Whether it’s writers taking part in the NaNoWriMo challenge or university students rushing to complete their final assignments, it’s clear that writing fills the month of November. But what awaits us at the end of all the hard work that goes into a piece of writing?
For some, writing and completing an assignment means that they’ll pass their course. For others, it’s the hope of future publication.
The traditional route to publication involves sending your manuscript out to publishers and then waiting for their response (most often in the form of rejection letters). However, with the evolution of the Internet, writers have the chance to skip the traditional process and publish their work themselves.
The Medium spoke to several self-published UTM students and alumni about their experiences.
Demetra Dimokopoulos, a UTM graduate, experienced the self-publishing process in the professional writing course “Making a Book” (WRI420). Her non-fiction book, Exposed, tells the story of asbestos poisoning in Libby, Montana.
At first, Dimokopoulos wrote Exposed in WRI307: Science and Writing. She then published her book in 2006. She describes the bookmaking experience as intense and different from everything else that she did in her courses.
Following publishing, Dimokopoulos decided to make the most of her experience and sent the book out for reviews. She pointed out that reviewers will only cover books within a year of publishing.
Exposed won the AllBooks Review Editor’s Choice Award in non-fiction in January 2007. Dimokopoulos also entered contests such as the non-fiction category for the Writer’s Digest 15th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards and The EMBO Journal Cover contest.
Dimokopoulos said she found the feedback from judges and book reviews insightful.
Katherine Nader, a recent UTM graduate, has self-published two books. She published her first, The Deadly Mark, in 2012 through iUniverse, a company that works for Penguin. She published her second, The Foragers, in WRI420 through Life Rattle Press.
Nader said she first sent her manuscript to the Transatlantic Literary Agency four to five years ago. “An agent replied to me saying she would be leaving the office due to some issues. I immediately suspected something suspicious about the way traditional publishers go about their work,” she said.
Nader said she did research and found out that Harper Collins, back then, only let authors have 35% of their royalties after selling 10,000 copies. “That means authors don’t profit from the sales of their books until they sell 10,000 copies, whereas with self-publishing you get a higher royalty off the sales of your books, especially if you self-publish with Amazon, where the royalty is 70%.”
Nader discussed the costs of self-publishing. “It’s expensive since the writer needs to cover costs for the making of the book: this includes interior and exterior design, as well as editing, publishing, printing, and marketing,” she said.
In the “Making a Book” course, Nader learned how to do all that without paying others.
Many self-published authors advised Nader to never pay for marketing. “Marketing is free and you can do it from your own home through social media. Advertising is what is expensive. You have to pay for reviews and for any ads you plan on using,” she says. Nader paid for The Deadly Mark’s ads and says that has made it more successful than The Foragers.
Nader also pointed out it was important to consider the difference of publishing an e-book versus a softcover. “If you look at the 2012 numbers, there are 800,000 e-book readers in the U.S. and 200,000 in Canada. I’m sure the numbers have gone up since,” she says. “Also, with e-book self-publishing, especially with smashwords.com, you can get as [much] as 100% royalty of sales.”
Nader concluded by describing the satisfaction of having work published. “You just feel a high sense of accomplishment and satisfaction knowing that something you’ve worked so hard on is finally done and out there for the world to see,” she says. “It’s not the writing of the book that is important but rather being able to actually finish writing the book. […] It takes a lot of time and dedication to get a book done, and not everybody has the patience to go through such a process.”
Ivan Samokish, a recent UTM graduate, published his novel, Division Clock, as an e-book on Amazon.
Samokish chose to self-publish because it was a faster process than traditional publishing. Traditional publishing could take years depending on how the publishing house had filled their quota for the year. “With self-publishing, there’s no back-and-forth that could take months. You’re free to promote your own work [and] set your own price,” he says.
“Success has been slow,” Samokish added. “Sales are not as important as getting the feedback from good reviews.” He said he approached blogs and offered free copies of his book. He has so far gotten two good reviews and one “very bad review”.
Samokish says he continues to write as a hobby and hasn’t focused a lot of energy on marketing his book. Samokish says that if his work turns out to be horrible, he can always write a second, better edition.
Assia Messaoudi, a third-year student doing a double major in English and PWC, self-published her collection of poems, The Lies I Told My Journal, in May 2015.
Previously, a few of Messaoudi’s poems had been published in Descant. “I had considered making a book for several years, but I was very hesitant because I didn’t think it would sell,” she said. “I didn’t want to wait to hear back from publishing houses and I didn’t want to lose any rights to my own work, so I decided to do it on my own. The two poems I published with a literary journal went through rigorous editing, but when I self-published, the editing and changing of syntax were minimal.”
Messaoudi used lulu.com to print 100 copies of her book. She then carried the book around everywhere she went and showed people. “Mostly everyone I came across was extremely supportive and willing to buy a copy,” she says, adding that she has currently sold all copies.