In the new blog series Publishing Stories, I have asked former clients to share their experiences with book publishing. This first contribution is by Gary Bargatze, author of the eight-book series Your Winding Daybreak Ways. His self-published books have earned praise from many corners, including the Baltimore Sun. Here he tells us how he found success as a self-publisher.
Successful Self-Publishing Takes a Team
by Gary Bargatze
When our first child was born some 30 years ago, a wise old friend foretold our future as parents. He flashed a knowing smile and accurately predicted,
“Children give you the greatest joy and the greatest sorrow. … The challenges will never go away; they’ll just get different.”
And as writers who’ve “given birth” to a number of works over the years, my wife and I have often compared the ongoing challenges of parenting to the long, winding road of crafting an idea and managing it to print.
After overcoming the myriad challenges associated with a successful “delivery” (e.g., daily decisions about plot, character, syntax, grammar, word choice, and consistency), we stare at the newborn manuscripts in our hands, sigh with relief, and smile with a rightful sense of accomplishment.
But as the thrill of our newborns’ births begins to fade, we slowly realize that we now face a whole new set of daunting questions and responsibilities to ensure that our “children” reach adulthood and succeed in their lives.
And when these new questions arise, “they come not as single spies, but as battalions”:
- Which route to publication should we choose?
- Should we attempt to publish traditionally via an agent and a major publishing house?
- Should we publish independently through our own start-up publishing companies? Or should we hire an existing press to perform most of the publishing and marketing tasks for us?
- If we go either the independent route or hire a company, do we engage professional editors?
- Whom will we hire to design the covers and format the interiors? How many editions of our works should we produce—a print version, an e-book, and/or an audio edition?
- How will we distribute our new books to retailers (e.g., Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple)?
- Whom will we hire to develop our author websites?
- And last but not least, should we tackle social media marketing on our own or engage a professional to develop our social media persona, visibility, and branding?
In my own case, after spending seven-plus years writing the Your Winding Daybreak Ways series consisting of seven novels and a novella (e.g., Warfield, Happy Hollow, and McGill), I ventured out into the vast reaches of the Internet seeking answers to these challenging questions. When I discovered that I could deduct most of the expenses associated with developing and operating a new company from my income taxes, I chose to create my own publishing house, Rigor Hill Press, and to publish my works independently. And then the question arose, how many of the publishing and marketing processes do I really have the desire and expertise to tackle on my own?
After further research, I identified several presses specializing in independent and self-publishing. And over the next several weeks, I conducted a number of staff and customer interviews and ultimately decided to engage Mill City Press headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Our contract included a number of milestones — for example: cover design, interior formatting, printing, e-book formatting, publishing, distribution, and marketing programs via Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon. While Mill City Press offers editorial services and the use of one of its imprints, I chose to use my own Rigor Hill Press imprint and to engage a copyeditor whom I had thoroughly vetted for qualifications, editorial style, and personal compatibility.
The good news is that I chose wisely. Mill City Press has delivered on time as advertised, and the few times that there have been hiccups in our multibook, multifaceted project, they have quickly and effectively remedied the situation, which is the sign of a first-class operation.
During my search in 2014 for the perfect copyeditor, I discovered Katherine Pickett’s recently published book, Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro. I ordered a copy, read it thoroughly, and contacted her company, POP Editorial Services, in Silver Spring, Maryland. After several conversations with Ms. Pickett via email, the telephone, and a personal meeting at a local bookstore signing, I concluded that she was the right person for the job.
Ms. Pickett had the experience and qualifications, her editorial style was what I had envisioned for the series, and our personalities were quite compatible. Not only is she a pleasant person, but she has the ability to offer constructive criticism that motivates, provides potential solutions, and fosters vitally important trust between the author and herself.
And I cannot overemphasize the trust factor in the author/copyeditor relationship. Since great copyeditors as Ms. Pickett will openly express their opinions with no holds barred, the author must be prepared to suffer a few bruises to the ego along the way. I must admit that as we edited the eight books in the series, I always dreaded receiving another of Ms. Pickett’s lengthy, single-spaced editorial letters detailing everything that I needed to enhance to publish a first-rate novel — for example:
“(1) include more description and feeling around dialogue so that it doesn’t feel like an interview; (2) balance dialogue against straight narration; (3) remove unneeded or excessive adverbs; and (4) insert line spaces to indicate large time lapses. … In addition, the narrator and his three closest friends would benefit from some additional character development.”
But the good news again is that I chose my copyeditor wisely. Ms. Pickett is a true professional who delivers as advertised. And the positive reviews for the series posted by readers in the US and Europe speak volumes to her ability to raise an author’s level of play — for example: “A literary landmark!” “A saga for the big screen!” “Profound, meaningful characters!” “Riveting and imaginative.” “Impossible to put down!”
So when I’m asked at book signings to explain the keys to self-publishing success, I respond, “Choose your partners wisely, and prepare rigorously for every step along the way to publication.” I then usually close my remarks with a quote from the legendary heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali, who believed that rigorous preparation was the key to long-term success. He said, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses — behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights. … I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”
Gary Bargatze is the author of the novels Warfield, Happy Hollow, Hurricane Creek, Hollow Rock, and McGill, the first five works in the critically acclaimed 10-part fictional series, Your Winding Daybreak Ways, comprised of a prologue, an epilogue, seven novels, and a novella. Mr. Bargatze divides his time between Williamsburg, Virginia, and the Berkshires of Massachusetts.
Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.