Author: Boyd Lemon
Title: A Long Way to Contentment
What are the biggest improvements you’ve seen in the self-publishing process (quality of print or e-book, speed of the process, etc.)?
Even if you are only minimally skilled in electronic technology, you can now publish your book yourself for free using Create Space, which with the click of your mouse will put it up on Kindle as well as in the print format on Amazon and distribute it to the major book wholesalers. Even the cover of the print book can be done through Create Space for free. If you cannot use the technology at all beyond typing your manuscript in MS Word format, you can hire people to format it for you for $50 or less. If you can’t even navigate Create Space or create your own cover, again you can hire people to do it for around $100. When self-publishing first became possible, the companies that published for you, known as author service or vanity publishers, charged in the thousands of dollars.
Do you think self-publishing is kind of like a baseball “farm system” for the majors? That is, the self-publisher tests the waters for certain types of work, which might be picked up?
It was that way for the most part. I don’t think it is anymore. A large percentage of the best sellers are now self-published, and I know many self-published authors who have sold tens or even hundreds of thousands of books. I think the traditional publishers are going to be a thing of the past, like cassette tapes, sometime in the next decade. There may be more companies like Amazon, but they won’t be traditional publishers.
Have any mainstream publishers expressed interest in « picking up » any of your work ?
No. My books, so far, have not appealed to the mainstream market, so no mainstream publisher would be interested. I am not trying to make money from my books. I write what I want to write; I don’t write for the market.
What were the biggest barriers you faced as a self-published writer? How did you surmount them? (Are there any you could not surmount—yet?)
The biggest barriers I faced were (1) learning no navigate the technology involved in getting a book published, and (2) learning what scams to avoid in book promotion and what might or might not work to sell books. I am still learning every day.
What was your biggest mistake as a self-published writer?
Paying a P.R. firm $4,000 for what I thought was book promotion.
How does a self-published writer get serious blurbs—which will be taken seriously by potential readers?
You have to keep writing quality stuff, keep publishing and interact in person and on the Internet with readers and potential readers. In time the praise and the blurbs come, but probably not with your first book unless you know a well-known author or two.
Similarly, how does a self-published writer get serious reviews?
There are Internet sites of reviewers. You find them (Google “book reviewers,”) and you send them a copy of your book. Also if you do giveaways on Goodreads.com, most winners of your book will review it and post on Amazon and Goodreads. Finally, for everyone that you know read your book, ask them to post a review on Amazon. If you are an unknown author, is there a way to get your book reviewed in the New York Times or similar publications? No.
What’s the best way to promote a self-published book?
There is no “best way.” Engage on social media, particularly about subject matter that is relevant to your book. Create a website and blog and post articles relevant to your book. Comment on articles on major blogs (e.g., Huffington Post) that are relevant to your book. Join Face Book, Google and Linked In groups that are relevant to the subject of your books, and engage with other members. Be very careful to use key words for your book on Amazon that will lead people to your book. For a first time author, consider selling your book for $.99 for a while. Go to local libraries and try to get them to carry your book. Go to local independent bookstores and ask them to carry your book and schedule readings and signings. Go to local “events” and sell your books where appropriate. Carry business cards with the name(s) of your book(s) and your Website URL, and give them to everyone you meet where appropriate. Try to set up presentations at local clubs, senior citizen centers, etc. The problem is if you do all this, you won’t have time to write another book.
Should other professionals involved in the process (press agent, etc.) be hired in the same way? Or should the writer use the companies cropping up that cater to self-publishing writers?
In my early experience with self-publishing I spent way too much money on professionals who said they would promote and sell my books, and none have been successful. What I have done myself has been more successful. In the current environment nobody really knows exactly what sells books, other than being famous. There is only one company that I would pay to promote my books, and there is no guarantee that even this company will succeed. I only know that the principal of the company is honest, does not overcharge and will not guarantee something that he cannot deliver on. The name of the company is Novel Ideas, and the principal is Nick Wale. Incidentally, I have no connection or interest in Novel Ideas, other than as a client. Sometimes what Nick does in promoting your book works; sometimes it doesn’t.
Have your books made a profit? What advice would you give the self-publishing writer in terms of making his or her book profitable?
My first book lost money because I spent too much promoting it, not knowing what to do. Four of my books have made a very modest profit, and one has not been out long enough to know.
Writing at an advanced age:
What advice would you give to someone who wants to take up writing after retirement, or at an advanced age?
Go for it! I’m having the time of my life. Writing has become my passion during my retirement, a reason to keep going.
What are the special challenges facing such writers?
Learning the technological stuff. Otherwise, the challenges do not differ with age.
Should senior writers focus on genres such as memoir? That often seems to be the case.
Memoir is appropriate and sometimes cathartic for seniors, and they provide the reader with the perspective that years of life experience gives. However, I think seniors and any author should write what they most enjoy writing. Memoir is a good place to start for the same reason that writing teachers advise to “write what you know.” I wrote three memoirs before I took on a novel.
Should senior writers focus on shorter books? Some celebrated writers, such as Phillip Roth, seem to write thinner books when they get older.
As I said, write what you feel like writing. I don’t think age precludes long books.
As an older writer, do you focus on older readers when you market?
In a way, I do, but not because I am an older writer. It is my perception that older people read more. It is difficult to fit in reading books when you have a full time job and two or three small children to raise, especially if you’re are a single parent, or both mother and father have full time jobs.
My sister had attempted suicide twice in her short life. When I called her the day before yesterday, I got her voicemail, and she hadn’t called back. Normally––if there ever was a “normally” with Lori––she returned my calls within a couple hours. I called again before I went to bed last night and got voicemail again.
The morning sun shone soft light through the flickering window and warmed the studio apartment, heralding another beautiful Southern California day. I had lain awake much of the night and was chock full of anxiety. My love for Lori was visceral, like we were joined at the chest. I hadn’t heard from her for a couple weeks. Although she was four years older than me and had been my protector and idol during my childhood, as her emotional stability floundered, our relationship had flip-flopped. I was now her support and protector.
It was too early to call again; Lori was late to bed and late to rise. I slumped down at the little, round, yellow table in the corner, the same one I wrote at, to drink my customary blueberry smoothie. My wife Jessica, dressed in her short, pale blue nightgown that showed off her long, sexy legs, and eating a piece of whole wheat toast, shuffled over and kissed my cheek.
“Morning,” I said.
“I take it you haven’t heard from Lori.”
“No. I’m worried.”
“Well,” Jessica said, “maybe she’s finally gotten a life. I’m sure she’ll call soon, honey.”
I called three times later that day with the same result––the flat echo of her voicemail message. At the table the next day, my notebook in front of me, I continued to stare at the same page of the short story I had been writing and that I hoped to sell to pay next month’s rent. I got up from the table, turned on the TV and flopped down on the orange futon that doubled as our couch and bed, hoping that the news of the last days of the 2000 presidential campaign would distract me. It didn’t, so I turned it off. Alone with my thoughts––Jessica was busking on the Santa Monica Pier that afternoon––I thought about flying to San Francisco, where Lori had been living for several years. I knew it wouldn’t accomplish anything if she weren’t home. Also, I didn’t know any of her friends or even her landlord’s name. I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
I feared the worst. Lori was twenty-nine and had suffered from depression since her teenage years. When she was eighteen and I was fourteen, we lived with our grandmother. Grandma and I came home from the grocery store one afternoon. I was the first in the door and, hearing sobs coming from the bathroom, I pulled open the door. Lori lay on the floor bleeding from her wrists. She had to have known that Grandma and I were likely to find her before she died; it was an obvious cry for help, not a serious suicide attempt. Through the rest of her teens and early twenties she had been in and out of therapy, mental hospitals and drug rehab facilities, and had barely survived another suicide attempt. The phone on the table next to the futon rang just as Jessica came in the front door. I sat frozen through the second ring.
“Are you going to get the phone?” asked Jessica as she leaned her guitar against the wall.
When I picked up the phone and held it gingerly against my ear, I heard my voice crack. “Hello.”
“Brad Wilson, please.”
“Brad, this is Gabriel. I’m your sister’s landlord. I’ve been trying to find your phone number since yesterday. I’m sorry to tell you that Lori’s in the hospital.”