Op-ed: How to Self-Publish and Not Perish in the Process
BY George Snyder
September 23 2011 4:00 AM ET
Two: Join Up. Join Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. Join something, anything — sign up for Skype, instant messaging, a club, a writers’ group, a support group, a cult. OK, maybe not a cult, but some kind of social network where you can talk about your book when you’ve published it. Even before you’ve published it, but especially afterward. Social networks and platforms are the first place a smart publicist is going to tell you to go to promote yourself and your book. And I mean the publicists who are savvy enough to understand what you’re doing — plenty of them don’t, you know, because they’re used to being hired by your agent or your publisher, and they don’t know quite what to do with the guy who’s doing it on his own. I had one crinkle her brow and say, “Social networks? I don’t know a thing about social networks.” So I told her all about Grindr, which scared her.
Three: Shop Around. How hard is that, right? A little research, and then off to the mall. A lot of the bookstores have closed, true, but you can probably find a newsstand. Or go to the library. And go online. Google “self-publishing” and you will find lots you don’t need me to tell you. You’ve got lots of choices. I went with Blurb.com for my first effort. Then I switched to Lulu.com (see Step Six, below, about changing your mind). Check them out. You’re smart, plus they were designed for people who want to do this. And there are plenty of others. Some assume you know something about computers, word processing, Photoshop, ISBNs, and so forth, and some figure you don’t know very much. But there are books about how to self-publish and websites and so forth. Shop around, and —
Four: Ask for Help. Please. Don’t tell me you’re shy; I was the epitome of shy until you gave me a couple beers and then I had no problem doing anything you wanted to. So what do you want your book to look like? Go back to Step One. Look ahead. Then look around and find a book that looks like the book you want yours to be and be like. And be liked. Then ask someone who’s read something they’ve liked what they liked about it, ask the cute bookstore clerk what’s selling, and ask your friends about the books they like, how much they’d spend on a book, and what they one-click on impulsively. When I got to the place where I had enough of a manuscript to call a book, I started asking around. I asked for help. I couldn’t bear criticism, so I asked friends I trusted to read what I’d written, and I avoided the friends I know who’d be brutally honest (Really? You think that’s helpful?). So ask wisely, yes, but you can still ask. And when the book was done and I needed a JPEG for the cover, I asked a friend to help me. Then I asked a dear kind friend named Christopher what he thought of my first attempt (see above, right): and he said, “Oh, honey, it’s nice.” And I told him I thought the artsy marbled paper and handwritten label my friend Bianca had helped me turn into a JPEG looked just like something Virginia Woolf would have whipped up on her own printing press in the basement. He nodded encouragingly.
“But have you thought,” he began cautiously, kindly, compassionately, “have you thought maybe about putting something on the cover that might let people know what the book is about?”
“Such as?” I asked.
“How about a hot naked guy on the cover?” our mutual and slightly more brutally honest friend Jim suggested. And when I said I didn’t know one, they both laughed. Then Jim said he’d ask a guy at the gym if I didn’t, and he knew a photographer too. Before I could say no, we had a photo shoot booked. I brought some bottled waters and snacks and helped hold the big piece of shiny cardboard to bounce the light. The rest is photo history.
So, yes, ask for help. Ask a hot guy who spends all his time at the gym if you can put him on the cover of a book. If you’re gay, then you already know lots of people who know people who can help you. “Girrrl,” as another friend likes to say, “we know plenty of boys who’ll take off their clothes for the camera. Or even without a camera.” And trust me, you know the people who can make them look good too. You know hairdressers and artists and photographers and graphic designers, or you have friends who do. Just ask around if you think you don’t. And if you really don’t, then see Step Two and join something. They’re out there. The professionals and beautiful, talented men and women who can help you. Maybe they can’t help you write the damn thing, but they can help you make it pretty to look at. Which can’t hurt when what you want is someone impulsively clicking on that thumbnail image of your book cover.