18 February, 2002

The hardest part of self-publishing is discovering that it is possible. It is learning that you are not dependent on agents or editors or multinational publishing empires. I understand that there are really only three publishing empires in the world. No, really, if you took each and every little imprint and label and all those outfits claiming to be the advocate of the little guy and if you then follow the money, you will discover that each and every single little one of them is a wholly owned subsidiary of one of three super publishing companies. I may have my numbers wrong. In fact, I may be completely and utterly wrong about everything I just said, but I heard that it is true.

There are three multinational publishing empires. If you don't wont to be beholden to one of them. If you don't want an agent or an editor or the publisher they work for to edit and rewrite your words until your work meets their standards but you don't recognize it anymore, then you have to discover that you don't need them. You don't have to worry about signing away the copyright to them. There is no fear of learning that the movie contract the publisher encouraged you to sign gives thirty million to the star and only one hundred grand to you. Oh, you wanted more? Sorry but the movie lost money. See, they gave it all to the star and the director and the head of that multinational publishing empire you signed your soul away to.

But I digress.

The hardest part of self-publishing is discovering that it exists. Nobody talks about it. Nobody wants to admit that it is there. It is as if self-publishing is a disease people will catch if they talk about it. Watch out! Or self-publishing will get you. Beware self-publishing! You'll be ostracized if you catch it.

Interesting digression, self-published comic books are all the rage. Oh, if there are lots of words and pictures, then you are cool and hip and on the cutting edge. Everybody is your friend. Well, maybe not everybody, but you get the idea. If all you have is rich prose to fill three hundred pages without a drawing in sight, then you are a leper.

But I digress.

The hardest part of self-publishing is discovering how to do it. I had the most interesting time trying to figure out how to turn my book into a real book made from paper with my name on the cover. It even occurred to me on more than one occasion that it would be really nice if someone would talk about it, and I mean the really simple basic stuff that is that first stumbling block.

That first and most horrible step of realizing that self-publishing is possible is discovering how in the hell to get the words you have written into book form. This is what everybody should know.

Since I have been through the process and discovered who builds the actually books by flipping through the yellow pages and doing a lot of cold calling, I thought I might do my part to help other people with this first step. They are called "bookbinders" by the way. The people who actually take your handwritten pages or computer file and turn them into bound leaves with a name and title on the cover.

I am the first to admit that I don't know what the hell I am doing. I have survived this process once. I can talk about what I did. I can describe the things that work. I can mumble about the things that didn't. I don't like talking about the nightmare parts, which there were several of. The most devastating of which was the person who called me up and said they were going to have me arrested if I didn't pay them sixty bucks. That's right. Sixty bucks. The good news is that I called their bluff. I sent a certified letter explaining why it was a big misunderstanding and why I didn't owe them sixty bucks, and they refused to accept the letter. Ha! Take that you morally superior big business assholes!

I just have one piece of advice to make sure you never have to go through that particular nightmare. When you call someone up saying you need something printed, make sure they send you an order form even when they insist that an oral order is fine. Never agree to anything unless it is in writing and signed by all parties. If they would prefer not to put anything in writing, never do business with that person again. You think I'm joking? I had someone threaten to have me arrested over sixty bucks I didn't owe them because they couldn't keep their oral orders straight.

But I digress.

I figured I should do my part to help spread the self-publishing word. Get lots of people good and infected with the self-publishing fever. I give a talk. I've done it twice now. I describe some of the basic steps I went through to find a bookbinder and how to get into books in print. I tell everybody to get The Copyright Handbook from Nolo Press.

It's a start, but I've given my little talk at DunDraCon. I don't think I've done any roll-playing gaming since I was seventeen, but my brother still does. He told me that DunDraCon would be hip to letting me give my little talk.

Last year, my talk was scheduled for 9 AM on a Sunday morning. About a dozen people showed up. Not all at once. The first couple people wandered in at 9 AM and said they had been up all night and were going off to bed just as soon as my talk was over. It was fun. Small but fun.

This year, my talk was at 5 PM on Saturday. The room was packed. There were somewhere between twenty and thirty people there, which was very cool. I figured I would be lucky if six to half-a-dozen showed, but the room was full.

Then the best thing in the world happened. It really made my day. I figure the best thing to do when giving my little talk is to start by bottom-lining it. Let them know how much self-publishing can cost. So I start by holding up a copy of The Magic Flute and saying that it cost just shy of three grand to print. It works out to about five dollars and thirty cents a copy.

So I hold up a copy of my book and before I can say a word (maybe I did rattle out the price first, I can't remember) somebody gasps and says "you wrote The Magic Flute?" Now my memory of the next minute or so is really fuzzy but we do get straight that we are in fact talking about my book and not the opera by Mozart. She saw my book on Amazon, bought it, liked it enough to read the whole thing, and turned up at my talk not knowing that I had written this book that she had read.

That made my day, right there. I mean I was already happy to see the turnout, but none of these people were really interested in the fact that I had written a book. None of them were likely to go out and buy it. That's not the point of my talk. I want to spread the self-publishing bug and help people publish their own words. I don't care if they like my book. I want to spread the bug. I want everybody to catch it. I want the multinational publishing empires to go peddle their fish somewhere else.

I mean if you want to work with a multinational publishing empire, knock yourself out. Have fun. Enjoy it. It's just not what I want to do. I publish my own words pretty much for the same reason I wrote those words in the first place. I don't exactly have a choice. The stories will be told and there isn't a whole hell of a lot I can do about it. That's no answer but it is the one I give.

copyright © 2002 by keith d. jones – all rights reserved
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