Oct 14 2013

Self-Publishing in the Crescent City: How to Tell Your Story

By: Lauren Adam

New Orleans has always had stories to tell—even before Katrina. But maybe more so afterward, we have seen the rise of local self-published authors. Perhaps because of the changing times, or maybe because NOLA’s voice is louder than ever, a wide range of writers has penetrated the literary scene without so much as a freelance editor to hold their hand (although that’s definitely not recommended). As the city continues to experience rebirth, it seems that the diverse perspectives, stories, and history here have achieved a special nationally recognized momentum. But can just anyone be an author? Artist? Entrepreneur? What does it take to make it in a city so vibrant and bursting with art?

Earlier this year at the Tenessee Williams Festival, author Cornell Landry attempted to explain just that. In 2009, the Westbank native self-published his first book, Goodnight NOLA, which has now sold over 50,000 copies. Later he founded Black Pot Press and went on to write five more New Orleans-inspired children’s books. His seminar aimed to discuss what investments you should make, how to know when you’re ready to start the presses, and the ins and outs of distribution.

If you missed the festival this year, self-published children’s book author Kimmie Tubre also had some interesting insights on the process. A writer from a young age, Kimmie partnered with her mom to create a children’s book series about NOLA Louise. The first in the series, NOLA Goes to the Zoo, takes kids on a tour of New Orleans’ beloved Audubon Zoo, where they can search for all their favorite animals (just as long as they help Mom with chores first!). NOLA Louise Believes is expected to be out sometime in the fall. Kimmie’s books can be purchased on Amazon, or on her website, thenolalouiseproject.bigcartel.com.

Kimmie, like many authors, published NOLA Goes to the Zoo using the website Create Space, which is a pay-as-you-go website. The site offers instructions on formatting (for both print and e-book) and also puts the book on Amazon with just a click of a button. The directions are very specific, but there is a “help” button that can offer extra assistance. Although there are a variety of websites that offer self-publishing outlets, like Book Masters, Create Space is the most popular and affordable.

Kimmie admits that navigating the world of self-publishing hasn’t been easy. “You’re going to do work. Period. There are lots of people who want to say they are a writer, but you have to promote yourself to earn that title.” Before deciding to self-publish NOLA, Kimmie read about Amanda Hocking, a 26-year-old from Minnesota who broke a lot of self-publishing stigmas.

Hocking got her big break in 2011 after self-publishing nine e-books in 2010. Though she worked in a nursing home by day, Hocking spent her evenings drinking Red Bull and writing. With the help of e-readers, Hocking was able to sell her work through the Amazon Kindle Store and Barnes & Noble’s NOOKbooks for as little as 99 cents – $2.99, which eventually resulted in over two million dollars worth of sales. Hocking is now a USA Today bestseller and is published by St. Martin’s Press. Publishers say the e-market has grown from less than 1 percent of overall sales in 2007 to more than 10 percent, with no signs of stopping.

“But you can’t just write a book thinking you’ll make millions,” Kimmie adds after retelling Hocking’s success story. She describes a day of collecting business cards, creating a social media platform, giving a reading at the Algiers Library, getting NOLA Goes to the Zoo into local stores like the Garden District Book Shop, and connecting with other local self-publishers, like Alexander McConduit (author of The Little Who Dat Who Didn’t, Snowballs for All, and Thorn in My Horn). It is tiring just listening to her recount this; however, Kimmie insists, “If it’s your passion, go for it.”

“My goal is really just to be published, inspire people and make people laugh…I have stories to tell” says Shane Finkelstein. The owner of Nacho Mamas in Harahan, Finkelstein is now in the final stages of the self-publishing process. The 43 year old English major started writing his first novel, Finding Gordon Lipschitz, when he hit a rough patch in his life a few years ago. “The writing came easily. I would come home most nights and write a chapter” Finkelstein says. He came up for the concept for the novel when he was searching Facebook for his high school valedictorian. Shocked when the search came up empty, Finkelstein decided to fill in the blanks. “I think most people want to know what happened to their high school valedictorian” Finkelstein chuckles.

In Atlanta, Finkelstein published INsight Magazine. Now with a restaurant to run and 3 young kids, the self-publishing process has added even more to his plate. Between fine-tuning his writing skills with classes at Loyola, querying agents, reworking the manuscript, devising marketing opportunities and planning a book launch, Finkelstein says self-publishing is like having an additional full time job. However, even with all of the extra work, he has no problem keeping his expectations in check. “I would be happy if I sold 1000 copies” Finkelstein says. “I just want to get my work out there; I’m not expecting it to be the next 50 Shades of Grey.” Finkelstein discloses the book will be out in paperback sometime this fall. He has already had it edited, formatted and a cover design is in the works.

Local comic author and illustrator Caesar Meadows has been self-publishing since 1990—long before Hocking and E.L. James got their big break with e-readers. “Self-publishing is very common for comic artists these days. Actually, I believe there might be more self-publishing going on these days than ever before in the history of comics being published…Also, there are more and more cartoonists self-publishing their web comics online,” Meadows says. He began his career with a “commix ‘zine” called “Turd,” later going on to create “Mumbeaux Gumbo” (Where Y’at) and “Qomix” (Antigravity). His efforts gave him the opportunity to meet other local artists, and now he is the editor of Feast Yer Eyes, an annual New Orleans illustration and comics anthology first published in 2010.

Meadows, like Kimmie and Finklestein, concedes that self-publishing is not for the faint of heart: “You have to really LOVE whatever you're going to publish.” Meadows goes on, “You have to really believe that whatever you're publishing needs to be out there in the world for folks to read. If you're doing it just because you hope to make a bunch of money, then you may be in for a big reality check…I'm not saying big success isn't possible, but having a passionate desire to publish certainly helps to take the chill off the cold indifference you may encounter.”

One of these “big” success stories comes from cartoonist and Lafayette native Rob Guillory. His collaboration with John Layman, titled Chew, was picked up by Image Comics in 2009; it went on to see the New York Times bestseller list and win an Eisner Award for Best New Series. The comic is about FDA agent Tony Chu, who solves crimes by receiving psychic impressions from comestibles (including people). Chew is now being produced by Stephen Hopkins (“Californication,” “24”) into a TV series which will replace “Dexter” on Showtime.

While Guillory began his career studying computer animation at Louisiana State University, it was a long process breaking into the comic industry. Attending networking events like the Antigravity Alternative Media Expo in 2008 gave Guillory the chance to make connections. In the meantime, he ran comic classes for kids in St. Charles and St. Tammany Parishes and published his work online. In a blog from April 2009 called “Breaking In,” Guillory talks about what it was like self-publishing his work online. “I posted new work at least twice a week on at least five different message boards,” Guillory wrote. “…This was a priceless way to getting my work seen, getting feedback, and meeting people…This is how Marvel Talent Coordinator/Writer C.B. Cebulski found me, via MySpace, of all places. I was just minding my own business when he messaged me one day, saying he dug my work, and asking if I'd be interested in working with him. Crazy. You’ll be amazed.”

Whether the goal is “breaking in” or just getting your name out there, one thing is clear: self-publishing is a process that takes commitment, time, and patience. While there are a lot of pros and cons to self-publishing compared to traditional methods, self-publishing allows authors to control every aspect of their work and the chance to create a truly self-made brand. Challenges include being a “jack-of-all-trades,” balancing your art with your day job, and growing a social media presence, but in the end, it could all be worth it.

Self-Publishing Tips and Resources

Have something to say and thinking about self-publication? New Orleans has countless resources—and so does the Web. Most say it starts with knowing your audience, regulating your expectations, and putting in time. To find out more, check out some of the helpful places below.

Print:

  • Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author, by Zoe Winters
  • The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, by Mark Levine

Web:

  • Create Space: Free tools to help self-publishers distribute materials.
  • Bookmasters: A book printer dedicated to helping self-publishers design, publish, and market.
  • Vistaprint: Commercial printing website great for business cards and marketing materials.

Around Town:

  • Community Print Shop, 1201 Mazant Street, Tuesday & Thursday evenings, 6-10 p.m.: A nonprofit organization committed to increasing awareness and exposure of print media and contemporary printmaking.
  • Iron Rail Bookstore and Library, 503 Barracks Street, noon-6 p.m.: Iron Rail is a ‘zine library full of self-published newspapers, chapbooks, periodicals, and pamphlets. It includes political broadsheets, personal ‘zines, subcultural newsletters, hobbyist publications, music scene ‘zines, DIY manuals, experimental art publications, and more.
  • Press Street, 3718 St. Claude Ave.: A literary and visual arts collective formed in 2005 to promote art and literature in the community through events, publications, and arts education. Their blog, Room 220, is dedicated to literary life in New Orleans.

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