Your own book: there’s nothing quite like it. Seeing the cover, emblazoned with the title you came up with; reading your name on the front and the spine; and the sheer fact of it in your hands, whether in print or tablet form — it’s something almost all writers, whether aspiring or experienced, dream about. Publishers used to be integral to this process, and they still do provide a very useful service; these days, however, an author has options, whether they choose to come out with ebooks, or print editions, or both.
We talked with three authors who succeeded with their self-publishing ventures: Mina Esguerra (Fairy Tale Fail; Interim Goddess of Love; and more), Carl Javier (The Kobayashi Maru of Love), and Reev Robledo (The Testimonies; An Assassin’s Tale; and, coming out this September, Gitarista). They wrote and published their own books, while also working as consultants, teachers, composers, and so on. They told us about why and how they did it, and how you could do it, too.
YOUNG STAR: What was your main motivation for self-publishing?
MINA ESGUERRA: It started out as an experiment. I had a manuscript, and found out that getting into the Amazon Kindle Store was free and I just had to upload my book there. So I thought, why not? I asked a friend to edit it, and another friend to provide cover photography, and my husband did actual cover design. It was a fun little group project at first.
CARL JAVIER: I self-published a very personal project, so I wanted to have control over it. I wanted it to come out right away, and that would not have happened had I gone with a publisher, because I would have had to conform to their schedules. I also wanted to try out new ideas, and Adam David, who designed my book The Kobayashi Maru of Love, brought his own ideas to the table and we made something that I think was very different, something that would not have happened had I gone the traditional route.
REEV ROBLEDO: Aside from having delusions of grandeur (who doesn’t want to become a published author?), I submitted my work to a publisher who said it would take nine months for my book of short stories to be reviewed and printed — if it was worth being reviewed and printed at all. A baby could have been conceived and born by that time and I certainly didn’t want to wait that long.
Plus, if my book was printed but would not be among the titles that would be prioritized then, not only would my book be stuck with the publisher, I would also lose the opportunity to share my work with a larger audience. So I took a chance on self-publishing in 2011.
What was the most rewarding aspect or result of publishing your own book(s)?
ME: This has been rewarding in so many ways, but the most fun for me has been getting the data. I find out in real time how many of my books have sold, what happens when I do a giveaway, an interview, or do a talk somewhere. Apparently I like the control part of this and adjust my strategy based on the data I get.
CJ: Just to have done it was rewarding. The idea that going independent would give me freedom to explore, and that I could write and produce anything that I wanted. There was a real sense of accomplishment.
RR: The most rewarding things have been 1) for print, learning the ins and outs of production and distribution; 2) for ebooks, having an international readership; and 3) collecting a bigger chunk of the royalties, whether in print or ebook sales, on a regular basis.
Being your own boss, how do you ensure quality control — of the writing in particular, as well as other aspects?
ME: I work with editors and cover designers, definitely, and I pretty much let them do what they do. I count on my editors to point out the weaknesses in the work, and I tend to follow their revision notes. Mostly. I do reserve the right to follow my gut on some things. Usually I can’t wait to release a book because I value reader opinion and learn so much from feedback and reviews once the books come out.
CJ: I have lots of amazing friends who serve as quality control. Tons of friends read the work as I write it, and in its entirety, to give me a sense of whether it’s working or not. I am lucky to have lots of people who are always willing to help me.
RR: Self-publishing should not be congruous with self-editing. Even if I have written for several publications and have developed confidence in my writing, I ask several writers and readers to go through my work and make them write notes on the pages. I divide them into two batches — the first batch reads the first draft, the second batch reads the second draft. Then it goes through an editor and I do my final revisions. Yes, I treat it like a focus group!
How much does it cost to self-publish?
ME: I spent P489 on my first self-published book (Fairy Tale Fail in April 2010). That was just the cost of ordering the proof copy of the paperback and shipping it from the US printer to the Philippines. I wasn’t required to pay for anything else (digital publishing is free), and I recommend that in this age of print-on-demand, fellow indie publishers take pre-orders instead of investing so much in a print run. I actually sat down to compute this and realized that I spend more money on milk tea a month than publishing my book, and that was a pleasant surprise.
But I must say — I only spent that much because at the time my editor and cover designer didn’t charge anything, but I was able to compensate them later on. Now I pay my editor and cover designer for each book, so my costs have gone up a little.
CJ: It cost something under P40,000, but I also printed and sold shirts and bags along with the publishing of the book. I wanted to incorporate merchandising and other fun stuff, since I was going out and experimenting anyway.
RR: You save a huge amount if you have it printed through a printing press, but that would usually mean printing a minimum of 500 to 1,000 copies and shelling out more or less P50 to P150 per copy. So like buying fruits in a grocery, ironically, you spend more to save. This is good if you’re confident that you can sell a lot of books and you have that much cash floating around.
Printing books on your own can cost as much as the standard price of a book in a bookstore if you only print a few. If you need just a few copies but want to save as well, then doing the legwork (finding a separate printer, book binder, matte or glossy cover finisher) will cut your costs dramatically. It’s taxing but well worth the trouble if you’re not ready to make that big investment.
I’ve seen book express services that print even just one book but their fees are, yes, hassle-free, but not cheap. If you don’t care much about making a buck from sales, this route is okay.
For ebooks, some will say self-publishing is free but it’s not. One must factor in the cost of Internet and hiring an editor and a book cover artist if you can’t do it yourself or don’t have friends who can do it for you.
I doubt anyone would want to write at home for a long time, so the biggest expense can be the number of cafés you’d be writing in. Regularly eating overpriced doughnuts, muffins, and coffee, plus the cost of WiFi access in some cafés, can be as expensive, as well as the new pair of (larger) pants that you have to buy eventually. This is every writer’s dilemma, I think.
What was the hardest thing you had to deal with?
ME: Selling to strangers. I knew that I couldn’t just sell my book to friends and family, so I had to learn a bit more about marketing and getting more readers. This is still a struggle. Publishing can seem complicated but it’s actually easy, and your book can be available in a matter of days. But what happens after that?
CJ: A couple of things. One is getting the money together to do it. Some people have more means, I do not. So that was part of the struggle. Another is that I can’t design or draw to save my life, so I am lucky that I have collaborators who can and are amazing at it. And distribution is a real problem. I found alternate routes of distribution, like avalon.ph, selling at events, and smaller bookstores.
RR: Since there is no one giving you a deadline, procrastination becomes an unwanted guest. Plus, the internet is both helpful and detrimental to writing.
On the technical side, I had to learn a little programming to format e-books so it will appear in its proper form regardless of what medium (tablet, mobile phone, desktop) the reader is using. You can do this in Microsoft Word but doing it in a dedicated app will make your work look better.
What is the single most valuable piece of advice you can give to someone who wants to publish their own book?
ME: Finish your book, have it edited, and publish it now. You should have done this last year! And you should be writing the next book right now. I’m so sold on this concept that I don’t even think about it anymore, but if you’re still hesitating just know that so many books are published daily. Getting there first (or not so late at least) is so important.
CJ: Do it. Don’t wait around for the perfect time. Just do it.
RR: There is always a market for any type of book, whatever genre or style of writing. To all aspiring self-publishing authors out there: We (the authors in this article) are proof that self-publishing works. Come join the party.
Read more from and about these authors at minavesguerra.blogspot.com, lumpenculturati.wordpress.com, and www.reevrobledo.com.