Filling the void Four self-published authors
4 AUTHORS ON WHY SELF-PUBLISHING WORKS FOR THEM
Everyone has a story to tell. Consider these four: A woman moves to Santa Fe in 2010. Over a period of 30 days, she receives 25 communications from Mary Magdalene — messages she feels charged to share with the world. As a hobby, a man starts recording scraps of Northern New Mexico culture, lore, and history; 15 years later, he has collected enough entries to fill an encyclopedia.
A tourism expert of Native American heritage with four books under her belt switches to self-publishing for her fifth because it gives her full control over her material and the opportunity to be outspoken.
After meeting Jane Goodall in 2005, a former events planner spends nearly 10 years compiling stories from around the world about the exploitation of captive chimpanzees.
Despite the great dissimilarities among their stories, these locally affiliated authors — in order, Mercedes Kirkel, Mark Cross, Susan Guyette, and Debra Rosenman — have several things in common. They all turned to self-publishing to reach a very targeted audience. With the exception of Rosenman, whose book on chimpanzees has not yet been released, all have benefited from their financial and personal investments in the self-publishing process. And, as seen in the following accounts of the stories behind the stories, these authors show much agreement when it comes to the advantages, disadvantages, and challenges of self-publishing.
MERCEDES KIRKEL: Mary Magdalene Beckons — Join the River of Love Mercedes Kirkel was living on the Island of Hawaii when she received a spiritual message urging her to return to the mainland. Having studied and followed different spiritual paths for many years, she listened, arriving in New Mexico in 2010. “As soon as I got to Santa Fe it was like all the signs were there — the light streaming down from the sky, the orchestra swelling in the background, the red carpet rolling out.” These signs were only the beginning. “About three days after I arrived was when Mary Magdalene started coming to me and bringing me the messages. Over the course of a month she came every single day, and very quickly I realized she was downloading a book to me.”
Acknowledged as a saint in several Christian traditions, Magdalene has a rich and much-debated role in religious history. Kirkel said the telepathic messages transmitted covered “Mary’s teaching on uniting the masculine and the feminine. In particular she was talking about our bodies, our sexuality, and our emotions as pathways to lead us into union with God.”
Kirkel incorporated her own commentary with the transcribed teachings and, within a year or so, had a full-length book. “My original intention was to find a publisher,” she said. But after attending an eyeopening meeting held by the New Mexico Book Association, she learned some of the disadvantages of traditional publishing. In particular, she balked at the idea of handing over control of the content itself.
“I felt a huge sense of responsibility for keeping the integrity of the material, keeping it true to exactly the way I received it.” So instead, Kirkel consulted with Ellen Kleiner, founder of Blessingway, a company that assists authors with the many steps of self-publishing. By 2012, Mary Magdalene Beckons existed as a physical book, one that was winning awards and charting impressively on Amazon.
Kirkel attributed some of her success to a marketing platform built on weekly newsletters sent to thosands of subscribers. From her new home in the San Francisco Bay Area the author also hosts online worshops and channeled readings. This multipronged approach to marketing helps explain why Mary Magdalene Beckons and Kirkel’s second book ( Sublime Union: A Woman’s Sexual Odyssey Guided by Mary Magdalene , released last year) continue selling well today.
MARK H. CROSS: Encyclopedia of Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico Mark H. Cross makes the task of collecting over a thousand pieces of information sound easy: “I moved to Santa Fe in 1996 and was very interested in local culture. I think I learned all the things we all do when we move here, and I just wrote them down. And after 16 years I made a book.” By day an editor and proofreader at the New Mexico Legislature, Cross self-published his encyclopedia in 2012. “It does very well. I’m in my third printing now.” Unlike Kirkel, who has found an international audience through the internet, Cross’ market is primarily local. His success bucks the trend of many self-published books because he benefits more from close relationships with local booksellers than from online sales. “It’s in all the bookstores in town. And it’s in Tattered Cover in Denver and Treasure House in Albuquerque. It’s in Las Vegas and in a little store in Chama. I’ve done the distribution myself, so it’s all regional.”
This regional focus is one reason several local booksellers display the book prominently on their front counters. That it sells well and has garnered acclaim from writers like Valerie Plame Wilson and Hampton Sides doesn’t hurt either. But the historian attributed this placement in large part to his belabored efforts to make the cover look professional. “It shows a bird flying over the Chama River. I probably had 12 iterations of that image, the title of the book, and my name. My friend, who did the interior design, and I, we both just struggled and struggled and struggled.” Finally Cross decided to consult a professional cover designer in Albuquerque, at a cost of a few hundred dollars. “She nailed it, saying, ‘This is what you need to do.’ So I paid professionals when I needed to.”
Another investment Cross was willing to make (three times now) was to finance a physical print run in advance. Many self-publishers employ printon-demand services, like Amazon’s CreateSpace. In addition to fulfilling online orders, these services don’t require an author to speculate financially on how many copies will sell, and it’s easier for revisions to be made to an existing publication. However, because Cross’ plan was to focus on distributing locally and in person, he follows an older model of self-publishing: “I have them shipped to my house and put them in my garage. Fortunately, they’ve been moving out.”
SUSAN GUYETTE: Sustainable Cultural Tourism — Small-Scale Solutions “I give away a lot of books because I work with a lot of Native American tribes, and that’s part of our values. I was able to buy the copies for much less when selfpublishing,” Susan Guyette said. She offered another reason for making the switch with her fifth book. “I also wanted to be outspoken, to say the things I needed to about cultural bias in the tourism industry.”
With decades of experience in the field of cultural tourism, Guyette has developed a marketing platform for her book that is very specific, if less regional, than Cross’. In her case, having a book that addresses her field serves as a valuable professional tool for booking and promoting the workshops and webinars she gives year-round. Lately, Guyette has also been giving workshops covering the different routes of publishing — a result of the learning process that she herself underwent to publish her most recent book.
Itmakes sense, then, that Guyette has much practical guidance for new authors weighing their publication options. “I see a lot of people self-publishing, and they
are not selling any copies because they are not committed to it as a business. So it’s best that they have eyes wide open about what it’s going to take,” she said. “It’s like being the contractor for building your own house for the first time. You have to hire different people, and it takes experience knowing which people have the right skills.”
Guyette called marketing “the big challenge.” The elements of marketing are numerous, from building a platform to doing local and online outreach, and even just settling on concise back-cover copy that summarizes an entire book in a few sentences. Guyette provided the official version of her 60-to-70-word copy as an example: “Written in a practical style, this text guides planning and development efforts from within cultures — addressing regional linkages, the tourism plan, visitor surveys, marketing, cultural centers and museums, job creation, enterprise development, and evaluation of sustainability. A value-based paradigm is discussed, planning processes illustrate ways of integrating culture, and case studies at the end of each chapter identify community-based success factors.”
The author’s attention to detail has paid off. Her book won the 2014 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award in the anthropology/archaeology category. She plans on continuing down the path of self-publishing for all pending projects. “I started my own imprint, so it’s like my own publishing line. It’s called Bearpath Press. What I’m working on now is a series called Resilient Communities .” Sustainable Cultural Tourism forms its first volume — the second has the working title Living Museums: Adaptive Planning for a New Era .
DEBRA ROSENMAN: The Chimpanzee Chronicles —Stories of Heartbreak
and Hope From Behind the Bars In the early 1980s, Debra Rosenman worked as an events planner in New York. “I hired a baby chimpanzee at that time for clients — this little baby chimpanzee that came in on roller skates.” Years later, this baby chimp began to haunt Rosenman’s dreams. “One particular dream shifted my whole life,” she explained. “In that dream I was told to be receptive to the beauty, grace, and deep wonder of the forest, the animals, and our own human nature. Shortly after that I met Jane Goodall here in Santa Fe.” This meeting spurred Rosenman to begin working on The Chimpanzee
Chronicles . “I feel like the book chose me. It’s my passion.” Like many self-published authors, Rosenman balances the task of writing with other callings, some of them of a literary bent. In her case, she works part-time as a somatic therapist and as a ghostwriter. She described her anthology of 24 stories as “a journey into the veiled worlds of biomedical lab research, the entertainment industry, and the exotic pet trade. The stories are amazing. They are written by primatologists and veterinarians and sanctuary directors.” The contributors come from around the world, the youngest being Albuquerque’s Micah Sparks. Sparks and his mother, Angela, attended one of Rosenman’s lectures in Eldorado — and both contributed essays to the book. Rosenman said of the primatologist-in-training whose essay closes the book, “He’s been working on behalf of chimpanzees since he was two, and now he is nine. The book ends with a really high note — that anybody can make a difference.”
After spending close to eight years compiling the stories, Rosenman began to consider publishing options. In her case, financing the project personally actually proved to be advantageous because it offered greater financial control over the book. “I wanted to donate — and I am [donating] — a portion of the proceeds to Project R&R: Relief and Restitution for Chimpanzees,” she said. Self-publishing allows her to determine exactly what that portion will be.
To help her navigate the business of putting out the book, which she expects to release this summer, Rosenman also enlisted the services of Blessingway. “Marketing should start the moment you decide you’re going to write a book,” she offered as one example of a lesson learned. Like all the authors interviewed, Rosenman stressed that the process of self-publishing is rewarding — but not for the faint of heart. “Let me tell you, this has been a herculean task. I feel like I should be getting a Ph.D. at the end of this in self-publishing.”