A Guest Post by Marcy Goldman
I never wanted to self-publish. I imagined continuing Random House and Harper Collins book deals for my growing baking author platform and features in leading newspapers and online venues. I envisioned more Christmas baskets from my publishers, help with my blog and website, and publicists to set up my interviews and promotional spots.
Instead, I am now River Heart Press, my own imprint, and I am boldly going where I went when I was 12 years old and self-published my own street newspaper, The Goldman Times.
After 25 years of great publishers, great cookbooks and what I thought was an upward spiraling career, I wasn’t getting a response to my next book idea from traditional publishers. So I dove in. I self-published When Bakers Cook, a 276-page cookbook, in December 2013.
It has not been an easy path. I’ve had so much self-doubt because opinions on self-published books rest on the assumption that they are inferior simply because they are self-published. Worse, people think these books will be amateur in content and looks. This premise is applied even if the author engages expert editors, proofreaders, formatters, and designers and thoroughly researches the distribution and promotion of the work.
Without sufficient social media or platform, people assume that self-published books — even great ones — won’t get noticed. I’ve seen a zillion blogs with this headline: “If you publish it, who will find it or you?” This suggests that Shakespeare, Dan Brown, and Elizabeth Gilbert would never have been discovered without benefit of Twitter, Facebook, or a YouTube book trailer. Do we actually believe form trumps content? No. I believe readers know a good thing when they see it.
It took three years, including wallowing in self-doubt and existential, mid-life angst about my value as a baking author, to research the self-publishing partners and players.
Compared to the average text-heavy novel, self-publishing a cookbook with photos is difficult. Cookbooks require complicated book design. Our recipes need extraordinary copy editing and we also need legions of volunteer recipe testers to make sure our recipes work. On top of that, food photography, groceries and promotion often consumes a big part of the budget.
I cobbled together the budget to pay my editor, copy editor, indexer, proofreader, photographer and publishing costs with CreateSpace and Kindle. (Some of the talented staff I hired were recently let go from prestigious traditional publishers, so we can no longer assume that having a traditional book deal insures a team of editorial and sales help.)
Despite a complete manuscript, self-publishing took another 13 months. Surprisingly, while editors, agents and publishers I’ve worked with for years forgot to call or email me back on so many occasions, I got a call from Amazon’s executive team to see how they might expedite my self-published cookbook. I got Cadillac service on my self-publishing journey for my $748 publishing package. In addition, I became an empowered employer versus a contractor.
After When Bakers Cook launched, the Washington Post named it one of the “Best Cookbooks of 2013.” The book continues to sell quite nicely. It cost me about $5000 to publish a hard copy and a Kindle version. I make a nice monthly sum that, over the course of 12 months, should amount to the same as a modest cookbook advance. But my book will never go out of print, the royalties are higher, and I know daily what my earnings are, versus bi-annually when I get an advance statement in the mail. Best of all, as a self published author, I might sell less books overall, but make disproportionately more income.
I am now at work on self publishing another cookbook, my bestselling cookbook that went out of print, a book of food poetry, and a memoir. Why? Because I can. I am building my own back list, which will provide consistent revenue. While I respect and miss my publishers, I am no longer waiting for a publisher (or worse, the sales force or book buyer at Barnes & Noble) to ask me to create the next hot trend. No Paleo Hanukkah Lite cookbook for me!
During those 13 months of a horrific learning curve, as my spirits and confidence rose, I tried to share my great adventure. Few, if any colleagues, even those struggling themselves, wanted to hear. I had a sense that I’ve betrayed someone or crossed a line into a land I never wanted to visit. That’s the part I still don’t get. I’m not unique as a mid-list author. I am not unique in forging a new path, but I don’t understand why authors would be so disparaging.
So if you want to publish, whether you’re rife with talent or no one has dared tell you you’re not, do it. If you are traditionally published and even established, but have a book your current publisher won’t consider, do it. If I have to choose between a manuscript languishing in my drawer or a mediocre, inequitable, and stifling contract, I will champion the self-published book.
To my colleagues who dismiss or otherwise seem tepid about my efforts to stay afloat , I say jump into the pool. The water’s warm and there’s plenty of room.
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Marcy Goldman is the host of www.betterbaking.com, celebrating its 17th year online. Her next books are The Baker’s Four Seasons, Love and Ordinary Things, Poetry from the Kitchen, and the Dance Floor and Life. All her books are doing very well, in print and as e-books. She is the happiest she’s ever been.