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LOCAL SERVICES HELP WRITERS GET POLISHED, PUBLISHED, AND PROMOTED
The Roque Lobato House: Santa Fe, New Mexico , published on Dec. 15, 2014, is a good example of the collaborative nature of many projects in the self-publishing realm today. Ellen Kleiner, founder and director of Blessingway Authors’ Services, was editor. Laura C. Widmar, director of the Owings Gallery, did the book design, and Robert Reck was the photographer. The authors were architectural historian Chris Wilson and homeowner Karl Horn, along with his son Oliver. The book was published by Santa Fe artist Billy Schenck’s company, Schenck Southwest, with Blessingway taking care of registrations and obtaining the ISBN and CIP numbers and the bar code.
Blessingway offers authors a range of publishing services. Many writers enlist the firm for the whole shebang: editorial, production, and marketing. Two recent books reflecting this amount of involvement are Bullet Trains to Yaks: Glimpses into Art, Politics, and Culture in China and Tibet (2011), by Stan Biderman, and In the Lotus of the Heart: The Essence of Relationships (2015), by Shubhraji. “We assist both self-publishers and small presses,” said Kleiner, who has worked in the business for more than 40 years, including stints at Bobbs-Merrill Company, John Wiley & Sons, Mothering magazine, and New Mexico Magazine . You won’t find the name Blessingway in any of the books in its portfolio, because the company doesn’t have a publisher’s imprint. But business is flying right along. “In a good year, we do 12 to 15 books,” she said. “Right now we’re busier than we’ve ever been.”
Why would an author or an artist choose to take the self-publishing route? To begin with, the option is no longer associated only with “vanity” books. And selfpublishing offers you control over content, appearance, and marketing; it is much quicker than the process with a traditional publisher; and it often yields higher profits. On the other hand, you have to pay for everything yourself, and you don’t have the wide distribution, or the cachet, that a traditional publishing house offers. Such a publisher has to be convinced of the merits of your book project, and even if you’re articulate, you’re going to need an editor. In self-publishing, the authors are often budding at best. “Many people who come to us know what they’re writing about, but they’re not skilled writers,” Kleiner said. “Someone going to Simon & Schuster will be a skilled writer, but it may be an ivory tower: He may not have lived what he’s writing about. We figure that what comes to us is two, maybe three, levels below what would land on an acquisition editor’s desk at a publishing company.”
It’s Kleiner’s job to improve the lower-grade submissions. “Instead of sleeping, that’s what I do. Some people do come back and say, ‘You’ve changed my words,’ or ‘You’ve changed my voice’ — but they don’t have topic sentences, or they don’t draw concluding statements, or they want to repeat themselves.” Blessingway uses a system it describes as “annotated critique and evaluation” for projects that are “really early in the writing stage, where people just sort of pour all their stuff onto the page and say, ‘Here’s my book,’ ” Kleiner explained. She reads such copy at the rate of 50 pages an hour and annotates every page with notes to the author: What do you mean by this? Clarify that for the reader. Can you embellish? Does this contradict that? When did that happen? “At the other end, we have authors
who improve dramatically, and their submissions for subsequent books get better and better. They can look more analytically at their own work.”
Jeanie C. Williams, Blessingway’s marketing director, said, “Once Ellen has the book edited, and if the author chooses to continue with us, I do an intake assessment of who I see as the primary audience and the secondary audience, and I do a draft marketing plan and a monthly outline of what we recommend the author does for the book.” Blessingway also helps with placement on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookBaby, Smashwords, and other online retailers, and, in the parallel universe, at bookstores. “We were just invited a month ago by Baker & Taylor, the secondlargest book wholesaler in the country, to serve as a premium vendor, which means all of our authors’ books qualify,” Kleiner said. “They get books into the retailers and into libraries.” To be sold in the brickand-mortar stores, books must be returnable and have priced bar codes, a Library of Congress number, and an associated subject category.
Authors can opt to order small quantities of books from a company such as Lightning Source that offers on-demand printing, but Williams said Blessingway can do the printing at a quarter of the cost via a traditional print run. “We work with paper mills near rivers so the paper stock doesn’t have to get shipped on trains with all that added cost,” Kleiner said. “So we’re going to Ohio, Michigan, Arkansas, and Canada. The Roque Lobato House book was printed in China. We use contract labor locally, but for the manufacturing we have to go to the Midwest or offshore.”
HurleyMedia LLC, another Santa Fe company, is known for its work on fine-art books, which are typically printed in Singapore, China, or Italy. “It’s less expensive in Asia,” Joanna Hurley said. “The United States is the most expensive, and we only use two printers in the U.S. when we have a super-tight schedule. There’s also Friesens in Canada.” Hurley acts as packager and agent for her clients. “I don’t do self-publishing. I don’t produce a book unless I have a distributor: a publisher that will give its imprint and do the sales and marketing, warehousing, and fulfillment of orders. I’m doing everything a publisher does except the sales and distribution. Once I have a publisher on board, I start producing the book.”
She worked for Thomas Y. Crowell Company, the University of New Mexico Press, and Vintage Books before establishing Joanna Hurley Marketing & Literary Services in 1992. Eight years ago, she teamed with David Skolkin, David Chickey, and Darius Himes to found the nonprofit art publisher Radius Books, and then returned full-time to HurleyMedia. Authors can approach Hurley directly, but she doesn’t take every book project. “I find projects that I think are worthwhile. One way is through the Review Santa Fe program at the Center organization [a nonprofit supporting gifted photographers]. If I think it’s worthy, I put together a proposal and a blad [a “book layout and design” mock-up that shows samples of the content], and then I show it to different publishers.”
Interviewed in her office, Hurley pointed to a goodlooking blad she did at Kinko’s for Joan Myers’ forthcoming photography book, Fire and Ice: Timescapes. “I showed this to Andrea Albertini from [the Italian publisher] Damiani when I was in London last year, and Damiani bought it in like two seconds.” Once it takes on a new book project, HurleyMedia assists the artist or photographer with the concept, locates writers to create both text and endorsements, and may bring in a mapmaker or illustrator to fill things out. The book proposal and marketing plan are then prepared for presentation to publishers.
Two books from the company’s résumé are Descending the Dragon: My Journey Down the Coast of Vietnam , by Jon Bowermaster (published in 2008 by National Geographic) and Dark Beauty: Photographs of New Mexico , by Jack Parsons (published in 2011 by Hudson Hills Press). When Hurley first saw Jeffrey Lowdermilk’s book about his forebear’s war service, it was a thin publication made using the online selfpublishing company Blurb. “I thought it could be bigger because so many people are interested in military history, so I had the author do research and write a lot more, and we commissioned maps,” she said. The result was Honoring the Doughboys: Following My Grandfather’s World War I Diary , a remarkable book published last year by George F. Thompson.
Maggie Lichtenberg, who bills herself as a “bookpublishing coach,” makes a distinction between independent and self-publishing — both of which are alternatives to the traditional methods. “Independent publishing is an opportunity to do exactly what the publisher and marketing department would do, but you do it yourself, and you foot the bill,” she said from her home office in Santa Fe. “Self-publishing can be kind of a hybrid, and that’s because a lot of companies have jumped on the bandwagon and decided they’re publishers, when, in fact, they are internet producers.” Many of her clients come to her first to figure out which way to go. “I really love being able to show people how to spend less money, less energy, and less time by getting it right the first time.”
Lichtenberg worked for 20 years in the mainstream East Coast publishing industry, with jobs at Beacon Press and Simon & Schuster. Among those she has assisted in her Publishing Options Coach business
are Paula Baker-Laporte, a co-author of Prescriptions for a Healthy House: A Practical Guide for Architects, Builders & Homeowners (New Society Publishers), and Tom McMakin, author of Bread and Butter: What a Bunch of Bakers Taught Me About Business and Happiness (St. Martin’s Press).
Authors who want to act as their own publishers should consider starting businesses of their own, as Lichtenberg did herself. Through Open Heart Publishing, in 2006, she published her award-winning book, The Open Heart Companion: Preparation and Guidance for Open-Heart Surgery Recovery . “By contrast, if you’re going to self-publish, you can hire one of the internet companies like iUniverse and AuthorHouse. There are dozens out there if you Google it — and their prices might be half of what you have with independent publishing. What you’re not getting is marketing, or any say in how the production goes.”
One of the advantages of going with traditional publishing is that, if your proposal is accepted, there are very few up-front costs. “If you have a platform, a publisher may offer you a contract,” Lichtenberg said. “But you have to build up to a point where you are known and people will be eager to actually plunk down the Visa card for your book. It’s the whole marketing push you have to engage in before the book is published. The way I say it is that you have a discoverability challenge. There are four pieces to the marketing. First is social media. You must get out there and become known. Two, public speaking. Then publicity — possibly hiring a publicist. Four is distribution.”
Having your book on Amazon merely means that people can buy it there. More important is its availability in bookstores and libraries. “If you hire a publicist and you get on an NPR show and there are no books in the stores, that’s the worst thing that can happen. Also, if you’re going the route of the mainstream publisher, you have to have a book proposal that isn’t just good, but outstanding, because the competition is huge. You have to show why your book is different or funnier or more distinguished or absolutely necessary.”
Lichtenberg is very big on marketing, and on starting it as early as possible — way before the book is released. The author should have a website and a blog targeted to the book’s potential market or audience. “You should find groups you can be a part of online. I often recommend that you join someone else’s group, get the lay of the land, and make your contributions of opinion. Then, at a certain point, you can ask the head of the group if you could be a guest blogger. It’s so important to get into the conversation, so that when your book comes out, somebody will actually be waiting for it.”
She advises the authors she works with to release an e-book version at the same time as the paper version, but not because the latter is on the way out. “I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the book. I think, in the next five years, it’s going to be a hoot that anybody really was worried about books declining. The only change is that there are additional ways to read books.”
I FIND projects that I think are worthwhile. One way is through the Review Santa Fe program at the Center organization [a nonprofit supporting gifted photographers]. If I think it’s worthy, I put together a proposal and show it to publishers.
— Joanna Hurley, literary agent and packager