When I decided to take Lakehurst: Barrens, Blimps & Barons and publish it on my own, I did not take the decision lightly. After all, I had been on a modest roll, with three traditionally published books I authored or coauthored hitting shelves in three years.
Advocates of self-publishing are often driven by a “screw the man! Don’t let corporations decide what deserves to be published!” attitude, which is in and of itself not a bad thing … they just forget to tell you how much work self-publishing is, and shrug away any explanation of what traditional publishers do for authors.
I’ve been happy with traditional publishers. My first three books — Stuff Every Husband Should Know, and coauthor on A Year of Hitchcock and Geek Wisdom — all came via traditional publishers. Those publishers took care of a million little things that otherwise would have been on my shoulders. They were professionally and impeccably edited, I had the benefit of working with fantastic editors who made my work better, talented designers made all three books look fantastic, the production quality of the finished product was genuinely outstanding (owners of the hardcover Year of Hitchcock will attest to this), the publisher ensured the books appeared in book stores and libraries across the nation, and they also arranged a nice marketing push for each, especially the folks at Quirk Books, who lined me up with radio interviews and more.
From a monetary standpoint, sure, none made me a big pile of money, but people who think writers make a lot of money are deluded anyway. I didn’t get into this for money.
So why did I choose to self-publish the book probably nearest and dearest to my heart?
For a few reasons. The first deserves a little frankness. Several excellent publishers of local history — Middle Atlantic Press, Plexus Publishing, and The Local History Company — couldn’t even be bothered to send a rejection letter. Taking a pass is one thing, but not even bothering to say no? Frustrating to day the least. But that was only one small part of the puzzle.
The other and far more important reason is that I knew and could reach my intended audience better than any publisher could. Let’s face it, this was a niche book from the word GO. Lakehurst is a small town, just 3,000 residents or so. While the military base does mean people come and go frequently, the surrounding town of Manchester is closely linked with the story I tell in this book, and there are many former Lakehurst residents out there, how many of those people actually care about knowing more about the town? I figured not many. That meant it might be incumbent upon me to carry the load of making this book happen.
Further, as editor of the local paper I had an easy way to reach out to the people most likely to be interested and let them know the book exists.
So last year I abandoned the idea of getting the book traditionally published and decided doing it on my own was the best option. After all, I could probably reach the target audience more effectively than a publisher. That meant I was in full control of my own destiny — and could pocket every dollar the book made.
It also meant I had a TON of work ahead of me.
I spent a load of time on ensuring it had a professional presentation and appearance — and even then a few typos crept through, despite having multiple proofreaders help me out — but I didn’t actually spent a lot of time on promotion. If you see this blog or my Facebook, you’ve seen it all.
Yet that was enough to start the ball rolling. People noticed, bought it, talked, and the next thing I knew I was getting email from people I’ve never met telling me they loved the book and sharing their own Lakehurst stories. The book resulted in appearances on local cable television and local news outlets were doing stories on me. And hey, even better is that the little money it made went to ME, not a publisher. So that was nice.
None of this means I’m abandoning traditional publishing. There are many reasons why I think self-publishing is a sometimes flawed idea overhyped by folks who want to stick it to The Man. Seeing self-publishing as a way to dodge the hard work of traditional publishing too often results in nothing positive, especially when writers unprepared for prime time rush their work out. That difficult slog to being published traditionally can be a long, frustrating marathon, but the lessons you learn along the way are invaluable, and being traditionally published will often lead to increased opportunities for more writing work.
However, self-publishing can be a GREAT idea when attached to the right project and aimed at the right audience. I thought this was just such a project. It just plain made sense for me to do it this way.
And that, more than anything else, is why I self-published this book.