, I could see why large houses would steer clear of it, so I marketed it to small presses. With that in mind, it was my intention to create a buzz, get some great reviews and build a reputation. I never fooled myself into believing that my first book was my breakout novel. Hopefully book two will be!

Can you relate any self-publishing success stories?

John Grisham, Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Richard Nixon, Irma Rombauer . . . These are among thousands of authors who self-published to launch their careers. Bear in mind, though, that self-publishing something that is bad will very quickly stunt your career!

Publishing can seem intimidating to the newcomer. Does the writer require any special skills to pursue self-publishing? What if he/she isn’t particularly computer savvy, for example, or doesn’t know anything about layout?

The greatest skill is resourcefulness. What you don’t know, find someone you trust to ask. We writers tend to be very generous with our time. I have been so fortunate to be helped by so many authors that had “made it” and I would gladly volunteer that time to helping new authors. But beware, grow thick skin or don’t bother being a writer. The best writing friends you will have will tell you the truth about your work, even if it hurts. They are doing you a huge favour.

Are there any disadvantages or limitations to self-publishing that writers should be aware of?

There are many disadvantages to self-publishing. The majority of your self-publishing peers are producing poor quality, unedited books and as a result they are effectively diluting editor interest in wading through the mess of self-published titles. Self-publishing can be expensive with no guaranteed return on investment. Marketing is incredibly expensive and difficult to do if you have no background in it. I was very fortunate to have experience in all these areas and was able to tap into that knowledge. Self-publishing is not taken seriously, not the way “real” books are perceived. You don’t get that validation that comes from external commendation of your work (though great reviews DO accomplish this!). The final disadvantage is that getting your books into stores as a self-published author is very, very difficult. Most will only carry your title on consignment. The big stores won’t touch you without a distributor, but they will sell your book on their websites.

Can you explain what a distributor does?

There have been distributors that worked with self-published authors. But the one I knew of has since gone bankrupt. Essentially, a distributor is your middleman in dealing with stores. They are a central administrative entity that organizes and administers all orders/shipping/billing with regard to your book. Stores generally will work with you on consignment, but the legwork getting your books into stores can be difficult. I suggest purchasing a copy of the current The Canadian Writer’s Market as well as approaching the Canadian Booksellers Association and purchasing a copy of their directory. OR, use Canada 411 or the Yellow Pges to find bookstores. Typically, large chains will NOT work with you unless you have a distributor. In this case, I suggest simply listing online with them (Chapters/Indigo, Amazon). You can do this by opening a free account with a wholesaler called Baker & Taylor, located in NJ. If you contact Baker & Taylor, they’ll tell you how to open an account. Remember, every time you have someone in the middle, they take a HUGE chunk of your profit. But this IS a necessary evil sometimes. The more books you can sell directly to consumers or bookstores, the better.

What steps are involved in the self-publishing process? First-timers might be confused about the various components, e.g., editing, proofreading, layout, having a cover designed.

In my opinion, the MOST important step is to give your manuscript to a knowledgeable professional editor, someone in whom you place a great deal of trust, and ask for their honesty in evaluating your book’s potential. Not every book is good and a good friend and editor will tell you the truth and provide much needed constructive criticism.

Once you have deemed the book publishable, the next step is to revise, revise, revise! And do so based on editing done by a PROFESSIONAL editor. Not a friend who spells well, not a buddy who used to be good in English, a well-paid, professional, experienced editor. The investment is the single most important financial investment you can make in your book.

Next, you have to format the book, or pay someone to do this. Get all the necessary cataloguing numbers (ISBN, CIP, etc.) and start designing your cover. Covers are SO important. Research the bestselling covers of current titles that your book will be competing against and be sure that your cover is contemporary and appropriate. Make no mistake, books ARE judged by their covers and their back blurbs. BUT, they are picked up ONLY because of their covers!

You suggest finding a consultant. Where would a writer locate one? Is there an organization or a website they could look at?

Consultants can usually be found through the Writers’ Union of Canada website, or via the Canadian Authors Association website. You can also try searching the Internet, but be wary, as always, with the Internet findings.

How has computer technology made self-publishing easier (and cheaper) than in the past?
Accessibility and software availability are the reasons, in my opinion. We are all fairly computer savvy, and computers are less and less expensive to purchase and run. The digital age has made printing so much less costly than it was when off-set printing was the primary printing format.
Can you explain what “print on demand” publishers offer, and how they differ from the old “vanity presses”?
Print-on-demand is just a company that you give your book files to (manuscript, cover), and you pay them to print your books as people order them. POD is a good solution for authors not wanting to spend a lot of money up front. Print-on-demand publishers allow you to retain ALL creative and financial rights to your work and all creative control. A print-on-demand publisher is a legitimate business middleman, if you will. They do everything that authors might not know how to do, for a price. But the author gets the profits. This is the key.

Vanity presses are unscrupulous “fake” publishers who trick authors into believing they are the next big thing, then they have the author pay everything UP FRONT for the production of a book that will not be marketed or sold through mainstream channels. They will tell you what you want to hear, they will not edit or provide any other services other than producing a poor quality book that they will ship to you and wash their hands of. These publishers are still out there, but the print-on-demand boom gives wary self-publishing authors so many other legitimate options that I would guess vanity presses are slowly on their way out.

I’d also like to say that there are many vanity contests too. Always research a publication thoroughly before paying a contest entry or reading fee.

Companies such as Trafford Publishing offer attractive print-on-demand packages. What advantages or disadvantages might there be in using such a “comprehensive” service?

I have many friends and colleagues that had great experiences with Trafford and similar companies. My only caution is that they are very expensive and if authors were just to spend a bit of time educating themselves, they could very easily do for themselves what they pay a company like Trafford to do. Publishing is not a holy grail. Self-publishing manuals or consultants are often far less expensive and more effective than using a large POD publisher. But this all depends on how much time you have to work on your book, how computer savvy you are and whether or not you have graphic design and formatting experience. Sometimes a company like TRAFFORD is a godsend for writers who just want to write.

Are better—or cheaper—options available? And how would a writer find out more about these?

Doing as much of it on your own (with the obvious exceptions of editing and formatting, and cover design) is what I would recommend based on my experience. This is the cheapest way to go. Learn how to market your book, get in touch with a good printer (Blitzprint in Calgary, Transcontinental in Toronto), and expect to spend about $10 per book when all is said and done.

What are some ways a writer can try to reduce costs in publishing his or her own book?

You really need to tell your printer what you want and ask for the least expensive way to achieve this. Always print on off-white, because bright white looks very cheap. 55lb bond is the best, 10pt for cover, glossy covers look cheap most of the time, matte laminate is best. Marketable format for fiction, trade paperback 5.5” x 8.5” or 6” x 9”. This format is also one of the least expensive to print. Don’t go below 55lb stock for the inside pages, otherwise they will look and feel cheap and thin.

For cover design, who would a writer turn to? An artist? A photographer? Again, is there a resource somewhere that one can go to? To cut costs, could one approach an art college, for example, and work with a student?

I think it is absolutely legit to approach a graphic design student. They are often very capable and willing. I would suggest you pay them an honorarium of your choice, but it gives them a pretty good notch in their portfolio also. Otherwise, you can find graphic designers on your local Yellow Pages website and hire one, OR if you work with a company like Trafford, they can do all of this for you. Just be sure to stay involved in the process. Many times an author’s vision of his or her cover does not match the final product.

If one has photographs, either for the cover or for the body of the book, what quality and form do these need to be in?

Photos used should be high resolution (300 dpi or more). Your cover should be professionally designed. This is as important as editing. Printers usually work with pdf format for images. Black and white photos inside the book don’t cost any extra, but colour photos in a book will skyrocket your costs!

What about marketing and promoting one’s own book? Can you provide any tips to writers?

Educate yourself. Get to know bookstore owners, but don’t pester. Get to know all the media contacts with national and regional newspapers. Get reviews written about you by sending review copies of your book. Sometimes you have to send review copies two or three times. Follow up politely. Make them remember you in a positive way. Every time you get a good review, add that to the press release you send out to other papers. Follow up, follow up, and follow up again. Be patient but persistent. Be darn sure that if you are selling yourself, what you are selling is worth their while. If you irritate and take up reviewers’ time with a poorly written, badly edited, mediocre-at-best book, they will remember it. They are like elephants with very long memories. I know, I write book reviews.

Is there a particular self-publishing manual that you’d recommend?

There are a million out there. The resource I recommend most is The Canadian Writer’s Market. Always purchase the current edition.

Any final warnings for writers venturing into these waters?

Be wary, get educated, grow a thick skin, and believe in yourself. Write the best book you can, don’t just publish the longest book you’ve managed to write. Differentiate yourself from your peers! Write, listen to your instincts: if something sounds too good, it is. If you really don’t know anything about publishing and just want to write and hand the rest over to someone who knows what they are doing, get a good, reputable self-publishing consultant or work with a company like Trafford. In my opinion, Trafford is the best POD in Canada by far.

What self-publishing consultation services do you provide?

I provide manuscript evaluation, marketing and production consultation, and printing arrangement services. I am busy marketing myself and working on my own writing, so I will only work with authors who I feel are ready to publish.

For more about Stacey Lynn Newman, visit her website here.

Copyright 2007 Allyson Latta.

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Toronto, Ontario