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Local authors share self-publishing tips

Trish Ritchie (left), owner of TJ Design and graphic designer Kim Tyk (middle) are seen discussing the options for self-publishing with Wendell Affield and Polly Keith Scotland during a recent meeting at the studio. TJ Design is one of the local design studios offering self-publishing suggestions and services. Patt Rall| Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – The abundance of self-published articles and books has almost overtaken the market by those who want to see their work in print.

Although not a new means to get one’s work in print, vanity press or vanity publishers have solidified their niche with today’s writers. The services may vary from simply printing a work to some distributing; both for a healthy fee.

People have been self-publishing for as far back, it seems, as the invention of the printing press. Early examples might be “Poor Richard’s Almanack” under the pseudonym Poor Richard by Benjamin Franklin from 1732 to 1758, done prior to his partnership in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Printed as pamphlets, Poor Richard gave advice on the activities of daily living for his eager readers.

Those who had something to say or wanted to express an opinion could write letters to the editor or an essay and submit it to a publisher. They would either be published or sent back rejected, possibly unread. At least that is what some authors still believe today as they “hope” that the editor will not automatically round file their missives.

The desire to tell one’s story: share a romantic tale, murder mystery event, fantasy adventure or the lurid details of a dystopian experience is probably what drives some people to self-publish. And that desire remains as true today as it did centuries ago when women had to hide their sex in order to publish their work.

But to avoid the pitfalls, escape the unscrupulous agents, and to set out on a path to a successful self-published book, local author Wendell Affield has some sage advice: research, research and research. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on the basics before setting out to write that great epic or even a children’s book.

Affield admits the manuscript for his book, “Muddy Jungle Rivers” sat to the side but the dusty pages, mostly written for college writing courses, kept beckoning him back from newer projects. Admitting that he could no longer avoid the siren’s call, the letters of inquiry sent to publishing houses remained unanswered.

“I began studying self-publishing avenues and was horrified at the exploitation of uninformed first-time authors by so many self-publishing companies,” Affield wrote in a blog posting.

That same kind of realization also came to local author Polly Keith Scotland when she first attempted to fulfill a promise made to her father to have her work published. Scotland’s collection of essays of wilderness trips taken by her and her family over the past years was accepted by an agent who quoted an astounding price of $12,000 for editing.

On the slim chance that Loon Feather Press, a regional small nonprofit publishing house that has won awards and recognition, would print her book, she submitted a manuscript. Loon Feather yearly receives requests from authors from across the country numbering in the thousands.

One of the editors, MaryLou Marchand, took on the assignment and the rest of the story is that Scotland’s first edition of “By Foot, Pedal or Paddle” sold out its first printing and the next edition is now being assembled.

Marchand offered an opinion on why people turn to self-publishing rather than traditional methods.

“Sometimes an author just can’t handle their work being rejected,” she said. “And sometimes the revisions necessary to the manuscript leave the author feeling that their story is no longer being represented as they had intended. Some people do not want to relinquish any control over a book and sometimes can argue their point to an editor.”

Whatever the reasons, widely published local author Roy C. Booth has his own opinion on self-published works. Booth advised that even with a graduate degree in English, he still goes to other published authors to edit his work for they are able dispassionately read and discern errors that are not apparent to the author.

“Self-publishing does have its purposes,” said Booth. “It’s ideal for cookbooks, memoirs, how-to books, local and regional history, poetry, and other publication niches. It is not ideal, however, for fiction. For fiction you need to have first developed an audience by some other means of publication in order to make it effective.”

With self-published manuscripts, Booth said an author cannot take short-cuts in editing, artwork and marketing. In short quality control is key and, as Booth opined, in vanity press we don’t often see that happen.

Affield came to the same conclusion and about a year ago created his own publishing company, Hawthorne Petal Press, as a resource center for self-publishing authors.

Affield also spoke about the pitfalls of marketing one’s own work and the errors he made. For example, he advertised in the “New York Review of Books” and had scant response. He eventually turned to Region 2 Arts Council for a grant to market “Muddy Rivers,” as did another local author Joanna Dymond for her new mystery, “Crazy as a Loon.”

Both authors held receptions and book signing for the public and interest groups.

Both Book World and Kat’s Book Nook sponsor book signings for local authors as a marketing tool.

Booth also advised membership in groups that have a good reputation among published authors. For example, he mentioned Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers and Horror Writers Association. Or to paraphrase – an old Latin term – Caveat emptor, let the author beware.