The world of self-publishing/small presses is a whole universe unto itself. This makes finding information very easy (except, of course, the exact information I want). There are all sorts of groups, including a couple lively Yahoo! Groups and a very experienced discussion list I subscribe to. I donâ€™t post, I just lurk.
There are also live groups one can attend or join. Two are available to me in my general area. Iâ€™ll call them Baynet and Valleynet. Iâ€™ve gone to a few meetings of Baynet and one meeting of Valleynet. My general impression of both groups is one of the blind leading the lame. (I also attended one meeting of a local writerâ€™s group. The people were very nice but it was all fiction and poetry, all tending towards sci-fi or fantasy. Only one person had had anything published and she wrote articles for animal magazines.)
The Baynet group is well-established and many of the group have their small press businesses established. That being said, only a handful have produced more than one book. The group is an even mix of men and women, ages from mid-30s to early 50s. Not counting the occasional child dragged with mom, Iâ€™ve always been the youngest person in the room. The meetings are pretty casual, always starting with an open-floor discussion of whatever issue pops into whomeverâ€™s head. This has lead to some useful nuggets of information; mostly not. Then there is a guest speaker. Sometimes the speaker is very well-prepared and the speech doesnâ€™t last long enough. Sometimes the speaker rambles on, has no apparent notes and doesnâ€™t pay much attention to what theyâ€™re saying or what references to pass along. One wonders how they pay their electric bill on time every month.
Iâ€™ve never joined this group since there doesnâ€™t seem to be any benefit to joining. Everything they offer, such as seminars and meetings, are open to the public at a very reasonable fee. (Iâ€™ve become very allergic to â€œjoiningâ€ anything, minus my camera club.)
The real problems I have with the Baynet group have to do with their (former) president and the group members themselves.
First, the members. Everyone gets a 30-second spot in which to introduce themselves. Standard for such a meeting. The problem is, most of these authors use this chance to promote their book. Weâ€™re talking Zen cookbooks, parenting, gardening, childrenâ€™s books, memoirs, angry political stuff and whatnot. Some of these books have even looked interesting to me as a reader. Still, after sitting through several of these intro sessions, I wonder, are they not selling enough books? (Probably.) But isnâ€™t the cardinal rule of book writing and marketing that you must have your target audience in mind when you write your book? And how does a room full of small publishers fit into the marketing scheme of, say, a printed argument of an obscure psychological concept? The only reason one should try to sell their book to a bunch of small publishers would be if the book fell into the realm of small publishing. That would make a lot of sense. Otherwise, I would like to know more about what drew them to this meeting, their goals, their subject matter (but not a book-sell) and maybe hard sales figures that way I know whom to ask for advice and whom to avoid. This show-and-tell of their product is inappropriate within this context. But thatâ€™s my opinion and itâ€™s not shared.
The president of the group who chaired the meetings was an irritating man. I have no idea if he decided to step down from the presidency or if he was voted off. Everyone has nice things to say about him in the newsletter but he just grated on my nerves, probably because every time I asked a question, he never listened to what I actually said and would answer a completely different question, or just chuckle me off in a â€œnow, now, little girlâ€ manner. He has spent several years as a cover and interior (book) designer, as well as a book consultant (more on this concept in a yet-to-be-written post). He has had a range of experiences in the small press business, through his own work or through his clients.
The really irritating thing is that he just recently published a book on book design (interior and exterior). As Iâ€™ve just stated, this group is the perfect group if you have a book on publishing youâ€™d like to sell. So he tries to sell it. At every possible moment. Since he most often had the floor, there were lots of short pushes towards the book. At first, it was sort of cute. Then it got old. Then it started feeling like living through an infomercial. He would hold the book up every time. While Iâ€™m sure itâ€™s a great reference tool, the main reason I havenâ€™t bought it is because of him. Plus, the cover sucks. For a man who talks about cover design, his cover looks terrible. You know those websites that are obviously FrontPage or Geocities template sites full of garish colors and tired graphics? That would be his bookâ€™s cover. Itâ€™s not a glowing endorsement for his skill or expertise. (Of course, when my cover comes out, Iâ€™m sure there will be people who donâ€™t like it for various reasons.)
Still, Baynet is a very casual group and thereâ€™s something to be said for that. Itâ€™s also fairly large, which means the potential well of experiences is there to tap.
The Valleynet group was quite different in flavor. My first experience with this group was in contacting the groupâ€™s secretary to find out the topic of discussion since they donâ€™t bother posting it on their site. After a couple of these questions from me, she referred me to the groupâ€™s newsletter coordinator. I directly asked to be added to the newsletter list but never received a reply (or a newsletter). So I joined from their website under a different name. There was no problem being added to their list that way.
The meeting I decided to attend concerned marketing and promotion. The group meets in a bookstore instead of a private venue and is fairly small. It consisted mostly of women and the ages were roughly mid-40s to decrepit. There were a handful of late-arriving people my age who were not members of the group but newsletter-lurkers like myself. (The secretary who was so rude to me was a short, dour woman wearing purple-tinted eyeglasses. Not media-friendly.) The standard intro session was very short and there were only one or two people who dared to (briefly) promote their book. This group seemed to be much more successful than the Baynet group. Several of the members listed on the siteâ€™s directory are well-respected in the self-pub community. I liked the business attitude here, although there seemed to be a lack of camaraderie that the laissez-faire Baynet has.
The guest speaker was a woman who did promotions for authors. Iâ€™d checked her site before attending (it was not impressive). She charged extremely high prices and was openly choosy about the authors sheâ€™d take on. I thought sheâ€™d be a high-end promoter with little Web knowledge. Turns out, she only knows how to promote view radio/TV interviews, bookstore signings and some newspaper coverage. Most of her knowledge is confined to Northern California. She offered some very good advice within these venues and I took a lot of notes. The only question I asked was whether or not sheâ€™d done a â€œvirtual tourâ€ for any of her authors. Her answer was â€œno.â€ (She spent several minutes answering everyone elseâ€™s individual questions. This isnâ€™t me being paranoid. I could see a clock from where I sat.) Another author asked her about keeping a blog. The promoter didnâ€™t read blogs herself, didnâ€™t think that too many blogs existed nor did she think they attracted many readers. It was a waste of time, she felt.
At that point, I tuned her out.
Why did this group book a speaker so out of touch? Her own website offered design services; but her site was poorly designed, slow-loading and graphic-heavy, has no discernable navigation and is ugly (nor is it search-engine friendly). But she proudly stated that sheâ€™s been designing sites since the mid-90s! (I’m not going to join this group either. No compelling reason.)
On the long drive home, I mused over my group experiences. The promoter especially stuck in my head. I found it ironic that many escorts have more tech and promotion â€“savvy than she does. Then I realized itâ€™s because the adult industry is always on the cutting edge of technology. Something new comes along and we (collectively) try to figure out a way to twist it and make a buck from it. People like her get scared and dig a trench. Hmmmâ€¦.whoâ€™s really going to prosper?
I also realized, once again, that I just donâ€™t belong in groups. Iâ€™m the eternal square peg (or is it middle-child syndrome?). I canâ€™t just sit back and go along for the ride. I have to question and then I find fault. I find plenty of fault with myself (and not too soon from now, plenty of strangers will probably find fault with me too). I just donâ€™t see things the way others seem to see. It sucks. It would be nice to be the cheerleader for once.
This isnâ€™t to say I donâ€™t want to belong to some group. I do. Thatâ€™s why I keep searching. I have a need for information, shared war stories and group hugs. But I canâ€™t find what Iâ€™m looking for. Maybe I havenâ€™t defined it well enough or perhaps it just doesnâ€™t exist.
Maybe I missed those socialization classes everyone else seems to have taken.
Despite all this grousing, I will be attending more Baynet and Valleynet meetings. I like learning. But I take my hip-waders with me.
Coming soonâ€¦.I dissect the online self-pub/small press world. Prepare for massive crankiness.