by Michael Hultquist
I used to have a bias against self-publishing. Early on I bought into the idea that a work was no good unless it was published in what used to be the "traditional" manner, through a publishing house with editors, designers, marketing teams and a distribution network. The truth is, you have available to you every aspect of the business. All you need to do is take control of it.
The ultimate goal of any writer, whether they self-publish or work through a publisher, is to create the best work possible. What really matters with a work is the quality of that finished product, and if you are able to produce a product that is on par with or even better than your competitors, then self-publishing may be for you.
My publishing journey began as Print-On-Demand (P.O.D.) companies were growing, when the Internet was still young. I had just graduated with a Master of Arts in English and wanted to be an author. I wanted to write everything, from poetry to humor to prose, but my true passions fell in three areas: horror novels, feature films and cookbooks. Admittedly, this is a strange combination.
At the same time, I had to get a job and no one I could find was hiring writers with my experience, so I turned to a more immediate career - web site design and development. It was something I could learn mostly on my own and I became quite good at it. I use those very valuable skills in my current publishing efforts.
I went on to publish a few fiction novels with some small presses and then to co-write several feature film scripts, two of which have been produced. One even starred Samuel Jackson! Imagine my excitement. I would not, however, attempt to make my own movie. It is different with publishing. I enjoy the process of working with publishers. My last publisher, Belfire Press, hired a great editor for my novel, "Off Track", commissioned a talented cover artist, and turned the book into a wonderful publication, something I am very proud of.
The cookbooks, however, I decided to do on my own. The reasons are simple - more money and more control for me. It started as more of a hobby. In order to learn more about building web sites, I built my very first site - JalapenoMadness.com. Early iterations included my nascent cooking creations, some of which were good, some not so good. Each time I rebuilt the site, I learned more about the business along with being able to explore my love for cooking and chili peppers. As the site grew in popularity, I realized I had a built in audience for a potential book.
This is how "Jalapeno Madness: Jalapeno Recipes Galore!" was born. I had worked away in my kitchen for years, compiling my recipe creations, exploring chili peppers, building my sites up and reaching out to the chilihead community. I had the knowledge, a built in audience, and a passion for my subject. And now I had an easy way to publish my own works.
You can, too. There are a number of services available to help you, whether you need help with the whole process or only a part of it. Check out companies like Infinity Publishing, where they can assist with anything from cover design, editing and marketing services. Do what you do best and hire out the rest.
These resources are just as available to you as they are to me, but here are a few things I learned from my early self-publishing times.
Write, rewrite, and edit. The fact that you are self-publishing your work means you need to take even greater care to ensure the work shines. Give only your best work. Your readers will see it and will reward you by buying your next book.
Hire an editor. Yes, after you've edited your own work, hire an editor. You'll have a professionally trained eye. This is especially important of fiction work, but true of any work. My own editor found numerous formatting issues that I couldn't believe I missed. With a traditional publisher, they will provide their own editor. Do like the pros do and get a good editor.
Don't skimp on the cover art. The cover of your work will speak volumes. It is the first thing your readers will see. My first cover was terrible. I should have fought harder early on. Now I'm happy to have professional quality covers. The quality reflects entirely on me.
Promotion is up to you. Even if you publish traditionally, you'll most likely be the only one promoting the book. Smaller presses don't have the time or staff to do much, and larger publishers focus on their cash cows. Count on doing a lot of promotional work both online and off to get your works out there.
Hold your head up. Seriously, if you put everything you have into your best work, hone it with an editor, and treat it like the commodity that it is with proper design and promotion, you should be proud of your work.
Keep learning and have fun. I realize this is obvious, but it needs to be said. There is always room for improvement. Explore your passion, continue to absorb and reflect, and it will show in your work. And if you stop having fun, it's time to move onto a new subject.
Given the chance to take my cookbooks to a top 10 publisher, I might have said "yes" instantly a few years ago. Today, I would say "maybe". They would have to give me a lot of control, or a lot of money. Why? I'm just having too much fun, and these books are mine. And I love it.
Michael Hultquist is a food writer and author of "Jalapeno Madness: Jalapeno Recipes Galore!" and "Jalapeno Poppers and Other Stuffed Chili Pepper Recipes". You can find more recipes and chili pepper fun at his web sites, www.chilipeppermadness.com and www.jalapenomadness.com. He is a member of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). He is also a novelist and screenwriter who co-wrote "Victim" and "Arena". See Mike's personal site at www.michaelhultquist.com.