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Self-Publishing: Find Your Niche
by Arlene Uslander

Are you the kind of person who is easily dejected by rejection? Are you very impatient when publishers or agents don't respond to you in a timely manner or not at all? Are you a person who likes to be "the captain of your ship," in control of your own fate? Do you have some cash and time that you can invest in a worthy project, your very own book? If you answered yes to all four questions, you are probably a candidate for self-publishing.

Self-publishing is not the same as vanity/subsidy (one and the same), co-operative publishing, or even print-on-demand, although self-publishing can include the latter. The differences could constitute an article in itself, so I am not going to take time to make comparisons, other than to say that self-publishing generally costs considerably less than the other categories, and with self-publishing, you are totally in control; you make all the decisions. You own all the rights to the book and have complete control over how it is designed and edited. The same cannot be said of subsidy and co-operative publishing. I self-published two of the 12 books I have had published, and doing so was one of the best decisions I ever made. They were paperback, and all I could afford for the illustrations were clip-art. However, after a modest printing of 500 copies, which sold for only $5.95, I sold enough books to do a reprint of 1,000 copies, and made enough money from the second printing to print 5,000 more, and then 3,000 copies of a sequel. No, I didn't get rich, but I came out ahead financially, and best of all, a trade publisher saw the two books, liked what she saw and has recently re-published them, combining them into one hardcover edition, with beautiful original illustrations done by one of her illustrators.

In this article, I am only going to talk about self-publishing non-fiction books because I have not had personal experience self-publishing fiction. Besides, I don't think it makes sense to self-publish fiction, because probably no one is going to buy it except family and friends. There is no niche for it, and the key to making money from self-publishing is finding a niche, whether it be a particular age group, ethnic group, geographic area, special-interest group or whatever. Find your niche, and you will sell your self-published book.

For example, the market for the two books I self-published are parents and grandparents. I was lucky enough to find out about Parenting Publications of America (PPA), a network of more than 100 parenting magazines nationwide. Three times a year, in advance of Mother's Day, Father's Day and Grandparents' Day, I sent out press releases to the magazines with the largest circulation, and the results were better than I possibly could have anticipated. I received many fine write-ups about my books, which led to many sales. (If you are thinking of self-publishing a book about or for children, parents, grandparents or teachers, check out the PPA on the web: www.parentingpublicationsofamerica.com. Dorothy Kavka, President of Evanston Publishing, Inc., the self-publishing company I used for my books, after researching many other companies, offers the following advice on selling your self-published book:

1) "If possible, avoid selling in bookstores. Try to sell books yourself, which not only means you do not have to pay the store a discount, but you can build a mailing list of buyers who like your writing. If you must deal with bookstores, reach independent booksellers and their customers with a listing in the Publink directory. Their web site address is www.publink.net.

2) Set up a web-site, and give out your web-site address to everyone.

3) Get other web-sites to sell your books by offering a generous referral free. Amazon.com does this and so can you.

4) Whenever you appear on TV or radio, give out your web-site address so you can add to your mailing list.

5) Include a press release or flyer about your book in every piece of snail mail you send out."

For information about Evanston Publishing's services, visit their web site: www.Evanstonpublishing.com. Their prices are much more reasonable than many other self-publishers; they put out a very professional looking book, and I found them wonderful to work with.

Just to add a couple of comments to Dorothy Kavka's: Regarding selling to book stores, I found that except for some small, independent book shops in my neighborhood, bookstores are not interested in self-published books. They buy from wholesale distributors, and distributors do not seem to be interested in handling self-published books unless bookstores carry them. It is truly a vicious cycle!

Also, Dorothy mentioned Amazon.com. Make sure you let them know about your book because they do carry self-published books

From my own experience, I suggest that if you can afford it, you work with a book publicity specialist. Most of the ones I contacted were way out of my reach cost-wise, but fortunately, I hooked up with a writer on the Internet who told me about a company called KSB Promotions. They work only on general lifestyle non-fiction books: cookbooks, gardening, travel, how-to, general health, parenting, self-help, and select children's books. I feel that their prices are reasonable for what they do, which includes advising you on the best avenues for publicity. They have a database of more than 14,500 national magazine and newspaper editors and columnists from which they handpick the best media to contact about your book. A unique PR tool they have is KSB Links, which is mailed three times a year to more than 6,000 media, plus the books are featured at: www.ksblinks.com. To find out about their services, check their web site, www.ksbpromotions.com. KSB provides a unique service for authors, and the staff is delightful to work with.

Make the most of the Internet, especially the search engines, to find appropriate publications that might be interested in knowing about your book. Let's say for example, you have written a book on gardening that you want people interested in gardening to know about it. Go to any of the search engines and type in Magazines ("gardening"). You will be amazed at how many references come up. Send these publications a press release.

Make the most of your local resources - newspapers, the public library, radio stations, local TV, community centers, etc. Most hometowns are very receptive and proud of local authors. Send out press releases with a letter saying that you will be happy to speak to groups or organizations about your book. Always have a good photo of yourself handy because newspaper editors and/or columnists usually ask for one. Make sure your book is visible in the photo. Ask your friends in other cities to hype your book to their local papers. Many of my friends were kind enough to do that; consequently, I had write-ups in towns I had never even visited (and in some case, never even heard of!).Inform non-profit organizations in your area that if they want to sell your books, you will give a percentage of the profits earned to their particular cause.

Try to team up with another self-published author to mail press releases and other promotional material because the cost of postage can get out of hand. I shared expenses with a woman I met on the Internet who had written a book on a subject similar to mine, but they were different enough not to be competitive.

Make sure your press release gives enough information - especially exact ordering information -so that if a publication wants to do a write-up, they will be able to do so, even without reading the book. This is known in the business as a "fake review." Certainly it is preferable to have a write-up based on a reviewer actually reading your book, but in my own case, when I sent out press releases promoting my grandparent books for holidays, especially Mother's Day, Father's Day, and Grandparents' Day, I was surprised at how many newspapers and magazines ran my press release word for word, perhaps, in many cases, as a last minute fill-in.

As Dorothy Kavka of Evanston Publishing points out, many times a trade publisher will pick up a self-published book, as happened to me. Of course, this should not be your main reason for self-publishing because it does not always happen. Nevertheless, even though it is a good feeling not to have to constantly try to think of ways to promote my self-published books, because that is now my publisher's domain (though I still try to help as much as I can), I wouldn't have missed out on the self-publishing experience for anything. It was an educational, exhilarating, fun experience. And, I even ended up a few dollars ahead.

© Copyright 2002, Arlene Uslander

Arlene Uslander is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of 12 non-fiction books, over 400 articles, and has received media awards for outstanding contributions to journalism. Her most recent book, That's What Grandparents Are For (Peel Productions, November, 2001) can be ordered by calling 800-345-6665 or online, www.peelbooks.com. Uslander and her writing partner, Brenda Warneka, are currently working on an anthology of stories about "fate." They still need a few gripping stories, so if you think might have one, request their guidelines: auslander@thermap.net. ArleneĀ’s web site: www.theramp.net/auslander

Other articles by Arlene Uslander :

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