Self-published books

Manitobans have great stories to tell

By Dorothy Dobbie

Many people have stories to tell that reflect our times and our culture. But getting them published is not easy and there is very little money in it for the vast majority. Even if you do find a publisher, the creative partner is the least paid, under many agreements assuming all the risk, liability and costs and realizing, if lucky, perhaps a 10 per cent royalty on sales. The author is also responsible in most cases for the cost of any unsold books.

So many authors self-publish, something that is easier and easier to do in the world of the Internet, where digital books are more and more popular. Others take the paper route, going to a printer and paying for the production of their manuscript.

The challenges here are several. Firstly, most self-published books could use a good editor to smooth out awkwardness, avoid cumbersome devices in telling their stories and ensure that it all holds together. Next, proofreading should be farmed out to someone with a sharp eye, and excellent spelling and grammatical skills. Finally, graphics advice for clear typography and help in choosing the right images for the cover is important to encourage sales.

But the biggest challenge of all is distribution – how to get those books on the shelves and into the hands of eager readers. It takes energy and determination, knocking on doors and asking for sales.

Here in Winnipeg, we have been very lucky over the past number of years to have McNally Robinson, which has generously supported local authors, self-published or not, but this is not the case in many other jurisdictions. Nor is the rest of the world standing by applauding your efforts.

The traditional media have habitually refused to review self-published books. Self-published books rarely get a mention by established book reviewers in daily newspapers such as the Globe and Mail or the Winnipeg Free Press. I am told that reviewing self-published books is against their policy. Nor are self-published books eligible for literary awards such as the Giller Prize or others, although apparently this is now under review by some prize givers.

Here in Manitoba, our most widely used book printer is Friesen Press out of Steinbach. They have expanded their services to become a fully-fledged self-publisher, providing help and guidance for self-publishers, including a self-publishing guide. They offer many options for assistance in dealing with the challenges of editing, design, printing, marketing, distribution and even digital sales on Amazon, etc. But every one of those services requires payment and you may again end up with 10 per cent or less of the proceeds from the sale of your book. The Friesen arrangement does allow you to keep exclusive copyright to your work and you can opt out of the agreement under certain circumstances.

For my part, I have grown to love the efforts of our local writers. The stories are often compelling and memorable. They are certainly not formulaic, which is what seems to happen to even the best authors under the tutelage of a major publishing house. I willingly review these books because I believe the stories need to be told and I like to support local authors.

I am a voracious reader having read, without exaggeration, many thousands of books over the years. I am willing to overlook a lot for a fresh perspective, an original idea, an honest approach and a good story. That is just what many self-published books bring to the table.

for-eliseAs this new year begins, why not try Oriole Vane Velhuis’s book, For Elise? It is about her grandmother, Elize Vane, who was brought to Canada with her family in steerage by bigamist Percy Criddle, who brought his second wife and her family at the same time in second class. He treated his first family as servants while they all lived together in the same household. It’s a fascinating account of an extraordinary pioneer family living near Wawanesa.

Wayne Weedon has written a fictionalized account of his mother’s life in Free to Think. Rescued from a residential school by the local pastor, she grows up as a privileged child in England but comes back to help her people living on reserves many years later. The book reveals Wayne’s studies of history, physics, quantum physics, and metaphysics, making us think. But the story is there. The heroine is unconventional, a compelling character, and there is an air of mystery surrounding the book. Wayne is a very good writer.

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