A Self-Publishing Success Story

Writer Joan Bigwood ’82 talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs of self-publishing her novel, Co-opted.

by Jane Falla

Why did you decide to self-publish?Joan Bigwood King ’82 has had great success self-publishing her first novel.
I was never going to self-publish. I was taking the book around to agents—a couple were Smith contacts—and for one reason or another, it wasn’t along the lines of what they were doing at their agency, or in one case, a classmate in Los Angeles said, “I really like your writing, but it needs more soap and sex.” This wasn’t a book that could hold too much of that.
At about that time I got some spam from a self-publishing house. I was working against the clock because my mother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and I really wanted her to see this book on the shelf. So I thought, “For the cost and the timeline, self-publishing could work really well for me.” I decided to look further into it and do some comparisons, and ended up going that route. My publisher is a subsidiary of Amazon, so I immediately had Amazon as my distributor.
Tell us about some steps you learned along the way.
The price was very attractive to me. It was about $800 to publish the book. Because it’s print on demand, you don’t have to worry about inventory and invest in several thousand copies of your book. You can spend a lot more than $800; there are editing services that these companies offer and that brings the price way up. There are things like proofing costs and design costs for the cover. There are definitely ways you can spend or save money. I had very fixed ideas of what I wanted in the way of a design for the cover, but it turned out that I preferred the publisher’s design, which surprised me because I really had this vision right from the beginning of how I thought the cover should be, but their cover was far superior.
I used a different editor than the publisher’s, and I used a family member who is an excellent proofreader. For about $1,000, I had a paperback with an ISBN number, and I accomplished my goal in the time that I needed it to happen, which was three-to-four months from start to finish—a very quick turnaround compared to traditional methods.
What are some of the surprises you encountered?
When I got my author’s proof and took a look at the spine of the book, I saw that the cover was white, but the spine was maroon, and a little bit of the cover had bled, so I had this little white stripe going down the spine. I was just in fits about this, because it looked homemade. It looked to me like a self-published animal, so I got on the phone and said, “We just can’t have this.” I got a tepid response that there really was nothing they could do. I didn’t know how to proceed because I was not going to start selling what looked like an “I-had-it-bound-in-my basement” self-published paperback. So to illustrate my point to them about how a proper bestseller would look, I went to my bookshelf to find Blink, which also had a white cover. I turned to the spine, and there was a white stripe down the blue spine exactly like mine, if not even wider! I also hadn’t realized that if I wanted to make a change to the inside or the cover, I was looking at a four-week delay—four weeks of the book being off the shelf at Amazon.
What is your marketing and distribution strategy—two challenges that often come up when authors discuss self-publishing versus traditional publishing?
I have a self-made book tour in co-ops. I have a talk on building community that I illustrate with readings from the book, which goes down well with church groups. One result that I hadn’t counted on is that because my book is humorous, my talks are entertaining. The more I read, the more interested my audience is in buying. When I don’t go through the traditional channels of Amazon or the local bookstores, I make quite a lot of money on a book that I sell out of my trunk. I recently did a talk at a church where it turned out that I was the guest speaker at a fundraiser for microloans for third-world women. It was a large group. I ended up making quite a lot of money because I sold books not just to the people there, but they bought for friends, mothers, and sisters.
What’s next for Co-opted?
I think there’s more to come. The reason I believe that the book is still gaining momentum is because the readers I hear back from really enjoyed it. I figure if they have loved it locally, there’s nothing stopping the person in Nebraska from loving the book. I’ve got to get a more national reach, and I have so many ways of approaching this. Mommy bloggers is a big category because this is a book about motherhood. There’s a big Alzheimer’s angle, so there are ways to reach the caregivers of people suffering from Alzheimer’s. There are lots of things I’ve yet to do; I believe enough in this product from the reader response that it would make sense to risk further investment in this book and get a publicist involved.
Any other projects in the pipeline?
My next project is a musical comedy. I’ve written the script and many of the lyrics, and I recently found a composer that I think is going to be a winner. So I’m actually finishing up a project that I started a long time ago.
Jane Falla is assistant editor, alumnae communications