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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 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
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
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. Arlenes web site: www.theramp.net/auslander
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