Former Denver Post Journalist on How to Self Publish a Book
In 2000 Giselle Massi left her 16 year career in journalism with The Denver Post to write books. A year later her manuscript was complete, and with Giselle’s powerhouse literary agent behind her she appeared to be on the verge of a lucrative book deal with a major publishing house. Then at the eleventh (and a half) hour the opportunity suddenly disappeared. After much research and consideration she decided she was not going to wait anymore. She would publish it on her own.
The result? Her books are not only selling on her website but are stocked on the shelves of one of the most revered independent bookstores in the United States, The Tattered Cover.
Here is a bit of her story.
What was your initial reaction when you learned your book deal was not going to go through?
From a spiritual perspective, now after nearly 12 years, it is easy to see that it makes perfect and beautiful sense: I was to retain the full rights to this special purple book. Through the process of self-publishing I have been led into a miraculous journey that would have looked much different had I signed with that major house.
Walk me through the process of deciding to self-publish.
After a lot of research, a few months later I made the decision that made the most sense for me and that was to self-publish and get on with it. At the time I thought, if down the road a publishing house came around, well then great. When I made this decision in the fall of 2001, print on demand was not anywhere near what it is today. I printed the pages of my book, We are Here for a Purpose: How to Find Yours, using an offset press and took the pages to Denver Bookbinding where they made a gorgeous hard cover for it and bound each of the books by hand. I launched the book at The Tattered Cover in Denver with a very well-attended presentation and book signing. From there I got the book into many other independent bookstores around the country, including the national Borders chain of stores that has since closed. I did radio interviews to market the book. I did not wait for a publisher to get me up and running. Several years later I went to a print-on-demand company to get my book printed in paperback.
Back in 2001 when I first began exploring self-publishing, I picked up the phone and had a conversation with Joyce Meskis, owner of The Tattered Cover. I told her I was considering going the self-published route and she was really helpful. Joyce answered my many questions and was clear about the challenges and the work involved with self-publishing. She was supportive and encouraging and said that if self-publishing was what made financial sense to me and I really felt strongly this is what I needed to do – then I should go for it. People need to make a decision. If they can put in the time and the money to self publish then I would say go for it and never look back.
My second book is a novel, Just Dance the Steps. With this book I decided again that I would not wait for a publisher and I put it on my website as a PDF. I knew eventually I would make it into a paperback. Originally I was going to have it produced by the print-on-demand company I used for my first book, Lightning Source, as I have had a great experience with them, but then I learned The Tattered Cover had an Espresso Book Machine. This machine is like a godsend for anybody who wants to start printing their own books.
You are likely to pay more per book with the Espresso Book Machine, but it can be a lower price point to get started. Once I learned The Tattered Cover had the Espresso Book Machine I decided I wanted to support them. I knew this was an opportunity to give back to a fabulous store that has done so much for me.
What is the difference in pricing between printing a book on an Espresso Book Machine such as that at The Tattered Cover and printing a book through a bigger print-on-demand facility?
It varies, but it can easily be a few more dollars per copy to print on the Espresso Book Machine. With any print-on-demand service, whether you use a large printer or go through Espresso, the pricing is determined by several different factors. Some of the considerations are page count, quality of paper, whether it is all black and white or has color images in the interior, and size dimension. Whether someone is looking to print a small number of copies or many, I would say it is worth exploring the Espresso Book Machine. Another significant factor to consider that affects the price difference will be the cost of shipping to get the printed books to you once they come off the press. However, if you live near either the printing company or an Espresso Book Machine then you don’t have that shipping cost. So for those people who live near Denver, they can pick up the books at The Tattered Cover and eliminate the ship-to cost. Many other cities have Espresso Book Machines. Lightning Source now has a direct relationship with Espresso Book Machines which means you can have your book title initially set up and produced through Lightning Source with an the option of having your book files electronically sent to any Espresso Book Machine, so your books can then also be printed in many locations.
With the Espresso Book Machine being the more expensive option, why is it that you chose to go this route?
I was shown I had an opportunity to help The Tattered Cover and for me it was the spiritually correct thing to do. For me it is has never been just about selling books. It is about spiritual relationships and doing business with people that understand this is much more than just selling a product. For me it is also about keeping independent book stores in business. Some people are more about the bottom line. I am more about the spiritual relationships.
I cannot speak for everyone, but every writer has to crunch the numbers and see what makes the most sense for them. Even though I make more money per book when I sell my books through my website, over the years I have told people I meet who say they want to buy my book, that I actually would prefer they purchase all of my books through independent book stores and particularly The Tattered Cover, as I believe it takes a very large village of engaged readers to keep a cherished independent book store, like The Tattered Cover, alive.
Those who want to explore the Espresso Book Machine at The Tattered Cover can contact John Zeck who is the Director of New Business Development. He is a fabulous person and so easy to work with. Chuck Rugh operates the machine at The Tattered Cover’s downtown Denver location and can also answer many technical questions.
What are the different things that take time and money in self-publishing that would not be the case if you had an agent and a publisher?
As a self-published author you need to provide your manuscript in a specific computer format for the printing process. You need to provide one computer file containing the internal content and another computer file with the cover. There are file specifications that print-on-demand authors deal with that would otherwise be handled by traditional publishers. If you cannot do the computer work yourself to make your manuscript “print ready” then you will need to hire someone who can. Lightning Source has its specs up on their website. John Zeck and Chuck Rugh at The Tattered Cover can discuss the Espresso Book Machine specs with anyone who thinks they want to produce the computer files themselves. Expect your book designer to have familiarity in understanding and adhering to these specs.
If you need to hire a book file designer to create those files it can easily set you back $1200-$1500. I suggest allowing yourself a $2000 budget just to be sure you don’t run into unexpected challenges with your design team or an unusually long or difficult editing process. Then once those files are ready for the printer, you will be charged a set up fee to get those files into either the Espresso Book Machine or other print-on-demand printer. Finally, there is the cost to print each copy and to have the books shipped to you, if necessary.
Can you give me a ballpark figure for the set up fees associated with this?
Set up fees vary among the different providers. Sometimes there are promotional specials where the set-up fee is eliminated if you order a large print run of books. One can expect set-up fees to typically range anywhere from costing less than $50 to costing up to $75.
What are the characteristics you look for in selecting a print-on-demand vendor?
It depends on a couple of different things. Are you printing the books so you can give them away free to friends and relatives, or to sell them? Are you printing them to be distributed by a book distributor or will you be distributing them yourself? When you speak to the employees, do they handle you like you are the valued and special person you are, or are they too busy to hold your hand through the process? And for those who believe they need to go wide and deep with distribution or who have not set up their own publishing company like I did, some consideration should be made for possibly going with a print-on-demand company that has distribution services that connect with a distributor such as Ingram.
Do you have any recommendations on the number of books an author should print initially?
The more books you print, whether through a print-on-demand company or through Espresso Book Machine, the greater will be the price-per-book discount. Volume means larger price breaks. The Tattered Cover offers a discount at 100 copies and a larger discount with a print run of 250 copies.
How would someone approach The Tattered Cover or any other bookstore about getting their book on the shelf?
For me I have credentials that helped open doors because I had been a journalist with The Denver Post for many years. For someone who is just starting out as a writer, I would suggest they go into the book store and talk to somebody face to face. Start with the person behind the counter. Show them your book. That clerk will put you in touch with the buyer or the store owner depending on how large the store is. If you can’t do it in person then you do it over the phone and if they are interested in considering your book for sale in their store, they will request you send them a copy to read. That is how I got my first book carried in many independent bookstores around the country.
Do you have any recommendations on how people could find a good book designer?
I am all about word of mouth. I would talk to someone who has already gone through the process and ask if they were happy with who they used. Then look at the samples of their previous work. Interview them. Come to understand their work process. You can also ask at your local bookstore if they know anyone who has self-published. Both John Zeck and Chuck Rugh at The Tattered Cover have several designers they have worked closely with and deeply respect and they would be happy to share their network for you to consider. People who are interested in my process can see my books on my web site and if interested can email me as I would be happy to discuss more of my journey, who I hired, and why it was the right decision for me.
Did you have anyone edit your books for you?
No. I have been a professional writer and editor for decades and I knew I had the skill set to produce these books. I did, however, have quite a number of people I trust read the manuscripts of both of my books. It can be a tremendously valuable experience to hire a professional editor, even for an experienced writer.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of going with a hardcover as opposed to a paperback?
It comes down to money. It is a personal decision.
There seems to be a perception that a hardcover book is more valuable.
The industry has changed significantly. It is not about perception anymore. It is about getting readers. It is cache to be read. The perception that hardcover books are more valuable is from old school traditional publishing. If you are an established and quote “serious” novelist or biographer, and were to be published through a large publisher, there is a general expectation your work would come out in hardcover.
Tell me about your decision to make your second book, your novel Just Dance the Steps, into an e-book as opposed to initially printing it.
I intentionally released my novel Just Dance the Steps on Valentine’s Day of this year as it is truly a labor of love. The timing of my writing process was that I could get it finished and up and available to readers fastest — to meet my self-imposed Valentine’s Day 2012 deadline — by going e-book first. But I don’t think it is an either/or scenario. There are a lot of people who want to read e-books and have no interest in print versions and there are others that feel the complete opposite. I just think more options are better.
Do you sell your e-book for Kindle or Nook?
Not right now. I sell my e-book version through my web site. If you want your e-book to appear a specific way [in the e-reader], you need to convert the file to a different format. Just Dance the Steps can be read on iPads, computers, and e-readers in the form I have it now. I released Just Dance the Steps as a PDF first just to get it up and running and that served me well while I was working on completing the paperback version of Just Dance the Steps. Converting from PDF to a standard e-book format only costs a few hundred dollars to do that and I may do that down the road.
Would you agree that putting your book on Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble would significantly open it up to a broader audience?
A lot of people argue that point. As you said when we first started talking, writing is a two part process – writing and then marketing. It is not a matter of whether you put the book in e-reader format or not; it is a matter of whether or not you have a platform for the book to be found.
Is it safe to say that your platform is your web site, and as such you do not find value in putting it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble?
Yes, my platform is my website www.gisellemassi.com. A lot of people do not have their own web site. In that case it makes sense to go with a service that is able to distribute it. People easily find me. A lot of it has to do with word of mouth and building a platform such as I have with my website. I believe a website is beneficial for a writer.
How do you use social media in your platform?
I have a Facebook page, but I am not into a mindset of self promotion. Others promote me. The work speaks for itself. I ask people if they find my books and other writing valuable to share them with their circles. For the kind of audience I am trying to reach, it is not about salesmanship. It is about relationships. You need to have something that someone finds so valuable that they really want to give it to someone they love and that is how it grows.
You had a number of people review Just Dance the Steps. Is that something you sought out and what do you think the value of reviews are in the book buying decision?
Getting solid endorsements is key. It comes down to asking people to help you. Not everybody is going to take the time or want to give you an endorsement but don’t let that stop you from seeking them out. It will take a while to get reviews, as it takes a while for people to fit into their schedule the time to devote to your book. In the down economy many people do not want to waste their money, so they are looking for trustworthy guidance on what is deserving of their dollar. The beautiful endorsements and written praise I have received are treasures to me, not only because they organically increase sales of my books, but because they are validation that I was correct in deciding to self-publish.
Writing is a long process but the joy of this process is massive and fulfilling. What you learn and who you meet along the way – it is just incredibly glorious.
With your novel in PDF format, do you have any concerns about piracy or people buying your book and sharing it with their closest 2000 friends?
With print-on-demand could you have just one copy printed?
You can order one copy or as many as you want. That is what is so great about it. It opens up the possibility for anybody who wants to write and put their writing between book covers. The only things it requires are time and money.
There are print-on-demand companies and then there are distributors and those are two different entities, correct?
Yes and typically they have a relationship with each other. You can have your books printed through a print-on-demand company and then pay an additional service fee to get them to handle the distribution as well. That does not mean the print-on-demand printer or the distributor is going to market your book. It basically means if bookstores or other customers order your book through that arrangement, for a fee the printer will process those orders for you and through their relationship with the distributor have those books shipped directly to the buyer.
What are the challenges that self-publishers face that people who have a publisher would not face?
I know people who have been picked up by a publisher and they are still waiting and hoping for the publisher to invest a lot of money in marketing their book which hasn’t happened; understandably it just does not happen very often. I am a believer in following your dream, but do it with some reality based thought. With changes in publishing and current economic conditions, a major publisher is not likely to pick you up and distribute you widely. Also, most mainstream newspapers and national magazines will not even consider reviewing self-published books, and have even reduced the space once devoted for book reviews from major publishing houses. Self-published authors just have to work a little bit harder to find the non-traditional formats or respected online outlets such as your site, to get exposure and garner reviews.
From what I understand even if you are picked up by a publisher you are still required to do the vast majority of your own marketing.
The number of people who get a sponsored book tour and have print and/or television promotion that is funded by publishers is very small. Marketing your book is a lot of work and takes a lot of time even if you have a major publishing house behind you. If you want to sell books, you have to put yourself out there into the market and not wait for anyone to do it for you.
What are the best ways you think people could put them selves out there?
Connect with your local library and find out where the book clubs are and then ask for your book to be considered for book club. Network with writers groups. Send out a press release to radio stations and your local news stations. You have to let people know you are doing something. I don’t define that as self-promotion as much as I define it as sharing what I have to offer. Ask for others to assist you every step of the way and then do the same for others who need support in their creative expression.
Was there anything you learned in taking the initial approach with an agent and a publisher that you would like to share with others who are considering that approach?
In 2001 it seemed the only rational option once I had finished writing We are Here for a Purpose: How to Find Yours was to go down that traditional road. Self-publishing then was not the desirable alternative it is now, and self-publishing was not as simple and affordable as it has since become. For unknown writers, newbies so to speak, challenges that existed then with finding a literary agent and a publishing deal still exist today, but now they are in spades because of the collapse of the book industry and this difficult economic reality. My advice to new writers is don’t wait to learn that you don’t have to wait. You can spend a lot of time just sending out query letters to literary agents and waiting for a response. However, if you are fortunate to know someone who knows someone in the publishing business, then I would not discourage anyone from giving that route a try. It would be foolish not to pursue those particular kinds of networking opportunities.
Something else to keep in mind is this: once your self-published book is out in the world you have opened yourself up to the possibility that a deserving literary agent or publisher might come along at some point and offer to represent you or buy the rights to your book. You likely won’t feel you are wasting time.
Is that the major thing you lose in attempting to go through an agent, time?
For me it is all about time. How you spend your time or waste your time. I saw an interview the bestselling author John Grisham gave in which he talked about the challenges he faced and of being rejected many times. He tells a great and humbling story about putting books into the trunk of his car and driving around to tiny bookstores where he did book signings, some very lightly attended. That is how he and some other successful writers had to do it, in order to gain exposure and be in the game of being read by others. Eventually it brought him and some others wild financial success in both print and film rights. There are many stories of putting in the time and sweat equity, like John Grisham, to build a career. I keep coming back to my father’s wisdom that I wrote about in my first book We are Here for a Purpose: How to Find Yours. My wonderful father said to me, ‘Giselle, get on with it.’ So I would say if you have the money to self-publish and the time, ‘Get on with it.’
It sounds like it is a matter of possibly waiting two years to see if agents and publishers can figure it out or committing to spend the $2000 to get the manuscript ready to self-publish.
It could easily be two years, maybe longer depending on how much time a person wants to keep trying that traditional route. I offer the $2000 as being on the very high end to self-publish, if you are looking to have the manuscript professionally edited and intend to produce a beautifully-designed book, where you have left it up to someone else to make the production happen for you. You can do it for considerably less than that as I have done, as long as you have some computer skills or expertise in editing, book layout and design, etc. You have to be realistic about the costs of creative services. After the $1200-$2000, then you have to pay for set up fees and for the books to come off the press. Depending on page count and size of the book, it could easily be an additional eight dollars to eleven dollars or more per book for printing [off the Espresso Book Machine]. Again it is a cost based on many factors.
I look at it this way — it is not worth waiting around. That has been my experience. I am so glad I was introduced to the traditional publishing world. It was a great learning experience and I knew I was blessed with a chance at one of the golden rings that many writers never get to have. I knew in 2001 I had a terrific book that would help many people grow into their spiritual path and purpose. So for me it was not worth holding back the book at that time just to try to go through that traditional process again. With major publishing houses still going through real financial challenges, today a lot of new writers feel the only way they will ever see their book in print is by self-publishing. Thankfully, print-on-demand has become broadly accepted and is a viable alternative for many writers.