Embarrassing confession: I’m writing a book. I’ve been working on it for years.
After bothering neighbors who have successfully been published, I’ve now discovered that there are two sides to the story (no pun intended): the writing side—inspiration, ability, dedication, discipline; and the business side—publishers, distribution, reviews, press.
First, the business side.
With self-publishing, one generally pays a fee up front and gets limited assistance; as orders come in, books are printed to fill those purchases. The writer gets a percentage of total sales, but can also purchase books at a reduced cost and sell them on his or her own at book-signings or via websites. The publishing companies may perform other services for additional fees.
Self-publishing—including eBooks—is now so prevalent that it is no longer considered “lesser” in a world where big publishers no longer control the game.
For Dessa Reed, a Palm Springs poet, getting published put her on what she describes as “an arduous path” in 2000.
“I formed my own publishing company and did it all, from writing … to word placement on a page, getting a graphic designer to do the covers … finding a recommended book manufacturer … filling out forms … finding a distributor to accept my book who sells to (the) only company that feeds the bookstores. … Then came the marketing—book talks, emails, a million talks to ladies’ luncheons, keeping track of sales tax, etc. etc.
“I paid for all that up front, but then everything was profit … although I still had to pay 40 percent distributor commissions.”
The first publishing experience for DeAnn Lubell, a fiction writer in La Quinta, was quite different.
“My dad knew people in the book business in New York who knew someone at Doubleday. They found a small press to publish my first book way back when I was in college. I had a baby and a job—I just knew I had to write.
“I’ve now been working with a publishing company which does books on demand. I paid a fee, and they assigned an editor to work with me, did all the indexing, and facilitated book distribution to get into national bookstores. I gotten 500,000 downloads on eBooks. They’ve been terrific to work with, but you don’t really make a lot of money.”
Neither Dessa nor DeAnn works with an agent.
“I’ve done it on my own,” says Dessa. “I tried talking to agents and publishers. You get 15 minutes to ‘pitch.’ Where I’ve gotten help is from others who have written—hearing speakers, going to workshops, and through local writing groups, like the Palm Springs Pen Women and the Palm Springs Writers Guild.
“Today, self-publishing is almost the only way to get into print,” says Dessa.
DeAnn’s experience with an agent led to frustration. “I could have had an HBO miniseries. I’ll never forgive that the opportunity was missed.”
Then there’s the writing side.
For DeAnn, inspiration came early. “I was born a writer. I was about 9 or 10 when I first tried to write a novel. My role models were (comics reporter) Brenda Starr and the heroine of the movie Foreign Correspondent. I knew that was what I wanted to do. Two months into college, I walked into the editor-in-chief of the city newspaper and announced that I wanted to be a reporter. I got hired!”
Always an avid reader, at 18, DeAnn read about the 1902 eruption of Mt. Pelée on the isle of Martinique, a French colony.
“The story was that as a result of politics and discrimination, the evacuation of 30,000 to 40,000 people from a small town was prevented, and all but a handful died within the first four minutes when the volcano erupted. There was a man, Fernand Clerc, who tried to get people out.
“The story captured my heart and soul. I felt the need to write about it, but I took an oath to myself that first, I would actually set foot on the island.”
“I wrote other things and worked producing ballets and writing for publications, but Martinique never left my mind. Then, in an amazing coincidence, 20 years later, we were selling our house, and Yves Clerc, Fernand’s grandson, came to look at it.
“As we talked, and I learned he was from Martinique, I told him of my fascination with the story. He arranged a two-week visit to the island along with introductions to key officials and historians. It was like winning the lottery!”
DeAnn finally published The Last Moon. “It sat for five years,” she says, until she read it with fresh eyes. “I had a revelation of how to re-form the book, and finally, it was written the way it should be.”
It has gone on to win awards from literary organizations and high praise from readers.
Dessa Reed’s inspiration came in a very different way. In 1997, Dessa was in an auto accident from which she was not expected to survive. She spent months recovering.
“It changed my life so completely,” she says. “It made me adventurous and untraditional. … I bought a beautiful book to write in, and whenever I had a thought, I just wrote it down. It helped me through it all. And, somehow, they turned into poems.
“I had never written a poem, so I went back to school and learned about how to use language properly: metaphors, alliteration, word techniques. I had never thought of myself as a writer. I certainly wasn’t thinking of it as a career, but it turned into one.
“My passion is to help people, especially young people, express themselves,” says Dessa. “I tell students, ‘Your language skills are the most important things you’ll ever need in your life.’ I see what writing can do for people and the difference it has made in my life.”
She holds workshops, speaks to classes, has produced poetry to encourage others to work through adversity, and is now evolving into essay- and editorial-writing.
DeAnn’s advice for aspiring writers? “You have to know how to write and what the publishing world is looking for. In my case, it worked out exactly the way it was supposed to.”
As for me, it’s back to writing. Keep your Kindle handy!
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.