by Stephen Witt

In the brave new dig­i­tal world of the book busi­ness, self-pub­lished authors enjoy a new clout. And every week this trans­lates into more self-pub­lished titles appear­ing on best sell­er lists across the nation than ever before. At the same time, tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ers, review­ers, and book­stores that once shunned self-pub­lished titles are now embrac­ing these changes or risk falling into antiquity.

Cer­tain­ly, the valid­i­ty of pub­lish­ing on your own is now unques­tioned,” says Jon Fine,’s direc­tor (the first) of author & pub­lish­er rela­tions. Even tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ers reg­u­lar­ly trum­pet the authors they’ve dis­cov­ered from the self-pub­lished ranks. And tra­di­tion­al­ly suc­cess­ful authors are increas­ing­ly using ser­vices like Kin­dle Direct Pub­lish­ing, Cre­ate­Space, and oth­ers to reach their audi­ences in new and cre­ative ways. The oppor­tu­ni­ty to tell your sto­ry, to a few or to many, has nev­er been greater.”

This trend is also reflect­ed in the grow­ing num­ber of Jew­ish writ­ers who are buck­ing the tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing busi­ness and self-pub­lish­ing their books, includ­ing Ari­zona-based Lin­da Press­man, whose Holo­caust-relat­ed tome, Look­ing Up: A Mem­oir of Sis­ters, Sur­vivors and Skok­ie, was named the 2012 Grand Prize Win­ner in the 20th Annu­al Writer’s Digest Self-Pub­lished Book Contest.

I was pre­vi­ous­ly rep­re­sent­ed by an agent who was unable to sell an ear­li­er ver­sion of my man­u­script,” said Press­man. After our rela­tion­ship end­ed I spent quite a while fix­ing the man­u­script and build­ing up my name recog­ni­tion. I knew that the edi­tors and pub­lish­ing hous­es were being extreme­ly cau­tious about what they were pub­lish­ing and I felt it was unlike­ly that I’d be able to get a deal, hav­ing been turned down pre­vi­ous­ly. Luck­i­ly, self-pub­lish­ing had grown in the same time peri­od and was a great option for me since I had built a read­er base ready to read my work.”

Pressman’s read­er base comes from both her humor­ous blog, Bar­Mitz­vahzil­la, and her involve­ment as an edi­tor and blog­ger for Poet­i­ca Mag­a­zine, a self-described van­i­ty press that includes a print and online lit­er­ary jour­nal focus­ing on con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish thought. But she also dis­plays mar­ket­ing savvy.

I hired two pub­li­cists in the time peri­od since my book was pub­lished. The cost makes this some­what pro­hib­i­tive. Of great help was one who helped me with book tours, local appear­ances, and sub­mis­sions to var­i­ous review­ers,” said Pressman.

Much of my mar­ket­ing was through social media that I did on my own. From find­ing Face­book Groups focused on top­ics in my book (Skok­ie, Sur­vivors, Chica­go, Mem­oir writ­ers, etc.), to Twit­ter and blog­ging – these were all immense­ly help­ful in mar­ket­ing and pro­mot­ing the book. An Ama­zon Author page and Look­ing Up Face­book page, both to post news about the book and author appear­ances, has also been help­ful,” she added.

Press­man said the most amaz­ing thing about self-pub­lish­ing is the thing that’s also the hard­est: it’s all up to you. There won’t be a huge pub­lish­ing house stand­ing behind you, pro­mot­ing your work, but you’ll also have the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing that any suc­cess is also your own,” she said.

From a Jew­ish stand­point, I found that my work, being stereo­typed as Holo­caust,” did not find its place in tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing but that there’s actu­al­ly a huge read­er­ship out there for Jew­ish writ­ers and Jew­ish top­ics,” said Pressman.

Anoth­er self-pub­lished Jew­ish Holo­caust author is Rim­ma Rose, a young Russ­ian-Amer­i­can, whose debut nov­el, Cursed to Sur­vive, has been gar­ner­ing favor­able reviews and is find­ing its own mar­ket. Rose’s take on the Holo­caust is a beau­ty-and-beast sto­ry that reads more like a mys­ti­cal mys­tery influ­enced by the Twi­light series, and is, in fact, the first of a series of books fea­tur­ing many of the same characters.

I decid­ed to self-pub­lish my first book, because I was ter­ri­fied of send­ing my man­u­script to var­i­ous places with­out know­ing what would hap­pen to it,” said Rose. I read about self-pub­lish­ing and it seemed easy and fast and I went for it. The biggest advan­tage of self-pub­lish­ing is a total con­trol I have over my work. The biggest pit­fall of self-pub­lish­ing is the fact that along with total con­trol, the author is also respon­si­ble for pro­mo­tions, pub­lic rela­tions, and every­thing else.”

While self-pub­lished authors con­tin­ue tak­ing a greater mar­ket share this also means a reduced role in the book indus­try for edi­tors, mar­keters, and pro­mot­ers in tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing hous­es along with their relat­ed net­work of agents, dis­trib­u­tors, review­ers, and both chain and inde­pen­dent book­stores. Believ­ers in this tra­di­tion­al mod­el quick­ly point out its role as gate­keep­er for read­ers, with the abil­i­ty to curate what they see and judge as redeemable lit­er­a­ture. They also point out some of the grow­ing pains in self-pub­lish­ing, such as the fre­quent lack of prop­er edit­ing and pro­fes­sion­al book design.

But self-pub­lished authors counter that they enjoy a more mobile advan­tage and low­er finan­cial over­head than the tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing mod­el with its lay­ers of deci­sion mak­ers. They are free, for exam­ple, to redesign cov­ers and include stronger copy and sto­ry edit­ing in sub­se­quent edi­tions at man­age­able costs. They can even uti­lize these improve­ments to re-launch their book, gar­ner­ing even more promotion.

On the pro­mo­tion­al end, self-pub­lished Jew­ish authors can eas­i­ly find a mul­ti­tude of Jew­ish-themed web­sites and blogs that cater to every­thing from the most obser­vant Jews to the most sec­u­lar and alter­na­tive Jew­ish lifestyles.

On the man­u­fac­tur­ing side, Amazon’s Cre­ate­Space ser­vice has been a game chang­er. With price ranges that fit almost every self-pub­lished author’s bud­get, Cre­ate­Space will design and for­mat both the cov­er and inte­ri­or of the work plus car­ry it for dis­tri­b­u­tion and sales on its web­site and list it on their pro­mo­tion­al net­works. They also give good dis­counts for author copies and a much high­er roy­al­ty rate than tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ers through sales on Amazon.

Ama­zon is also a leader in e‑books with its Kin­dle device, while oth­er com­pa­nies, such as Book­Ba­by, con­vert an author’s work into oth­er e‑book for­mats com­pat­i­ble with such devices as the Nook, Sony Read­er, and Kobo.

I’ve found that, with the low­er price of my e‑book ver­sion, I sell many more of them than the hard copies per month,” said Press­man. Due to the size of my book (348 pages) and the man­u­fac­tur­ing costs, I can’t low­er the price on the phys­i­cal book to encour­age greater sales, but I can do so with the e‑book version.”

My road to self-pub­lish­ing began in 2002 when I start­ed chat­ting up the African-Amer­i­can self-pub­lished nov­el­ists and poets who sell their books on the Ful­ton Mall in down­town Brook­lyn. At the time I was a full-time reporter at a chain of papers in Brook­lyn and every night I’d go home and squeeze out 500 words writ­ing my first nov­el, Amer­i­can Moses. My mind­set back then was I want­ed a main­stream pub­lish­ing deal. After hun­dreds of rejec­tions a small agent final­ly agreed to take on Amer­i­can Moses and then the rejec­tions start­ed pour­ing in from pub­lish­ing hous­es big and small.

Mean­while, as I wrote draft after draft, the Ful­ton Street authors shared with me their tri­umphs and pit­falls to self-pub­lish­ing and rec­om­mend­ed books about it, which I read. Final­ly, in 2008, I decid­ed that if these writ­ers of con­tem­po­rary urban lit­er­a­ture were being locked out of the pub­lish­ing indus­try for what­ev­er rea­son then I was in excel­lent com­pa­ny. So I fired my agent and took the plunge by reg­is­ter­ing Nev­er Sink Books (NSB) as my pub­lish­ing business.

In 2009, I pub­lished Amer­i­can Moses to very good reviews, and a YouTube inter­view of me about the nov­el has over 20,000 hits and count­ing. Amer­i­can Moses has made its mon­ey back and con­tin­ues to sell.

Then in 2010, I took a buy­out from my job as a reporter to write my sec­ond nov­el, The Street Singer: A Tale of Sex, Mon­ey and Pow­er in a Chang­ing Brook­lyn, which I self-pub­lished in Sep­tem­ber 2012. It’s a satire about a sub­way musi­cian who gets involved with help­ing Brook­lyn land a bas­ket­ball team. Both the dai­ly Metro and the Dai­ly News wrote sto­ries on it and the Dai­ly News gave it an excel­lent review. In Novem­ber, I sold the book pub­lish­ing rights to Chang­ing Lives Press.

Cur­rent­ly, I’m on a gueril­la mar­ket­ing plan in that I sell both of my nov­els in the sub­way, car-to-car. You may have even heard my pitch. That’s right, ladies and gen­tle­man – for ten dol­lars – the price of two cups of Star­bucks cof­fee – you can enrich your mind.”

Also cool is the fact that I have two pub­lished nov­els on the mar­ket and I’m work­ing on my third. As Press­man says, the bot­tom line is that how an author is pub­lished now means much less than what it is that the author publishes.

I believe that, because of con­sumer demand, books will become low­er priced, cre­at­ing more of an equal play­ing field, and I don’t know exact­ly how this will look, but I know there will have to be some web-based method of find­ing the books, like Inter­net book­store brows­ing, where per­haps the site own­ers curate the offer­ings (much as inde­pen­dent book­stores do now) and read­ers trust their rec­om­men­da­tions,” she said.

Stephen Wit­t’s Top Five Online Resources for Writ­ers Look­ing to Self-Pub­lish” can be found here.

Stephen Witt is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist with two nov­els. This includes the self-pub­lished Amer­i­can Moses (2009) on his Nev­er Sink Books imprint, and The Street Singer (2012) pub­lished by Chang­ing Lives Press. Reach him at info@​NeverSinkBooks.​com.

Stephen Witt is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist with two nov­els. This includes the self-pub­lished Amer­i­can Moses (2009) on his Nev­er Sink Books imprint, and The Street Singer (2012) pub­lished by Chang­ing Lives Press. Reach him at info@​NeverSinkBooks.​com.