Anatomy of a “Reading”

by Ed Davis on December 17, 2009

The sign in front of the Tipp City Public Library read: “Author’s Night: Don’t Miss It! Books Make Good Christmas Presents!” I smiled in the evening downtown glow of Christmas and street lights. Hoping for the best, I walked inside.

The downstairs meeting room was a large, bright space and Sue Hofer, Adult Activities Specialist, had tables and chairs set up for the 7:00 p.m. event. Accustomed to bookstore events where we simply read from our work, it was hard for me not to call the activities on this night, December 7, 2009, a “reading.” However, even though two of us five authors read a poem or two, the format Sue designed was unique:

  • Brief introductions to our published work (8-10-minutes each)
  • Question & Answer session (about fifteen minutes)
  • Book-signing (twenty minutes)

It worked well, and the well-paced event concluded around 8:45. It would’ve been much longer if we’d read more, and although I do enjoy hearing authors read from their work, it can become exhausting if there are too many performers. Also, it can be jarring if the contrast among the writers is too sharp. Sue’s innovative format was refreshing.

The Renegades

Before my table was even set up, I got my first question relating to publishing, which quickly became the evening’s theme. As we took our turns speaking to the polite audience of around twenty, I realized I’d thrown in my lot with a bunch of independent-minded literary renegades.

  • Scott Trostel

    “I’m not their bank,” Scott repeated during our brief chat before the main event. Scott was dismissive, if not downright disdainful, of agents, distributors and amazon.com, all of whom charge often outrageous fees for the services they offer writers. With the knowledge and experience gained from writing, publishing and selling many books on mostly historical subjects, he also publishes other writers for far less than most subsidy publishers charge, allowing clients to re-sell at a much larger profit. Visit Scott’s website for more details: www.canteenbooks.com.

  • Marla Fair

    Artist, historic interpreter and novelist, Marla prefers the term “independent” to “self-published,” implying as the latter terms does, vanity press. Like Scott, she lacks patience with traditional publishers who told her that, while her work is “lyrical,” it’s unpublishable because it’s hard to classify. So she, too, does everything herself, even employing the help of a local micro-press to help her creatively distribute her books. Since traditional publishers increasingly leave it to writers to sell their books at their own expense anyway, Marla argues, why not do it yourself and make $7 on the sale of a book rather than a quarter? Find out more about her at www.marlafair.com.

  • Meaghan Fisher

    Meaghan founded her own company, Gypsy Publications, to publish her own as well as others’ work. Even though she received offers from two traditional publishers for her first children’s book, she chose self-publishing mostly for the control, for example in selecting cover art (Marla Fair illustrated her book). Meaghan is considering manuscripts; see www.meaghanfisher.com for more information.

  • Catherine Essinger & Yours Truly

    Both mine and Cathy’s work exists somewhat closer to the border of traditional publishing. She published one book of poetry with a commercial publisher and two with a small press, and, like Marla, bemoaned the lack of creative control over her work with the former. She much prefers Main Street Rag Press, which published her latest book, What I Know About Innocence (which comes with a videopoem DVD).

    Since Main Street just published the anthology Dots on a Map containing one of my short stories, I can also recommend this fine independent small press, which relies on subscriptions and sales rather than support from grants or academic institutions. They offer writers:

    • Savvy marketing, urging authors to garner as many pre-publication sales as possible.
    • Excellent editing: I got to correct proofs, and my relationship with the editor was pleasant and professional.
    • Handsomely produced and reasonably-priced books.
    • Printing/binding services for a fee.
    • Readings: the press even set up a reading for anthology authors at their office in Charlotte, NC.

    Visit the press at www.mainstreetrag.com to find out more about their magazine, contests and many publications. You’ll be impressed.

Sign Away!

Following the presentations, we writers adjourned to tables Sue had arranged at the room’s perimeter. Many members of the audience stayed to meet and greet us—and even to buy books! I was pleased to sell $60 worth but felt mainly rewarded by the library’s hospitality and a small but interested audience. Plus I learned a few things about self- or small-press-published authors:

  • They do it their way—it isn’t easy but the renegades convinced me it could be done.
  • They often have greater satisfaction through greater control and more personal relationships.
  • They have great passion for their art, desiring readers more than fame or fortune.
  • They’re smart about marketing, distributing and publishing.
  • They unselfishly serve other writers through sharing knowledge and even offering publication.

Postscript

Two final bits of information from Sue:

  • Publicity: regional libraries are banned from advertising outside their city limits, with the exception of news releases (which newspapers, radio and TV use—or more often don’t use—at their own discretion).
  • Audience Size: the more authors invited, the merrier. Past single-author events, she said, drew as few as 3-4 people.

Into the Night

Back outside, the sign had been removed, but the Christmas lights burned a little brighter after the warmth I’d felt inside. Sue Hofer and the Tipp City Library had proved that, with hard work, forethought and foresight, you can pull off an Authors Night successfully—even in frosty December, if the weather holds.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeanne December 17, 2009 at 6:39 pm

I belong to the Tipp City Scribes, a group of writers who meet at the TC library. Meghan is a former member, and Scott Trostel spoke at one of our meetings on the topic of self-publishing. He had an interesting view on the topic.

Glad to hear it went so well!

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Still Taking Notes December 20, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Nice summary of the event, Ed! It was a fun evening and yes, it did focus primarily on publishing, and I learned a lot of new terms–"micro-pulishing," for instance. I hope we represented the more traditional approach as well as these independent speakers did theirs!

Cathy Essinger

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