This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

December 29, 2011 - so you want to be an author

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting one Jeannette Albersheim. Mrs. Albersheim is in her 90s, and has many interesting stories to tell.

One of them concerned a journey that began in January 1944. While still in her early 20s, and with a Master's degree in Public Administration already behind her, she left what she called "a well-paying, interesting job in Washington DC" to sign up as volunteer for the Red Cross.

First, she had thought about signing up for a paying position with the Navy -- but it looked like she would just wind up stationed "across the Potomac." She wanted to see the world.

And she did. Working with the Red Cross, she became a just-behind-the-front recreation and hospital worker. She was at the blitz in London, Paris just after D-Day, and then around other major battles in France, including the pivotal Battle of the Bulge.

Ms. Albersheim told me that she had written up some remembrances from that time -- about 40 "chapters" of newspaper column length. What could I recommend for her about publishing them?

I get that question a lot. People suppose librarians know agents who can rocket promising authors to bestsellerdom. Maybe some librarians do. I don't.

There are several routes to publication these days. The traditional route is: "sign a contract with a publisher for 10%" model. That takes work, too - round after round of submissions, either directly, or through that elusive agent.

There is the "vanity press" of old, where you pay the full cost, plus mark-up, for a print run. More recent is the Print-on-Demand option, with services like Lulu.com -- you pay for a copy at a time.

There is "self-publishing" - where you do all the work to format your text, then subcontract the printing.

There is the ebook option, with Amazon, with Barnes and Noble, or a host of new epublishing startups like Smashwords.com or BookBrewer.com. Each of these options has its own costs.

People have a tendency to just imagine the end: a handsome book, beautifully typeset, professionally bound, and graced with a beautiful cover.

But getting there takes work. There is the writing. Then comes the rewriting for clarity and structure. Then comes the copyediting. (Nothing screams "amateur!" like a page littered with spelling and grammatical errors.) Then comes book design, page layout, tables of contents, and all the extras that make for a complete manuscript, such as securing both copyright and an International Standard Book Number.

Then comes, for some books, indexing. Then there's book cover design, followed by (for books formatted for paper, anyhow) printing, binding, and distribution.

No matter the format, the biggest challenge of all (after the writing itself) is marketing. There are many fine books that no one ever reads because not all authors are natural marketers. Not all publishers are good at it either.

The truth is, while producing a book isn't easy, it's not all that hard anymore, either. What's hard is finding someone to read it. (And just in passing, that's one of the key roles of the public library.)

So I asked Mrs. Albersheim why she wanted to publish, and for whom. She'd already sent most of her manuscript to family through letters, she said. But she wanted to offer her experience to the world. She wasn't trying to make money on it. She wanted to preserve her memories without having to put in years of editing, formatting, and marketing.

I suggested another relatively low-hurdle alternative: publish to the World Wide Web. I set up a blog for her (there are lots of free options; I like blogspot.com), and posted a few of her chapters. Then a couple other library staff (Cecily North, and Annette Gray) helped her clean them up, and scan some wonderful photographs from Mrs. Albersheim's files.

Let me say right now that the library can't commit to help every aspiring author walk through all the stages of self-publication. There are too many of you, and too few of us.

On the other hand, I think we do need to get more thoughtful and systematic about helping people figure all this out. I'm just about persuaded that self-publishing is one of the most important trends of our time, and the library needs to be at the heart of it. I'm going to be thinking about this issue over the next year.

Meanwhile, you can read the remarkable story of Jeannette Albersheim's WWII adventures here: redcrossatwar.blogspot.com.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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