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Publishing

One Man’s Opinion

Following are some of the things I’ve learned about publishing during my 11 years in the writing business. They represent my personal experiences only. I’m sure others have had different results and may have opposing views.

In the way of background, I should state that I didn’t begin writing until after my retirement from a 20-year career in investigations and law enforcement in New York State. That late start undoubtedly influenced my early decisions regarding publishing options. I now have nine books out. The first six are fiction and the last three are non-fiction.

1stBooks (Author House)

I began writing my first manuscript in 1994. Other than preparing reports, I had no prior writing experience. My motivation at that time was to tell the story of the last major case I investigated before retiring. It involved an upstate New York medical examiner’s office that was mishandling bodies. So many weird things had taken place in that facility – some strange but legal, and others illegal – that I felt the public should be made aware of what could happen to the body of a loved one in the hands of an unscrupulous public servant.

The manuscript, titled The Morgue, was finished in 1996. Having failed to research publishing options in advance, I found myself with an 110,000-word document that I didn’t know what to do with. I got busy exploring how to get published, beginning with sending out query letters. After several months and a stack of rejections, I determined that my book would never make it into print. Just as I was ready to shelve the whole project, I was solicited by 1stBooks (now Author House) to be among their initial run of printed and bound books. They explained that their books would be POD, which meant nothing to me at the time. As I recall, the only charge was a $75 setup fee. I signed on almost immediately.

After the euphoria of seeing my book in print wore off, I encountered another aspect of the business I hadn’t familiarized myself with ahead of time: Marketing. It was then that I learned self-published and/or POD books lacked legitimacy in the eyes of many. Bookstores, especially the chains, weren’t anxious to schedule self-published/POD authors such as me for signings or carry our books. I wasn’t happy about it. But at that point I had no plans to write another book, so I stewed a bit and then put it out of my mind.

However, it wasn’t long before The Morgue started catching on locally. An independent bookstore contacted me to do a couple of signings and several customers wanted to know when my next book would be out. With a suddenly inflated ego, I decided to write Red Gold, also based on an actual case I had investigated. I was still looking at writing as a hobby and not a second career. Having no desire to go through the query ordeal again, I submitted the second manuscript to 1stBooks as soon as it was completed. It was a similar situation with my third and fourth books, except that by then I had began to think of writing as more than a hobby, that maybe I could actually make some money on my books instead of just hoping to break even.

I knew that in order to make a profit I had to sell books to more people than just family, friends, and the limited number of local fans I’d gained. That meant marketing, marketing, and more marketing. It was when I got serious about marketing that I realized self-publishing wasn’t conducive to opening the doors necessary for me to gain exposure and name recognition. If I wanted to break out of the rut I was in I needed to shed the stigma attached to self-publishing.

Publish America

My fifth and sixth books are with Publish America. As I sought to get with a traditional publisher, I went back to sending queries and making submissions. As with my previous efforts, the rejections piled up. Everyone turned me down except PA. They advertise themselves as a traditional royalty paying publisher. However, my research showed that not everyone agreed with that description. PA was referred to in some quarters as a self-publishing service provider or a vanity press. I also learned that PA’s books were POD and that they tended to be pricey. Online sites and message boards contained numerous complaints from PA authors, many of them regarding the publisher’s lack of promotion.

In spite of my reservations, I decided to sign with PA. The main reason, of course, was that they represented my only offer. I was already familiar with the fact that unknown authors are responsible for doing the lion’s share of promotion and marketing. I’d already developed a marketing strategy dealing with POD issues and didn’t see that as a deal-killer. On the upside, there were no fees charged to the author of any kind. I considered PA to be somewhere in between self-publishing and traditional publishing, and that signing with them was a step up.

By the time PA published my second submission to them, I had already made a decision to change my strategy. I had written six fictions and in spite of my best efforts, I wasn’t getting the name recognition or sales necessary to honestly be able to say I was achieving success. I saw nothing on the horizon to lead me to believe that situation would change any time soon. It was make or break time for me. If I wanted to go any further in the writing business I needed to do something different. I tried my hand at non-fiction.

Huntington Press

At a writer’s conference in Florida in 2001, I met a lady who had written the story of the Indiana State Police. I purchased a copy of her book and read it cover-to-cover. At the time I was still searching for a subject for my first non-fiction effort, and doing a police history book appealed to me. I had been living in Las Vegas since 1994 (but spent the summers back in New York State), and thought doing a book about my new home town’s police force would be fun to write and might sell fairly well in Sin City, a rapidly growing area with a population approaching two million people. I knew I’d need the cooperation of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (Metro) in order to put together a worthwhile product. I prepared a proposal and submitted it to the department’s second in command, Undersheriff Richard Winget. In less than an hour my plan was accepted.

I had already determined that because my book was going to be about Vegas, my best bet to land a publisher would be to look locally. With Metro having signed on to the project, I prepared a proposal and presented it to Las Vegas publisher Huntington Press (HP). Huntington is a small press owned by well-known gaming expert Anthony Curtis. They publish a handful of books per year and don’t handle fiction. Their titles all have Las Vegas or Nevada connections. After a few weeks, HP informed me they’d publish my book if the manuscript lived up to my proffer.

What a different and refreshing experience it was working with HP. A professional editor worked closely with me as I prepared the manuscript. Help was always only a phone call or e-mail away. HP’s attorneys rendered opinions on any legal issues that needed to be addressed. A marketing person gathered the information necessary to pitch local book stores and other venues. And when Policing Las Vegas was released, the publicity director arranged radio and TV interviews for me.

Did HP send me on a national book signing tour? No, they didn’t. Did I have to set up my own signings and other events? Yes, I did. But remember, prior to this I’d had virtually no support. I had been almost solely responsible for doing the writing, editing, and marketing. What a feeling it was for me to now have assistance in all those areas.

Other good things happened, too. When I approached the Community Relations Manager of a book store to discuss a signing, I seemed to be treated with a lot more respect. I wasn’t told that I had to supply my own books or split sales with the store. And I didn’t have to share my appearance with other authors. It was as though I had suddenly become a legitimate author.

I’ve published two more books with HP. They both deal with organized crime in Las Vegas. But unlike Policing, which was a local interest book, The Battle for Las Vegas – The Law vs. the Mob, and CULLOTTA – The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness, have national appeal. Both are consistently on the Amazon.com best sellers lists in multiple categories.

Summary

In closing, let me say I feel strongly that self-publishing is a sensible alternative for many authors. I went that route with four books and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again if the circumstances warranted.

Publish America is another story. And my feelings have nothing to do with how PA treated me or handled their contractual obligations. They did for me exactly what they promised to do, and what I expected. I have no complaint with them. My lack of interest in having another book with PA or a similar publisher is for financial reasons. Although there would be a fee involved with using a self-publishing service provider, I believe that in the long run the earning potential is greater than with the PAs of the publishing industry.

For me, the turning point in my career came when I began writing non-fiction and signed with a small but traditional press. I believe I found my niche in the organized crime genre. And being with HP has created opportunities for me that I don’t think I’d have found had I stayed with self-publishing or PA.

If a new writer asked me for advice on what publishing options to pursue, I’d answer that there is nothing wrong with self-publishing a quality product. But signing with a traditional royalty paying publisher should be the eventual goal.

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