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As the Page Turns

Self-publishing is on the rise, but will bookstores take you seriously?



These are a few of the reasons more writers are choosing to avoid waiting for a weary, cynical editor or agent to push their manuscript to the bottom of the slush pile and are publishing their books themselves.

We may not judge a book by its cover, but what about judging a book by its publisher? Newspapers and magazines often reject outright self-published books and books published through "vanity" presses (publishers that publish a book at the author's expense). Many libraries and major bookstores will not carry them because they pose a financial risk. Once they're bought, they cannot be returned, and unlike books with the imprint of a traditional publishing house, they haven't been screened by agents or editors.

"The danger of self-publishing is that you can do it tomorrow," says Chuck Hansen, a public speaker and author of "Build Your Castles in the Air: Thoreau's Inspiring Advice for Success in Business (and Life) in the 21st Century." As Hansen says, "Anyone can have a real book with an ISBN number in a month."

After trying to get published for four years, Hansen — who's written for Home Style — learned a lot about the business without any bites from publishers. With extensive research, Hansen determined to publish through iUniverse, an online publisher that has attractive features such as connections to, links to the Barnes & Noble Web site and "print on demand," a service that protects authors from ending up with mountains of unsold books in their garage.

Having books lends credibility to Hansen's public-speaking engagements, he says, and may make it easier for him to get in the door of a traditional publisher in the future. "Writers who take themselves very seriously want the major publishers," he says. "More power to them. Eventually I want the same thing."

Even though he's never been published in the mainstream, all four of James Doherty's books have found a home in the Richmond Public Library. In 1972 he wrote "Race and Education in Richmond" and chose to underwrite the expense himself. "I was green," Doherty says, "so I ordered 2,500 copies and sold about 400 of them."

But the most devastating learning curve came when Doherty employed Brunswick Publishing Co., a small publisher in Lawrenceville, to publish, distribute and market his third book. Immediately after going to press, Doherty says Brunswick claimed that the contract with their distributor had been severed, leaving Doherty without any of the marketing and distribution services he'd paid for.

Undeterred and fueled by his love of writing, Doherty took his fourth book, "In Praise of Givers," straight to the printer and published the book himself.

Nancy Wright Beasley, author of "Izzy's Fire: Finding Humanity in the Holocaust," says she had a similar experience with Brunswick. Unwilling to fictionalize her book or wait another two years for its publication, Beasley chose to self-publish.

"I've been very disappointed in their lack of marketing," Beasley says. "There was tremendous confusion in getting the book distributed to the bookstores."

To Beasley, the fact that "Izzy's Fire" is being taught at middle schools, high schools and colleges, and has been selected out of 55 books to be a James River Writers People's Choice nomination for nonfiction, there is proof that some of the marketing she's done herself has paid off.

When Lynn Painter discovered that most traditional publishers wouldn't even consider someone like himself, a poet without an agent, credentials or connections, he decided to start his own publishing company, LP Publishing, in January. "Rather than spend all that time and energy just to be rejected," Painter says, "I figured it would be simpler just to do it myself."

As with many people new to the publishing business, the most difficult aspect of publishing for Painter has been marketing and distribution. He uses speaking engagements, e-mails, fliers and word of mouth to publicize the two books he's published — his own, "The Poetry of a Speaking Spirit," and Rashanda Ife Payne's "I Swear to Tell the Truth."

"It's been uplifting," Painter says. "It's a great sense of accomplishment to take your work and put the whole thing together by yourself."

Unlike some of the larger chains, Book People has welcomed a tremendous number of self-published books into the store. "They vary a lot in terms of style, quality, grammar and the way they're put together," owner Ruth Erb says.

"Some are awful" she says. "But some are really very good. The word 'self-published' should not be an immediate brick wall." S

Book People is holding an open discussion about self-publishing Sunday, July 16, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Pizza Hut at the intersection of Maple and Patterson. Chuck Hansen will be reading and signing at Fountain Bookstore Monday, July 17, at 6 p.m.


Vote for your favorite Virginian books and authors in the third annual People's Choice Awards at most local bookstores, libraries or online at The deadline is July 14.Fiction finalists include "March" by Geraldine Brooks; "The Hunt Ball" by Rita Mae Brown; "Stealing With Style" by Emyl Jenkins; "St. Dale" by Sharyn McCrumb; and "Glad News of the Natural World" by T.R. Pearson.

Nonfiction finalists include "Izzy's Fire: Finding Humanity in the Holocaust" by Nancy Wright Beasley; "Martha Washington: An American Life" by Patricia Brady; "A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America" by James Horn; "Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown" by Helen Rountree; and "Clapton's Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument" by Allen St. John.

Winners will be announced at the Library of Virginia Literary Awards Oct. 21. — V.H.

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